World Health Organization’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan on Friday said that 50 to 60 per cent of the population will need to be immune to the novel coronavirus to protect the uninfected as herd immunity” is still a long way ahead for Covid-19
Herd immunity is usually achieved through vaccination and occurs when most of a population is immune to a disease, blocking its continued spread.
In a social media live event organised by the World Health Organisation from Geneva, the scientist said that more waves of the infection would be required to get to a stage of natural immunity, reports Hindustan Times.
Therefore, she warned, that at least for the next year or so, the world needs to be “geared up” to do everything possible to keep the novel coronavirus at bay while scientists work on vaccines.
Meanwhile, therapeutics will help keep death rates low and allow people to get on with their lives.
“For this concept of herd immunity, you need 50 to 60 per cent of the population to have this immunity to be actually able to break those chains of transmission,” explained Swaminathan.
“That’s much easier to do with a vaccine; we can achieve it faster and without people getting sick and dying. So, it is much better to do it that way, to achieve herd immunity through natural infection. We would have several waves [of infection] and unfortunately also the mortality that we see,” she said.
She added, “Over a period of time, people will start developing natural immunity. We know now from the studies that have been done in many of the affected countries that usually between 5 to 10 per cent of the population has developed antibodies. In some places it’s been higher than that, up to 20 per cent.
“As there are waves of this infection going through countries, people are going to develop antibodies and those people will be hopefully immune for some time and so they will also act as barriers and brakes to the spread of this infection,” said Swaminathan, a paediatrician from India and a globally-recognised researcher on tuberculosis and HIV.
The scientist, who was addressing a range of questions on coronavirus vaccines and therapeutics, said that for the foreseeable future, it is important to be focussed on doing the “right thing” such as public health measures that are known to work while the world waits for a vaccine.
“Even if the clinical trials are successful and we have a couple of vaccines by the end of this year, we still need the hundreds of billions of doses, which will take time,” she said.
The climate emergency generated by global warming, is exacerbating existing risks to international peace and security and also creating new ones, a senior UN official told the Security Council on Friday, making the case for swift climate action on multiple fronts.
“The climate emergency is a danger to peace”, said Miroslav Jenča, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas.
He called on peace and security actors to play their role and help speed up implementation of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.
“The failure to consider the growing impacts of climate change will undermine our efforts at conflict prevention, peacemaking and sustaining peace, and risk trapping vulnerable countries in a vicious cycle of climate disaster and conflict”, he said.
Mr. Jenča briefed the Council at the start of an open video-teleconference debate on climate and security, one of the key themes of this month’s German presidency of the 15-member body.
Noting that the consequences of climate change vary from region to region, he said the fragile or conflict-affected situations around the world are more exposed to – and less able to cope with – the effects of a changing climate.
“It is no coincidence that seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable and least prepared to deal with climate change, host a peacekeeping operation or special political mission”, he said.
Differences exists between regions, within regions and within communities, with climate-related security risks impacting women, men, girls and boys in different ways, he said.
In the Pacific, rising sea levels and extreme weather events pose a risk to social cohesion, he said. In Central Asia, water stress and reduced access to natural resources can contribute to regional tensions.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, climate-driven population displacement could undermine regional stability. And in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, the effects of climate change are already deepening grievances and escalating the risk of conflict – providing fodder for extremist groups.
Outlining some actions that Member States can take together, he said that new technologies must be leveraged to strengthen the ability to turn long-term climate foresight, into actionable, near-term analysis.
Mr. Jenča also recommended stronger partnerships that would bring together the efforts already being made by the UN, Member States, regional organizations and others, to identify best practices, strengthen resilience and bolster regional cooperation.
Warning that there will be no return to “the old normal”, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged people everywhere to play a part in preventing further spread of Covid-19 as global cases have surpassed 15 million and nearly 620,000 deaths.
Ten million cases were reported from 10 countries, with the United States, Brazil and India accounting for nearly half, reports UN News.
On Thursday afternoon, the US passed the milestone of four million infections.
“We’re asking everyone to treat the decisions about where they go, what they do, and who they meet with, as life-and-death decisions – because they are,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking from Geneva.
“It may not be your life, but your choices could be the difference between life and death for someone you love, or for a complete stranger.”
Adjust to the ‘new normal’
COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of billions across the globe, and Tedros said it is understandable that people want to get on with their lives.
“But we will not be going back to the ‘old normal’. The pandemic has already changed the way we live our lives. Part of adjusting to the ‘new normal’ is finding ways to live our lives safely,” he advised.
In recent weeks, outbreaks associated with nightclubs and other places where people gather have been reported, even in locations where virus transmission has been suppressed.
“We must remember that most people are still susceptible to this virus. As long as it’s circulating, everyone is at risk,” said Tedros, adding, “just because cases might be at a low level where you live, that doesn’t make it safe to let down your guard.”
The coronavirus outbreak has had a severe impact on economies across the world.Photo collected from UN News
Tedros underlined that anyone, regardless of age or where they live, can help lead efforts to beat the pandemic and build back better.
