WHO Mission To China Fails To Find Animal Source Of Coronavirus

This file photo taken on April 29, 2020 shows an engineer looking at monkey kidney cells as he makes a test on an experimental vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP
This file photo taken on April 29, 2020 shows an engineer looking at monkey kidney cells as he makes a test on an experimental vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP

 

The WHO mission to China to uncover the origins of the coronavirus has failed to identify the animal source, scientists said Tuesday.

Experts believe the disease — which has gone on to kill more than 2.3 million people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

While transmission from animals was the likely route, so far “the reservoir hosts remain to be identified”, Liang Wannian, head of the China team, told reporters.

He added that studies showed the virus “can be carried long-distance on cold chain products,” appearing to nudge towards the possible importation of the virus — a theory that has abounded in China in recent months.

He also said there was “no indication” the sickness was in circulation in Wuhan before December 2019 when the first official cases have been recorded.

WHO foreign expert Ben Embarak, who was based in the WHO’s Beijing office for two years from 2009, backed up the assertion saying there was no evidence of “large outbreaks in Wuhan” before then.

The mission is a diplomatically knotty one, which was trailed before it began by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a “robust” probe and China firing back with a warning not to “politicise” the investigation.

During the closely-monitored visit, reporters were largely kept at arms’ length from the experts, but snippets of their findings crept out over Twitter and interviews.

The experts spent one month in China, two weeks in quarantine and the same again on fieldwork.

But, already over a year after the virus emerged, some of it was of questionable relevance to their stated aim of finding the virus source, including a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s recovery from the pandemic.

The group spent just an hour at the seafood market where many of the first reported clusters of infections emerged over a year ago.

They also appeared to spend several days inside their hotel, receiving visits from various Chinese officials without going out into the city.

But deeper research was carried out at the Wuhan virology institute where they spent nearly four hours and said they met with Chinese scientists there including Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on bat coronaviruses and deputy director of the Wuhan lab.

Former US president Donald Trump repeated a controversial theory that a lab leak may have been the source of the pandemic.

Scientists at the laboratory conduct research on some of the world’s most dangerous diseases, including strains of bat coronaviruses similar to Covid-19.

Beijing is desperate to defang criticism of its handling of the chaotic early stages of the outbreak.

It has refocused attention at home — and abroad — on its handling of, and recovery from the outbreak.

Dubai Limits Entertainment Activity As COVID-19 Cases Surge

Women wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus, walk in the Mall of Dubai on April 28, 2020, after the shopping center was reopened as part of moves in the Gulf emirate to ease lockdown restrictions imposed last month.
(Karim Sahib | AFP)

 

Dubai clamped down on its entertainment scene Thursday and suspended non-essential surgery in hospitals after a spike in coronavirus cases in the UAE as the glitzy emirate stays open to tourists.

One of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, Dubai has branded itself this winter as an open, sunny and quarantine-free escape.

But Covid-19 infections have surged since the New Year and the UAE registered a daily record of 3,529 new cases on Thursday, a new high for the 10th consecutive day.

“To ensure public health and safety, all entertainment permits issued will be on hold effective immediately,” Dubai Media Office tweeted.

“Dubai Tourism will continue to evaluate the progress with the health authorities.”

It said more than 200 cases of non-compliance with coronavirus guidelines had been recorded and around 20 establishments closed in the past three weeks.

Authorities have also instructed hospitals to suspend all non-essential surgery until February 19.

While mask-wearing and social distancing have been in force, restaurants, hotels and mega-malls have remained open in tourism-reliant Dubai.

Businesses contacted by AFP on Thursday said they will continue to serve customers but without live entertainment such as disc jockeys and dancers.

According to Emirati health officials, the UAE has already inoculated over two million of its approximately 10 million population.

Dubai reopened its doors for tourism in July last year.

Posts of sports and media celebrities at Dubai’s multitude of beach clubs and cocktail bars have flooded social media over Christmas and New Year.

Fellow emirate Abu Dhabi, which has large oil reserves and so is less dependent on tourism, has taken a more conservative approach, generally requiring quarantine on arrival.

But tourists can freely enter Dubai with a negative PCR test in their home countries — and possibly another upon arrival, depending on the place of departure.

