WHO to publish ‘COVID origins’ report

 

The international investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic's origins in China will publish its report in the week of March 15, the World Health Organisation's chief has said.

The report was originally due to be published in two stages: an initial summary in February followed by the full text. However, they will both now be released at the same time, said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"I know that many member states are eager to see the report of the joint WHO-led study on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus - and of course so am I," he said in a speech to the UN health agency's member countries.

"The team is working on its final report as well as an accompanying summary report, which we understand will be issued simultaneously in the week of the 15th of March."

"Rest assured that when the reports are ready, we will ask the expert team to share the reports with member states ahead of their release, and to brief you on the findings." The first COVID-19 cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

The international investigation in the city only began in January 2021 and wrapped up last month.

A team of international scientific experts spent four weeks in Wuhan visiting sites linked to early cases.

Experts believe the disease originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

Although the mission to Wuhan failed to identify the source of the virus, the experts were dismissive of the theory that it leaked from a virology laboratory in the city at a press conference before leaving China.

However, when the team leadership returned to Geneva, Tedros said that, "all hypotheses remain open".

WHY ITALY BANNED OZ

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan and the EU's top trade official Valdis Dombrovskis spoke on Friday, as Canberra digested the news that Italy banned a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines to Australia.

A European Commission spokeswoman said the video call was previously scheduled but "they did discuss the export authorisation mechanism" under which Italy acted.

The call came a day after Rome, with the commission's approval, blocked the export of 250,700 doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine meant for Australia.

Italy explained the ban as necessary due to a shortage of vaccines in virus-hit Europe and the lack of urgent need in relatively virus-free Australia.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan has spoken with the EU’s top trade official over the AstraZeneca ban to Australia. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan has spoken with the EU’s top trade official over the AstraZeneca ban to Australia. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Australia's government said the absence of that one shipment would not affect its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine that started on Friday, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would ask Brussels to review the decision.

The commission spokeswoman told journalists that Mr Dombrovskis explained to Mr Tehan the EU's approach to vetting exports of doses of vaccines it has approved for use in the bloc.

"He also reassured that for those companies that are honouring their contract arrangement with the EU, there is no issue with the authorisations, including with Australia," she said.

Under the EU scheme, a company wanting to export doses out of the bloc needs to apply to the member state government to do so, which then turns to the commission to approve or deny its recommendation.

 

The Italian decision was the first time the mechanism was used to ban a shipment since it started operating at the end of January.

The European Commission has engaged in a public row with AstraZeneca over the company's failure to supply all the vaccine doses it promised the EU in the first three months of this year.

The Anglo-Swedish company is on track to provide only around 40 per cent of the contracted doses to the EU, even as it fulfils its full deliveries to Britain, a former EU member.

The commission spokeswoman, Miriam Garcia Ferrer, said that between January 30 and March 1 the EU had approved 574 vaccine exports requests to 30 countries including Australia.

A commission spokesman, Eric Mamer, said the EU expects companies that have supplied vaccine deals with Brussels "to do their utmost to comply with the contracts with delivery contracts that they have with the member states".

EU SHIPMENT BAN WON'T AFFECT AUSTRALIAN VACCINE ROLLOUT

Italy on Thursday local time launched a COVID vaccine war, refusing to release an Australian shipment of 250,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca jab.

But the Morrison Government insists it won't affect the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine in Australia.

A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said: "This is one shipment from one country".

"The AstraZeneca Roll out begins today in Murray Bridge South Australia," Hunt's spokesman said.

"The first International shipment already arrived which takes us through to the commencement of domestic CSL supplies.

"This shipment was not factored into our distribution plan for coming weeks."

CSL's Australian manufacturing would deliver one million doses per week by the end of the month, Mr Hunt's office said.

Meantime, the drastic move from Italy came as it and most of Europe is still struggling with a major shortage of vaccines following a disastrous procurement process.

The European Union voted to buy all vaccines as a bloc, but bet heavily on French vaccines that failed.

Italy has vaccinated just under 5 million of its 60 million people, but has been struggling with delays in supplies from AstraZeneca following problems at its Belgian plant.

Now, Italian officials have taken the drastic move of banning supplies leaving Europe.

The London Financial Times reported on Thursday afternoon local time that Italy had become the first country to ban exports of vaccines under new rules that were introduced to hoard medical supplies.

The European Commission had the power to veto Italy's ban, but Brussels officials allowed the shipment to be stopped.

Ursula von der Leyen, the boss of the European Union's vaccine rollout, had warned last week that EU countries would block exports if AstraZeneca did not increase supplies.

"If companies don't fulfil their contractual obligations, yet do export, the commission may decide to make a move under the export regimen," she said.

The vaccine roll out in Europe has been an embarrassment, with Britain streets ahead in its vaccination program with more than 20 million doses delivered.

British politicians have claimed that they were able to supercharge the vaccine program because they were free of EU rules after Brexit.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been quiet on the amount of Oxford and Pfizer vaccinations stockpiled for the UK's use.

However, there were plans to scale up to 5 million doses per week, double the current rate of the program, in the coming weeks.

Comment was being sought from the Australian Government.


GLOBAL COVID-19 DEATHS FALL

The number of deaths due to COVID-19 dropped by seven per cent around the world over the past week, although the rate of new cases remained stable, according to AFP data.

Here is the state of play worldwide:

The decrease took place mainly in North America, where the number of deaths dropped by a fifth, to 12,282.

In Asia, the number of victims decreased by 18 per cent to 3,666, while in Africa the figure dropped by 14 per cent, for a total of 2,151 deaths.

Europe, which mourned the most deaths in the world at 22,795, nevertheless also saw a decrease of four per cent in its toll.

The good news was tempered by a nine per cent increase in deaths in the Middle East and a three per cent climb in Latin America and the Caribbean, where there were 19,425 deaths.

With 382,983 new cases recorded every day on average this week, the infection rate is stable compared to the previous week.

For the fourth week in a row the biggest drop in new cases took place in Portugal, with 36 per cent less, as a lockdown decreed in mid-January bore fruit.

The United Kingdom followed with 34 per cent less, then Spain with 25 per cent less, Indonesia and Malaysia.

With an 86 per cent increase in its number of new cases, Hungary is the country in which the pandemic has picked up most speed. The country had already seen a 69 per cent increase the previous week.

Among the other territories which recorded big increases are the West Bank, Estonia, Jordan and Poland.

CANADA APPROVES J & J VACCINE

Canada on Friday authorised a fourth COVID-19 vaccine, adding Johnson & Johnson to its approved list alongside AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots.

Produced by the US pharmaceutical giant's subsidiary Janssen, it is the first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to be authorised in Canada, and has been cleared for use by people over 18 years of age.

The United States greenlit its use 27 February while the European Medicines Agency is set to decide whether or not to permit its use in the European Union next week.

At the same time, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Pfizer was moving up deliveries of its vaccine that will increase from six million to eight million the total number of doses delivered in March.

"To people watching at home right now who are looking forward to getting their shot, your turn is coming. Millions of doses are on the way. Deliveries have been ramping up and they'll ramp up even more in April," he told a news conference.

Ottawa has ordered up to 38 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which can be stored at refrigerated temperatures from two to eight degrees Celsius, making distribution easier than some others.

While the J & J vaccine is not as protective as Moderna and Pfizer, the comparisons are not quite like-for-like, because those trials reported results before newer, more transmissible mutations of the virus became dominant in some parts of the world.

Originally published as WHO to publish 'COVID origins' report


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