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COVID-19

G20 targets raising $1.5 billion for global pandemic fund, says host Indonesia

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(Last Updated On: June 20, 2022)

The Group of 20 (G20) major economies aims to raise $1.5 billion this year for a fund set up to better prepare for future pandemics, the health minister of current G20 president Indonesia said on Friday.

G20 countries have provisionally agreed to set up a multi-billion dollar fund that health officials have said will finance efforts like surveillance, research, and better access to vaccination for lower-to-middle income countries, among others. 

Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in an interview the United States, European Union, Indonesia, Singapore and Germany have pledged about $1.1 billion to the fund so far.

“If we can get by the end of this year $1.5 billion of fresh funding, we will be very, very happy,” he told Reuters, adding he hopes the group can raise another $1.5 billion next year.

Indonesia will host the G20 leaders summit in Bali in November.

The World Bank, which will house the fund, and the World Health Organization (WHO), which is advising on the facility, estimated in a report that the annual funding gap for pandemic preparedness is $10.5 billion.

Budi said he will start discussing contributions to the fund with countries like Japan and Britain at a G20 health ministers meeting in Indonesia next week.

“Pandemic is a war, and we have to be ready with enough money when war happens,” he said.

The United States and Indonesia have been pushing for the establishment of the fund to help the world be better prepared to tackle future pandemics, but the WHO has been concerned the fund could undermine its own efforts and those of other global health mechanisms.

But Budi said the WHO will play “a leadership role” in identifying which countries would need the fund or provide other countermeasures.

The World Bank has said the fund is expected to be operational this year, and Budi said the structure for the fund could be established in a few months’ time.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is a leading cause of death among children, but is still rare

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(Last Updated On: January 31, 2023)

COVID-19 was the eighth leading cause of death among children in recent months, according to a study published Monday.

In a year-long period from August 2021 to July 2022, 821 children ages 0 to 19 died from COVID-19 at a rate of 1 per 100,000. Children’s deaths of any kind are rare, researchers noted.

COVID-19 ranked fifth in non-disease-related deaths and first in infectious or respiratory illness deaths, overtaking the flu and pneumonia, NPR reported.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, the leading causes of death among children were perinatal conditions, unintentional injuries, birth defects, assault, suicide, cancerous tumors, heart disease and influenza and pneumonia.

The time period researchers analyzed coincided with the rise of Delta and Omicron COVID-19 cases. They found that studying other 12-month periods during the pandemic did not change the results.

Researchers noted their results were limited by the underreporting of COVID-19 cases, and the exclusion of deaths where COVID-19 could have been a contributing or amplifying factor in tandem with other conditions, such as influenza, NPR reported.

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WHO: COVID still an emergency but nearing ‘inflection’ point

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(Last Updated On: January 30, 2023)

The coronavirus remains a global health emergency, the World Health Organization chief said Monday, after a key advisory panel found the pandemic may be nearing an “inflexion point” where higher levels of immunity can lower virus-related deaths, AP reported.

Speaking at the opening of WHO’s annual executive board meeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “there is no doubt that we’re in a far better situation now” than a year ago — when the highly transmissible Omicron variant was at its peak.

But Tedros warned that in the last eight weeks, at least 170,000 people have died around the world in connection with the coronavirus. He called for at-risk groups to be fully vaccinated, an increase in testing and early use of antivirals, an expansion of lab networks, and a fight against “misinformation” about the pandemic.

“We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible level,” he said.

Tedros’ comments came moments after WHO released findings of its emergency committee on the pandemic which reported that some 13.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered — with nearly 90% of health workers and more than four in five people over 60 years of age having completed the first series of jabs.

“The committee acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic may be approaching an inflexion point,” WHO said in a statement. Higher levels of immunity worldwide through vaccination or infection “may limit the impact” of the virus that causes COVID-19 on “morbidity and mortality,” the committee said.

“(B)ut there is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future,” it said. While Omicron versions are easily spread, “there has been a decoupling between infection and severe disease” compared to that of earlier variants.

Committee members cited “pandemic fatigue” and the increasing public perception that COVID-19 isn’t as much of a risk as it once was, leading to people to increasingly ignore or disregard health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing.

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China announces resumption of visas for Japanese

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(Last Updated On: January 29, 2023)

China announced it was resuming issuing visas for Japanese travelers beginning Sunday, ending its nearly three-week suspension in an apparent protest of Tokyo’s tougher COVID-19 entry requirements for tourists from China, AP reported.

The decision was announced in a statement posted on the Chinese Embassy’s website.

China stopped issuing new visas in Japan on Jan. 10 in apparent retaliation for Tokyo’s requirement of additional tests for Chinese tourists in late December, ahead of Lunar New Year holidays.

Japan cited soaring infections in China after it abruptly eased coronavirus restrictions as well as scarce COVID-19 data from Beijing.

Japan reopened its borders for individual tourists in October, allowing travelers with proof of vaccination instead of testing at airports unless they show symptoms.

But on Dec. 30, Japan required all travelers from China to show pre-departure negative tests and take an additional test upon arrival.

China also stopped issuing visas to South Koreans after South Korea in early January did the same for short-term travelers from China.

Last Friday, South Korea said it would keep the measure in place through the end of February over concerns that the spread of COVID-19 in China may worsen following Lunar New Year travel.

Health authorities in China have said infections have peaked but there are concerns abroad that Beijing was not sharing enough data.

The latest wave of infections in Japan appears to be subsiding in recent weeks, with confirmed daily cases falling to about one-fifth of the peak in early January.

Japan’s government last week announced plans to downgrade COVID-19 to an equivalent of seasonal influenza in May, a move that would further relax mask wearing and other preventive measures as the country seeks to return to normalcy.

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