Its airline Emirates offers free travel insurance with every ticket purchased, including hospitalisation and repatriation costs for coronavirus.

Tourism has long been an economic mainstay of Dubai, which welcomed more than 16 million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic struck.

The UAE has recorded a total of more than 263,000 cases, including 762 deaths.

Britain has dropped the UAE from its “travel corridor” list of quarantine-exempted countries because of its rising cases.

Lebanon Enters Full Lockdown To Stem COVID-19 Uptick

ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

Lebanon went into a tight lockdown Thursday, with residents barred even from grocery shopping and forced to rely on food deliveries as the country battles to slow spiking novel coronavirus cases.

The new restrictions were only loosely respected in some areas of the country, however, reflecting deep mistrust of a political elite held responsible for a deepening economic crisis.

The lockdown, ordered after some hospitals started to run out of intensive care beds, includes a 24-hour curfew until January 25.

Non-essential workers are barred from leaving their homes, and supermarkets are only allowed to operate by delivery.

Those needing an emergency exemption — to see a doctor, say — can request one via a text message or by filling in a form online.

In the capital, roads were quieter than usual, while non-essential shops remained shuttered. Security forces stopped drivers at several checkpoints in the centre of the city.

Security forces said compliance with the new measures stood at 94 percent.

But in some areas, some people ventured out to buy groceries.

As the lockdown went into force, authorities announced Thursday that 41 people had died of the coronavirus over the previous 24 hours, with 5,196 new infections registered.

– Heart attacks –

Recent days have seen Lebanon hit record daily Covid-19 caseloads in one of the steepest increases in transmission worldwide.

In Geitawi Hospital in Beirut on Thursday, director Pierre Yared said the emergencies department was brimming over with more than 30 people suffering from Covid-19 the previous day.

“The ER was filled with corona patients, there were no other patients,” he said.

Cases skyrocketed after authorities loosened restrictions during the holiday season, allowing restaurants and night clubs to remain open until 3:00 am, despite warnings from health professionals.

A partial lockdown in place since January 7 has failed to halt the spread of the virus.

Firass Abiad, the prominent director of the main state hospital treating Covid patients, warned the latest lockdown must not fail.

“In the last 24 hours alone, four Covid positive patients presented in cardiac arrest to our emergency room,” he wrote on Twitter.

“One of them was a 19 years old patient. This is serious.”

The new measures came into effect after caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 late Wednesday, state media said.

The announcement on Monday raised fears of food shortages in impoverished and remote regions where deliveries are not readily available.

For several days, Lebanese have flooded supermarkets and chemists to stock up on supplies.

Some are worried the new restrictions will pile additional suffering on the country’s poorest.

– Political crisis –

Lebanon, a country of more than six million, was already grappling with its worst economic downturn in decades when the pandemic hit.

Previous lockdowns have forced businesses to close and deprived some, particularly informal day labourers, of income. Around half Lebanon’s population lives in poverty.

The World Bank Group on Tuesday approved a $246-million aid package to help 786,000 vulnerable Lebanese, but it is unclear when it will arrive.

Lebanon has recorded 237,132 cases since February last year, including 1,781 deaths.

Parliament is expected to convene Friday to examine a bill to allow the import and use of Covid-19 vaccines, which authorities have previously said will arrive in Lebanon by February.

Coming after months of political crisis and mass anti-government demonstrations, the country’s Covid-19 response is being overseen by a caretaker administration.

The previous government had resigned after a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at Beirut port last summer killed 200 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

A deeply divided political class has been unable to agree on a new cabinet to launch urgently needed reforms.

WHO Warns COVID-19 Herd Immunity Unlikely This Year

Municipal workers carry the coffin of an unclaimed body of a Covid-19 coronavirus victim to a crematorium in Colombo on December 10, 2020. Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP
Municipal workers carry the coffin of an unclaimed body of a Covid-19 coronavirus victim to a crematorium in Colombo on December 10, 2020.
Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

 

Scientists at the World Health Organization warned that mass vaccinations would not bring about herd immunity to the coronavirus this year, even as one leading producer boosted its production forecast.

Infections numbers are surging around the world, especially in Europe where nations have been forced to ramp up virus restrictions even as vaccines are rolled out.

The WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned Monday that it would take time to produce and give enough shots to halt the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 90 million people worldwide with deaths approaching two million.

“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” she said, stressing the need to maintain physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing.

Experts are also concerned about the rapid spread of new variants of the virus, such as the one first detected in Britain which is feared to be significantly more transmissible.

England opened seven mass vaccination sites Monday to fight a surge fuelled by that variant, which is threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

But England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty told the BBC: “The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS (National Health Service).”

Elsewhere in Europe, Portugal was facing a new lockdown because of a spike in cases and deaths, as the President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tested positive for the virus.

The 72-year-old was asymptomatic and isolating in the presidential palace in Lisbon, his office said.

Slovakia was preparing to start a new round of mass testing, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said late Monday, following a first nationwide screening in November.

“From next weekend at the latest, we will run a mass test every week until we get the situation under control. There is no other way,” said Matovic, who tested positive himself in December after an EU summit.

‘Endemic disease’ warning

German company BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to produce the first vaccine approved in the West, said it could produce millions more doses than originally expected this year, boosting the production forecast from 1.3 to two billion.

The announcement was a boost to countries struggling to deliver the shots, but the company also warned that Covid-19 would “likely become an endemic disease”, with vaccines needed to fight new variants and a “naturally waning immune response”.

Officials in Russia said they would trial a one-dose version of country’s Sputnik V vaccine as part of efforts to provide a stopgap solution for badly hit countries.

India, with the world’s second-highest number of infections, is set to begin giving shots to its 1.3 billion people from Saturday in a colossal and complex undertaking.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to devote all available resources to fight the pandemic, received his second vaccine dose on Monday.

Environmental impact

There have been surges in Asia as well, where many nations avoided the high death tolls and infection rates seen in Europe and the United States in the early months of the pandemic.

Malaysia’s king declared a nationwide state of emergency Tuesday to fight a coronavirus surge that is overwhelming hospitals, but critics charged it was a bid by an unstable government to cling to power.

The last time an emergency was declared nationally in Malaysia was in 1969, in response to deadly racial riots.

With more than a year gone since the first known outbreak of the coronavirus, the fallout from the worst pandemic in a century has become clearer — from the economy and society to culture and the environment.

The masks that have become ubiquitous and necessary to save lives, for example, are proving a deadly hazard for wildlife, with birds and marine creatures ensnared in the staggering number of discarded facial coverings littering animal habitats.

Single-use surgical masks have been found scattered around pavements, waterways and beaches worldwide since countries began mandating their use in public places to slow the pandemic’s spread.

Worn once, the thin protective materials can take hundreds of years to decompose.

“Face masks aren’t going away any time soon,” Ashley Fruno of animal rights group PETA told AFP.

“But when we throw them away, these items can harm the environment and the animals who share our planet.”

COVID-19: Latest Global Developments

A nurse swabs the nose of a patient as he administers a COVID-19 test in Ljubljana on December 22, 2020, as nation wide mass free rapid testing for the novel coronavirus Covid-19 starts.
Jure Makovec / AFP

 

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis:

Eye of the storm

The United Kingdom registers a record  53,135 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, as the government comes under pressure to introduce tighter restrictions, including delaying the return to school.

Health chiefs warn that England is “back in the eye” of the coronavirus storm, with as many patients in the hospital as during the initial peak in April, and the new strain of the virus appearing to be behind the recent upsurge in cases.

‘High’ risk new strains

The Stockholm-based European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says that the risk is “high” that newly discovered virus variants causing Covid-19 could cause more deaths due to “increased transmissibility”.

New strain reaches Latin America

Chile’s health authorities say they have detected a case of the new coronavirus strain initially found in Britain, the first such confirmed infection in Latin America.

Vaccinations roll out

Argentina and Belarus launch their vaccination campaigns, both using the Sputnik V shots developed by Russia.

 

Registered nurse Patricia Cummings administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris December 29, 2020 at the United Medical Center in Washington, DC. Alex Edelman / AFP
Registered nurse Patricia Cummings administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris December 29, 2020 at the United Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Alex Edelman / AFP

Harris vaccinated

US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receives her Covid vaccine live on television and urges public trust in the process.

