WHO official: ‘Next pandemic may be more severe’

Senior officials warned that the virus is not necessarily the big one. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 December 2020

WHO official: ‘Next pandemic may be more severe’

WHO official: ‘Next pandemic may be more severe’
  • It is not just COVID-19 that is killing people but also societal inequalities: Dr. Mark Ryan

NEW YORK : The “fragile” world needs to get its act together and honor those who have died by getting better at fighting COVID-19 because “the next pandemic may be more severe,” Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergencies Program, said on Monday.

In the WHO’s final COVID-19 press conference of the year, attended by Arab News, he and other senior officials warned that the virus is “not necessarily the big one.”

It is not just the virus, however, that is killing people, said Ryan. “It’s underprivilege. It’s lack of access. It’s years and years of living with health conditions that haven’t been properly managed because of the color of your skin, your ethnicity or your social group,” he added. “This is still a deeply unfair, deeply inequitable world.”

He said COVID-19 has “ripped away the bandage from an old wound this society has,” which is its refusal to deliver the basic human right of healthcare to the most downtrodden.

Epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said countries that had experienced other infectious-disease outbreaks have handled the current pandemic better than other, higher-income countries.

“We’re all kind of fed up with this and we want this to be over,” she added. “This should push us even further, to have even more resolve to end this pandemic. We can’t lose this battle now.”

Van Kerkhove joined WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in calling for the world to be better prepared for the next health crisis by providing innovative technology to healthcare workers, informing and engaging citizens, and ensuring fair and equitable distribution of the treatments and vaccines developed this year.

“History tells us that COVID-19 isn’t the last pandemic,” said Ghebreyesus, adding that the WHO continues to discover new things about the virus every day, including the transmissibility of new variants, their capacity to make people sick, and their potential impact on available therapeutics or vaccines.

“Only if countries are testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope,” he said.

“We must ensure that countries aren’t punished for transparently sharing new scientific findings.”

Looking back on an unprecedented year, Ghebreyesus said the pandemic has made clear that “health isn’t simply a byproduct of development or a luxury for those who can afford it. It’s the foundation of social, economic and political stability.”

While he praised tremendous advances in medical care, he insisted that “the most effective investments are in relatively cheap, essential public health functions like immunization, surveillance, lab capacity, infection prevention and control, health control, improved water and sanitation. These public health basics can be the difference between a local outbreak that’s quickly controlled and a global pandemic.”

He added: “History tells us COVID-19 won’t be the last pandemic. We must learn the lessons it’s teaching us and we must be prepared.”

Sunday was the first International Day of Epidemic Preparedness. Ghebreyesus recalled how last year, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board had warned that the world remains dangerously unprepared for a pandemic, and said this time “if we fail to prepare, we’re preparing to fail.”

Ryan said vaccinations do not guarantee that infectious diseases will be rooted out, and talk of eradication of the virus is premature.

He urged societies to focus on getting back to full strength rather than on the “moonshot of eradication.”


UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households

UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households
Updated 20 sec ago

UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households

UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households
LONDON: The Delta coronavirus variant can transmit easily from vaccinated people to their household contacts, a British study found on Thursday, although contacts were less likely to get infected if they were vaccinated themselves.
The Imperial College London study illustrates how the highly transmissible Delta variant can spread even in a vaccinated population.
The researchers underlined that did not weaken the argument for vaccination as the best way of reducing serious illness from COVID-19 and said booster shots were required.
They found infections in the vaccinated cleared more quickly, but the peak viral load remained similar to the unvaccinated.
“By carrying out repeated and frequent sampling from contacts of COVID-19 cases, we found that vaccinated people can contract and pass on infection within households, including to vaccinated household members,” Dr. Anika Singanayagam, co-lead author of the study, said.
“Our findings provide important insights into... why the Delta variant is continuing to cause high COVID-19 case numbers around the world, even in countries with high vaccination rates.”
The study, which enrolled 621 participants, found that of 205 household contacts of people with Delta COVID-19 infection, 38 percent of household contacts who were unvaccinated went on to test positive, compared to 25 percent of vaccinated contacts.
Vaccinated contacts who tested positive for COVID-19 on average had received their shots longer ago than those who tested negative, which the authors said was evidence of waning immunity and supported the need for booster shots.
Imperial epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said that the transmissibility of Delta meant that it was unlikely Britain would reach “herd immunity” for long.
“That may happen in the next few weeks: if the epidemic’s current transmission peaks and then starts declining, we have by definition in some sense reached herd immunity, but it is not going to be a permanent thing,” he told reporters.
“Immunity wanes over time, it is imperfect, so you still get transmission happening, and that is why the booster program is so important.”

