WHO unveils new team to investigate pandemic

WHO unveils new team to investigate pandemic
Security personnel keep watch outside Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of COVID-19, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China in February. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 October 2021

WHO unveils new team to investigate pandemic

WHO unveils new team to investigate pandemic
  • The group of 26 experts will be charged with producing a new global framework for studies into the origins of emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential
  • WHO announced earlier this year that it would set up a Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens

GENEVA: The World Health Organization unveiled Wednesday a team of scientists it wants to investigate new pathogens and preventing future pandemics — plus reviving the stalled probe into Covid-19’s origins.
The group of 26 experts will be charged with producing a new global framework for studies into the origins of emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential — and their remit includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease.
Besides the Covid-19 crisis, a growing number of high-risk pathogens have appeared or reappeared in recent years, including MERS, bird flu viruses, Lassa, Marburg and Ebola.
The WHO announced earlier this year that it would set up a Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).
“The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while SARS-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks.”
The 26 members that the WHO has put forward were chosen from a field of more than 700 applications and are drawn from a range of scientific disciplines.
And the team the WHO has named is subject to a two-week public consultation.
They include Christian Drosten, the head of Berlin’s Institute of Virology; Yungui Yang of the Beijing Institute of Genomics; Jean-Claude Manuguerra of France’s Institut Pasteur; and Inger Damon from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Several of the experts were on the joint WHO-China scientific mission investigating the origins of Covid-19: Vladimir Dedkov, Farag Elmoubasher, Thea Fischer, Marion Koopmans, Hung Nguyen and John Watson.
The terms of reference say the group must give the WHO an independent evaluation of all available scientific and technical findings from global studies on the origins of Covid-19.
It must also advise the UN health agency on developing, monitoring and supporting the next series of studies into the origins of the virus. That could include “rapid advice” on the WHO’s operational plans to implement the next series of studies into the pandemic’s origins, and advice on additional studies.
The pandemic has killed more than 4.85 million people and battered the global economy since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
After much delay, a WHO team of international experts went to Wuhan in January 2021 to produce a first phase report, written in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts.
Their March report drew no firm conclusions, but ranked four hypotheses.
Most probable was that the virus jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal, it said. It judged a leak from the Wuhan virology laboratories was “extremely unlikely.”
However, the investigation faced criticism for lacking transparency and access, and for not evaluating the lab-leak theory more deeply.
In August, China rejected the WHO’s calls for a renewed probe on the ground into the origins of Covid-19.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said SAGO would urgently assess what was now known, what still remained unknown, and what rapidly needed to be done.
“I anticipate that the SAGO... will recommend further studies in China and potentially elsewhere,” she told journalists.
“There’s no time to waste in this.”
Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, said it may be the “last chance to understand the origins of this virus” in a collegiate manner.
Earlier Wednesday, Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the UN correspondents’ association that SAGO’s work should not be “politicized.”
“If we are going to send teams to any other places, I believe it’s not to China because we have received international teams twice already,” he said.
“It’s time to send teams to other places.”


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.