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China withheld data on coronavirus from WHO, recordings reveal | World news

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The World Health Organization struggled to get needed information from China during critical early days of the coronavirus pandemic, according to recordings of internal meetings that contradict the organisation’s public praise of Beijing’s response to the outbreak.

The recordings, obtained by the Associated Press (AP), show officials complaining in meetings during the week of 6 January that Beijing was not sharing data needed to evaluate the risk of the virus to the rest of the world. It was not until 20 January that China confirmed coronavirus was contagious and 30 January that the WHO declared a global emergency.

“We’re going on very minimal information,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist and the WHO technical lead for Covid-19, according to the AP. “It’s clearly not enough for you to do proper planning.”

The WHO’s top official in China, Gauden Galea, said in one of the recordings: “We’re currently at the stage where yes, they’re giving it to us 15 minutes before it appears on CCTV [Chinese state TV].”

The report comes amid growing international scrutiny of China’s handling of the outbreak and moves to establish an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, which has infected more than 6 million and killed more than 375,000 people around the world.

What is the World Health Organization’s remit?

The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded as the UN global health body in 1948 in the aftermath of the second world war with a mandate to promote global health, protect against infectious disease and to serve the vulnerable. 

Its current programme envisages expanding universal healthcare to a billion more people, protecting another billion from health emergencies and providing a further billion people with better health and wellbeing.

What does that involve?

The WHO acts as a clearing house for investigation, data and technical recommendations on emerging disease threats such as the coronavirus and Ebola. It also supports eradication of existing diseases such as malaria and polio and promotes global public health.

While its role on emerging diseases is most familiar in the developed world, its practical involvement is far more marked in the global south, where it has been working to expand basic healthcare, support vaccination and sustain weak and often stressed health systems through its emergencies programmes. 

Why is the WHO under fire from Trump?

Trump has presented the freezing of US funding to the WHO as a direct response to what he claims was its slow reaction in raising the alarm over the global threat from the coronavirus and being too “China-centric” in its response. The allegation that the WHO was slow to warn of the risk of human-to-human transmission, and that it failed to cross-examine Chinese transparency early on, is largely not borne out by the evidence. And the organisation’s funding was already in his sights on 7 February, when his administration was suggesting cutting the US contribution by half.

The WHO, to whom the US theoretically contributes roughly 10-15% of its budget as its largest contributor, has been appealing for an extra $1bn to help fight the coronavirus. While the suspension of funding by the US for 60-90 days is relatively small – not least because the US is so far in arrears in its annual payments – the potential for a general US withdrawal from global health funding under the cover of this announcement would be very serious and felt most profoundly in places that need the most support.

Peter Beaumont and Sarah Boseley

The WHO has been criticised for consistently lauding China, even as questions emerged over the suppression of early warnings and information. The WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has praised China for “setting a new standard for outbreak response” in its swift and aggressive measures.

The WHO’s office in China did not respond to a request for comment on the recordings. It said in a statement, reported by the AP: “Our leadership and staff have worked night and day in compliance with the organisation’s rules and regulations to support and share information with all member states equally, and engage in frank and forthright conversations with governments at all levels.”

In early January, Michael Ryan, the WHO’s chief of emergencies, said he feared a repeat of the Sars epidemic in 2002, which Chinese officials initially covered up.


“This is exactly the same scenario, endlessly trying to get updates from China about what was going on,” he said, according to the AP report. “The WHO barely got out of that one with its neck intact given the issues that arose around transparency in southern China.”

Ryan criticised China for not cooperating and advised for applying more pressure on Beijing. “This would not happen in Congo and did not happen in Congo and other places,” he said, apparently referring to the Ebola outbreak. “We need to see the data. It’s absolutely important at this point.”

Warnings and reports of a mysterious Sars-like virus began to filter out of Wuhan city in December but were suppressed by authorities. On 9 January, Chinese state media announced the illness was the result of a new coronavirus but said it was not contagious.

Almost two weeks later, officials admitted the virus was transmittable, as hospitals in the city were already flooded with patients and cases were appearing across the region. Authorities locked down Wuhan on 23 January, but at least 5 million residents had left, travelling across the country as well as overseas before the lunar new year holiday.



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Coronavirus Updates: Trump Hosts July 4 Event at White House

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The pandemic has shuttered Broadway through the end of the year (at least), and the United States’ big regional theaters and major outdoor festivals have mostly pivoted to streaming. But many theaters are still finding ways to present live performances before live audiences.

