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Tag: world health organization

Omicron's March Sparks Urgent Global Calls For Vaccinations

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's political leaders were set to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday as cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant broke infection records and forced countries around to world to double down on vaccinations, just days before Christmas.

Authorities globally have imposed new restrictions and stepped up inoculation efforts as Omicron emerges as the dominant strain of the virus, upending imminent reopening plans that many governments hoped would herald the start of a post-pandemic era in 2022.

Singapore will freeze all new ticket sales for flights and buses under its programme for quarantine-free travel into the city-state from Dec. 23 to Jan. 20, the government said on Wednesday, citing risk from the fast-spreading Omicron.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday promised half a billion free rapid COVID-19 tests and warned the quarter of American adults who are unvaccinated that their choices could spell the "difference between life and death."

In response to the surge in cases, Asia-Pacific countries are also looking to shorten the time between second vaccination shots and boosters. However, wary of public lockdown fatigue, there is reluctance to return to the strict curbs imposed during the spread of the Delta variant earlier this year.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday urged leaders of the country's states to reopen hundreds of vaccination hubs to accelerate the rollout of booster shots after they were shut down as demand slowed when double-dose rates in people above 16 years topped 80 percent.

"That's a very important part of today's discussion," Morrison said ahead of a snap meeting of national Cabinet on Wednesday, which includes of federal and state leaders.

He said decisions about bringing forward the vaccination scheduled would depend on expert advice.

Australia on Wednesday reported more than 5,000 daily infections for the first time during the pandemic, eclipsing the previous high of around 4,600 a day earlier, with the bulk of cases in its most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Despite the Omicron surge, Morrison on Tuesday ruled out lockdowns and insisted that limiting the spread of the virus comes down to personal responsibility.

There was also resistance to new lockdowns in South Korea, where authorities announced restrictions on gatherings and operating times for restaurants, cafes and bars.

While polls still show wide support for South Korea's fresh curbs, some of its strictest yet, many small businesses have complained that restrictions leave them overstaffed and overstocked, having prepared for a holiday season under looser rules.

Small business and restaurant associations issued statements protesting the decision and calling for compensation, with one of the groups vowing to stage a demonstration on Wednesday.

New Urgency

Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's European head, on Tuesday warned of a "storm" that Omicron would bring, "pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink."

Germany, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and South Korea are among countries that have reimposed partial or full lockdowns or other social distancing measures in recent days.

Portugal ordered nightclubs and bars to close and told people to work from home for at least two weeks from Saturday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not introduce new COVID-19 curbs in England before Christmas, but the situation remained extremely difficult and the government might need to act afterwards.

Governments have stepped up vaccination and treatment efforts with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set to authorise COVID-19 treatment pills from Pfizer Inc and Merck , Bloomberg News reported.

Israel will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people older than 60.

For now, financial markets have taken Omicron's spread in their stride, having reclaimed some of the heavy losses made after virus headlines earlier this week.

Policymakers are, however, scrambling to address the economic hit that might come from new outbreaks with Britain announcing 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) of extra support for businesses hit hardest by Omicron.

With much still not known about the severity of Omicron infections, businesses are also worried about a swathe of cancellations affecting big-ticket events in the new year.

North America's National Hockey League will not send its players to compete in the men's ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns, ESPN reported on Tuesday.

That would not only affect league players in the U.S. and Canadian ice hockey teams, but also those in the Olympic squads of Sweden, Finland and Germany

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney, Josh Smith in Seoul; Writing by Sam Holmes; Editing by Michael Perry)

U.N. Seeks $600 Million Aid As Taliban  Afghanistan Plunges Into Humanitarian Crisis

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations is convening an aid conference in Geneva on Monday in an effort to raise more than $600 million for Afghanistan, warning of a humanitarian crisis there following the Taliban takeover.

Even before the Taliban's seizure of Kabul last month, half the population - or 18 million people - was dependent on aid. That figure looks set to increase due to drought and shortages of cash and food, U.N. officials and aid groups warn.

