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COVID-19

Fight to end virus pandemic takes place on UN’s sidelines

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2022)

In four days of fiery speeches over war, climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons, one issue felt like an afterthought during this year’s U.N. General Assembly: the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press reported.

Masks were often pulled below chins — or not worn at all — and any mention of COVID-19 by world leaders typically came at the tail-end of a long list of grievances.

But on the sidelines of the annual meeting, the pandemic was still very much part of the conversation, AP reported.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gathered with World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and others to discuss equitable access to COVID vaccines, tests and treatments.

And earlier that day, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield joined leaders from around the globe to mark the progress that has been made to fight COVID-19 — including the more than 620 million vaccine doses to 116 countries and economies that the United States has provided. But she emphasized there is still much work to do.

Tedros noted that the number of deaths around the globe is near its lowest since the pandemic began, and two-thirds of the world’s population is vaccinated. But the encouraging signs mask a deep disparity between wealthy and poor countries.

For instance, only 19% of people living in low-income countries are fully vaccinated compared with 75% in high-income countries. And only 35% of health care workers and 31% of older populations in lower-income countries are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Key to closing those gaps, according to Guterres, is countering misinformation about vaccines and overcoming hesitancy while also increasing testing to snuff out the potential for more variants. The world also needs early warning systems for pandemics and must ensure a well-paid and well-supplied workforce in the health care sector.

“Let’s get it done,” Guterres said. “Let’s end this pandemic once and for all.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that COVID-19 care needs to be shifted from being offered primarily in emergency facilities to integrating it in routine services.

She outlined three new initiatives: a pilot program to be launched in 10 countries to help people get screened for COVID-19 and receive antiviral medications; a $50 million commitment from the U.S to improve access to medical oxygen critical for treating patients with severe cases; and a global clearinghouse to make medical supply chains more resilient, efficient and equitable.

While few would argue that the situation has not improved — and indeed U.S. President Joe Biden recently remarked that the pandemic was over before walking back his comments — no one on Thursday was ready to call it quits.

“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view,” Tedros said, and instead runs harder to get to the end.

COVID-19

Drop in COVID-19 alertness could create deadly new variant: WHO

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(Last Updated On: December 3, 2022)

Lapses in strategies to tackle COVID-19 this year continue to create the perfect conditions for a deadly new variant to emerge, as parts of China witness a rise in infections, the head of the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

The comments by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus mark a change in tone just months after he said that the world has never been in a better position to end the pandemic.

“We are much closer to being able to say that the emergency phase of the pandemic is over, but we’re not there yet,” Tedros said on Friday.

The global health agency estimates that about 90 percent of the world’s population now has some level of immunity to Sars-Cov-2 either due to prior infection or vaccination, Reuters reported.

“Gaps in testing… and vaccination are continuing to create the perfect conditions for a new variant of concern to emerge that could cause significant mortality,” Tedros said.

COVID-19 infections are at record highs in China and have started to rise in parts of Britain after months of decline.

Further easing of COVID-19 testing requirements and quarantine rules in some Chinese cities was met with a mix of relief and worry on Friday, as hundreds of millions await an expected shift in national virus policies after widespread social unrest.

“While COVID-19 and flu can be mild infections for many, we must not forget that they can cause severe illness or even death for those most vulnerable in our communities”, Mary Ramsay, director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency, said.

The WHO urged governments globally to focus on reaching those at risk, such as people over the age of 60 and those with underlying conditions, for vaccination.

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COVID-19

China set to loosen COVID curbs after week of protests

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

China is set to announce an easing of its COVID-19 quarantine protocols in the coming days and a reduction in mass testing, sources told Reuters, a marked shift in policy after anger over the world’s toughest curbs fuelled widespread protests, Reuters reported.

Cases nationwide remain near record highs but the changes come as some cities have been lifting their lockdowns in recent days, and a top official said the ability of the virus to cause disease was weakening.

Health authorities announcing the easing in their areas have not mentioned the protests – the biggest show of civil disobedience in China for years – which ranged from candle-lit vigils in Beijing to street clashes with police in Guangzhou, read the report.

The measures due to be unveiled include a reduction in the use of mass testing and regular nucleic acid tests as well as moves to allow positive cases and close contacts to isolate at home under certain conditions, the sources familiar with the matter said.

That is a far cry from earlier protocols that led to public frustrations as entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after even just one positive case.

The frustration boiled over last week in demonstrations of public defiance unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012. The unrest comes as the economy is set to enter a new era of much slower growth than seen in decades, Reuters reported.

On Thursday night, Shanghai train commuters reported wirelessly receiving an unsolicited document onto their phones saying that life in China would only get better if there was a full lifting of lockdown and that Xi step down – an apparently new tactic amid a heavy police presence in some cities ahead of the weekend.

Less than 24 hours after violent protests in Guangzhou on Tuesday, authorities in at least seven districts of the sprawling manufacturing hub, said they were lifting temporary lockdowns. One district said it would allow schools, restaurants and businesses including cinemas to reopen, read the report.

Cities including Chongqing and Zhengzhou also announced easings.

According to Reuters in the capital, Beijing, some communities have begun preparing for changes.

More COVID outbreaks could weigh on China’s economic activity in the near term, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, adding it saw scope for a safe recalibration of policies that could allow economic growth to pick up in 2023, read the report.

China’s strict containment measures have dampened domestic economic activity this year and spilled over to other countries through supply chain interruptions.

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COVID-19

Protests across China as anger mounts over zero-Covid policy

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(Last Updated On: November 27, 2022)

Angry crowds took to the streets in Shanghai early on Sunday, and videos on social media showed protests in other cities across China, as public opposition to the government’s hardline zero-Covid policy mounts.

A deadly fire on Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang region, has spurred an outpouring of anger as many social media users blamed lengthy Covid lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts by China is the last major economy wedded to a zero-Covid strategy, with authorities wielding snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing to snuff out new outbreaks as they emerge.

In a video widely shared on social media and geolocated by AFP, some protesters can be heard chanting “Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down!” in central Shanghai’s Wulumuqi street in a rare display of public opposition to China’s top leadership.

A person who attended the Shanghai protests but asked not to be identified told AFP they arrived at the rally at 2:00 am to see one group of people putting flowers on the sidewalk to mourn the 10 people killed in the fire, while another group chanted slogans.

Video taken by an eyewitness showed a large crowd shouting and holding up blank white pieces of paper — a symbolic protest against censorship — as they faced several lines of police.

The attendee said there were minor clashes but that overall the police were “civilized”.

Multiple witnesses said a couple of people were taken away by the police, AFP reported.

The area was quiet by daytime Sunday but a heavy security presence was visible.

Other vigils took place overnight at universities across China, including one at the elite Peking University, an undergraduate participant told AFP.

Speaking anonymously for fear of repercussions, he said some anti-Covid slogans had been graffitied on a wall in the university. People had started gathering from around midnight local time, but he hadn’t dared join initially. “When I arrived (two hours later), I think there were at least 100 people there, maybe 200,” he said.

He said he heard people yelling: “No to Covid tests, yes to freedom!”

Videos on social media also showed a mass vigil at Nanjing Institute of Communications, with people holding lights and white sheets of paper.

The protests come against a backdrop of mounting public frustration over China’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus and follow sporadic rallies in other cities recently. A number of high-profile cases in which emergency services have been allegedly slowed down by Covid lockdowns, leading to deaths, have catalyzed public opposition.

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