A team of World Health Organization experts arrived in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to start a highly politicized investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, state media CGTN reported.
The 10-member team was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the WHO Director-General.
The researchers will be in quarantine for two weeks in Wuhan and undergo a throat swab test, and an antibody test for COVID-19 before starting their work.
The novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019.
It has since spread to almost every country on earth, killing nearly 2 million people and infecting tens of millions while devastating the global economy.
Scientists suspect the virus jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest.
The Chinese government had been under international pressure over its handling of the initial outbreak. It has responded by saying the virus arrived in China from abroad, a claim rejected by scientists.
The WHO delegation’s visit came on the same day that Chinese authorities reported the first fatality from COVID-19 in eight months. The death was reported in Hebei province where the government has placed several cities under lockdown.
China is currently seeing a surge in coronavirus cases in its frozen northeast.
Germany’s economy is expected to have contracted at a dramatic pace last year after the tough restrictions were imposed to combat a surge in the coronavirus cases unleashed an economic crisis.
The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) will announce the annual numbers on Thursday. Analysts forecast that Europe’s biggest economy shrunk by 5.1% last year, after growing by 0.6% in 2019.
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer offered up to 10,000 soldiers to carry out COVID-19 tests in care homes.
“The Bundeswehr (army) is ready to assist at short notice with up to 10,000 men and women in old people’s homes and nursing homes if we are called upon,” a spokesman for Kramp-Karrenbauer told AFP news agency.
The soldiers would receive training from manufacturers to carry out rapid tests in order to protect those most at risk and ease pressure on care home staff.
“It is the most vulnerable in the pandemic who need our help now,” said the spokesman.
The defense ministry said about 1,150 soldiers were already working in 267 care homes across the country. The army made 20,000 soldiers available to help since the beginning of the pandemic, but only 8,000 were able to find work so far.
Portugal has ordered a strict nationwide lockdown, similar to the one enacted last year.
People will only be allowed to leave their homes for shopping, work, and medical appointments. The regulation will come into effect on Friday.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa told broadcaster RTP that it will likely last for one month but will be reviewed in 15 days.
“Don’t think about the exception, think about the rule. And the rule is easy: we all have to stay home,” said Costa.
Spain registered a record number of daily cases on Wednesday. The country recorded 38,869 new cases and 195 deaths.
Carolina Darias, minister for territorial policy and civil service said the country was in a situation of “very high risk, extreme risk.”
Health Minister Salvador Illa said, “the pressure is continuing to rise in hospitals,” and said the number of people getting tested was also increasing.
The Vatican began its vaccination drive for workers and residents on Wednesday. It said health care workers, security personnel, and the elderly would be first in line.
It was not clear when Pope Francis, who is 84 years old, would receive the vaccine. He previously said he was registered to receive the shot. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, 93, also lives in the Vatican City-state.
There have been several outbreaks in the Vatican in recent months, including among the Swiss Guard.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Wednesday the African Union (AU) secured a provisional 270 million vaccine doses in a deal aimed to benefit countries unable to finance their own immunization campaigns.
“As a result of our own efforts we have so far secured a commitment of a provisional amount of 270 million vaccines from three major suppliers: Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through Serum Institute of India), and Johnson & Johnson,” he said.
These doses will complement the 600 million doses of vaccine secured via the COVAX vaccination program.
The new purchases with the doses from the COVAX program will provide Africa with half of the vaccines that it requires, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The continent seeks to vaccinate about 780 million people, representing some 60% of its population of 1.3 billion.
This will require 1.5 billion doses, assuming two doses per person, at an estimated total cost of some $10 billion, the Africa CDC said.
Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi said he has applied to access COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX distribution scheme.
“We have applied to the COVAX program and we expect to get the vaccine to vaccinate 20% of vulnerable people,” said Nyusi in an address to the nation.
Health Minister Armindo Tiago said in an interview with state broadcaster Radio Mozambique earlier this month that the country expects to receive about 6 million doses and plans to begin vaccinating people from the end of June or in July.
adi, kbd/aw (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Coronavirus digest: WHO team arrives in Wuhan to probe pandemic origins The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deutsche Welle.