Of course, there is social distancing. Also, in some places, masks. Temperature checks. Touchless ticketing. Intermissionless shows. Lots of disinfectant. And at the Footlights Theater, in Falmouth, Maine, actors will perform behind plexiglass.

But these precautions mean there is dinner theater in Florida, street theater in Chicago, and drive-in theater in Iowa.

“Our commitment is to do live theater — there’s a huge difference between that and seeing something on a computer screen,” said Susan Claassen, managing artistic director of Invisible Theater in Tucson, Ariz., a state that has emerged as a Covid-19 hot spot.

There are also financial reasons for continuing: Some theaters say they cannot survive a year without revenue.

“We’d rather go down creating good theater than die the slow death behind our desks,” said Bryan Fonseca, the producing director of Fonseca Theater Company in Indianapolis. The company plans to stage “Hype Man,” a three-character play by Idris Goodwin, outdoors, for 65 mask-wearing patrons.

“I am hopeful and also very cautious,” Fonseca said, “careful that I don’t create a problem.”

And in New York City, Food for Thought Productions, a company that presents staged readings of one-act plays, plans to restart in a private club on July 13, with attendees required to have taken coronavirus tests.

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England’s post-lockdown newlyweds toast ‘surreal day’ over Zoom | Coronavirus outbreak

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After three missed hen dos, one lost wedding dress and a guest list savagely trimmed by four fifths, Fiona Sharples and Chris Fisher tied the knot on Saturday in one of the UK’s first post-lockdown weddings.

Kissing outside St Kenelm church in Gloucestershire – unaccompanied by banned confetti – the happy couple said it had been a dream day. Albeit, said Sharples, if that dream was “surreal and exciting and set our heads spinning.”

While an estimated 75,000 UK weddings have been postponed in the last three months, dozens of couples across England decided to celebrate the end of lockdown with their nuptials. Ceremonies adhered to strict rules: no more than 30 attendees, including staff and the registrar, no food or drink unless it was essential for the ceremony and a soft ban on singing and instruments to limit the spread of the virus. Social distancing rather than tipsy flirting was the order of the day.

“We’ve winged it,” said Sharples over videocall, the night before the wedding. “All the things you thought were essentials have gone out of the window. Chris is getting married in jeans and Converse. I only just managed to buy my wedding shoes in Asda. Bridal underwear? Forget it.”

The couple, both 34, met on a dating site eight years ago and have two children together. Fisher, a chef, proposed to Sharples, who works as a community nurse, over a Chinese takeaway in Watchet Harbour, Somerset, last summer. When they originally decided on a 4 July wedding – a date sandwiched between their two birthdays – they had envisaged a big sunny party with around 150 people, a picnic, a disco and massive marquee. In the end, they had four days to throw the event together.

“We had cancelled because of Covid obviously and then, as the rules were relaxed, [the vicar] called us on Tuesday and asked if we wanted to go ahead anyway,” said Fisher. Parents, apart from Fisher’s mum, were not able to attend because they were shielding; livestreaming the event was not allowed in the church because it required extra permissions. Flowers and a cake were donated by friends, and matching rings were sourced by Sharples’ mum.

A wedding dress had been dispatched but did not arrive on time. Sharples was beaming nonetheless: “I’m happy with my old faithful dress”. The day had been “hectic but lovely”. The couple were looking forward to settling down to a wedding tea served by the local chippy and a bottle of prosecco drunk over Zoom while chatting to family.

“People have been really wonderful, we’re lucky to have lots of loved ones helping us,” she said. “I very nearly lost my life in March to Sepsis, and sent my friends off to have my hen do in this big house in Devon without me. We tried to rearrange two different things since then but they got waylaid too.” Sharples shrugged.

“Basically, life’s too short,” said Fisher. “We didn’t have time to think too much about whether we should do the wedding this weekend – it will be more intimate but it’s been taken out of our hands.”

In the longer term, wedding planner Alice Higgins predicts that the industry will be adapting at pace: excess and frippery were out, she says, and a focus on low-key simplicity will become a more established norm in ceremonies to come.

“Weddings are wonderful occasions but they can get overwhelming and that is not how it should be,” she said. “It’s easy for couples to get caught up in the wedding whirlwind, but the Covid situation has made people really focus on stripping back to what is important to them and remembering the wedding is only the start of it – the marriage is what really matters.”