“In recent years we’ve seen young people leading grassroots movements for climate change and racial equality. Now we need young people to start a global movement for health – for a world in which health is a human right, not a privilege,” he suggested.
10,000-plus African health workers infected
Separately, the UN health agency underscored the threat COVID-19 is posing to health workers in Africa, more than 10,000 of whom have been infected so far.
There have been more than 750,000 cases of the disease on the continent, with more than 15,000 deaths.
“The growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this, than the rising number of health worker infections.”
Globally, around 10 per cent of COVID-19 cases are among health professionals, though rates differ between individual countries.
Information on health worker infections in Africa is still limited, WHO said, though preliminary data reveals they comprise more than five percent of cases in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
Factors that increase risk among these frontline personnel include inadequate access to personal protective equipment, and weak infection prevention and control measures.
“One infection among health workers is one too many,” said Dr Moeti. “Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are our mothers, brothers and sisters. They are helping to save lives endangered by COVID-19. We must make sure that they have the equipment, skills and information they need to keep themselves, their patients and colleagues safe.”
New COVID-19 Law Lab
WHO has announced the establishment of a COVID-19 Law Lab together with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Georgetown University in the US.
It contains a database of national laws implemented by countries in response to the pandemic, such as state of emergency declarations and measures relating to mask-wearing, physical distancing and access to medications.
Denouncing the US move to close the Chinese Consulate General in Houston, China on Thursday said the bilateral relations will be harmed.
The consulate general in Houston was the first one set up by China in the United States after the establishment of diplomatic ties.
High-ranking US officials claimed Wednesday that the move was to "protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information", reports AP.
In response, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Chinese diplomatic missions in the United States, including the consulate general in Houston, have been committed to promoting friendship and cooperation between the two peoples, and have always adhered to international and local laws in performing their duties.
Over the past four decades and more, the consulate general has done a great deal in promoting mutual understanding among various communities and cooperation in various sectors between the two countries, Wang told a daily press briefing.
"The US claim of the consulate general's engagement in activities not in line with its duties is purely malicious slander," said the spokesperson.
Wang rebuked the US move as a serious breach of international law and basic norms governing international relations as well as bilateral consular agreement. It is causing serious damage to bilateral ties, Wang said, calling it "taking down the bridge of friendship between Chinese and US people."
While answering a question, the spokesperson said in July 2018 and January 2020, the US side opened China's diplomatic pouches twice without permission, which was a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and a grave infringement on China's diplomatic dignity and security interests.
After these incidents happened, the Chinese diplomatic mission in the United State immediately made solemn representations to the US side. The US side did not deny the relevant facts, but repeatedly used technical reasons as an excuse to shirk responsibility for its wrong acts, according to the spokesperson.
"What the US has done runs counter to international law and norms governing international relations and should be condemned," he said.
Wang also responded to a question on the US accusation that, with "false identities," China's consul general in Houston and two other diplomats escorted Chinese travelers aboard a charter flight at the Houston airport gate area.
Wang said the personal information of staff working at Chinese diplomatic missions is open and transparent to the U.S. side, and Chinese consular officers entered the restricted area of the airport with approval from the US side.
"Using identity documents of consular officers issued by the US State Department, they simply took care of Chinese citizens boarding temporary flights," Wang said, stressing that this is reasonable and legitimate with many precedents.
The US accusation is not in line with the facts, Wang said.
As world leaders staying away from New York and contributing set-piece speeches via video link, the General Debate of the General Assembly, traditionally the most high-profile UN event of the year, will be a slimmed-down affair this September due to Covid-19.
The new virtual format is largely due to the ongoing pandemic with many countries continuing to grapple with the health, social and economic fallout from the crisis, a UN spokesperson confirmed on Thursday, reports UN News.
While the number of new COVID-19 cases in New York has dramatically fallen, since the city was for a while the global epicentre of the pandemic in April, the US as a whole has almost four million reported cases, higher than any other country.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Reem Abaza, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, said that each Member State, Observer State, and the European Union, was invited to submit a pre-recorded video, delivered by its designated high-level official, which will be played in the General Assembly Hall.
The Hall will not be empty, however, Abaza explained that the videos will be introduced by a representative of each State, who will be physically present.
The same procedure will apply for a series of special high-level sessions scheduled to take place, including a commemoration of the landmark 75th anniversary of the United Nations; a summit on biodiversity; and a meeting to commemorate, and promote, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
Abaza told reporters that more details regarding the organisation of this year’s events will be released “in due course”.
Side-events, such as New York Climate Week, are unlikely to welcome attendees to New York venues this year, following Muhammad-Bande’s suggestion that they should be moved online.
The decision to introduce pre-recorded videos to the High-Level General Debate, which takes place at the beginning of the 75th session of the General Assembly, was made by the UN body on Wednesday, using the novel ‘silence procedure’ method.
Under this method, draft resolutions are circulated by the President of the General Assembly, which gives Member States a deadline of at least 72 hours, to raise objections. If there are no objections, the President circulates a letter, confirming that the resolution has been adopted.