Covid-19 wrap | UN calls coronavirus a wake-up call for the world, China supports inquiry; vows to make vaccine accessible, Russian PM says new cases have stopped

2020-05-18 15:05

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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UN says coronavirus is 'wake-up call' for the world

The coronavirus pandemic should serve as a "wake-up call" to the world which must be more united in responding to the crisis, UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

The secretary-general said Covid-19 was the "greatest challenge of our age" and had demonstrated the world's fragility, as nations went their own way in tackling the pandemic.

Guterres said the crisis was an opportunity to rebuild a better world - but he questioned whether countries were up to it.

Despite great scientific and technological advances in recent decades, a virus had "brought us to our knees", the United Nations chief said at the start of a virtual meeting of the World Health Organisation's World Health Assembly.

He said the pandemic had exposed the frailties not just in health systems but in international institutions, tackling the climate crisis, cyber-security and nuclear disarmament.


China supports inquiry 'after pandemic brought under control': Xi

China supports a "comprehensive evaluation" of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic after it "has been brought under control", President Xi Jinping told the World Health Assembly on Monday.

Xi told the virtual meeting via video that China has "always had an open, transparent and responsible attitude", and had shared information on the virus in a timely manner.

The assembly, held online for the first time in its history, is set to discuss a resolution tabled by the European Union that calls for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the coronavirus crisis.

In his speech, Xi said that the inquiry into the global response should "sum up experiences and improve shortcomings".

Governments including the US and Australia have also called in recent weeks for an investigation into the origins of the virus, which has become a flashpoint in deteriorating tensions between Washington and Beijing.


WHO are you? The World Health Organisation in 5 snapshots

- Founded in ashes of WWII

The WHO is founded on the principle that "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being".

The organisation defines health as: "A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

The WHO now has more than 7 000 employees in its 150 country offices, six regional offices and its Geneva headquarters. It has 194 member states.

- Leadership structure

The WHO's governance is split between the World Health Assembly, the executive board and the director-general.

The WHA is the WHO's decision-making body, attended once a year by delegations from member states. It decides the policy, appoints the director-general, supervises financial policies and approves the budget.

An executive board of 34 technically qualified members elected for three-year terms, meets twice a year: in January, when it decides the WHA agenda, and in May, following the assembly.

Its main job is to advise the WHA and to implement its decisions.

The director-general is appointed by the WHA on the board's nomination. Its eighth DG, in post since 2017, is 55-year-old former Ethiopian health and foreign minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

- Funding

The WHO budget runs on two-year cycles.

It gets its money from member states and non-governmental organisations, their membership fees calculated according to wealth and population.

But these "assessed contributions" account for less than a quarter of the WHO's funding. Most of it now comes from voluntary contributions from member states and donors alike.

The WHO's budget for 2018 - 2019 was $5.62 billion, of which $4.3 billion was in specified voluntary contributions.

Overall, the top contributors were the United States (15.9%), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (9.4%), Britain (7.7%), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (6.6%) and Germany (5.2%).

- Successes

The WHO has played a major role in eradicating and curtailing several serious diseases.

Following a massive vaccination campaign, the WHO declared in May 1980 that smallpox had been completely wiped out.

In 2016, five of the eight tropical diseases against which a research programme was launched in 1975 had been all but eliminated.

Malaria has not been seen on the European continent since the early 2000s.

It has also launched ambitious efforts to eradicate polio. So far, cases of the crippling disease have decreased by 99% since 1988, when it was endemic in 125 countries and 350 000 cases were recorded worldwide.

The WHO launched an ambitious programme with UNAIDS in December 2003 to provide anti-AIDS drugs to millions of patients in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

- Setbacks

The WHO's handling of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa between late 2013 and 2016, which killed more than 11 300 people, is seen as perhaps its biggest failure. The organisation was blamed for initially underestimating the scale of the crisis.

The WHO declared the outbreak an international health emergency in August 2014, almost five months after the virus appeared in Guinea, which many non-governmental organisations thought was far too late.


UK adds loss of taste and smell to coronavirus symptoms

British health officials added loss of taste and smell to their coronavirus symptoms list on Monday after experts warned cases were being missed.

"From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia," Britain's chief medical officers said in a statement.

"Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked."

Anyone noticing a distinct change in their sense of taste or smell should now self-isolate for seven days to reduce the spread of infection, England's deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam told reporters.

The symptoms will now feature with fever and cough as main indicators of the virus, with Van-Tam saying it would mean a two percent rise in picking up cases.


China vows to make coronavirus vaccine a 'global public good' once ready

China would make any coronavirus vaccine it developed a "global public good" once it was put into use, President Xi Jinping told the World Health Assembly on Monday.

China has five potential vaccines in clinical trials as countries race to find a way to stop the pathogen that has killed over 315 000 people worldwide.

In his speech, Xi said: "After the research and development of China's coronavirus vaccine is completed and it is put into use, it will be made a global public good."

This move would be China's contribution to achieving accessibility and affordability of a vaccine in developing countries as well, Xi said.

More vaccine candidates are in the pipeline and awaiting approval for human trials, said Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, last week.

Experts say it will take at least 12 to 18 months to develop an effective vaccine, or an even longer period.

Xi also told the assembly's first-ever virtual gathering that China will provide $2 billion in global Covid-19 aid over two years.


Russian PM says growth of new coronavirus cases stopped

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Monday that the growth in new coronavirus cases had been stopped in Russia, which has recorded the world's largest number of infections after the United States.

"The situation with the spread of the coronavirus infection remains difficult, but we can still acknowledge that we managed to put a stop to the growth of infections," Mishustin told a government meeting.

Russia on Monday reported under 9 000 virus infections for the first time since the beginning of May, after seeing a steady daily rise of around 10 000 cases for more than two weeks.

Speaking to a task force responsible for the coronavirus epidemic response, he said the number of Russians recovering from the illness was growing.


Masks blossom among roses at French perfume capital

May roses are blooming in Grasse, the birthplace of French perfumes, but out in the fields, some of those who pick them face a problem this year.

"Working with a mask and not smelling," the flowers, "is pretty frustrating," horticulturist Carole Biancalana acknowledges.

Owner of the Domaine de Manon which works with the Dior fashion house, she nonetheless told her seasonal workers they must wear a mask owing to the risk of catching the coronavirus.

Biancalana can still tick off a list of adjectives to describe the "complex, multiple and varied" scent of the centifolia rose, a fragile variety that cannot even stand by itself in a vase.


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Read more on:    who  |  un  |  russia  |  uk  |  china  |  france  |  coronavirus

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