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AFP
November 14, 2020

Whole world must benefit from Covid vaccine: WHO chief

World

AFP
November 14, 2020

GENEVA: The head of the World Health Organisation hailed the rapid progress towards a Covid-19 vaccine but insisted on Friday that every country had to reap the benefits.

"A vaccine will be a vital tool for controlling the pandemic, and we’re encouraged by the preliminary results of clinical trials released this week," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, in closing the WHO’s annual assembly.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced on Monday that their candidate vaccine had proven 90 percent effective in ongoing final phase trials involving more than 40,000 people, less than a year after the novel coronavirus emerged in China.

"Never in history has vaccine research progressed so quickly. We must apply the same urgency and innovation to ensuring that all countries benefit from this scientific achievement," said Tedros. The coronavirus has killed nearly 1.3 million people while more than 52.7 million cases have been registered, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

However, the tallies probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases. Tedros said the pandemic had shown there was an urgent need for "a globally-agreed system for sharing pathogen materials and clinical samples", to facilitate the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics as "global public goods".

He said the system could not wait for bilateral agreements that could take years to negotiate. "We are proposing a new approach that would include a repository for materials housed by WHO in a secure Swiss facility; an agreement that sharing materials into this repository is voluntary; that WHO can facilitate the transfer and use of the materials; and a set of criteria under which WHO would distribute them," said Tedros.

The UN health agency’s director-general thanked Thailand and Italy for offering to provide materials and pioneer the new approach, and Switzerland for offering a laboratory. Besides discussing the pandemic, member states at the WHO assembly agreed on a new plan to defeat meningitis by 2030; increased action on epilepsy and other neurological disorders; and a strategy to speed up the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.

Bars and restaurants in New York will shut early on Friday as part of fresh measures designed to slow surging new coronavirus infections in the United States as hospitals in many European countries fill up with new patients. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that all establishments licensed to sell alcohol, including bars and restaurants, should close at 10 pm.

The United States and parts of Europe are recording higher infection and hospitalisation numbers than they had during the first wave in March and April. With daily cases nation-wide averaging more than 125,000 in the US, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said he may issue stay-at-home orders for Chicago and the rest of the state if new infections continue their current trend.

"With every fibre of my being I do not want us to get there," said Pritzker. "But right now that seems like where we are heading." Chicago has issued a non-mandatory stay-at-home advisory because its hospitals serving the poorest communities are filling to breaking point.

Hospitals are also treating more patients in France than they did in April, while Serbia’s capital Belgrade has started shipping its Covid-19 cases to other cities because its beds are all full. "We are now facing the most difficult moment of the pandemic," neighbouring Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said.

The latest wave of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders come at a time when policymakers are worried about how long they can keep people cooped up at home. "Covid fatigue is definitely setting in," Newark mayor Ras Baraka said after imposing a nighttime curfew on Thursday on his city on the edge of New York.

An Ifop survey in France showed 60 percent of respondents admitting to flouting rules at least once by making up a false excuse to go out or meeting up with family and friends. Greece decided on Friday to impose a nightime curfew after its second-largest city of Thessaloniki saw 32 percent of those tested show a positive result.

Neighbouring Turkey has issued a nationwide ban on smoking in the streets as a precaution because lighting up forces people to take off their masks. And Portugal has extended work-from-home orders to roughly three-quarters of its population.

As well as worries about mental health and compliance, governments are also anxious about now how long these curbs can last without devastating economies that had only begun to stir back to life.

Capital Economics noted that French President Emmanuel Macron had promised last month to lift restrictions once new daily infection numbers fall from the current 30,000-40,000 to just 5,000. "On that basis, if cases fall by the same rate now, France’s lockdown could last for over two months," the consultancy said in a research note.