Covid 19 hits 5 million: US remains at peak
As the Coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, the number of confirmed cases since the outbreak began has passed 5 million, while the exact number of infections could be far higher, with many unrecorded or undiagnosed persons. The world’s infected total now is 5,014,943 and recorded deaths 328,462.
The US continues to have the highest number of infected and dead - 1,551,853 / 93,439. Russia now has the second largest infections - 308,705, while its death toll is smaller - 2,972, and Brazil is now the country with the third largest infections - 291,579 / 18,859 deaths. The UK is the fourth highest with 249,619 infected and 35,786 dead.
With the spread of the Coronavirus, Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed to conduct an independent probe into the UN agency’s Coronavirus response and its handling of the pandemic.
There are also emerging fears, stated by experts, of a second wave of the epidemic which may have not been taken seriously by the political leaders, especially in US and Europe.
The resolution at the WHO Assembly, tabled by the EU, called for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the pandemic. It said the investigation should include a probe of "the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic".
This decision comes amidst criticism of the WHO by the US and US President Donald Trump’s threat to pull the US out of the WHO, accusing it of botching the global Coronavirus response and of being a "puppet of China".
His comments drew a harsh rebuke from Beijing, after his health secretary Alex Azar insisted the WHO's "failure" to obtain and provide vital information on Covid-19 had proved deadly.
“The United States pays them US$ 450 million a year; China pays them US$ 38 million a year. They’re China-centric, to put it nicer, but they’re a puppet of China,” Trump told reporters at White House.
China’s President, Xi Jinping, has said his country would support a “comprehensive review” of the Covid-19 pandemic after the outbreak is brought under control.
President Xi, speaking by video conference at the opening of the World Health Assembly, stressed that such an investigation must be conducted in an “objective and impartial manner” and said Beijing would donate US$ 2 billion to the UN to help the global response to the outbreak. “All along we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility,” Xi said.
Chinese Health Minister Ma Xiaowei told the WHO assembly that Beijing had been timely and open in announcing the outbreak and sharing the virus’s full gene sequence, and urged countries to “oppose rumours, stigmatisation and discrimination”.
The Chinese President’s pledge of US$ 2 billion to WHO over the next two years is to help deal with COVID-19, especially in developing countries. This amount almost matches the WHO’s entire annual programme budget for last year, and more than compensates for Trump’s freeze of U.S. payments worth about US$ 400 million a year.
While WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the call for a review, he insisted there was no need for a dramatic overhaul of the organisation. What the global community needs to do, he said, is to "strengthen, implement and finance the systems and organisations it has — including WHO".
Electoral and Global Politics
The US’s continuing criticism of the WHO on the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, and increasing attacks on China, comes as Covid-19 figures and deaths in the US continues to increase, and the US President having to face a re-election poll in November this year. With more fatalities and cases in the US than any other country by far, the under-pressure US President blames the WHO for not doing enough to combat its initial spread.
Covid-19 is coming to the global political stage with moves by the US against the WHO, on allegations of relations with China, and sharp reactions from Beijing which has accused Washington of “shirking responsibility”. There is increased international concern that US moves against WHO and China on Covid-19, may hamper the international fight against the pandemic.
On the sidelines of the escalating row, the EU on Tuesday stepped up its support for the WHO. "This is the time for solidarity, not the time for finger-pointing or for undermining multilateral cooperation," EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said.
The EU resolution adopted at the WHO assembly called for nations to commit to ensuring "transparent, equitable and timely access" to any treatments or vaccines developed against Covid-19. It addressed the controversial issue of the origin of the virus, which first emerged in China late last year, urging the WHO to help investigate "the Zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population".
Responding to US-led criticisms of the WHO Director-General said the UN body had “sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often”. When it declared a global emergency on Jan. 30, there were fewer than 100 cases outside China, and no deaths”, he said.
Tedros, who has always promised a review, told the forum it would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and make recommendations for the future. He received backing from the WHO’s independent oversight panel.
“Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience,” he said, adding the review must cover “all actors in good faith”.
In its first report on the handling of the pandemic, the oversight committee said the WHO had “demonstrated leadership and made important progress in its COVID-19 response”.
The WHO panel endorsed a review but said conducting it now could hamper the WHO’s response to the pandemic.
It also said “an imperfect and evolving understanding” was not unusual when a new disease emerges and in an apparent rejoinder to Trump, said a “rising politicization of pandemic response” was hindering the effort to defeat the virus.