French vaccine-skeptic

Just four in 10 people in France want to have a vaccination against Covid-19, a poll by Ipsos Global Advisor in partnership with the World Economic Forum shows.

US call for China reporter release

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demands that China release citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, jailed for reports from pandemic Ground Zero Wuhan, accusing Beijing of seeking to cover up the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
A pro-Beijing supporter holds China’s national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city’s pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers.
Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

1.77 million dead

The coronavirus has killed at least 1,775,272 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally on Tuesday based on official sources.

At least 81 million cases have been registered.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 334,967 deaths, followed by Brazil with 191,570.

The tallies are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organisations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

New high at Premier League

England’s top-flight Premier League says that 18 football players and staff have tested positive for coronavirus, the highest number since weekly testing began, plunging the continuation of the season into doubt.

Indian Wells postponed

Indian Wells in California, traditionally the first Masters event of the year on the men’s tennis calendar, will not be held as usual in March because of the coronavirus, the ATP says.

Spain, India Crash Through Coronavirus Milestones

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 1, 2020 a health professional works at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward where patients infected with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are being treated, at the Santa Casa hospital in Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. (Photo by Douglas MAGNO / AFP)

 

Spain passed the landmark figure of 500,000 coronavirus infections on Monday as India reopened some metro lines despite becoming the world’s second most affected country.

Spain had largely gained control over its outbreak by imposing one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, but infections have surged since the restrictions were fully removed at the end of June.

The country became the first in western Europe to hit the 500,000 mark — albeit with a far lower death rate and many more asymptomatic cases than were recorded during its previous peak in late March and early April.

“The situation is much more favourable but we remain in an upwards phase,” said health official Fernando Simon.

But the overall caseloads in European countries are dwarfed by India’s 4.2 million confirmed infections.

Nevertheless, economic necessity pushed the South Asian nation to risk reopening transport lines on Monday — metros began running again in the capital New Delhi after a five-month shutdown and 12 other cities also restarted subway services.

“For our lives to move on, we have to get out of our homes… so this is a good move by the government,” on commuter Deepak Kumar on the Delhi subway told AFP.

Passengers are obliged to wear masks, keep their distance and undergo temperature checks.

– ‘Like guinea pigs’ –
India leapfrogged Brazil to become the world’s second-hardest hit nation after the United States, with the virus having caused almost 890,000 deaths and more than 27 million infections worldwide.

As governments around the world have moved away from the idea of blanket lockdowns, countries in all continents have been experimenting with targeted measures to deal with infection spikes.

England fiddled with its overseas quarantine rules again on Monday, imposing restrictions on travellers from seven Greek islands popular with holidaymakers.

Morocco imposed a lockdown on Casablanca and shut schools on the day they were supposed to reopen after a surge in cases in the city.

Officials said the virus risked overwhelming the country if it was not controlled, but some parents were left fuming.

“They were on cloud nine over returning to school tomorrow,” wrote one father on Twitter. “How do you explain this to a six-year-old and an eight-year-old?”

In Spain, parental anger flowed in the other direction, with fears rising that schools were opening too soon with millions of pupils returning on Monday.

“Going back to school is being treated like an experiment, we’re like guinea pigs,” said Aroa Miranda, a 37-year-old mother-of-two.

France put seven more regions on a red list on Sunday after regularly recording daily infection rates of between 7,000 and 9,000 — although the figure fell dramatically on Monday.

Israel announced a “nightly closure” of 40 cities and towns with the highest infection rates with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepting the measures were not ideal but saying there was “no way to avoid them”.

– Olympic hope –
The coronavirus fallout continues to ricochet around the sporting world, with French footballer Kylian Mbappe the latest in a long line of footballers to test positive.

Many tennis players have also been infected, galvanising organisers of the French Open later this month to impose strict guidelines.

All players will be housed in two designated hotels “without exception” to reduce the risk, said tournament director Guy Forget, who also said far fewer spectators would be allowed to watch than initially planned.

Both tennis and football have seen their calendars ripped to shreds by the virus, but the biggest single casualty has been the Tokyo Olympics, which were due to take place this summer.

