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EXPLAINED: What is the new Swiss coronavirus drug and how does it work?

While the focus in Switzerland, and elsewhere, has been primarily on vaccines in the past few months, a new medication may also offer hope in the fight against Covid-19. This is what we know about this drug.

EXPLAINED: What is the new Swiss coronavirus drug and how does it work?
Swiss pharma company Roche has good results from its new anti-Covid drug. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

The Swiss government signed a contract with local pharmaceutical company Roche on Tuesday to purchase a “promising drug” to treat coronavirus.

The government bought the medication, which Roche developed jointly with a US biotech firm Regeneron, after recent clinical trials showed that it not only treats but also helps prevent Covid infections. 

What exactly is this drug and how does it work?

In technical terms, it is the combination of the antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab.

To put it simply, “clinical trials show that these treatments provide effective protection against severe forms of the disease”, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said in a statement.

For instance, study findings indicate that people who took this drug during clinical trials saw their risk of symptomatic infection reduced by 81 percent, and their symptoms cleared within one week.

READ MORE: Swiss-American antibody drug ‘effective at preventing Covid infection’

What’s the difference between Covid vaccines and this new medication?

Vaccines are given to prevent coronavirus infections and stop the spread and outbreaks of the disease.

The antibody drug, on the other hand, treats patients who were already contaminated, by “neutralising” the virus, FOPH said.

Has this med been approved for use in Switzerland?

No. However, the drugs that have not yet been authorised “can be prescribed in exceptional cases”, FOPH said

It added that Switzerland’s Covid-19 legislation “provides for exceptions to the traditional authorisation procedure, provided that the drug in question prevents and treats COVID-19 based on available data”. 

Even though this medication is still experimental at this point, “the federal government will cover the costs of these treatments until they are reimbursed by compulsory health insurance”, according to FOPH.

For its part, the regulatory body Swissmedic said that “it gave the go-ahead for the distribution. As a result, this medicinal product is available even before the authorisation decision has been taken”.  

How many doses did Switzerland buy and when will they be available?

The initial purchase is 3,000 doses. The government did not reveal how much it spent to buy them.

It did say, however, that they will be available from mid-May “for certain groups of high-risk patients”.

Are there other promising coronavirus treatments on the horizon in Switzerland?

In August 2020, Swiss authorities signed a “reservation agreement” for the delivery of 200,000 doses of a possible new coronavirus medication. 

If the yet-unnamed drug successfully passes clinical trials and is approved for the market, Switzerland will receive priority access, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said. 

The government also secured the right to be supplied with up to 3 million further doses.

Manufactured by a Swiss company, Molecular Partners, a spin-off of the University of Zurich, the new drug acts as an “immunotherapeutic agent”. 

At this point it is still under development.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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