close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
AFP
January 20, 2021

Oxford given £100m for antibiotic resistance research: China defends Covid-19 response after criticism

World

AFP
January 20, 2021

BEIJING: China defended its handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday but said it would "strive to do better" after independent experts criticised the speed of its response to a virus that has now killed more than two million people worldwide.

Beijing has faced international criticism for an alleged lack of transparency after the virus emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019 and for stifling whistleblowers who tried to raise the alarm.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response -- which also criticised the World Health Organisation over its response -- said on Monday that its evaluation of the start of the crisis in China "suggests that there was potential for early signs to have been acted on more rapidly".

The panel, established by the WHO to independently study global responses to the virus, said it was clear that "public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January".

But Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Tuesday said Beijing had imposed early measures, including the announcement of a hard lockdown on Wuhan weeks after the virus was detected, that had "reduced infections and deaths".

China largely brought the virus under control in the months after it first surfaced, but the pandemic beyond its borders has killed millions and wreaked economic havoc. Hua on Tuesday said at a regular press briefing that while "we should of course strive to do better," that did not mean China’s response had been inadequate.

"As the first country to sound the alarm against the pandemic, we took prompt and decisive measures even though we had incomplete information at the time," Hua said. The experts’ report criticised the WHO for dragging its feet at the start of the crisis, pointing out that the UN health agency did not convene its emergency committee until January 22, 2020.

China has made attempts to shift the pandemic narrative from the early chaos in Wuhan to the country’s success in stopping the virus’ spread.

Beijing has also cast doubts on whether Covid-19 originated in Wuhan.Meanwhile, Britain’s Oxford University has received a donation of £100 million (112 million euros, $136 million) to research growing resistance to antibiotics, the university announced on Tuesday.

The sum, from British chemicals multinational Ineos, is one of the largest donations given to Oxford University in its long history. The funding will be used to launch a new institute to combat the growing phenomenon of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), caused by the increasing exposure of animals and humans to the medicines which treat diseases caused by bacteria.

Increasing antibiotic resistance already causes 1.5 million excess deaths each year, the University of Oxford has said. By 2050, up to 10 million deaths each year could be caused because antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs are no longer effective against common diseases.

Oxford’s vice-chancellor Professor Louise Richardson said the coronavirus pandemic had shown the urgent need to deal with the "cataclysmic" threat posed to public health by antibiotic resistance.

"We certainly knew that there was a high potential for another pandemic, we were reminded of that many times, and yet we were caught unprepared," she said. "We know that human antibiotics are, with every passing year, becoming fewer and fewer because of the growth of resistance so it’s absolutely imperative that we act, and the impact of being unprepared for the pandemic I think reinforces the importance of acting before it’s too late." Ineos chief executive Jim Ratcliffe said collaboration between industry and academia was "now crucial to fight against AMR".

"We are excited to partner with one of the world’s leading research universities to accelerate progress in tackling this urgent global challenge," he added. The discovery of penicillin -- the world’s first antibiotic -- was made at Oxford and has subsequently saved millions of lives around the world.

In partnership with the British drugs company AstraZeneca, a team at Oxford University also developed one of the first vaccines to protect from Covid-19. "The vaccines which have been created in record time and which offer light at the end of the tunnel were developed using research conducted long before Covid-19 struck," said David Sweetnam, an adviser to the Ineos Oxford Institute.

"It’s clear that we must be looking right now for new antibiotics with the same urgency as we have been for vaccines," he added.