BEIJING — There are four vaccine candidates for the coronavirus that has killed hundreds in China and testing could start within months, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said Wednesday.
Human trials for one or two of the most promising vaccine candidates could be launched in three or four months, Soumya Swaminathan told a news conference in Geneva.
However, it will take a year to a year and a half until a vaccine becomes available for wider use, the U.N. scientist cautioned.
In addition, several existing medications will be tested to see if they can be used to treat Covid-19, as the disease is known, Swaminathan said.
The question of how much time it takes to work up a vaccine will weigh greatly on how far it spreads and what impact it inflicts on the world, primarily on China, where the disease broke out and remains centered.
The outbreak has affected tens of thousands of people across China, triggering lockdowns, travel bans and quarantines for entire regions, all of which threatens to create supply-chain bottlenecks and cripple factory operations.
In response, China on Wednesday ramped up efforts to blunt the potential economic impact, with President Xi Jinping pledging tax cuts and other forms of support for businesses.
Xi chaired a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership group, which called for tax cuts and the reduction of interest rates to reduce the virus’ impact on private and small businesses.
The announcement of the measures came after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries downgraded its market forecast because of the outbreak.
The spread of the virus and the newly named Covid-19 illness it carries hurt demand for transportation fuel at China’s peak travel season for the Lunar New Year, and it affected the industrial sector in the world’s second biggest economy, OPEC analysts noted.
The virus, which broke out at a food market in the central Chinese industrial hub of Wuhan in December, is making itself felt internationally. Aside from spreading to multiple other countries, it has prompted major events to shut down because too many people are afraid of large gatherings, where infections could soar.
Fears about the coronavirus prompted officials on Wednesday to cancel one of the world’s biggest annual mobile technology conferences.
Fears about the virus “make it impossible” to stage the Mobile World Congress, which had been planned for February 24-27 in Barcelona. The event has been an annual fixture in the city since 2006.
The decision came after four major companies that had planned to showcase items at the event had said they would not come due to fears of the virus. According to media reports, the cancellation came after organizers failed to get the regional government to declare a health emergency, which would have allowed them to collect insurance payouts in case of such an event.
More than 100,000 visitors and 2,800 exhibitors had been expected at this year’s show.
Formula One also canceled the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 19 because of the outbreak of the coronavirus, with motorsport federation FIA saying a request from the promoter to postpone the race had been accepted.
Several other sports have been affected, including the world indoor athletics championships in Nanjing, World Cup alpine ski races in Yanqing and the international horse show in Hong Kong. Football games including those in the Asian Champions League have been rescheduled.
Organizers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, scheduled for July 24 to Aug. 9, have also expressed their concern.
The number of people infected with the new coronavirus reached 44,653 in China on Wednesday, and Japan became the country with the highest number of cases outside China, reporting 174 infections.
Ninety-seven deaths and 2,015 new infections were reported over a 24-hour interval in mainland China, according to the country’s National Health Commission.
The total death toll in China climbed to 1,113. Two other patients have died in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
Europe has also been affected by the virus, with confirmed cases in Germany (16), France (11) and Britain (8).
The WHO officially named the new disease Covid-19 on Tuesday, as countries continued to impose travel restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus. An expert commission named the virus Sars-CoV-2.