Monkeys infected with COVID-19 develop immunity in studies, a positive sign for vaccines

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Two studies in monkeys published on Wednesday offer some of the first scientific evidence that surviving COVID-19 may result in immunity from reinfection, a positive sign that vaccines under development may succeed, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

Although scientists have assumed that antibodies produced in response to the new coronavirus virus are protective, there has been scant scientifically rigorous evidence to back that up.

In one of the new studies, researchers infected nine monkeys with COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. After they recovered, the team exposed them to the virus again and the animals did not get sick.

The findings suggest that they “do develop natural immunity that protects against re-exposure,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, a researcher at the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, whose studies were published in the journal Science.

“It’s very good news,” Barouch said.

Several research teams have released papers – many of them not reviewed by other scientists – suggesting that a vaccine against the virus would be effective in animals.

In the second study, Barouch and colleagues tested 25 monkeys with six prototype vaccines to see if antibodies produced in response were protective.

They then exposed these monkeys and 10 control animals to SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the novel coronavirus.

All of the control animals showed high degrees of virus in their noses and lungs, but in the vaccinated animals, “we saw a substantial degree of protection,” Barouch said. Eight of the vaccinated animals were completely protected.

These studies, which have been peer reviewed, do not prove that humans develop immunity or how long it might last, but they are reassuring.

“These data will be seen as a welcome scientific advance,” Barouch said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Most COVID-19 patients get antibodies but immunity unclear: UK official

LONDON (Reuters) – Studies in Britain show that most people who have had COVID-19 develop antibodies, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said on Monday, but it was too early to say whether this gave them immunity.

“The overwhelming majority of people so far called back who’ve had definite COVID-19 infection have got antibodies in their blood stream,” Van-Tam said at daily news conference.

“By and large the signal is that people get antibodies. The next question is, do those antibodies protect you from further infections. And we just haven’t had this disease around … for long enough to know the answers to that with any surety.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added that the government was in discussions with Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche over antibody testing.

(Reporting by William James and Andy Bruce; writing by Alistair Smout; editing by Estelle Shirbon)

Your COVID-19 questions, answered

Your COVID-19 questions, answered
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the coronavirus, so we took to Instagram, Twitter and Reddit to see what questions have been bugging you, our readers.Below are answers from several healthcare experts who have been following the outbreak. Please note that there is much we still don’t know about the new virus, and you should reach out to your own healthcare provider with any personal health concerns.

LIVING UNDER LOCKDOWN

What are good ways to maintain your mental health?

I would recommend the following:

1. Maintain a normal schedule if possible

2. Exercise (go for walk or run, do an online video)

3. Maintain social connections via FaceTime, Skype or phone calls

4. Limit time spent on the Internet and connected to the news

5. Have “virtual” dates with family and friends.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

How long will the U.S. really have to be on lockdown to successfully flatten the curve?

We’re still learning on a daily basis what the case count looks like in the U.S. We also need to consider that there could be a resurgence of cases once public health measures are loosened up.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

I defer to the epidemiologists here, but National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci recently said that he’s confident in a range of four to six weeks to 3 months.

— Dr. Angela Rasmussen, virologist at Columbia University

Do I actually need to wear a mask?

The WHO advises that if you’re healthy, you need to wear a mask only when caring for an infected person or if you’re coughing, sneezing or showing symptoms.

TRANSMISSION

Is it fair to assume every American will be exposed to the coronavirus this year?

No, which is one of the reasons we have these current public health measures in place. We are trying to prevent further onward transmission of the disease.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

Is the coronavirus airborne in normal settings and if so, for how long?

According to our knowledge, it does not stay in the air in normal settings. Most evidence directs us to droplet transmission. Airborne precautions are required only for healthcare workers when undertaking aerosol producing procedures such as bronchoscopy/intubation.

— Dr. Muge Cevik, infectious diseases researcher at the University of St. Andrews

Is there potential exposure in elevators?

Coronavirus guidelines by the CDC are based on the fact that the virus is transmitted primarily via respiratory droplets, like a cough or sneeze. In droplet form, it’s airborne for a few seconds, but is only able to travel a short distance. In elevators, social distancing measures should be implemented with a max number of people inside at a time.

— Infectious Diseases Society of America

How worried should we be about fomite transmission?

We are still learning about fomite transmission. We know from an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that the virus is viable up to four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

Can you spread the virus if you’re asymptomatic?

Yes, but it isn’t the main driver of transmission. This is also why it is extremely important to ensure you have washed hands before touching your face.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

What’s the typical timeline of symptoms?

