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China rejects WHO’s call for new probe into Covid origins

Covid-19 has killed more than 4.3M people and infected over 206M globally. Here are all the coronavirus-related developments for August 13:

Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World… FILE – Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by a World Health Organization team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus, in Wuhan, Hubei province, Chin onFebruary 3, 2021. (Reuters)

Friday, August 13

China rejects WHO’s call for new probe into virus origins

China on Friday rejected the World Health Organization’s calls for a renewed probe into the origins of the virus, saying it supported “scientific” over “political” efforts to find out how the virus started.

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Pressure is once more mounting on Beijing to consider a fresh probe into the orgins of a pandemic which has killed more than 4 million people and paralysed economies worldwide since it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

A WHO team of international experts went to Wuhan in January 2021 to produce a first phase report, which was written in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts.

It failed to find a conclusive position on how the virus began.

On Thursday the WHO urged China to share raw data from the earliest cases to revive its probe into the origins of the disease.

China hit back, repeating its position that the initial investigation was enough and that calls for further data were motivated by politics instead of scientific inquiry.

“We oppose political tracing … and abandoning the joint report” issued after the WHO expert team’s Wuhan visit in January, vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu told reporters. “We support scientific tracing.”

Thailand reports second day of record cases

Thailand has reported 23,418 new infections, a record increase for a second day in a row, bringing the total accumulated cases to 863,189, as the country deals with its biggest outbreak to date.

The Southeast Asian country also reported 184 new deaths, taking total fatalities to 7,126.

South Korea signs deal with Pfizer to buy 30M doses

South Korea has signed a deal with Pfizer Inc to buy 30 million doses of vaccine for use in 2022, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.

Norway to speed up vaccination

Norway will get access to one million additional doses of vaccines in the coming weeks, allowing the country to speed up its immunisation programme, the government said.

“With this delivery, adults above the age of 18 will be able to complete their vaccination during the first two weeks of September,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a statement.

Peru study finds Sinopharm vaccine 50.4% effective against infections

A two-dose vaccine from China’s Sinopharm was 50.4% effective in preventing infections in health workers in Peru when it was seeing a surge in cases fuelled by virus variants, and booster shots can be considered, a study found.

The involving Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV vaccine, which looked at data from February through June at a time when Peru was fighting a brutal second-wave of infections fuelled by the Lambda and Gamma variants of the coronavirus, was conducted on nearly 400,000 frontline health workers in live conditions.

Most of the health workers received two doses of the vaccine.

US authorises boosters for those with weakened immune systems

The United States authorised an extra dose of vaccine for people with weakened immune systems, as the country struggles to thwart the Delta variant.

Emergency use authorisation for a third injection of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines was granted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulator.

“The country has entered yet another wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognisant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in a statement.

Vietnam business hub Ho Chi Minh City to extend curbs

Vietnam’s business hub Ho Chi Minh City, will extend its restrictions, according to the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper, after the city’s new daily infections failed to fall below its required threshold for lifting the measures.

The restrictions were due to expire in Ho Chi Minh City, the epicentre of Vietnam’s current outbreak.

Germany’s virus cases rise by 5,578

The number of virus cases in Germany increased by 5,578 to 3,810,641, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 19 to 91,853, the tally showed.

Argentina produces first local batch of Sputnik V

In the midst of a race against time to vaccinate its people while new variants spread, Argentina started distributing the first locally produced doses of the Russian Sputnik V.

More than one million doses manufactured by Laboratorios Richmond will be shipped from the center.

Argentina was the first country in Latin America to approve the Russian vaccine in December 2020 and the first to start its local production.

More than six million people, most of them over 60 years old, were vaccinated with the first dose of Sputnik V, and are awaiting a second dose, which is manufactured differently than the first.

WHO urges China to share raw data on early Covid cases

The WHO has urged China to share raw data from the earliest Covid-19 cases to revive the pandemic origins probe, and release information to address the controversial lab leak theory.

The World Health Organization stressed it was “vitally important” to uncover the origins of the worst pandemic in a century, which has killed at least 4.3 million people and battered the global economy since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

In the face of pushback from Beijing, the UN health agency called for the provision of “all data and access required so that the next series of studies can be commenced as soon as possible”.

After much delay, a WHO team of international experts went to Wuhan in January 2021 to produce a first phase report, which was written in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts.

Their March report drew no firm conclusions, instead ranking four hypotheses.

It said the virus jumping from bats to humans via an intermediate animal was the most probable scenario, while a leak from the Wuhan virology labs was “extremely unlikely”.

However, the investigation faced criticism for lacking transparency and access, and for not evaluating the lab-leak theory more deeply, with the United States upping the pressure ever since.

US shipping more than 560,000 vaccines to Caribbean countries

The United States has started shipping nearly 569,000 Pfizer vaccine doses to member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the US State Department said.

The shipments, part of a planned donation of 5.5 million doses to the 15-member grouping, would arrive at Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday, and at Barbados on Friday, the department said in a statement.

The US government has said it would buy 500 million Pfizer coronavirus vaccines to distribute to 92 low and lower middle-income countries and the African Union

Mexico posts record number of daily confirmed cases

Mexico has posted a record 24,975 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, bringing the total number of cases to 3,045,571, according to health ministry data.

The figure is the highest daily total since the pandemic began, excluding statistical blips that heath authorities said were caused by one-off adjustments to back data.

Mexico also reported 608 new fatalities on Thursday, bringing the overall death toll to 246,811.

Israel set to offer vaccine booster shots to under 60 year olds

Israeli Health Ministry experts have recommended dropping from 60 to 50 the minimum age of eligibility for a vaccine booster, hoping to curb a rise in Delta variant infections.

The advisory panel’s move, which followed a call by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to expand Israel’s booster campaign, still has to be approved by the Health Ministry’s director.

But at least two major health providers have already said they would begin on Friday to schedule appointments for people in the 50-59 age group to get a third dose of the Pfizer /BioNTech vaccine.

After a successful vaccination campaign launched in late 2020 in which around 60% of the population have received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, new daily cases dropped from more than 10,000 in January to single digits in June.

But with the spread of the Delta variant across the globe, new infections jumped in Israel, reaching 5,946 on Monday, and serious illnesses have been increasing as well.

UK watchdog says to investigate testing firms

Britain’s competition watchdog has said it will help the government take action against testing companies if it finds they are breaching consumer law, amid concerns about the price and reliability of PCR travel tests.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on August 6 asking it to investigate the market for PCR tests to ensure that consumers did not face unnecessarily high costs or other poor provision.

The watchdog said in a statement it was exploring if individual PCR providers may be breaching their obligations under consumer law, and if there were structural problems in the market for PCR tests that could affect price or reliability.

It would also examine if there was any immediate action that the government could take in the meantime.

“We are also working closely with DHSC (Health Department) to get the data we need to identify the cause of any wider problems in the PCR testing market, and to ground our advice on what action may be needed,” George Lusty, CMA Senior Director for Consumer Protection, said.

The United Kingdom operates a “traffic light” system for international travel, with low-risk countries rated green for quarantine-free travel, medium risk countries rated amber, and red countries requiring arrivals to spend 10 days in isolation in a hotel.

Brazil reports 39,982 new cases, 1,148 deaths

Brazil recorded 39,982 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, along with 1,148 deaths, the Health Ministry has said.

Brazil has registered more than 20 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 566,896, according to ministry data.

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