As for Mr and Mrs Fisher, their planned honeymoon was cancelled but an unromantic weekend with their children, Albert, 4, and two-year-old Mallory, in CBeebies Land beckoned. “So instead of going on our cruise and having two weeks of child-free romance in Croatia and Italy, we’ve got two nights booked in an Octonaughts-themed room instead,” said Fiona. The couple giggled. “There will probably be a comedown from all this,” said Chris, “but I don’t think anything will really change.”

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Coronavirus: What’s happening around the world on Saturday

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The latest:

  • England’s pubs, restaurants and hair salons reopen as lockdown eases further.
  • U.K. scraps quarantine for arrivals from about 60 countries, excluding Canada, U.S.
  • With cases spiking across the U.S., there’s concern Fourth of July parties will help spread coronavirus.
  • Atlantic bubble opens, allowing travellers from within the four provinces to cross borders.
  • India records its highest single-day spike in new coronavirus cases.
  • Australian authorities lock down 9 public housing towers in Melbourne over outbreak.

The pints are being poured and the unkempt hairdos are being cut and styled as England embarks on its biggest lockdown easing yet this weekend.

In addition to the reopening of much of the hospitality sector on Saturday, including pubs and restaurants, for the first time in more than three months, couples can tie the knot and people can go see a movie at the cinema.

Museums and libraries have also reopened, but gyms, swimming pools and nail bars remain shut. Restrictions on travel and social contact have been eased — people from different households can now go into each other’s homes, for example.

And many of those despairing at what they see in the mirror can finally get their hair trimmed. In all cases, physical distancing rules have to be followed.

Stephanie Headley, the 35-year-old owner of a barber shop in Blaby in central England, was relieved to be back in business for the fist time since the full lockdown was announced on March 23.

Headley said she was a “little bit anxious” and that she has been inundated with booking appointments after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the latest easing of the lockdown last week.

“I can’t wait to see all the dodgy haircuts that have come out of quarantine,” she said.

WATCH | Pandemic creates loss for LGBTQ community:

With gay bars closing in several Canadian cities, many members of the LGBTQ community worry that they’ll lose the only safe spaces they have. 1:59

Globally, the total number of coronavirus cases has now exceeded 11 million, with more than 525,491 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. Besides the United States, with 2.7 million confirmed cases and more than 129,000 deaths, the world’s current hot spots include Brazil, Russia and India.

On Friday, Florida reported 9,488 new confirmed cases and 67 deaths, a day after setting a new daily record with more than 10,000 cases.

Ten Democratic legislators urged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday to require Floridians to wear masks. They want the governor to make masks mandatory in public spaces, indoors and outdoors, when physical distancing isn’t possible. The Republican governor has resisted those calls.

Beaches throughout South Florida, including this one in the South Beach neighbourhod of Miami Beach, are closed for the busy Fourth of July weekend to avoid further spread of the novel coronavirus. (Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press)

The U.S. headed into the holiday weekend with many parades cancelled, beaches and bars closed and health authorities warning that this will be a crucial test of Americans’ self-control that could determine the trajectory of the surging coronavirus outbreak.

With confirmed cases climbing in 40 states, some governors and local officials have ordered the wearing of masks in public, and families were urged to celebrate their independence at home. Even then, they were told to keep their backyard cookouts small.

WATCH | U.S. records biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases:

The U.S. has recorded its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and there are fears the July 4 weekend will make things worse. 2:01

Beaches that had been open for the traditional start of summer over Memorial Day weekend will be off-limits in many places this time, including South Florida, Southern California and the Texas Gulf Coast.

The U.S. set another record on Friday with 52,300 newly reported coronavirus cases, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Arizona, California, Florida and Texas have been hit especially hard.

Arizona has reached new peaks in hospitalizations and emergency room visits, indicating the state is intensifying as a coronavirus hot spot. State health officials say the capacity of intensive care units is at an all-time high of 91 per cent. The state reported Friday 4,433 new confirmed cases and 31 deaths. Its total during the pandemic stands at 91,858 cases and 1,788 deaths.

(CBC)

In California, the holiday beach closures began Friday from Los Angeles County northward through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. To the south in Orange County, hugely popular beaches such as Huntington and Newport were to close Saturday and Sunday, while San Diego did not plan any shutdowns. Many beaches in Northern California were open but parking was closed at some to reduce the potential for crowding. 

In South Dakota, there were fireworks and a speech to supporters by President Donald Trump with Mount Rushmore as the backdrop. The U.S. president flew across the country to gather a big crowd of supporters, most of them maskless and all of them flouting public health guidelines that recommend not gathering in large groups.

Back in Washington, D.C., Americans were invited to see a fireworks display over the National Mall to mark Independence Day on Saturday. Up to 300,000 face masks will be given away, but people won’t be required to wear them.