From the time of exposure to symptoms it may take on average three to six days, which may be longer/shorter in some patients. Typically it starts with fever, dry cough, myalgia and flu-like illness, then progresses to shortness of breath and pneumonia in some patients.

— Dr. Muge Cevik, infectious diseases researcher at the University of St. Andrews

Is it possible that an infected person only has a mild cold before recovering?

Yes. The most common symptoms a person will have are fever, dry cough and muscle aches/fatigue.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

Should people be more concerned about eye protection?

We certainly use face shields to protect our eyes when in contact with patients.

— Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease researcher and scientist

Does getting vaccines increase your risk?

Getting any vaccines would not increase your risk for COVID-19. We’re recommending getting needed vaccines. We want people to get their influenza vaccines so they don’t end up with the flu and in the hospital.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

Do people have a natural immunity to this virus?

I am not aware of “natural immunity” since it is a new virus. We might find as serology testing is rolled out that people have been exposed and developed antibodies without having symptoms.

— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, infectious disease researcher

Is it possible to get reinfected?

We’re not sure how immunity works or how long it lasts. The best guess is that people who are infected are likely to be protected over the short-to-medium term. We don’t know about longer yet.

— Dr. Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief, New England Journal of Medicine

TREATMENT

Is there a team working on an antibody test for the virus? If so, when might it be ready?

There are teams working on serological tests . Rolling out on a population scale will be an essential part of the long-term answer, but we need to get through the next month.

— Bill Hanage, associate professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

When will a vaccine be ready?

Vaccine trials may take as long as 12 months. There are multiple clinical trials looking at different treatment options, but we currently don’t know whether this combination is effective and safe for patients.

— Dr. Muge Cevik, infectious diseases researcher at the University of St. Andrews

Scientists in Singapore are trying to fast-track the process.

What impact will warmer weather have on the spread?

I have yet to see convincing evidence on this, one way or the other. We are all hoping transmission will slow down with warmer weather in the northern hemisphere, and that warmer countries will be spared the worst. Not enough data yet to conclude.

— Dr. Suerie Moon, director of research at the Global Health Centre

I’ve seen several news sources report that experts from Johns Hopkins and other medical colleges are saying the virus can become less deadly as it spreads. Can you explain this phenomenon?

Yes, one theory for why many viruses become weaker over time is that viruses that kill their host don’t get very far. This pattern of weakening is seen with flu viruses, and many others, but not all. We’re not there yet with the current outbreak. Whether it’s weaker three or 10 years from now doesn’t change anything about today’s situation.

— Christine Soares, medical editor at Reuters

(Reporting by Lauren Young, Jenna Zucker, Beatrix Lockwood, Nancy Lapid, Christine Soares)

U.S. companies, labs rush to produce blood test for coronavirus immunity

By Chad Terhune, Allison Martell and Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – As the United States works overtime to screen thousands for the novel coronavirus, a new blood test offers the chance to find out who may have immunity – a potential game changer in the battle to contain infections and get the economy back on track.

Several academic laboratories and medical companies are rushing to produce these blood tests, which can quickly identify disease-fighting antibodies in people who already have been infected but may have had mild symptoms or none at all. This is different from the current, sometimes hard-to-come-by diagnostic tests that draw on a nasal swab to confirm active infection.

“Ultimately, this (antibody test) might help us figure out who can get the country back to normal,” Florian Krammer, a professor in vaccinology at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, told Reuters. “People who are immune could be the first people to go back to normal life and start everything up again.”

Krammer and his fellow researchers have developed one of the first antibody tests in the United States for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Krammer said his lab is busy distributing key ingredients for the tests to other organizations and sharing the testing procedure. He is transferring the work to Mount Sinai’s clinical lab this week so it can begin testing patient samples.

Antibody tests won’t face the same bureaucratic hurdles diagnostic testing initially did. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed its rules last month, and body-fluid tests can proceed to market without full agency review and approval.

Several private companies have begun selling blood tests for COVID-19 antibodies outside the United States, including California-based Biomerica Inc <BMRA.O> and South Korean test maker Sugentech Inc <253840.KQ>. Biomerica said its test sells for less than $10 and the company already has orders from Europe and the Middle East. Chembio Diagnostics Inc <CMI.O> of New York said it received a $4 million order from Brazil for its COVID-19 antibody test, and it plans a study of the test at several sites in the United States.

Such tests are relatively inexpensive and simple, usually using blood from a finger prick. Some can produce results in 10 to 15 minutes. That could make ramping up screening much easier than for diagnostic tests.