The US President’s threat to leave the WHO came hours after Trump revealed that he is taking hydroxychloroquine - the anti-malaria drug - to protect against the new Coronavirus, even though the drug is not proven to prevent or treat Covid-19 and can have deadly side effects. Hydroxychloroquine is typically taken to treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and malaria, and the US Food and Drug Administration has warned that it should not be taken outside of hospitals or clinical trials because it could lead to heart problems.
The increasing attacks on the WHO by the Trump Administration comes with the numbers of unemployed in the US exceeding four million, and moves by a majority of States in the US to end the lockdown and major social restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19. President Trump is supportive of the many Governors calling for relaxations of the curbs, and has begun easing restrictions, allowing businesses to be active again, despite warnings about the spread of the virus.
Russia now has the second most cases of the Coronavirus in the world, behind only the US. The new cases midweek has brought the official count above 300,000. With 135 new deaths recorded, the nationwide toll will soon exceed 3,000. The new surge in infections and the blow to the economy are among the biggest challenges facing President Vladimir Putin.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who returned to work this week after recovering from the virus, said “the situation is gradually stabilising, especially in Moscow”, the worst affected area. Russia has recorded far fewer deaths than other countries, especially in Europe, with large outbreaks. Critics have cast doubts on the official mortality rate, with allegations of under-reporting to play down the scale of the crisis. However, Russian health officials say one of the reasons the count is lower than the US and parts of Europe is that only deaths directly caused by the virus are included. It is also noted that the virus came later to Russia than to other countries in Europe, and there was more time to make necessary arrangements and do testing.
Brazil has the third-highest number of confirmed Coronavirus infections in the world, after registering more than 290,000 cases. Experts say insufficient testing might mean that the real figure in Brazil could be 15 times higher.
The country's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has dismissed the risks and compared Covid-19 to "a little flu". His handling of the outbreak - which has included calls for lockdowns imposed by State Governors to be lifted - has led to criticism and the resignation of the Health Minister, who succeeded his predecessor who was removed by President Bolsonaro on disagreements on social distancing issues.
But Bolsonaro's focus on minimising economic disruption has been welcomed by many supporters who organised anti-lockdown rallies, some of which the President attended.
The health system of Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, could collapse within two weeks, Mayor Bruno Covas has warned. The city has a population of about 12 million, and officials say most residents are ignoring social distancing rules. More than 3,000 people have died from the virus there.
But it is not only urban centres that have been badly hit. Amazonas state had almost 21,000 confirmed cases early this week.
About 13 million Brazilians live in shanty town ‘favelas’ where hygiene recommendations and physical distancing are near impossible to follow. The situation is made worse by the President’s strong opposition to lockdown measures, though most of the country’s 27 State Governors have ignored him and imposed lockdowns.
India: With 5,609 cases in a single day, the total Coronavirus count in India has risen to 112,442 midweek, while 3,438 people have died from the disease so far. Maharashtra, the most affected state, reported 2,000-plus cases for a fourth straight day, taking its overall tally to nearly 40,000. In a complete reversal of the stance announced two days previously, the Government on Wednesday announced that domestic airline operations would resume from May 25. Three days earlier, the Home Ministry had prohibited air transport until May 31.
India extended the Coronavirus lockdown for two more weeks, with the next phase providing more relaxations outside the containment zones. This is expected to bring relief to thousands of migrant workers on the roads. These workers employed in the main cities are the worst affected by the Coronavirus clampdowns, with millions of them being forced out of employment. With no financial and other assistance from the State, many of them have been walking thousands of miles to get back to their villages, with all public transport stopped. This is the biggest crisis facing Indian authorities from this pandemic.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has taken moves to step up economic activity, and has allowed shops and markets including barber shops, salons and spas, to open with staggered timings. E-commerce companies were also permitted to deliver goods. However, the night curfew will remain prohibiting all non-essential travel between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The deadly Cyclone Amphan slammed into India’s coast and Bangladesh Wednesday afternoon, killing more than a hundred in both eastern India and Bangladesh and causing huge damage to cities, towns and villages and sending millions of poor villagers into evacuation shelters, with both countries already hugely affected by the Coronavirus.
Millions across India and Bangladesh were left without power in the wake of the most powerful cyclone to have hit the region in more than 20 years. “The impact of the Amphan is worse than the Coronavirus,” Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal said.
There was similar damage in neighbouring Bangladesh, with authorities expecting losses of over US$ 1 bn. Five million people are without power, a mangrove forest has been hit, and thousands of houses have been washed away. Rohingya Refugees living in crowded camps in the Cox Bazaar have also been affected by the cyclone.