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
Updated 28 October 2021

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
  • Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory
  • Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into World War II, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians

THESSALONIKI, Greece: Fighter jets flew over the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki Thursday as parachutists landed and troops marched in the city’s center to mark a national holiday commemorating Greece’s defiance of Fascist Italy that forced it to enter World War II.
But some student parades traditionally held in municipalities across Greece were canceled, especially in northern areas which have seen a spike in coronavirus infections, fueled by low vaccination rates in those areas.
Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory and take control of parts of it.
Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into the war, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians only to be overwhelmed months later by a separate German invasion.
“The anniversary of ‘No’ is a day of honor and pride for our nation,” President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said, adding that the country’s actions in 1940 “remind us of everything we can achieve when we are united.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who attended a student parade in a southern suburb of Athens, said the day honored “those who fought against fascism and the conqueror.”
“Today we have the right to look to the future with more confidence and more optimism,” he said, adding that Greece was now stronger both geopolitically and economically.
“I wish and hope we can move forward in this future with the unity the times demand and always have the discretion to tell the difference between the useful ‘yes’ and the necessary ‘no’.”
Last year’s parades were canceled as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. This year, most were allowed to go ahead, although Thessaloniki’s military parade was somewhat pared down, with only military, fire service and security forces parading without the participation of many of the civic groups and associations that traditionally take part. Participants and spectators alike were asked to wear masks.
But several municipalities and regions across northern Greece canceled parades by schoolchildren amid spiking coronavirus cases.
Just over 61 percent of Greece’s population of around 11 million has been fully vaccinated, and only slightly more — just under 64 percent — has received at least one dose. The country has been seeing increasing coronavirus infections, particularly in the north, with intensive care units beginning to fill up.
New infections are over 3,000 per day with dozens of deaths, and ICUs set aside for COVID-19 patients in the country are now at an average 77 percent capacity. On Wednesday, Greece reported 63 deaths and 3,651 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total death toll to 15,770 since the start of the pandemic, with 728,210 confirmed cases.


Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
Updated 28 October 2021

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
  • David Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would ‘open a can of worms’
  • The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings

LONDON: The businessman who organized the 2019 flight that killed Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala was Thursday found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.
David Henderson, 67, was convicted by a majority verdict of 10 to two over the death of the 28-year-old forward by a jury at Cardiff Crown Court.
The plane carrying Sala crashed into the English Channel on January 21, 2019, killing him and pilot David Ibbotson, 59.
Sala had signed for Cardiff City, who were then in the Premier League, for a club-record £15 million (18 million euros, $20 million) from French side Nantes.
It took the jury seven-and-a-half hours to convict Henderson, the aircraft operator, whom the trial heard had arranged the flight with football agent William “Willie” McKay.
He had asked Ibbotson to fly the plane as he was away on holiday with his wife in Paris.
Ibbotson, who regularly flew for Henderson, did not hold a commercial pilot’s license, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.
The jury heard how just moments after finding out the plane had gone down, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would “open a can of worms.”
The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings.
Prosecutor Martin Goudie said Henderson had been “reckless or negligent” in the way he operated the plane, putting his business above the safety of passengers.
In his closing speech, he claimed Henderson ran an “incompetent, undocumented and dishonest organization.”
Stephen Spence, defending, said his client’s actions were “purely a paperwork issue” and had not led to a likelihood of danger.
He told the court the only difference between a commercial license and the private license held by Ibbotson was whether you could carry passengers for money or not, and not about ability.
Henderson had already admitted a separate offense of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorization.
The judge granted Henderson bail to return to be sentenced for both offenses on November 12.
He faces maximum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for endangering the aircraft and two years for the lesser charge.
A British air accident investigation report published in March last year concluded Ibbotson was not licensed to fly the plane or to fly at night.
It assessed that he lost control and flew too fast as he tried to avoid bad weather, and that both he and Sala were affected by carbon monoxide poisoning before the crash.
Sala’s body was recovered from the seabed in February 2019 but that of Ibbotson was never found.
Two months after Sala’s body was discovered, his father, Horacio Sala, died of a heart attack in Argentina.


UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
Updated 28 October 2021

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
  • Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future
  • UN's trade and development agency said a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis

GENEVA: The United Nations on Thursday called for nations at the upcoming COP26 climate change summit to increase funding for developing countries to adapt.
Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future.
The approach is crucial in developing countries, which are more vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change — floods, drought, heatwaves and wildfires, for example.
The UN’s trade and development agency said Thursday that a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis, with a focus on helping poorer countries adapt to changing weather.
“Climate change has no borders. So our strategy to adapt to it must be globally coordinated,” UNCTAD chief Rebeca Grynspan told reporters.
“Aligning ambition and action will require... a concerted effort at the multilateral level to ensure adequate funding for developing countries to adapt to the worsening impact of ever-increasing climate change events.”
The cost of adapting to climate change in developing nations could reach $300 billion in 2030 and, if mitigation targets are not met, up to $500 billion in 2050, said UNCTAD.
However, current funding levels are less than a quarter of the amount envisaged for 2030, and the report warns that relying on private finance will not serve the countries that need it most.
UNCTAD called for debt relief and restructuring for developing countries and for increased availability of capital for multilateral development banks.
UN economists have said that this capital could be financed by green bonds or by reallocating subsidies from fossil fuels.
According to the UN, the economic losses from climate disasters are proportionally three times worse in developing states than in high-income countries.
The landmark COP26 climate change conference kicking off Sunday in Glasgow is being billed as the best chance to reverse catastrophic climate change before it’s too late.


Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
Updated 28 October 2021

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
  • ‘Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned’

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei: Myanmar remains an “integral part” of Southeast Asia’s regional bloc, member Brunei insisted Thursday, despite the coup-hit country boycotting annual talks in protest at a ban on its junta chief.
The crisis in Myanmar, which is still in chaos following February’s military takeover and subsequent deadly crackdown, dominated this week’s virtual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The bloc decided to exclude junta chief Min Aung Hlaing after his regime refused to allow ASEAN’s special envoy to meet ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
It was an unprecedented snub from an organization long accused of being toothless, and infuriated the junta — which rejected an invite to send a senior official to the meeting in his place.
ASEAN is facing calls to go further by suspending or even expelling Myanmar but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, the summit host, instead sought to ease tensions.
“Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned,” he told a press conference.
“ASEAN will always be there for Myanmar.”
However, he added that the 10-member group hopes “Myanmar will return to normalcy, in accordance with the will of its people.”
Saifuddin Abdullah, the foreign minister of member state Malaysia, hinted the junta could be barred from further meetings of the bloc.
Asked if Myanmar will join future talks, he responded: “That is a million dollar question which I cannot answer now.”
“We would want to look at the implementation of the ‘five-point consensus’,” he added, referring to a roadmap to restore peace drawn up by ASEAN.
The bloc appointed its special envoy for Myanmar, Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, in August after months of wrangling.
But he is yet to visit the country after the regime’s refusal to allow him to meet Suu Kyi, who is facing a raft of charges in a junta court and could be jailed for decades.