Many questions remain, including how long immunity lasts to this new virus, how accurate the tests are and how testing would roll out, according to researchers and infectious disease experts. For now, the number of people who have been able to fight off the virus is unknown.

If testing goes forward on a wider scale, some public health experts and clinicians say healthcare workers and first responders should take priority.

Detecting immunity among doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers could spare them from quarantine and enable them to keep treating the growing surge of coronavirus patients, they say. It could also bolster the ranks of first responders, police officers and other essential workers who have already been infected and have at least some period of protection from the virus, the experts say.

“If I ever get the virus and then get over it, I’ll want to get back to the front lines ASAP,” said Dr. Adams Dudley, a pulmonologist and professor at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. “I would have a period in which I am immune, effectively making me a ‘corona blocker’ who couldn’t pass the disease on.”

‘VERY ATTRACTIVE’

Other workers sidelined by lockdowns also could potentially return to their jobs, providing a much-needed boost to the foundering U.S. economy. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has soared, and business activity slumped to a record low this month as the pandemic battered the manufacturing and service sectors.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said companies, schools, colleges and professional sports teams could all flock to these tests. He also said a broad sample of testing could give a governor or mayor enough confidence to lift certain restrictions on businesses and schools if there is a strong level of immunity.

“These tests would be very attractive if they’re cost effective, readily available and easy to do,” he said.

Tony Mazzulli, chief microbiologist with Toronto’s Sinai Health system, sounded a note of caution. It is uncertain whether antibodies would be sufficient protection if a person were to be re-exposed to the virus in very large amounts. That could happen in an emergency room or intensive-care unit, for instance.

The timing of a return to work and normal life also matters, he said. Some people who have antibodies to the virus could still be contagious, even if their symptoms have eased. Patients begin to make antibodies while they are still sick, Mazzulli said, and they continue to shed the virus for a few days after they have recovered.

It would be “a bit premature” to use the tests to make staffing decisions now, Mazzulli said. “The hope is … (antibodies) do confer protection and they can go to work, ride the subways, whatever they do. But there’s no guarantee.”

Meantime, at the Mayo Clinic  in Rochester, Minnesota, researchers are preparing to start a clinical trial in which patients who test positive for COVID-19 would have their blood collected at the time of diagnosis, and again 15 to 20 days after that in the patient’s home.

The trial is designed to show when people who have COVID-19 infections “seroconvert” – when antibodies produced by the body begin to show up in blood tests. That information will be useful in determining the best time to conduct the tests.

“You don’t want to do it too soon because of the risk of false negatives,” said Elitza Theel, director of Mayo’s Infectious Diseases Serology Laboratory.

Mayo also is evaluating the performance of antibody tests from several companies, including two from China.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is working on its own version of antibody tests, but it has not given a timetable. The agency has said extensive research is underway. One challenge for the CDC and other labs is to get enough blood samples from people who have already been infected to verify the antibody results.

The agency faced heavy criticism for sending a faulty diagnostic test to state and local labs early in the coronavirus epidemic and then taking weeks to fix it. The federal government is still trying to expand diagnostic testing capacity.

MONTHS OF IMMUNITY

The potential for antibody testing arises as U.S. President Donald Trump is considering scaling back “social distancing” and stay-at-home advisories in the weeks ahead. His political allies argue that the toll on the U.S. economy is too severe. About half of Americans have been ordered to shelter in place as many schools and businesses remain shuttered indefinitely.

On Tuesday, Trump said: “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

Reopening offices and businesses without fear of triggering more infections, however, has been complicated by the lack of testing to diagnose COVID-19 cases across much of the country.

On Monday, Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said simple, finger-prick antibody tests could play an important role, and she suggested the federal government is not waiting on the CDC’s version.

“Some are developed now. We are looking at the ones in Singapore,” Birx said Monday at a White House press briefing. “We are very quality-oriented. We don’t want false positives.”

False positives are erroneous results that, in this case, could lead to a conclusion that someone has immunity when he or she does not.

Researchers at the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School said they quickly developed one antibody test that had about 90% accuracy and later introduced a more sophisticated version that was more reliable, according to a report in the Straits Times of Singapore.

Infectious disease experts say immunity against COVID-19 may last for several months and perhaps a year or more based on their studies of other coronaviruses, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in 2003. But they caution that there is no way to know precisely how long immunity would last with COVID-19, and it may vary person to person.

“You are likely to have immunity for several months,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa. “We just don’t know. This is an incredibly important question.”

Perlman said many of the new antibody tests coming on the market now may be highly effective, but researchers want to see data to back that up.

“You want them to be sensitive enough to detect everyone who has had the infection,” Perlman said, “but not so nonspecific that you are picking up other coronaviruses.”