International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates offered a note of hope on Monday, saying the rescheduled Games would go ahead next year regardless of the pandemic.

“These will be the Games that conquered Covid, the light at the end of the tunnel,” Coates told AFP in an exclusive interview.

 

 

AFP

India Reopens Further As Coronavirus Cases Hit 1.5 Million

A bride (R) and a groom wearing facemasks exchange flower garlands as part of a traditional ritual of their social marriage function, during a lockdown imposed by the state government against the surge in COVID-19 coronavirus cases, in Kolkata on July 29, 2020. (Photo by Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP)

 

 

India will reopen gyms and end a nighttime curfew from August, but cinemas, bars and schools will remain closed in the vast South Asian nation as the number of coronavirus cases passed 1.5 million and deaths neared 35,000 on Wednesday.

The country of 1.3 billion people — the world’s third-most infected nation — has gradually eased its virus restrictions imposed since late March to boost the flagging economy.

But the latest reopenings from August 5 are limited to gyms and yoga teaching facilities, as well as an end to the curfew, currently from 10 pm to 5 am.

Case numbers in India are soaring and more states are reimposing shutdowns to stem the spread of the virus.

Independence Day celebrations on August 15 will go ahead, but with “social distancing and by following other health protocols” such as mask-wearing, the home affairs ministry said.

Metro train services, cinemas, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars, auditoriums and assembly halls will remain closed for now, it added.

Schools and other educational institutions will also remain shut through the end of August, at least.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week that India was in a “better position that other countries”, and winning international praise.

The health ministry website — which no longer includes total infections as the government puts more emphasis on recoveries — on Wednesday reported almost 50,000 new infections and 768 more deaths.

India, home to some of the world’s most crowded cities and where health-care spending per capita is among the world’s lowest, passed one million cases only 12 days ago.

But many experts have said the country is not testing enough people, and that many coronavirus-linked deaths are not being recorded as such.

A study released Tuesday that tested for coronavirus antibodies reported some 57 percent of people in Mumbai’s teeming slums have had the infection — far more than official figures suggest.

The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s Ullas S. Kolthur, who was involved in carrying out the survey, said he was surprised by the results.

“At least in the slums, we think it is largely because social distancing wouldn’t work simply because of the population density,” Kolthur told AFP.

Last week, a similar study indicated that almost a quarter of people in the capital New Delhi have contracted the virus — almost 40 times the official total.

There are, however, doubts about the accuracy of such tests, since other coronaviruses — not just this one — may also produce antibodies that could give a false positive result.

The Mumbai survey also covered a relatively small sample of around 7,000 people.

India now has the third-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States and Brazil, although the official number of deaths in the South Asian nation is far lower.

As a proportion of its population, India also lags behind, with only 1,110 cases per million people, compared to 13,148 for the United States, according to an AFP tally.

 

 

 

 

-AFP

Coronavirus Cost Global Tourism $320 Billion From January To May – UN

A total of 600,523 deaths were recorded globally out of 14,233,355 cases, a count based on official data showed, including 205,065 deaths in Europe — the worst-affected continent. (Photo by Ernesto BENAVIDES / AFP)

 

 

The coronavirus crisis cost the global tourism sector $320 billion in lost revenue between January and May, the UN World Tourism Organization said Tuesday.

This is “more than three times the loss during the Global Financial Crisis of 2009,” the Madrid-based organisation said in a statement.

 

 

-AFP

Concern Over South Africa Coronavirus Toll After Rise In Natural Deaths

People stand in a street of a high density migrants area in the Johannesbrg city center, on May 10, 2020. (Photo by Luca Sola / AFP)

 

 

South Africa has recorded a jump of nearly 60 percent in overall numbers of natural deaths in recent weeks, suggesting a much higher toll of coronavirus-related fatalities than officially reported.

“In the past weeks, the numbers have shown a relentless increase – by the second week of July, there were 59% more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected based on historical data,” the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said in a report released late Wednesday.

The report by the council, which is government-funded but an independent unit, came as the health ministry announced a record increase of 572 coronavirus deaths over the previous 24 hours.

The author of the report, Professor Debbie Bradshaw, said “the weekly death reports have revealed a huge discrepancy between the country’s confirmed COVID-19 deaths and number of excess natural deaths”.

