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WHO Board to get 1st update from Covid panel on Oct 5-6, report next year

A diplomat said it is improbable that the independent panel set up by the WHO would be severely critical of the WHO’s handling of the disease in context of China

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Xi Jinpin and UN Chief

The independent panel on Covid-19 announced by World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in July will submit its first update to the world body’s executive board at its meeting on 5-6 October.

The panel was set up at the World Health Assembly against the backdrop of sharp criticism aimed at the WHO chief and Beijing for their handling of the contagious virus that is believed to have originated in China’s Wuhan. Beijing locked down domestic travel in the early weeks of the infection but allowed flights to freely leave the country, spreading virus across the globe.

At last count, John Hopkins University tracker of Covid-19 infections across the world indicates the virus has infected more than 31 million people worldwide and almost killed a million people. China, from where the disease started late last year, has reported only a small proportion of infections, less than even Oman’s 95,000 cases. The United States and India are among those hit hardest.

The US had led the demand for an independent review of WHO’s response that was seen to have let Beijing guide its hand in the early days of the pandemic. At the UN General Assembly this week, Donald Trump – who pulled out the US from the world health body over its handling of the disease – lashed out at China again and asked the UN to hold China “accountable” for unleashing “this plague” on the world.

Diplomats in New Delhi and Geneva, however, suggest that this is unlikely to happen. One of them said it was improbable that the independent panel – co-chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – would be critical of the WHO’s handling of the disease in context of China.

Already, Tedros and the independent panel have made it clear that the exercise was not a fault-finding exercise but an effort to improve the world’s response to the next pandemic.

“While we are clear that The Independent Panel must shed light on what has happened and why, this exercise is not a blame game” said Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-Chair of the Panel at its first meeting last week, according to an official statement.

The panel’s co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she hoped their report would lead to “bold, credible, robust and implementable solutions that ensure our world is better prepared for the next pandemic”.

The panel is scheduled to submit its final report before the next World Health Assembly (WMA) in May next year but will come up with regular updates for other meetings. Like when the WHO’s top policy-making body, the WMA, resumes its meeting on 9-14 November.

The US isn’t part of the panel. Preeti Sudan, a retired civil servant who was India’s Union health secretary when the coronavirus disease broke out, is a member of the WHO panel.

China has sent Zhong Nanshan, the pulmonologist who is credited by Chinese media for having spearheaded the country’s fight against the outbreak of a new coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

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India is ‘very inspiring’; its research, manufacturing critical to fighting Covid-19: Bill Gates

He also said although the RT-PCR test has high specificity, a lot of challenge is about the logistics.

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Bill Gates Covid Vaccine

India’s research and manufacturing will be critical to fighting Covid-19 especially for making vaccines on a large scale, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said on Monday.

Addressing the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting 2020, Gates delved upon the difficulties in vaccine development and diagnostics of Covid-19.

The American business magnate said India is “very inspiring” as it has made huge strides in improving the health of its people in the last two decades.

“And now, India’s research and manufacturing will be critical to fighting Covid-19 especially when it comes to making vaccines at large scale,” he said.
Gates said scientists all over the world are involved in a particular ‘grand challenge’ — ending the current pandemic.

He said researchers are breaking down silos and rather than waiting to go through the publication process, they are sharing data on a daily basis.

“Since the pandemic began, scientists have shared 1,37,000 viral COVID-19 genomic sequences,” the Microsoft Corp co-founder said. Even the pharmaceutical companies are cooperating on production ways that really have never been seen before, he added.

Talking about the challenges in vaccine development, he said mRNA vaccine is an area where many have seen “great promises”.

“Probably, the first approved vaccine for COVID-19 will be mRNA,” he said but added that the vaccine cannot be counted on alone because it is very hard to scale up and has a logistical problem because it requires a proper cold chain.

Gates expressed hope that the mRNA platform matures in the years ahead so that its vaccines can be scaled up that can bring down the costs as well the cold chain requirement.

He also stressed on the need for innovation in diagnostics platforms.

“Even when sometimes people are tested, results come back negative because some of the tests are not sensitive to the small nano virus,” he said, adding, this also leads to infection.

“So, the diagnostics are letting us down,” Gates said, stressing on the asymptomatic nature of the infection.

“Right now, the current business model is identifying people with symptoms and we need to change that. We need sensitive and specific diagnostic tests which matter and we need to make it easy to access,” he said.

He also said although the RT-PCR test has high specificity, a lot of challenge is about the logistics.

Gates suggested that there should be test kits that can be spread out into the community and can be stocked in medicine cabinets, community centres and pharmacies.

On cooperation by the scientific fraternity, he noted that international teams of scientists are collaborating with full speed on the vaccine clinical trials.

“One or more of these vaccines will be available by early next year and as there will be multiples vaccines, it is necessary to make sure to understand how exactly and where to use each of them,” he said.

Gates said the pace of science in fighting the pandemic has been remarkable.

“But despite all this work, right now, as fast as the science has moved…the pandemic is still ahead of us. The first COVID-19 vaccine will probably be the fastest that humans have ever gone from identifying the new disease to be able to immunise against it,” he said.

“Still we all know this virus has managed to plunge the entire global economy into a deep recession,” he added.

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60-70 polluting power plants to be closed soon: Javadekar

He also referred to the efforts to tackle the problem of pollution in the national capital through public transport services.

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Prakash Javadekar

New Delhi, Oct 18 : Union Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar on Sunday announced that 60-70 pollution-causing power plants would be identified and closed in the next two years as he discussed steps taken by the Narendra Modi government to tackle the pollution menace.

Launching a social media connection with people, he made the announcement in a question and answer session on Facebook Live.

The minister said that power plants of Badarpur and Sonipat in Delhi-NCR have already been shut down.

Javadekar said mainly 5-6 aspects contribute to the pollution — traffic, industry, garbage, dust, stubble burning and geographical factors.

Listing the steps taken by the Modi government, he said that the use of BS-VI fuel reduces pollution by 25-60 per cent, and a key step has been taken to promote BS-VI fuel at a cost of Rs 62,000 crore.

He also referred to the efforts to tackle the problem of pollution in the national capital through public transport services.

“In 2014, while 25-30 lakh people used to travel by Metro in Delhi and NCR, today 45-50 lakh people commute by Metro. This is a big achievement. The construction of Eastern-Western Peripheral Expressway has also taken care of around 60,000 pollution causing vehicles that used to pass through Delhi. Now, the metro and e-buses facilities are being increased in all cities.”

The Union Minister said during the Facebook Live interaction that in 2015, the Modi government launched the National Air Quality Index for the first time. From 2016, the monitoring of air quality began.

“In the year 2016, while there were 250 days of bad air, the count today has come down to 180.”

Javadekar said the cause of pollution in Delhi-NCR is also due to geographical factors.

“Due slow air-flow, the problem of pollution is more in Delhi. The pollution reduces whenever the wind blows,” he said.

He also said the Modi government also framed new rules for construction and demolition management in 2016 in Delhi to manage pollution.

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Britain records 16,171 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours

The data showed 150 new deaths from COVID-19, defined as having occurred within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, compared to 136 on Friday.

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Britain Coronavirus

LONDON : Britain has recorded 16,171 new cases of coronavirus within 24 hours, according to government data published on Saturday, compared with 15,650 the previous day.

The infection rate has risen sharply in recent weeks, prompting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other regional leaders to introduce tighter restrictions and local lockdowns.

The data showed 150 new deaths from COVID-19, defined as having occurred within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, compared to 136 on Friday.

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