China on Monday gave conditional approval to domestic firm Genuine Biotech’s Azvudine pill to treat certain adult patients with COVID-19, adding another oral treatment option against the coronavirus.
The availability of effective COVID vaccines and treatments is crucial in laying the groundwork for China’s potential pivoting from its “dynamic COVID zero” policy, which aims to eliminate every outbreak – however small – and relies on mass testing and strict quarantining.
The Azvudine tablet, which China approved in July last year to treat certain HIV-1 virus infections, has been given a conditional green light to treat adult patients with “normal type” COVID, the National Medical Products Administration said in a statement.
“Normal type” COVID is a term China uses to refer to coronavirus infections where there are signs of pneumonia, but the patients haven’t reached a severe stage.
China in February allowed the use of Pfizer’s oral treatment Paxlovid in adults with mild-to-moderate COVID and high risk of progressing to a severe condition.
In 2020, it approved the use of Lianhuaqingwen capsules, a traditional Chinese medicine-style formula, to alleviate symptoms of COVID such as fever and cough.
In a late-stage clinical trial, 40.4% of patients taking Azvudine showed improvement in symptoms seven days after first taking the drug, compared with 10.9% in the control group, Henan province-based Genuine Biotech said in a statement earlier this month, without providing detailed readings.
Other Chinese companies developing potential oral COVID treatments include Shanghai Junshi Biosciences and Kintor Pharmaceutical.
Analysis: Global energy crisis drives rethink of nuclear power projects
MANILA — The Philippines’ Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) has not produced any electricity since it was finished in 1984, despite its $2.3 billion price tag and its promise of energy security during the 1970s oil crisis.
Approved by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., his son and new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has revived discussions on proposals to rehabilitate the site amid the current energy crisis that has pushed prices for traditional power generating fuels coal and natural gas to records.
The BNPP’s potential revival is one sign of the renewed interest in nuclear power. Governments across Europe and Asia are extending their aging fleet of nuclear plants, restarting reactors and dusting off plans to resume projects shelved after the 2011 nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan.
Both the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and the International Energy Agency have said nuclear power is critical for countries to meet global net-zero carbon emissions goals and ensuring energy security, as fossil fuel prices have surged after Russia cut natural gas supplies to Europe since the Ukraine war started in February.
As a result, nuclear power may be on the cusp of a revival of the golden age seen after the 1970s oil crisis that led to a flurry of projects, although opposition from politicians and non-governmental organizations, funding issues and safety concerns will have to be overcome.
|An interior view of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is seen during a tour at the BNPP compound in Morong town, Bataan province, north of Manila, Philippines May 11, 2018. Photo: Reuters|
“If fossil fuel prices remain high for a period of three to four years, I think that would be enough to launch a golden age of nuclear development especially in Asia because that’s where they are the most price sensitive and because there’s most need,” said Alex Whitworth, head of Asia power and renewable research at consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
“About 80% of power demand growth in the next few years is going to be in Asia given the economic deterioration in Europe and the U.S.”
Newly elected leaders of the Philippines, Japan and South Korea, empowered by shifting public opinion because of high energy prices and the need to cut emissions, are pushing ahead plans to restart reactors and build new plants to ease power shortages. Vietnam may also revisit two projects shelved in 2016 because of safety concerns and budget constraints.
In Europe, Britain gave consent in July for what will be its second new nuclear project in two decades. Funding discussions for the Sizewell C project are on going and a final investment decision is expected in 2023.
Asia will drive construction of new reactors as the world’s manufacturing hubs seek baseload electricity to complement renewables and replace fossil fuels, industry experts said.
Global nuclear capacity will need to double by 2050 to achieve net-zero targets, the IEA said last month, to power electric vehicles and produce non-fossil fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia to cut heavy industry emissions.
|A local photographer walks past the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) during a media tour around the BNPP compound in Morong town, Bataan province, Philippines September 16, 2016. Photo: Reuters|
Lower cost power
New technologies such as small modular reactors (SMR), quicker to build and less costly than conventional units, are being discussed in Singapore, the Philippines and Japan, Paul Stein, chairman of Rolls-Royce SMR, a unit of Rolls-Royce, said last month.