An abrupt end to billions of dollars in foreign donations following the collapse of Afghanistan's Western-backed government and the ensuing victory of the Taliban has heaped more pressure on U.N. programs.

Yet U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says his organization is struggling financially: "At the present moment the U.N. is not even able to pay its salaries to its own workers," he told reporters on Friday.

The Geneva conference, due to begin on Monday afternoon, will be attended by top U.N. officials including Guterres, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer, as well as dozens of government representatives including German foreign minister Heiko Maas.

About a third of the $606 million being sought would be used by the U.N. World Food Program, which found that 93 percent of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not consuming sufficient foods, mostly because they could not get access to cash to pay for it.

"It's now a race against time and the snow to deliver life-saving assistance to the Afghan people who need it most," said WFP deputy regional director Anthea Webb. "We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out."

The World Health Organization, another U.N. agency that's part of the appeal, is seeking to shore up hundreds of health facilities at risk of closure after donors backed out.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Pravin Char)

WHO Chief: Pretending Pandemic Is Over Now Would Be ‘Monumental Error’

We are not out of the COVID woods yet, despite declining coronavirus infection levels and increasing vaccine rates, a world health leader warned Monday. The mood may be lightening up in the U.S. and elsewhere as people get their shots, and infections and deaths decline, but COVID-19 is still a very real and present danger, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as the 74th World Health Assembly wrapped up. He called on the world’s nations to work together to end this pandemic and prepare for the next one, proposing a treaty on pandemic preparedness and respo...

COVID Deaths Are Falling In US, But Global Mortality Estimates Are Far Too Low

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Earlier this month, a study out of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projected the actual number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States at over 900,000—far above the official numbers listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or state agencies. While that study was based on projections and evaluation of excess mortality in 2020, it seems to be validated by numerous reports of deaths that were overlooked or never evaluated, especially those occurring outside hospitals.

The IHME study suggested that the same massive undercount was likely to be true around the world, and now the World Health Organization is saying something very similar. At this point, total global deaths from COVID-19 may be between 6 and 8 million—twice the official value of 3.4 million. That still doesn't put this pandemic on par with the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, which killed at least 17 million, but the higher number makes COVID-19 not just the worst pandemic in a century, but among the largest pandemics over a much longer period.

In other words, if the last 18 months has seemed like a truly unusual period, that's because it has been. And as better numbers appear conveying the huge scope of what has happened, it becomes more important to recognize the measures that had, so far at least, prevented COVID-19 from climbing the chart of all-time human disasters.

As The New York Times reports, at least 3 million people in the the 6-8 million death estimate are believed to have died before the end of 2020, compared to a reported total of 1.8 million. In the United States cases of COVID-19 may have peaked in the first weeks of January, but around the globe, cases reached an even larger peak in April and are only now starting to drop as case counts in beleaguered India decline.

India is one of those nations where the official totals are expected to diverge most widely from genuine losses. Total deaths there are still listed at less than 300,000—about half the official total for the United States—but each day of the shocking spike in cases that began at the end of March has produced reports of thousands of uncounted deaths. On some days, local officials reported more deaths in a single city than the official records recorded for the nation. How, or if, all of this will eventually be reconciled is an open question.

The other thing that needs to be considered is that the pandemic is not over. No matter how many stories run about Europe reopening for tourists, or mask mandates being dropped across America, the areas that have already experienced widespread COVID-19 are just a subset. Many countries in Africa had little experience of the disease through the last year. In Asia, a number of nations that appeared to have "beaten COVID-19" are now seeing record levels of cases as world travel increases and new variants are spread.

Just looking at a few relatively wealthy nations, it's easy to see that the level of vaccination around the world varies widely.

Even nations with access to COVID-19 vaccine have a huge disparity in levels of vaccination. attribution: Our World In Data

Across Africa, there are more than two dozen nations where less than 2% of the population has been vaccinated. Many of these nations either have no reserve of vaccine, or may be getting vaccines that are significantly less effective than those being passed around wealthier nations.