South Africa is the worst-affected country in Africa and among the top five in the world in terms of confirmed cases, with 394,948 infections reported to date including 5,940 deaths.

The mortality rate has remained low, however, at around 1.5 percent on Wednesday, according to the health ministry’s daily updates.

The SAMRC is charged with conducting research on disease trends and identifying the main causes of deaths in the country.

“The SAMRC has been tracking mortality for decades in South Africa, and this system has identified excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 epidemic,” said the council’s CEO professor Glenda Gray.

“These may be attributed to both COVID-19 deaths as well non-COVID-19 due to other diseases such as TB, HIV and non-communicable diseases, as health services are re-orientated to support this health crisis,” she said.

Over $30bn Needed To Develop COVID-19 Tests, Treatments, Vaccines – WHO

WHO Urges Unity After Trump Attack
File: A TV grab taken from a video released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attending a virtual news briefing on COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) from the WHO headquarters in Geneva on April 6, 2020. AFP

 

The World Health Organization said Friday that a global initiative to speed up the development and production of COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments will require more than $30 billion over the next year.

Providing details of the so-called ACT accelerator, launched in April and aimed at pooling international resources to combat the pandemic, WHO said “the costed plans presented today call for $31.3 billion in funding”.

So far, $3.4 billion of that had been pledged, the UN health agency said, pointing out that an additional $27.9 billion was needed over the next 12 months, including nearly $14 billion to cover immediate needs.

The announcement came ahead of a major pledging event in Brussels in support of the ACT accelerator, set to take place on Saturday.

“This is an investment worth making,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a special envoy for the ACT accelerator, told a virtual briefing.

“If we don’t rally now, the human costs and the economic pain will deepen,” she said.

“Though these numbers sound big, they are not when we think of the alternative. If we spend billions now, we will be able to avoid spending trillions later.

“The time to act is now, and the way to act is together,” the former Nigerian finance minister said, stressing the need for equal access for all to any safe and effective vaccines and treatments developed.

– ‘Unprecedented speed’ –

Her comments came as the world counts nearly 490,000 deaths from COVID-19 and over 9.6 million cases since the new coronavirus emerged in China late last year, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

“It’s clear that to bring COVID-19 under control, and to save lives, we need effective vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, in unprecedented quantities and at unprecedented speed,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the briefing.

He stressed though that a core principle of the initiative is to ensure equal access for all.

“Vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics are vital tools,” he said.

“But to be truly effective they must be administered with another essential ingredient, which is solidarity.”

The funds requested should make it possible to deliver 500 million tests and 245 million courses of treatment to low and middle-income countries by mid-2021.

They also aim to deliver two billion vaccine doses by the end of next year.

Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, pointed out during a separate briefing on the vaccine pillar of the project, known as COVAX, that antibody studies indicate that “a large, large proportion of the world’s population, 90 percent, continues to be susceptible.”

“The best bet we have really if we are going to end it… is to have a vaccine as soon as possible.”

– Vaccinate the most vulnerable –

There are currently around 220 vaccine candidates, with 15 in clinical trials, and experts are hoping a handful of them will prove successful.

The problem is that investing in vaccine development can be risky, since 80 percent of vaccines in early stage development fail before reaching clinical trials.

And since there will be a need to produce billions of doses quickly, manufacturing capabilities need to be scaled up before it is even clear whether a candidate will be successful.

To address this obstacle, COVAX is aimed at pooling financial and scientific resources, making it possible to hedge the risk of backing an unsuccessful candidate, and ensuring that lower-income countries receive equal access to successful vaccines.

“The critical issue (is) speed. If we lose a month now, that could mean 200 million fewer doses in 2021,” Seth Berkley, head of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, told reporters.

Even producing two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 will be far from enough to vaccinate everyone.

Experts therefore insist on the need to guarantee that vulnerable groups and health workers worldwide receive the first jabs.

“Having a subset of populations of high risk vaccinated around the world is the best way to control the pandemic,” Berkley said.