“The heavily industrialized economies of the Far East are in just as much need, perhaps even more so, of a rapid increase in nuclear power as much as industrialized Europe and United States,” he said in an interview.
The average cost of electricity generated by a conventional nuclear power plant over its lifetime is less than half that of a gas-fired plant at current prices, and is in the same range as coal power, Woodmac’s Whitworth said, spurring governments to revive projects.
|Asia Pacific will attract $2.9 trillion of investment in power generation in the next decade with wind and solar accounting for 60% of total|
Nuclear provides about 5% of Asia Pacific’s power supplies and this is expected to rise to 8% in 2030 based on projects that have been announced, he said.
Chinese and Russian reactor designs dominate the projects under construction since 2017 but sanctions on Moscow following the Ukraine war have raised questions about the prospects for Russian-designed plants. Finland has scrapped plans for a project by Russian state nuclear supplier Rosatom.
Delays and costs overruns from additional safety reviews after Fukushima and the COVID-19 pandemic have plagued projects. The high initial costs of reactors and concerns around waste fuel disposal and overall safety concerns are also impediments, industry experts said.
The budget for French utility EDF’s Hinkley Point C project, under construction in the UK, has spiralled and it will begin generating a decade later than initially promised. EDF has blamed the pandemic for constraining staffing, resources and supply chains. read more
In the U.S., two reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia are slated to open in 2023 after a six-year delay and costs have more than doubled to $30 billion.
|Global nuclear power projects are mostly in Asian countries, led by China and India|
“The enormous costs overruns and long delays certainly have raised concerns for anyone who wants to build a large capacity nuclear power plant,” said Timothy Fox, an analyst at research group ClearView Energy Partners.
Still, as existing U.S. reactors struggle, the Biden administration is implementing a $6 billion program passed last year to help them and is backing additional policies for the sector. A Senate bill announced on July 27 could help build advanced reactors and prevent old plants from closing if passed by Congress.
The bill contains a production tax credit for existing nuclear plants for generating “zero-emissions” electricity.
In Europe, there are only a few nuclear power stations under construction but France has plans for up to 14 new reactors by 2050.
The European Union labelling nuclear power investments as climate-friendly earlier this month is also expected to unleash public and private funding for new projects.
Analysis: Global rice supplies at risk as harsh weather hits top exporters
SINGAPORE/MUMBAI — Adverse weather across top rice suppliers in Asia, including the biggest exporter India, is threatening to reduce the output of the world’s most important food staple and stoke food inflation that is already near record highs.
Rice has bucked the trend of rising food prices amid bumper crops and large inventories at exporters over the past two years, even as COVID-19, supply disruptions and more recently the Russia-Ukraine conflict made other grains costlier.
But inclement weather in exporting countries in Asia, which accounts for about 90% of the world’s rice output, is likely to change the price trajectory, traders and analysts said.
“There is an upside potential for rice prices with the possibility of production downgrades in key exporting countries,” said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank.
“An increase in rice prices would add to already major challenges for food affordability in parts of the developing world,” Ziebell told Reuters.
Patchy rains in India’s grain belt, a heatwave in China, floods in Bangladesh and quality downgrades in Vietnam could curb yields in four of the world’s top five rice producers, farmers, traders and analysts told Reuters.
“Rice has remained accessible even as overall food prices reached record levels earlier this year,” said U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation economist, Shirley Mustafa.
“We are now witnessing weather-related setbacks in some key rice producing countries, including India, China and Bangladesh, which could result in lower output if conditions don’t improve in the next few weeks,” Mustafa added.
World cereals prices have surged in 2022 despite relatively flat rice prices
‘Production drop is certain’
India’s top rice producing states of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh have recorded a monsoon rainfall deficit of as much as 45% so far this season, data from the state-run weather department shows.
That has in part led to a 13% drop in rice planting this year, which could result in production falling by 10 million tonnes or around 8% from last year, said B.V. Krishna Rao, president of the All India Rice Exporters Association.
