Covid-19: US demands 'robust' virus origin probe as pandemic surges worldwide

Washington - WHO mission expected to begin work in China on Thursday


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Published: Thu 28 Jan 2021, 9:56 AM

Last updated: Thu 28 Jan 2021, 10:09 AM

The United States demanded a “robust and clear” international probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, as a team of World Health Organisation experts in China waited Thursday for the green light to begin its Covid-19 probe.

The call came as coronavirus infections shot past 100 million and governments scrambled to get their hands on scarce vaccine doses, with a bitter row erupting between the European Union and Britain over the supply of AstraZeneca shots.

With more than 2.1 million people killed globally, and Beijing only recently allowed the WHO team into China.

Also read: Covid-19: China sees fall in new cases amid strict local lockdowns

“It’s imperative that we get to the bottom of the early days of the pandemic in China, and we’ve been supportive of an international investigation that we feel should be robust and clear,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

The highly anticipated WHO mission was expected to begin its work under tight security on Thursday as team members finished their 14-day quarantine after arriving in China.

The pandemic has surged despite many nations kicking off mass vaccination programs, and one major issue in recent weeks has been of demand for jabs far outstripping supply.

Vaccine supply delay

With cases surging across Europe, the EU has demanded that AstraZeneca make up for delays by supplying doses from its factories in the UK.

Also read: Tensions rise as AstraZeneca, EU spar over vaccine delays

But Britain has told the firm to honour its delivery promises too as it tries to accelerate its program, even using historic sites such as the Salisbury Cathedral and Lord’s cricket ground as vaccination centers.

AstraZeneca has said there is simply not enough to go around.

At least 90 million doses of that vaccine, which AstraZeneca developed with the University of Oxford, will be produced in Japan, government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said Thursday, but local media said they may not be distributed until May.

Pfizer, which developed its successful vaccine with BioNTech, has revised higher its production target for this year from 1.3 billion doses to 2 billion.

While part of that is down to increased production, it is also impacted by a change in how the firm counts doses — after initially saying each vial contained five, the pharma giant now says six shots can be extracted.

Vaccines are considered critical to eventually defeating Covid-19, which has continued to re-emerge even in nations where it was brought under control.

New virus variant

New Zealand confirmed two new cases of the more virulent South African coronavirus strain on Thursday, days after an initial case that ended a run of more than two months without any community transmission.

The Pacific nation topped a list published Thursday by the Lowy Institute, a top Australian think tank, assessing almost 100 countries on how they managed the pandemic.

Brazil was ranked the worst, at number 98, with Mexico, Colombia and the United States also near the bottom.

Vietnam, which made the top 10, on Thursday reported its first community transmission in nearly two months.

Tokyo Olympics

The lack of success globally in containing the pandemic sparked doubts about whether the delayed Tokyo Olympics can be held at all this year.

But the head of the International Olympic Committee insisted organizers were focused on how — not if — the Games will be held.

“Our task is to organize Olympic Games, not to cancel Olympic Games,” said Thomas Bach.

“And that is why we will not add fuel to this speculation.”


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