The big party will go on over the objections of Washington’s mayor.

“Ask yourself, do you need to be there? Ask yourself, can you anticipate or know who all is going to be around you? If you go downtown, do you know if you’re going to be able to socially distance?” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.


What’s happening with COVID-19 in Canada

As of 9 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 105,091 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 68,694 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,712. 

The Atlantic bubble started Friday, allowing travellers from within the four provinces to cross borders without having to self-isolate for 14 days. Each province has its own set of rules for visitors.

Proof of residency screening — showing a driver’s licence or health card — will be maintained at points of entry.

Visitors from other Canadian provinces and territories must adhere to the local entry requirements in place in each of the four jurisdictions. Other Canadian visitors to the Maritime provinces who have self-isolated for 14 days may travel within the region, but not to Newfoundland and Labrador, said P.E.I. Premier Dennis King.

As of Friday, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are the only Atlantic provinces with active cases, both currently having three, with N.S. recording two new cases this week.

Here’s what’s happening around the world

In the U.K., the easing of a lot more lockdown rules will only apply to England as the devolved nations in the United Kingdom — Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — have been setting their own timetables for easing lockdown restrictions.

WATCH | Prince William visits pub as U.K. eases COVID-19 measures:

Pub staff chatted about physical distancing and other measures being taken to protect patrons moving forward. 1:30

Pub-goers will find the atmosphere rather different from the usual Saturday night. Numbers will be limited, no one will be allowed to stand at the bar and there will be no live music. Patrons will also have to give their details to allow tracers to identify them if anyone later tests positive. Bars will also have to keep a record of customers in case of a local outbreak.

In another relaxation of lockdown rules, two households can now meet indoors as long as social distancing is maintained, and overnight stays are allowed. 

Neither Canada nor the United States is on a newly released U.K. government list of countries whose residents won’t have to self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive in Britain.

The U.K. government unveiled the list on Friday. It includes almost 60 countries deemed “lower risk” for the coronavirus, including France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Travellers won’t have to go into isolation if they didn’t visit any other country or territory in the preceding two weeks before they arrive in Britain.The quarantine exemptions will start on July 10.

While Canada is not on the list, the U.K. said that beginning July 4, Canada will be exempt from its Foreign Office advice against all non-essential international travel. This is based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks, the U.K. government said on its travel advisory website.

In Germany, animal rights activists on Saturday attempted to block access to a slaughterhouse at the centre of a large coronavirus outbreak.

The slaughterhouse, owned by the Tonnies Group, has been linked to more than 1,000 coronavirus cases in the region, triggering a partial lockdown of two counties.

Police confirmed that about 20 people were protesting outside the entrance to the site. Animal rights activists and labour unions have criticized conditions for animals and workers at the plant, one of the country’s biggest.

Russia on Saturday reported 6,632 new cases of coronavirus, raising the nationwide tally of infections to 674,515.

Authorities say 168 people have died in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 10,027.

Indonesia reported 1,447 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, Health Ministry official Achmad Yurianto said, taking the Southeast Asian nation’s tally to 62,142, while 53 more deaths took its toll to 3,089. 

Convicts have their blood samples taken by health workers during rapid testing for coronavirus at the prosecutor’s office in Denpasar, on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali, on July 2. (Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images)

India on Saturday recorded its highest single-day spike in new coronavirus cases, with 22,771 people testing positive in the past 24 hours.

The country has now confirmed 648,315 cases — fourth in the world behind the U.S., Brazil and Russia. It also has reported 18,655 deaths from the virus. Of the 442 deaths in the past 24 hours, 198 were in Maharashtra state.

Australia’s Victoria state recorded 108 new coronavirus cases Saturday, forcing authorities to lock down nine public housing towers and three more Melbourne suburbs.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said 3,000 people in the housing towers would go into “hard lockdown,” meaning “there will be no one allowed in … and no one allowed out.”

Police on Saturday speak to a resident living at the housing commission flats in the Melbourne suburb of Flemington, where a coronavirus outbreak has been recorded. (Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Residents in the Flemington and Kensington housing units will receive deliveries of food and medicine, along with alcohol support.

The suburbs of Kensington, Flemington and North Melbourne will join 36 others in being subject to Stage 3 coronavirus restrictions. Residents can only leave their homes for food or essential supplies, medical care or care-giving, exercise or for work or education.

After a recent flareup, Victoria has 509 active cases of coronavirus with 25 people hospitalized, including three in intensive care.

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