(This story has been refiled to fix Bioamerica Inc RIC)

(Chad Terhune reported from Los Angeles, Julie Steenhuysen from Chicago and Allison Martell from Toronto; Editing by Julie Marquis)

Explainer: Coronavirus reappears in discharged patients, raising questions in containment fight

By David Stanway and Kate Kelland

SHANGHAI/LONDON (Reuters) – A growing number of discharged coronavirus patients in China and elsewhere are testing positive after recovering, sometimes weeks after being allowed to leave the hospital, which could make the epidemic harder to eradicate.

On Wednesday, the Osaka prefectural government in Japan said a woman working as a tour-bus guide had tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time. This followed reports in China that discharged patients throughout the country were testing positive after their release from the hospital.

An official at China’s National Health Commission said on Friday that such patients have not been found to be infectious.

Experts say there are several ways discharged patients could fall ill with the virus again. Convalescing patients might not build up enough antibodies to develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2, and are being infected again. The virus also could be “biphasic”, meaning it lies dormant before creating new symptoms.

But some of the first cases of “reinfection” in China have been attributed to testing discrepancies.

On Feb. 21, a discharged patient in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu was readmitted 10 days after being discharged when a follow-up test came back positive.

Lei Xuezhong, the deputy director of the infectious diseases center at the West China Hospital, told People’s Daily that hospitals were testing nose and throat samples when deciding whether patients should be discharged, but new tests were finding the virus in the lower respiratory tract.

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia who has been closely following the outbreak, told Reuters that although the patient in Osaka could have relapsed, it is also possible that the virus was still being released into her system from the initial infection, and she wasn’t tested properly before she was discharged.

The woman first tested positive in late January and was discharged from the hospital on Feb. 1, leading some experts to speculate that it was biphasic, like anthrax.

A Journal of the American Medical Association study of four infected medical personnel treated in Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, said it was likely that some recovered patients would remain carriers even after meeting discharge criteria.

In China, for instance, patients must test negative, show no symptoms and have no abnormalities on X-rays before they are discharged.

Allen Cheng, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at Monash University in Melbourne, said it wasn’t clear whether the patients were re-infected or had remained “persistently positive” after their symptoms disappeared. But he said the details of the Japan case suggested the patient had been reinfected.

Song Tie, vice director of the local disease control center in southern China’s Guangdong province, told a media briefing on Wednesday that as many as 14% of discharged patients in the province have tested positive again and had returned to hospitals for observation.

He said one good sign is that none of those patients appear to have infected anyone else.

“From this understanding … after someone has been infected by this kind of virus, he will produce antibodies, and after these antibodies are produced, he won’t be contagious,” he said.

Normally, convalescing patients will develop specific antibodies that render them immune to the virus that infected them, but reinfection is not impossible, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Sydney.

“In most cases though, because their body has developed an immune response to the first infection, the second infection is usually less severe,” Kamradt-Scott said.

Other experts have also raised the possibility of “antibody-dependent enhancement”, which means exposure to viruses might make patients more at risk of further infections and worse symptoms.

China has so far discharged 36,117 patients, according to data from the National Health Commission released on Friday, which represents almost 46% of the total cases on the Chinese mainland. If the 14% rate of reinfection is accurate and remains consistent, it could pose a wider health risk.

“I would say that it is less about if it is possible that re-infection can occur than how often it occurs,” Cheng said.

(Reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai, Kate Kelland in London and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Russia to consider making ex-presidents immune from prosecution: RIA

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian presidents could be made immune from criminal prosecution once they leave office under proposed constitutional reforms, a senior lawmaker said on Tuesday.

The proposal, made by a parliamentary working group, comes after President Vladimir Putin last month announced sweeping reforms to the political system that would shift some powers away from the presidency.

Putin’s initiatives, which were followed by a government shake-up, are widely seen as a way to allow him to extend his grip on power after his term ends in 2024.

The proposals by the parliamentary working group assessing Putin’s reforms include making former presidents immune from criminal prosecution, said Pavel Krashennikov, the group’s co-chair.

“The president of Russia, having ceased to exercise his powers, has immunity. We have this (proposed reform),” he said at a working group meeting, RIA news agency reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters he would not comment on the working group’s proposal at this stage.

Krashennikov had said earlier this month that Russian presidents could be made senators for life after their term. Lawmakers in the lower and upper houses of parliament are immune to criminal prosecution under Russian law.

The working group has already put forward an array of other proposals, including one that would change Putin’s job description to Supreme Ruler from head of state.

