GENEVA: Global health experts gather on Thursday to tackle new strains of the coronavirus blamed for a fresh surge in infections after China recorded its first Covid-19 death in eight months.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) emergency committee session comes with their colleagues seeking the origins of the virus on a long-delayed mission to the pandemic ground zero in Wuhan.
Almost two million of the more than 91 million people who have caught the disease have died, but the figures are widely believed to be an underestimate.
Much of the planet is facing a second or third wave of infections, with populations chafing under painful and economically damaging restrictions.
The global health body’s emergency committee session considers issues needing urgent discussion
Lebanon went into full lockdown on Thursday with residents barred even from grocery shopping.
France is hoping to avoid another national lockdown with the government due to announce tighter controls such as an extended night curfew across the country.
But there was better news for those who have already had Covid-19, with a British study suggesting recovery can confer immunity for at least five months.
The research will be welcomed by UK healthcare workers struggling to cope with surging caseloads and a new, more infectious strain of the virus.
That strain, and another identified in South Africa, was going under the WHO microscope in Geneva on Thursday after being logged in dozens of countries.
WHO’s emergency committee normally gathers every three months, but the meeting was brought forward “to consider issues that need urgent discussion”.
In China, millions of people have been locked down again to try to tame a fresh outbreak that has now claimed its first victim.
The hashtag “New virus death in Hebei” quickly ratcheted up 100 million views on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.
“I haven’t seen the words ‘virusdeath’ in so long, it’s a bit shocking! I hope the epidemic can pass soon,” one user wrote.
The death comes as a 10-strong investigation team arrived in Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late 2019.
Mission leader Peter Ben Embarek said they would enter a two-week hotel quarantine before the probe begins in earnest.
It “could be a very long journey before we get a full understanding of what happened,” he cautioned.
Beijing has argued Wuhan might not be where the virus originated, only where it was first identified.
Regardless of origins, scientists say large-scale vaccination is the only way out.
Inoculation campaigns have kicked off in a number of countries, although progress has often been slow.
In the United States, where more than 4,000 people are dying every day, around 10 million have received a first shot.
Turkish medics rolled up their sleeves on Thursday as the nation of 83 million launched a vaccination drive with China’s Sinovac jab despite conflicting data about its efficacy.
Preliminary studies involving more than 7,000 volunteers in Turkey showed it to be 91.25 per cent effective.
A bigger trial in Brazil showed 50.4pc efficacy and a third in Indonesia gave 65.3pc.
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2021