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WHO says Zika virus spreads explosively, 4 million cases forecast

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

WHO says Zika virus spreads explosively, 4 million cases forecast
Phuket Gazette / Reuters


PHUKET: The Zika virus, linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil, is “spreading explosively” and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Director-General Margaret Chan told members of the U.N. health agency’s executive board the spread of the mosquito-borne disease had gone from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions. The WHO would convene an emergency meeting on Monday to help determine its response, she said.

“The level of alarm is extremely high,” Chan told the Geneva gathering.

“Last year, the virus was detected in the Americas, where it is now spreading explosively. As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region,” Chan said, promising quick action from the WHO.

The agency was criticized last year for reacting too slowly to West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which killed more than 10,000 people, and it promised to cut its response time.

“We are not going to wait for the science to tell us there is a link (with birth defects). We need to take actions now,” Chan said, referring to the condition called microcephaly in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains that have not developed properly.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is like dengue and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms. Much of the effort against the illness focuses on protecting people from mosquitoes and reducing mosquito populations.

Developing a safe and effective vaccine could take a year, WHO Assistant Director Bruce Aylward said, and it would take six to nine months just to confirm whether Zika is the actual cause of the birth defects, or if the two are just associated.

“In the area of vaccines, I do know that there has been some work done by some groups looking at the feasibility of a Zika virus vaccine. Now something like that, as people know, is going to be a 12-month-plus time frame,” he said.

U.S. health officials said the United States has two potential candidates for a Zika vaccine and may begin human clinical trials by the end of this year, but there will not be a widely available vaccine for several years.

Marcos Espinal, head of communicable diseases at the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s Americas arm, forecast 3 to 4 million Zika cases in the Americas.

As the virus spreads from Brazil, other countries in the Americas are likely to see cases of babies with Zika-linked birth defects, according to Carissa Etienne, regional director for the Pan American Health Organization.

Brazil has reported around 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, vastly more than in an average year and equivalent to 1 to 2 percent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.

The WHO’s Chan said that while a direct causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth malformations has not yet been established, it is strongly suspected.

“The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions,” she said.

Health and law expert Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University in Washington, who had urged the WHO to act, welcomed Chan’s decision to convene an expert meeting, calling it “a critical first step in recognizing the seriousness of an emerging epidemic.”

OLYMPICS CONCERNS

With Rio de Janeiro set to host the Olympics from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the IOC will issue guidelines this week concerning Zika.

“We will do everything to ensure the health of the athletes and all the visitors,” Bach told reporters in Athens.

Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there have been 31 cases of Zika infection among U.S. citizens who traveled to areas affected by the virus.

“It’s possible and even likely that we will see limited outbreaks in the United States,” Schuchat said.

In Washington, U.S. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts called on the WHO and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to explain how they were tackling the virus because many Americans visit the affected region and more are expected to attend the Olympics.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama’s administration’s concern was focused mostly on pregnant women or women who could become pregnant, given the link to microcephaly.

Lufthansa (LHAG.DE), British Airways (ICAG.L) and JetBlue (JBLU.O) became the latest international carriers to offer rebookings or refunds for tickets to areas impacted by the virus.

Lufthansa and British Airways said they would offer pregnant women the opportunity to change their reservations to another destination or delay travel. They stopped short of offering complete refunds as several U.S. airlines have.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Thailand

Thai PM is ready to work closely with the US President

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Thai PM is ready to work closely with the US President | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thai PM and US President

Thailand’s PM Prayut Chan-o-cha sent a letter of congratulations to US resident Joe Biden. He says the Thai government is ready to work closely with the US government to promote cooperation in all aspects and all levels.

He also says that Thailand and the US have a long relationship that dates back over 200 years. And, as Thailand is the US’s longest standing ally in Asia, he hopes the US, under President Biden “will not turn its back on the country”.

He also called for cooperation between the 2 countries in handling the global pandemic together, saying “the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has taught all countries a lesson and that the world is facing historic changes, with the most important thing being “for all of us is to come together face to face and to cooperate with one another”.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Wuhan remembers Covid-19 lockdown on 1 year anniversary

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Wuhan remembers Covid-19 lockdown on 1 year anniversary | The Thaiger

Wuhan is remembering the Covid-19 lockdown that 11 million residents endured on today’s 1 year anniversary. The 76 day lockdown on January 23, 2020 saw public transportation shut down by 10am and a ban on anyone exiting the city, unless they were given special permission. In a city the size of London, locking down painted an eerily quiet landscape.