Russia’s lower house of parliament has already backed Putin’s proposed reforms in a vote last month.

For the group’s proposals to be adopted, they must be approved by the lower house of parliament in two further votes before being voted on by the upper house, reviewed by regional parliaments and then signed by Putin.

Putin has said that the proposed changes would be put to a nationwide vote, but a date has yet to be set.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; additional reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Flu Spreading Rapidly across the Country, CDC reports increase since Christmas

Weekly report of widespread flu cases throughout the US from the CDC

By Kami Klein

Flu season is upon us and this year according to the CDC, reports do not look good. In states like California, pharmacies are running out of flu medicine, emergency rooms are packed with patients, and the death toll is three times higher now than this time last year.  So far, in that state alone 27 people under the age of 65 have died since October.  And the cases have now spread across the country.   

The flu outbreak covers the entire United States with many hospitals filling to capacity.  Although it has not been called an epidemic yet, this year’s flu season has already spread faster and further than it did last year at this time. The CDC has also reported that during the week of Christmas the flu virus has increased sharply across the nation.  

The Los Angeles Times reported that UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica are seeing over 200 patients a day in emergency rooms.  Dr. Wally Ghurabi, the ER medical director remarked on what they are seeing daily, “The Northridge earthquake was the last time we saw over 200 patients.”  

Methodist Dallas Medical Center’s emergency room is so overrun with flu cases that it is asking people with non-emergency symptoms to go to urgent care centers or see a primary care physician. And many hospitals have gone into diversion mode having to send ambulances to other hospitals and not accepting flu patients.  

The most prevalent strain of flu that is being reported by public health laboratories is influenza A(H3).  Symptoms come on suddenly and can begin with any of these symptoms; Body Aches, Fever, Headache, Sore Throat, Cough, Exhaustion, Cold like symptoms of Congestion and more frequently in children can include Vomiting and Diarrhea.

According to the CDC, most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus.

It is vital to note that people with the flu can spread it to others from up to about 6 feet away when those infected cough, sneeze or talk and the droplets land in the mouths or noses of people nearby or are inhaled into the lungs. A person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

If you have been exposed to the flu, being aware of the risk of spreading is vital to slowing down this virus. Encourage family, friends and co-workers to frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use an alcohol based hand rub. Frequently touched surfaces such as telephones, computer keyboards, desks, doorknobs, light switches, should be cleaned and disinfected especially if someone ill has been around them.  

Anyone who is sick should stay home! By going to work or school you are only putting others who come into contact with you and their families at risk. Those who are the most vulnerable for this virus to become fatal are the very young, the elderly, and those that have other medical conditions. But there have been reports of healthy adults who are succumbing to this virus.  

Nobody is immune to the flu virus.  Health officials say that it is not too late for a flu shot even though at this time the current vaccine is only 10% effective in avoiding this strain of flu, but are also stating that while the flu shot may not protect you from the getting the flu it can absolutely help in your recovery if you are exposed to it.  

 

NOTE:  Morningside hopes you are taking good care of yourself. For many health items we use here at the ministry that can help you stay at your healthiest, please visit our store!

 

Turkish parliament strips MPs of immunity in blow to Kurdish opposition

Pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MPs react to Turkey's ruling AK Party (AKP) as they vote in favor of an article of constitutional change that could see pro-Kurdish and other lawmakers prosecuted at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, May 20, 2016.

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament approved the first clause of a bill to lift lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution on Friday, a constitutional change that the pro-Kurdish opposition has warned could see its parliamentary presence all but wiped out.

In a secret ballot, 373 MPs in the 550-seat parliament backed the plan to lift MPs’ immunity from prosecution, a high enough level of support to change the constitution directly without needing to hold a referendum.

The assembly was set to hold two further votes on elements of the bill on Friday which will determine the final outcome.

President Tayyip Erdogan has accused the pro-Kurdish HDP, parliament’s third-biggest party, of being the political wing of Kurdish militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in the country’s largely Kurdish southeast. The HDP denies this.

Erdogan’s opponents say the lifting of immunities is part of a strategy to push the HDP out of parliament, strengthen the ruling AK Party, and consolidate support in the assembly for the executive presidential system he has long desired.

HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas told Reuters this month that the lifting of immunities was likely to create more violence and stifle democratic politics.

Lawmakers currently enjoy immunity from prosecution. The new law will allow prosecutors to purse members of parliament who currently face investigation: 138 deputies, of whom 101 are from the HDP and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The HDP has said an overwhelming majority of its 59 deputies could be jailed, mostly for views they have expressed, virtually wiping out its parliamentary presence.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall)