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Commission approves €32 million Polish aid scheme to compensate airports for damage suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, a PLN 142 million (approximately €32m) Polish aid scheme to compensate airports for the damage suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak. In order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, on 15 March 2020, Poland banned all international and domestic air passenger services at Polish airports. The flight restrictions were progressively lifted as of 1 June 2020, but certain travel warnings, travel bans and restrictive measures remained in place until the end of June 2020.

This resulted in high operating losses for the operators of Polish airports. Under the scheme, the Polish authorities will be able to compensate airports for the revenue losses suffered during the period between 15 March and 30 June 2020, as a result of the restrictive measures on international and domestic air passenger services implemented by Poland. The support will take the form of direct grants.

The scheme includes a claw-back mechanism, whereby any possible public support in excess of the actual damage received by the beneficiaries will have to be paid back to the Polish State. The risk of the state aid exceeding the damage is therefore excluded. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors (in the form of schemes) for the damage directly caused by restrictive measures taken in exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the  scheme notified by Poland will provide compensation for damage that is directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the aid is in line with EU state aid rules. More information will be available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.58212 once confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Italy approves trial of osteoporosis drug to treat COVID-19

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Italy’s main medicines regulator gave the go-ahead on Tuesday (27 October) for human clinical trials on raloxifene, a generic osteoporosis drug that researchers hope may also help reduce COVID-19 symptoms and make patients less infectious, writes .

The drug was identified as a potential COVID-19 treatment by researchers using supercomputers to screen more than 400,000 molecules for chemical characteristics that might inhibit the virus, focusing on those already approved for use in humans.

Andrea Beccari, from Excalate4Cov, a public-private consortium led by Italy’s Dompé Farmaceutici, said researchers hoped that raloxifene - a generic drug known as a selective oestrogen receptor modulator - would block replication of the virus in cells and thus slow down progress of the disease.

“It inhibits virus replication, thus preventing the worsening of patients with mild symptoms, and also decreases infectivity, limiting the viral load,” said Marco Allegretti, head of research at Dompé Farmaceutici.

There was some evidence early in the coronavirus pandemic that oestrogen present in pre-menopausal women might have a protective effect against the virus. Some scientists think raloxifene, which is prescribed to strengthen the bones of older women with lower levels of oestrogen, the female hormone, may provide the same kind of protection.

The trial will involve 450 hospital and home patients at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital and Humanitas in Milan in the initial phase.

They will be given a seven-day treatment of raloxifene capsules in a randomised sample and 174 more people may be added in the final stage. Enrolment will last 12 weeks.

The Excalate4Cov platform is backed by the European Commission and coordinates supercomputing centres in Italy, Germany and Spain with pharmaceutical companies and research centres, including the University of Louvain, Fraunhofer Institut, Politecnico di Milano and Spallanzani Hospital.

It uses a chemical library of 500 billion molecules and can process 3 million molecules per second using four supercomputers of more than 122 Petaflops, a unit of computing speed equal to one thousand trillion floating-point operations a second.

Researchers harnessed the power of the supercomputers to create a three-dimensional structure of 12 coronavirus proteins and conduct simulations to see where the proteins may be attacked by a drug.

“It took a million hours of calculation,” Beccari said, adding that, as research continued, it may be possible to develop second-generation drugs superior to raloxifene.

($1 = €0.8443)

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France sees highest number of COVID-19 patients going into hospital since April

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French hospitals registered 1,307 new coronavirus patients on Monday in the highest one-day increase since 2 April, which saw 1,607 new patients, as the health system comes under increasing stress from a runaway infection rate, writes Geert De Clercq.

French health ministry data showed that France now has a total of 17,784 coronavirus patients in its hospitals, compared with a record 32,292 on 14 April, at the height of the March-May lockdown.

The ministry also reported 26,771 new confirmed coronavirus cases in past 24 hours, from 52,010 on Sunday (25 October). On Monday, the tally usually drops sharply because of reporting lags over the weekend.

The death toll went up by 257, taking the cumulative total since the start of the epidemic to 35,018. The number of people in intensive care units rose by 186 to 2,770.

Several regions in France have implemented emergency plans in hospitals, delaying non-essential operations to make space in ICU units for COVID-19 patients and cancelling staff holidays.

Sources told Reuters that authorities were looking at options for still tighter measures to fight COVID-19, including starting a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m curfew earlier, confining people to their homes at weekends except for essential trips, and closing non-essential shops.

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Mounting pressure on Portugal's health system could prompt further restrictions, minister says

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Portugal’s national health minister warned on Monday (26 October) that the country’s national health service was under grave pressure and that further restrictive measures could be coming as the number of patients in intensive care approached record levels, write and

“Although the Portuguese and the national health service are better prepared to respond to the pandemic than before, the situation in Portugal - as in other places - is grave,” Health Minister Marta Temido told a news conference.

The government “is ready to cover possible new municipalities with more restrictive measures,” she added.

Three municipalities in the country’s North went into partial lockdown last Thursday, and non-essential travel between regions was banned from 30 October 30 to 3 November to reduce the risk of transmission during the All Saints national holiday.

A total of 1,672 people were in hospital as of Monday, with 240 in intensive care units (ICUs) - close to the peak of 271 reached in April.

The health system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, could accommodate a maximum of 800 COVID-19 patients in ICUs, Temido said.

Given current trends, over half that figure would be reached by next week, the minister cautioned.

Portugal has reported a total of 121,133 coronavirus cases and 2,343 deaths.

Recent numbers of new daily cases - reaching 3,669 on Saturday - have approached triple the country’s previous peak in April, but testing has also multiplied by around the same proportion.

The country’s toll of hospitalizations and deaths has surpassed April levels, reflecting the considerable number of new cases still being detected among higher-risk age groups, worrying health authorities. Rising hospitalizations and deaths are not linked to increased testing.

Parliament voted on Friday for masks to be compulsory in public spaces where social distancing is difficult for a period of 70 days, a measure which will soon come into law.

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