Coronavirus wrap | Iran requests IMF loan, experts debate theories on origin of Covid-19, and social media influencers take their inspiration indoors

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Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

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Virus-hit Iran urges IMF to approve its loan request

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani appealed to the International Monetary Fund Wednesday to approve a $5 billion emergency loan request to combat its novel coronavirus outbreak.

"I urge all international organisations to fulfil their duties," Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting.

"We are a member of the IMF... if there's going to be any discrimination between Iran and others in giving loans, neither us nor world opinion will tolerate it," he said in televised remarks.

Iran announced on 12 March that it had requested the loan from the IMF to help fight what was then one of the world's deadliest Covid-19 outbreaks.

Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a "standby credit" issued between 1960 and 1962, according to IMF figures.

According to the IMF's website, a Rapid Financial Instrument "is available to all member countries facing an urgent balance of payments need".

Iran says it has confirmed more than 62 500 coronavirus infections and more than 3 800 deaths.

- AFP


Boris Johnson starts third day in intensive care

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson began a third day in intensive care on Wednesday battling the coronavirus, which has struck at the heart of the British government, infected more than 55 000 people across the country and killed nearly 6 200.

"I understand the prime minister is in a stable condition, he's comfortable and in good spirits," Edward Argar, a junior health minister, told Sky News.

"He has in the past had some oxygen but he's not on ventilation."

The Times reported Johnson's persistently high temperature had fallen, while the Daily Telegraph said he was being cared for by one of Britain's leading lung doctors.

Newspapers urged Britons to keep their stricken leader at the forefront of their minds, with the country in lockdown to try to stem the spread of Covid-19 in its third week.

"He stayed at work for you... now pray at home for him," The Sun tabloid splashed across its front page. "Boris 'will pull through'," said the Daily Express.

- AFP


As coronavirus spreads, few leads but many theories on origin

The blame game between China and the United States on the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic has overshadowed the role public-health laboratories in China have played in the outbreak.

In two labs in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first Covid-19 cases were reported, long-running experiments with bat viruses helped scientists quickly identify the coronavirus as most likely to have come from the nocturnal mammal, but those same labs have also fuelled biosafety concerns.

The practice of collecting viruses from bats first burst into public view in the early weeks of the outbreak when Shi Zhengli, a noted scientist with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, refuted a swirl of online accusations both at home and abroad that the coronavirus may have leaked from her institute, where a lab certified as BSL-4, the highest level for handling dangerous pathogens, opened three years ago.

Director-General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu has called such speculation part of an "infodemic" of fake news surrounding the coronavirus, while other public health officials said they belong with the slew of conspiracy theories claiming that the virus was engineered (all scientists who have studied the genome of the virus agree that would be impossible).  

But some scientists, both within China and elsewhere, say an accidental leak remains a possibility - insofar as there is no evidence to disprove it.

In mid-February, scientists from two of China's most prestigious polytechnics, including one in Wuhan, circulated a pre-print paper, one that has not undergone peer review, detailing accidents involving bats at the lab of the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After being attacked and urinated on by the bats, a researcher quarantined himself for 14 days.  

The CDC lab is located 280m from the seafood market and across the street from the hospital that were the sites of the earliest clusters of Covid-19 cases.

The authors made a circumstantial case for the virus "probably originate[ing] from a laboratory in Wuhan".

As long as no scientist has been able to marshal the evidence to the contrary, to Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and director at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, US, this remains a possible scenario.

- Al Jazeera


#Stayhome Gulf influencers take the glamour factor indoors

From extravagant trips to the Amalfi Coast and sunset photoshoots on Dubai's beaches to an almost complete lockdown - the coronavirus has forced the Gulf's social media "influencers" indoors but hasn't lowered their glamour factor.

While they can no longer upload pictures of themselves zipping through international airports or strutting down London streets in high-end brands, many have turned the cameras on their lives at home as they spend time with family, cooking and decorating.

Most have encouraged their followers to stay home as the number of novel coronavirus cases in the oil-rich Gulf, which is also home to millions of foreigners, rises past 9 000 despite tough lockdown measures.

Others have given their audiences an inside look into their personal lives.

Social media influencers can play a positive role during the pandemic, said Rima Sabban, an associate professor of sociology at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates.

"They can help, even with the little things," she said.

But she urged influencers to drop their "social masks" and avoid putting such a gloss on the situation that it makes ordinarily people even more miserable about their locked-in existences.

"At this time it is important to be honest with people," she said. "This is now a moment for humanity... to drop these masks and be courageous."

- AFP


Tesco recruits 45 000 UK staff on virus demand

Britain's biggest retailer Tesco said on Tuesday that it recruited over 45 000 staff in the past two weeks as the coronavirus outbreak sparked a stockpiling surge while many supermarket workers fell ill.

In an earnings update, Tesco said costs were forecast to increase by between £650 million and £925 million ($787 million and $1.12 billion) on "significant cost increases in payroll, distribution and store expenses".

Chief executive Dave Lewis said "Covid-19 has shown how critical the food supply chain is to the UK" but he noted that "initial panic buying has subsided and service levels are returning to normal."

Tesco said that "more than 45 000 new colleagues" joined since 20 March, including drivers meeting soaring demand for home deliveries.

- AFP

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