At the end of January, Indian scientists sparked a heated debate within virologist circles when they published a pre-print paper claiming they had discovered insertions in the coronavirus which bore an "uncanny similarity" to fragments such as gp120 and Gag found in the HIV virus, which they then said was "unlikely to be fortuitous in nature" and prompting speculation that the virus was bio-engineered. Following a flood of angry reactions amid rising public concern that coronavirus may have been a genetically-engineered and airborne version of the HIV virus, the scientists eventually withdrew their paper.
However, it now appears there may have been more truth there than scientist peers were willing to acknowledge, because why else would one of the world's most developed nations start using anti-HIV drugs to treat coronavirus infections?
According to Reuters, "as an increase in the number of cases poses a growing threat to the economy and public health," Japan plans to start trials of "HIV medications to treat coronavirus patients", the government’s top spokesman said on Tuesday.
The government is making “preparations so that clinical trials using HIV medication on the novel coronavirus can start as soon as possible,” Yoshihide Suga told a briefing, but added he could not say how long it might take to approve a drug’s use.
As we reported earlier, a further 88 people tested positive for the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the port of Yokohama the Health Ministry said, bringing the total number of infected passengers to 542, or roughly 100 more cases than have been reported everywhere else in the world outside of China!
This is not the first time there has been a shift to seeking a cure using HIV medications: people in China have already appealed to HIV patients and unauthorised importers for medicine. More ominously, in Thailand, doctors said they appeared to have had some success in treating severe cases of the virus with a combination of medications for flu and HIV.
Curiously, HIV drugs have been touted as a potential cure for the coronavirus - which is odd for a virus that according to officials has no relevant homology to the HIV virus - which has now killed almost 1,900 people in mainland China. No therapy has yet proven fully effective against the infection, although HIV treatments have shown some promise in curing one-off cases.
Meanwhile, as China claims to have the epidemic increasingly under control, the spread of the virus has prompted Tokyo to curb the size of public gatherings, while some companies are telling employees to work from home amid concerns of a sharp economic slowdown following the dismal Q4 GDP print which saw the economy collapse at the fastest rate in five years.
Japanese officials have promised to work hard to avoid disruption to the Olympic Games starting in Tokyo in July, but concern about the virus led Mongolia’s Olympics archery team to cancel training in Japan, the Kyodo news agency said.
And speaking of the Diamond Princess, last night we reported that U.S. government evacuation flights on Monday flew home more than 300 Americans who had been on board the Diamond Princess, despite subsequently discovering that at least 13 of them had been infected with the virus.
With more than 3,000 passengers and crew, the ship has been in quarantine since early this month, after a passenger who had left it in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus. Passengers still on the ship, about half of whom are Japanese, have expressed frustration over the quarantine and authorities in Australia, Canada, Italy and South Korea are also planning to evacuate citizens from the cruise liner.
A plane chartered by the Canadian government has left for Japan to evacuate its nationals, TV Asahi said. Canada has said 14 days of quarantine await them on their return. South Korea is also sending a government charter flight on Tuesday to take home four citizens, and a Japanese spouse, who have no symptoms, a South Korean official said.
In a troubling development - considering recent news that the virus incubation period may be as long as 4 weeks or more - Japanese who test negative will begin disembarking as early as Wednesday, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.
“Everyone wants to return home as soon as possible, so considering that feeling, we are making preparations,” Kato told reporters. Disembarkation was set for Feb. 19 to 21, Japan’s vice health minister said, according to a copy of a letter circulated on Twitter by a passenger using the handle @daxa–tw. The letter said local health authorities would take passengers’ temperatures before they left the ship.
As for why increasingly more are turning to HIV drugs to treat a drug which according to so many experts has nothing in common to HIV, we are confident we will read pre-prints and peer-reviewed reports on the matter shortly... assuming of course they aren't "pulled" just as fast as they are submitted.