In this file picture taken on April 29, 2020, an engineer works at the Quality Control Laboratory on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped a quarter of a million on May 5, 2020, with the US government predicting a further surge in fatalities as an international vaccine drive garnered 8 billion USD in pledges.
AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
US says China trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine as markets slump
(Agence France-Presse) - May 14, 2020 - 7:33am

WASHINGTON, United States — Chinese hackers are trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine research, US authorities said Wednesday, ratcheting up tensions between the superpowers as markets slumped on warnings from the US Federal Reserve that prolonged shutdowns could cause "lasting damage".

Europe, meanwhile, pushed ahead with plans to gradually reopen for summer tourism, even as fears persist of a second wave of infections in the pandemic that has forced more than half of humanity behind closed doors in recent months. 

With some countries scrambling after a fresh surge in cases and the global death toll exceeding 294,000, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Wednesday that the virus "may never go away."

Currently there is no proven therapy for COVID-19. An effective vaccine could allow countries to fully reopen and potentially earn millions of dollars for its creators.

With such high stakes, hackers linked to Beijing are attempting to steal research and intellectual property related to treatments and vaccines, two US security agencies warned Wednesday.

"China's efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation's response to COVID-19," the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said.

Neither offered evidence or examples to support the allegation.

Washington has increasingly blamed Beijing for the outbreak caused by the virus that first emerged in China late last year.

Asked on Monday about earlier reports that the US believed Chinese hackers were targeting US vaccine research, President Donald Trump replied: "What else is new with China? What else is new? Tell me. I'm not happy with China."

Beijing has repeatedly denied the US accusations.

'Lasting damage'

The value of a vaccine was underscored as Jerome Powell, head of the US Federal Reserve, cautioned Wednesday that lingering shutdowns could cause "lasting" economic damage.

Powell's warning burst the balloon on Wall Street, analysts said, with stocks sliding on the comments even as he also said the US economy should rebound "substantially" once the outbreak is reined in.

The Fed chief said crisis measures, including spending beyond the nearly $3 trillion already approved in the US, would be crucial to a strong recovery.

Trump, trying to jumpstart the economy as he seeks re-election this year, is pushing past warnings from health officials — including top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, who has cautioned that reopening too soon risks triggering "an outbreak that you may not be able to control."

Some hint of the cost of moving too quickly could be seen in European markets, given a further mauling Wednesday by data showing fresh outbreaks in South Korea and Germany. 

Russia, now the country with the second-highest number of virus cases, recorded more than 10,000 new infections after authorities this week eased stay-at-home orders. 

Fears were also growing of a second wave in China, with the northeastern city of Jilin put in partial lockdown and Wuhan, where the virus was first reported last year, planning to test its entire population after clusters of new cases.

France reopens some beaches

Still, with no vaccine in sight and dire economic data pointing to the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, many countries were trying to navigate through reopening.

Desperate to save millions of tourism jobs, the European Union set out plans for a phased restart of travel this summer, with EU border controls eventually lifted and measures to minimize infections, like wearing masks on shared transport.

In a sign that France might be ready for summer holidays, some beaches reopened on Wednesday — but only for swimming and fishing, while sunbathing remained prohibited. 

People in England were allowed to leave their homes more freely as figures from Britain on Wednesday showed its economy shrinking by two percent in January-March, its fastest slump since 2008 and with a far worse contraction to come.

Hospitals turn people away

Elsewhere, however, cases were surging.

Chile imposed a total lockdown in its capital Santiago after a 60 percent leap in infections over the past 24 hours.

Brazil — emerging as a new global hotspot despite President Jair Bolsonaro dismissing the pandemic as a "little flu" — registered its highest virus death toll in a single day, with 881 new fatalities.

The United States, which has confirmed almost 1.4 million cases, saw a sharp rise in fatalities, with 1,894 new deaths reported on Tuesday after daily tolls fell below 1,000. 

Health experts have warned of potentially devastating consequences as the virus spreads through the developing world, where healthcare systems are under-funded and isolation is often not possible.

In northern Nigeria, surging tolls have sparked fears the virus is spreading, with hospitals shutting their doors to the sick. 

Civil servant Binta Mohammed said she had to watch her husband die from "diabetic complications."

"The four private hospitals we took him to refused to admit him for fear he had the virus," she said. 

'Tough old lady'

But there were stories of hope amid the gloom, including two centenarians who survived the virus.

In Spain, 113-year-old Maria Branyas fought off the illness during weeks of isolation at a retirement home where several other residents died from the disease.

And in Russia, 100-year-old Pelageya Poyarkova was discharged from a Moscow hospital after her own recovery. 

Russian television showed Poyarkova wearing a mask and clutching red roses as she exited in a wheelchair.

"She turned out to be a tough old lady," the hospital's acting director Vsevolod Belousov said. — Sarah Titterton with AFP bureaus

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 3, 2020 - 7:43am

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

June 3, 2020 - 7:43am

Brazil surpasses 30,000 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday as the disease continued to rip through South America's worst-hit country.

Figures released by the health ministry shows 1,262 deaths in the previous 24-hours, as well as 28,936 new infections. 

The overall number of cases — 555,383 — makes Brazil the second most affected country by the crisis after the United States in terms of infections. — AFP

June 3, 2020 - 7:19am

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 377,213 people since the outbreak first emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT on Tuesday. 

At least 6,320,480 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 2,662,300 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. — AFP

June 2, 2020 - 4:47pm

The Department of Health reports 359 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the national tally to 18,997.

There are 84 new recoveries and six new deaths.

June 2, 2020 - 10:27am

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 373,439 people since the outbreak first emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT on Monday. 

At least 6,220,110 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 2,599,500 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. — AFP

June 1, 2020 - 9:39pm

South Africa's education minister apologizes on Monday for a week-long delay in reopening schools owing to a lack of "readiness".

Thousands of grade seven and grade 12 students had been preparing to attend the first classes in the country after two and a half months of home-schooling to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The education department announced late on Sunday that it had postponed the resumption date to June 8, saying the extra week would serve to better prepare facilities and train staff.

"It became clear that the sector was at different levels of readiness," Education Minister Angelina Motshekga said at a press briefing on Monday. — AFP

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