WHO halts trials of drug for coronavirus owing to safety issues

Meanwhile, Dutch workers on mink farms could be first humans infected by animals

GENEVA • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has suspended the testing of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in Covid-19 patients because of safety concerns, according to its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Hydroxycholoroquine has been touted by US President Donald Trump and others as a possible treatment for the disease caused by the coronavirus. Mr Trump has said he was taking the drug to help prevent infection.

"The executive group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity trial while the safety data is reviewed by the data safety monitoring board," Dr Tedros told an online briefing on Monday.

The WHO chief said the other arms of the trial - a major international initiative to hold clinical tests of potential treatments for the virus - were continuing.

The world body has previously recommended against using hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent coronavirus infections, except as part of clinical trials.

Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO's emergencies programme, said the decision to suspend trials of hydroxychloroquine had been taken out of "an abundance of caution".

Dr Ryan also said countries where infections are declining could still face an "immediate second peak" if they let up too soon on steps to halt the outbreak.

He said epidemics often come in waves, which means that outbreaks could come back later this year in places where the first wave has subsided. There was also a chance that infection rates could rise again, and more quickly, if measures to halt the first wave were lifted too soon.

Separately, the WHO said yesterday that the case of Dutch workers apparently infected with the coronavirus by minks could be the first known animal-to-human transmission of the disease.

The WHO told Agence France-Presse that it was in close contact with Dutch researchers investigating three cases where the virus appears to have been passed to humans from mink.

"This would be the first known cases of animal-to-human transmission," the UN health agency said.

"But we are still collecting and reviewing more data to understand if animals and pets can spread the disease," it added.

Ms Carola Schouten, the Netherlands Agriculture Minister, said on Monday that a second worker had likely contracted Covid-19 on a mink farm, while stressing that the risk of further contagion remained low.

An initial infection was reported last week on one of two farms near the southern city of Eindhoven, where the disease was discovered in April among mink that are bred for their valuable fur.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2020, with the headline WHO halts trials of drug for coronavirus owing to safety issues. Subscribe