But such an anniversary today has been met with silence by Beijing as no lockdown commemorations have been planned, almost as though the lockdown never happened. A commentary in the Beijing News professed “mixed feelings,” praising the aggressive lockdown as a model for the world, while noting Wuhan’s sacrifices and the looming virus threat.

“We must not lose the hard-won results of the epidemic to negligence, and must not let the epidemic rebound. Pay tribute to Wuhan. Pay tribute to the strong and fearless Chinese people!”

Despite the government’s reluctance to acknowledge the anniversary, Wuhan’s lockdown ordeals remain fresh the memories of Chinese people, especially as localised Covid-19 clusters have spread across China. Such popups in Covid cases have prompted Beijing to implement mass testing and lockdowns in other areas.

76 year old Huang Genben, is one of those who remembers. He says he spent over 2 months in a hospital last year fighting the virus as he spit up blood, expecting to die, but agrees that such a lockdown was necessary.

“When I closed my eyes at night I didn’t know if I would open them again.”

“We can tell from the results that the policy of the government was correct, the cooperation of Wuhan citizens was correct. I feel pain seeing the epidemic all over the world.”

Today, the streets of Wuhan seem to be the stark opposite of what it was 1 year ago, with elderly dancers spinning in parks and crowded bars selling “Wuhan Stay Strong” craft beer, while the rest of the world is still dealing with the fallout of the pandemic.

But 58 year old street vendor Xu Jiajun, contradicts the somewhat merry street scenes as he says things have changed since the pandemic began.

“The situation is not good. I don’t have a stable income like I did before.”

As the Covid-19 virus is generally believed to have spread from a Wuhan wet market where exotic animals were sold as food, World Health Organisation experts are almost finished with a 2 week quarantine in Wuhan where they plan to investigate the coronavirus’ origins.

Worldwide, the virus has been responsible for killing at least 2 million people, but in China authorities have reported fewer than 5,000 deaths, with the vast majority coming from Wuhan when the pandemic most probably originated.

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Chinese propaganda flick released about the Wuhan lockdown

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Chinese propaganda flick released about the Wuhan lockdown | The Thaiger

A new, state-backed film marking the anniversary of the Covid-19 Wuhan lockdown, is using propaganda to praise the central Chinese city. The documentary “Days and Nights in Wuhan” chronicles the suffering that the city’s 11 million residents endured during the 76 day lockdown. 30 filmmakers contributed to the film which included footage of medical staff and front-line workers.

The film joins other documentaries centered on the Wuhan lockdown, including one that was produced by an activist artist that led to him fleeing the country after being harrassed by China’s Communist Party. “Coronation” was rejected by festivals, theatres, and streaming services in which the creator speaks about fears over the offending government which tightly controls what films can be shown inside the nation and abroad.

The new film was directed by Cao Jinling and has already debuted in Wuhan but the audience number were ‘underwhelming’. The film is set to be released to other cities across the weekend. But it is not clear if the Chinese government will allow it to be shown overseas.

“We wanted to record the journey of battling against the Covid-19 epidemic via motion picture. Some of the details, including the intense care, anxious waiting, heartbreaking farewells and hopeful rebirths, might strike a chord with viewers.”

The lockdown imposed on January 23 of last year, was eventually extended to surrounding areas in Hubei province, seeing some 56 million people unable to leave their homes. Hospitals and morgues became overwhelmed at the height of the crisis as Wuhan accounted for most of China’s 4,635 death toll.

Meanwhile, China has finally gave permission for the World Health Organisation to send a team of international experts to begin investigating the virus’ origins. Experts mostly agree that the coronavirus emerged from a Wuhan food market where live wild animals that carry the virus were sold. But China’s government has all but refuted the claim by insinuating that the virus was possibly brought into the country by US soldiers.

Other conspiracy theories are abound, but the notion that the virus was not from Wuhan has done well with many residents, who maintain the virus came from somewhere else. Such beliefs by those residents have also propelled them to view themselves as victims.

SOURCE: Associated Press

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