AFP

Djokovic Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Serbian tennis player Viktor Troicki during their single match at a charity exhibition hosted by Novak Djokovic, on June 13, 2020 in Belgrade. - The ATP and WTA Tours have been suspended since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will not resume at least until the end of July 2020. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Serbian tennis player Viktor Troicki during their single match at a charity exhibition hosted by Novak Djokovic, on June 13, 2020 in Belgrade. – The ATP and WTA Tours have been suspended since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will not resume at least until the end of July 2020. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic said Tuesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, joining a slew of other infected players who took part in an exhibition tennis tournament in the Balkans.

“Novak Djokovic tested positive for a virus COVID-19,” read a statement from his staff. “He is not showing any symptoms,” it added.

-AFP

Virus Cases Top Nine Million As WHO Says Pandemic ‘Accelerating’

Undertakers close the lid of a coffin during the funeral proceedings for a COVID-19 coronavirus victim at a Mosque in Cape Town, on June 16, 2020. – Most of South Africa’s infections — around two-thirds — are found in the Western Cape province, a popular tourist destination home to the coastal city of Cape Town.
WHO said on June 11, 2020 that the pandemic was accelerating on the continent and that 10 of the 54 countries on the continent are currently driving the numbers. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

 

 

Global coronavirus infections topped nine million as the World Health Organization warned the pandemic was accelerating and Saudi Arabia announced it would scale back the hajj Islamic pilgrimage next month.

Europe has steadily eased its travel lockdowns in recent weeks, and France on Monday took its biggest step back to normality by allowing millions of children to return to school.

But many parts of the world, including Latin America and South Asia, are only beginning to feel the full force of the pandemic, while other regions are being hit with second waves.

“The pandemic is still accelerating,” the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual health forum organised in the United Arab Emirates.

Tedros said the greatest threat was not the virus itself, which has now killed over 470,000 people, but “the lack of global solidarity and global leadership.”

“We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world,” he said. “The politicisation of the pandemic has exacerbated it.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is one of the leaders to have repeatedly played down the threat, comparing the virus to a “little flu” and arguing the economic impact of shutdowns is worse than the virus itself.

More than 50,000 people have been confirmed to have died from the virus in Brazil, with the true number believed to be far higher.

Brazil’s official death toll is second only to the United States, which has recorded 120,000 fatalities, and President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis has been widely criticised as erratic and chaotic.

Trump on Monday said the American toll could surpass 150,000, as two more members of his team that helped organise a controversial weekend rally for him in Oklahoma tested positive.

Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina are also coping with crises — Mexico City being forced to delay plans for a broad reopening of the economy as the country’s death toll raced past 20,000.

With a vaccine still far away, the WHO has called for a rapid increase in production of the steroid dexamethasone, which has been shown to have life-saving potential.

– ‘Very limited’ hajj –
Saudi Arabia said it would allow a “very limited” number of pilgrims to its annual hajj ritual, which last year drew 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world.

The hajj, a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, represents a potentially major source of contagion.

Authorities said a hajj only involving pilgrims already in the kingdom would be permitted.

In Europe however, countries continued to ease their restrictions.

Thousands of French people danced and partied in the streets well into Monday for an annual music festival, in the first big blowout since the lockdown.

Many felt the authorities were too lax.

“This is not what a gradual end to the lockdown looks like,” said Dr Gilbert Deray.

“I understand that the Festival of Music is something of a liberation, but did we really have to have it this year?”

Swimming pools and cinemas also reopened while children up to the age of 15 returned to school.

In England authorities said cinemas, museums and galleries would reopen on July 4 in the next phase of easing lockdowns as infection rates there also slow.

But illustrating the persisting risks, Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Costa said restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people would be reimposed and cafes and shops ordered to close at 8:00 pm in Lisbon.

Australians were warned to avoid travelling to Melbourne as the country’s second-biggest city tightened restrictions over fears of an upsurge in cases.

China, Germany, South Korea and Japan are also battling new outbreaks, with some reintroducing containment measures.

– Sporting struggle –
The sports world has been slowly re-emerging from the virus darkness, although for every step forward it seems to take one back.

Three of the world’s top male tennis players tested positive after taking part in a tournament in the Balkans featuring world number one Novak Djokovic, raising questions over the sport’s planned return in August.

 

 

-AFP