The area under rice cultivation is down also because some farmers shifted to pulses and oilseeds, Rao said.
India’s summer-sown rice accounts for more than 85% of its annual production, which jumped to a record 129.66 million tonnes in the crop year to June 2022.
“A production drop is certain, but the big question is how the government will react,” a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm said.
Milled and paddy rice stocks in India as of July 1 totalled 55 million tonnes, versus the target of 13.54 million tonnes.
That has kept rice prices down in the past year together with India’s record 21.5 million tonnes shipment in 2021, which was more than the total shipped by the world’s next four biggest exporters – Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and the United States.
“But the government is hypersensitive about prices. A small rise could prompt it to impose export curbs,” the trader said.
In Vietnam, rains during harvest have damaged grain quality.
“Never before have I seen it rain that much during harvest. It’s just abnormal,” said Tran Cong Dang, a 50-year-old farmer based in the Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu.
“In just ten days, the total measured rain is somewhat equal to the whole of previous month,” said Dang, who estimated a 70% output loss on his 2-hectare paddy field due to floods.
China, the world’s biggest rice consumer and importer, has suffered yield losses from extreme heat in grain growing areas and is expected to lift imports to a record 6 million tonnes in 2022/23, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
China imported 5.9 million tonnes a year ago.
The world’s third-biggest consumer, Bangladesh, is also expected to import more rice following flood-damage in its main producing regions, traders said.
The full extent of shortfalls in countries other than India has yet to be estimated by analysts or government agencies that often only publish output data later in the year.
But the impact of unfriendly crop weather can already be seen in the slight rise in export prices from India and Thailand this week.
“Rice prices are already close to the bottom and we see the market rising from current levels,” said a Singapore-based trader at one of the world’s biggest rice merchants.
“The demand is picking up with buyers such as the Philippines and others in Africa looking to book cargoes.”
Health fears over Beluga whale spotted in France’s Seine river
A beluga whale that swam up France’s Seine river appears to be underweight and officials are worried about its health, regional authorities said Thursday.
The protected species, usually found in cold Arctic waters, had made its way up the waterway and reached a lock some 70 kilometres (44 miles) from Paris.
The whale was first spotted Tuesday in the river that flows through the French capital to the English Channel, and follows the rare appearance of a killer whale in the Seine just over two months ago.
French rescue services as well as firefighters and biodiversity officials mobilised swiftly and kept a close eye on the whale throughout the day to evaluate the “worrying” health of the mammal, the local prefecture said.
It added the whale seemed to have “skin changes and to be underweight”.
It is “currently between the Poses dam and that of Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne”, around 70 kilometres (43 miles) northwest of Paris.
Gerard Mauger, deputy head of French Marine Mammal Research Group GEEC, said the mammal spent “very little time on the surface” and appeared to have “good” lung capacity.
But Mauger said rescuers were struggling to guide the whale to the mouth of the Seine.
Officials did not specify the size, but an adult beluga can reach up to four metres (13 feet) in length.
Authorities in Normandy’s Eure department urged people to keep their distance to avoid distressing the animal.
Lamya Essemlali, head of the non-profit marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd, said some of her team would arrive with drones in the evening to locate the whale more easily.
“The environment is not very welcoming for the beluga, the Seine is very polluted and cetaceans are extremely sensitive to noise,” she said, adding that the Seine was “very noisy”.
In late May, the killer whale — also known as an orca, but technically part of the dolphin family — was found dead in the Seine between Le Havre and Rouen.
The animal had found itself stranded in the river and was unable to make its way back to the ocean despite attempts by officials to guide it.
“The urgency is to feed the whale to prevent it from suffering the same fate as the orca who died after starving to death,” Essemlali said.
The prefecture said it would assist and monitor Sea Shepherd’s efforts.
The Eure authorities said lone belugas do sometimes swim further south than usual, and are able to temporarily survive in fresh water.
While they migrate away from the Arctic in the autumn to feed as ice forms, they rarely venture so far south.
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