Health And Family

WHO experts say COVID-19 probably came to humans from animals

AFP bureaus - Agence France-Presse
WHO experts say COVID-19 probably came to humans from animals
(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 03, 2021 Peter Daszak (R), Thea Fischer (L) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, arrive at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. An international expert mission to Wuhan has concluded that it was very likely that Covid first passed to humans from a bat through an intermediary animal, while all but ruling out a lab incident. The experts said that the intermediary host hypothesis was deemed "likely to very likely", while the theory that the virus escaped from a laboratory was seen as "extremely unlikely", according to the final version of the long-awaited report, of which AFP obtained a copy on March 29, 2021 before the official release.
AFP/Hector Retamal

GENEVA, Switzerland — Covid-19 probably passed to humans from a bat via an intermediary animal, an international expert mission to China concluded in a report seen by AFP Monday, while all but ruling out a laboratory leak.

But the report, drafted by World Health Organization-appointed international experts and their Chinese counterparts, offers no definitive answers on how the new coronavirus jumped to humans.

Covid-19 has killed more than 2.7 million people worldwide in the 15 months since it emerged, forcing governments around the world to introduce restrictions that have battered the global economy.

Ahead of a meeting with world leaders, UN chief Antonio Guterres called for more debt relief for the poorest countries struggling with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

In the United States, there was good news about progress of its vaccine roll-out, but President Joe Biden warned Americans that the battle was still far from over.

Mexico, meanwhile, released new figures on excess deaths which suggest its official coronavirus death toll — already the third highest in the world — is a massive underestimate.

'New Debt mechanism'

The expert report on the origins of Covid has had a troubled birth, with publication delays adding to the hold-ups and diplomatic wrangling that plagued the WHO's attempts to get experts into Wuhan — the city at the centre of the initial outbreak.

They finally arrived on January 14, more than a year after the first cases surfaced.

Experts believe the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease originally came from bats.

The report authors judged that the most likely scenario was that it had made a direct leap to humans, while not ruling out other theories.

Beijing's theory that the virus did not originate in China at all but was imported in frozen food was judged "possible" but very unlikely.

Claims promoted by former US president Donald Trump's administration that the virus escaped from a research lab were judged "extremely unlikely".

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Guterres called for a "new debt mechanism" allowing such options as debt swaps, buy-backs and cancellations to help worse-off countries.

Addressing an online forum that included dozens of world leaders, he said the pandemic has pushed the world to "the verge of a debt crisis" and required "urgent action".

"We need to change the rules," he argued.

The pandemic had also "shattered the lives" of millions of women and girls and reversed progress towards gender equality, he said.

'War far from won'

In the US, the White House said that 90 percent of adults would be eligible for Covid shots within three weeks.

But in a television address, Biden himself warned the country — which has the world's highest death toll — that "our work is far from over. The war against Covid-19 is far from won."

He condemned the reckless behaviour of some people flouting social distancing measures.

New government data from Mexico showed that it had registered 294,287 Covid-19 deaths — substantially more than previously recorded, and the third highest in the world behind Brazil and the United States.

In Britain on Monday, people rushed to pools and parks to enjoy new-found freedoms, as the government allowed small groups to gather and sports activities to resume.

"We haven't swum since January 5, so we were beyond excited to come back and get back into the water," swimmer Jessica Walker told AFP at a London pool.

The country is also lining up an FA Cup semi-final football match in April as a test run for reopening large events.

J&J deals

Johnson & Johnson announced of a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to bring relief to that continent.

AVAT has an initial deal for 220 million doses of the single-shot vaccine with J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutica for delivery from the third quarter of this year.

With EU approval already in its pocket, the US drugmaker also plans to begin European deliveries on April 19.

The bloc has lagged far behind Britain in its vaccine rollout.

Rising case numbers in Germany led Chancellor Angela Merkel to lambast the heads of the country's regional states, including her own party colleagues, for failing to reintroduce restrictions.

In neighbouring France, President Emmanuel Macron may announce new measures this week after partial, regional shutdowns failed to keep the number of people in intensive care below its second-wave peak.

Also on Monday, the makers of the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot struck a deal with a Chinese firm to make more than 60 million doses, citing "rising demand" for the drug.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 23, 2021 - 10:44am

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

October 23, 2021 - 10:44am

Peru, which has the world's highest COVID-19 death rate per capita, has surpassed 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the health ministry said on Friday.

The ministry announced 25 new deaths over the previous 24 hours, taking the South American country over the symbolic threshold with 200,003 deaths since the pandemic started in March 2020.

The Andean country of 33 million has also recorded 2.2 million infections.

With 6,065 deaths per million population, Peru's COVID mortality rate is the highest in the world, according to an AFP count based on official data.

The news comes at a time of falling daily cases and deaths attributed to the increase in vaccinations, although authorities remain worried about a potential new wave of infections due to the Delta variant that is now predominant in the country.

"We're maintaining a high level of control," health minister Hernando Cevallos said recently. — AFP

October 21, 2021 - 1:41pm

India administers its billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, according to the health ministry, half a year after a devastating surge in cases brought the health system close to collapse.

According to the government, around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated.

India suffered a huge spike in cases in April and May, reporting more than 400,000 infections and 4,000 deaths per day, with many hospitals unable to cope and crematoriums overwhelmed. — AFP

October 20, 2021 - 8:22pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a nationwide week-long paid holiday starting on October 30 to curb COVID infections amid record virus deaths and again urged Russians to vaccinate themselves.  

At a televised meeting with officials, Putin said he supported a government proposal to "declare non-working days between October 30 and November 7 throughout the country" and asked Russians to "show responsibility" and get COVID jabs. — AFP

October 20, 2021 - 3:09pm

A Brazilian senate committee will on Wednesday ask that President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with "intentional" crimes over his management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left 600,000 of his compatriots dead.

Following six months of eventful hearings, with emotional witness statements and chilling revelations about the use of ineffective medication on "human guinea pigs," the committee of inquiry will deliver its eagerly awaited report.

Renan Calheiros, the centrist senator who is the lead author of the 1,200-page report, has already revealed that he has retained at least nine charges against the far-right president, including "quackery" and "crimes against humanity."

But he announced a last-minute withdrawal of "homicide" and "genocide" charges, after some infighting within the panel. — AFP

October 20, 2021 - 1:28pm

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces an investment of up to $120 million in an effort to speed up low-income countries' access to a new anti-Covid drug. 

The treatment, a pill called molnupiravir developed by US lab Merck, reduces the risk of hospitalization by half in Covid-19 patients who take it in their first few days of infection, the company has said, and could be even more effective at preventing deaths from the virus. 

The money from the Gates Foundation would be used to encourage the production of generic forms of the drug by other companies, especially in India, to which Merck has already granted such licenses. — AFP 

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