Regardless of how the epidemic of cases shaped up in the U.S., a chart of reported cases around the world shows why this pandemic isn't anywhere close to over.

Global daily cases of COVID-19 remain high, and the trend is still going up. attribution: WorldOMeters

New cases of COVID-19 around the world are exceeding half a million. The overall trend in cases remains an upward one. Only a tiny fraction of the world has been vaccinated, and most of that fraction is concentrated in a few wealthy nations. Not only does the potential exist for this pandemic to get much worse across the globe, the huge reservoir created by all these cases provides plenty of raw material for new, more dangerous variants.

Getting vaccine not just delivered to other nations, but into the arms of the world's population, is a national security issue for the United States.

Young People May Be New Super Spreaders of COVID-19

Illness is an unfortunate part of life. But in many cases, the effects may be short-lived. Sinusitis, for example, typically lasts less than four weeks and improves with the appropriate treatment. But as we're now learning, the novel coronavirus can come with serious symptoms -- both at the onset of transmission and even months after contraction. And as confirmed COVID-19 cases surge past the six million mark in the U.S., it's now become clear which group might be the biggest spreaders: young people.

Given how much we don't yet know about the latest coronavirus, it's understandable as to why directives have evolved so much over the last six months. Although children and young adults were generally seen as having a much lower risk of complications as a result of COVID-19 contraction, the problem is that these younger people aren't taking as many precautions. As a result, those who are asymptomatic or who have yet to show signs of illness often spread the virus to others, many of whom may be vulnerable to complications. And while it took more than three months for our nation to reach one million confirmed cases, it's taken less than one-third of that time -- only 22 days, to be exact -- to go from five million to six million.

According to the World Health Organization, young people are the drivers behind COVID-19 spread in many countries, including Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. There may also be an increased risk of complications related to coronavirus transmission in youths. And as coeds return to campuses all across the nation, many are worried that the situation in the U.S. is about to go from bad to worse.

Approximately 64 percent of 2011 private high school graduates went on to attend four-year colleges, but collegiate life looks a lot different less than a decade later. Some classes are being conducted solely online, while others have brought students back with mandates to wear masks, practice social distancing, and eschew traditional rites of passage like parties. Although those in the 18-to-29 age bracket are most vulnerable to problem drinking -- and parties are often being outlawed due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission -- some students have shown that they're not willing to play by the rules.

More than a third of the nation's colleges have reopened, but some have already closed again due to an increase in coronavirus cases. At last count, more than 25,000 students and campus staff across at least 37 states had tested positive for COVID-19. Many schools have taken the step to (or have threatened to) suspend, evict, or expel students who fail to follow health crisis policies and put everyone on campus in danger. Others have closed their residence halls and embraced remote learning. But whether it's realistic to ask students to forgo social opportunities or to expect that every person would have followed proper guidelines is a big question mark.

Ultimately, the effect of college and university reopenings on the national response has yet to be fully realized. But it's pretty clear that the nation has not seen the worst of COVID. Although we may be tired of the coronavirus, it certainly hasn't tired of us.

Inside Trump’s Decision To Leave The World Health Organization

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Right before President Donald Trump unveiled punitive measures against China on May 29, he inserted a surprise into his prepared text.

“We will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization," he announced during a press conference in the Rose Garden.

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WHO Suspends Clinical Trials For Drug Trump Touted As Miracle Treatment

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump has relentlessly promoted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 — and many health experts have been warning that not only is there no evidence it could prevent COVID-19, but also, that it could have dangerous side effects. Now, the World Health Organization, according to The Independent, has announced the suspension of its clinical trial for hydroxychloroquine.

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Trump Fabricated Report To Attack WHO, Say Lancet Editors

On Tuesday, one of the world's top medical journals said that Donald Trump lied in recent letter to the World Health Organization, which threatened to permanently withhold funding from the agency.

The letter, sent Monday, stated that a review of the organization's response to the coronavirus crisis found that it "consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from The Lancet medical journal."

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