WHO issues COVID-19 warning to Europe before summer travels

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – The World Health Organization on Thursday urged Europeans to travel responsibly during the summer holiday season and warned the continent was “by no means out of danger” in the battle against COVID-19 despite a steady decline of infection rates in recent weeks.

“With increasing social gatherings, greater population mobility, and large festivals and sports tournaments taking place in the coming days and weeks, WHO Europe calls for caution,” the WHO’s European head Hans Kluge told a press briefing.

“If you choose to travel, do it responsibly. Be conscious of the risks. Apply common sense and don’t jeopardize hard-earned gains,” Kluge said.

Over the last two months, new COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have declined, prompting 36 out of 53 countries in the region to start easing restrictions.

The number of reported COVID-19 infections last week came in at 368,000, a fifth of weekly cases reported during a peak in April this year, Kluge said.

“We should all recognize the progress made across most countries in the region, we must also acknowledge that we are by no means out of danger,” he added.

Kluge said the so-called Delta variant, which was first identified in India, was a matter of concern. This variant, he said, “shows increased transmissibility and some immune escape is poised to take hold in the region while many among vulnerable populations, above the age of 60, remain unprotected.”

Countries should learn from the resurgence in cases seen over the summer last year, even as vaccinations are being rolled out across the region.

With just 30% in the region having received their first dose of vaccines, this would not be enough to prevent another wave of the virus, he said.

(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Matthias Blamont; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Leaders of 23 countries back pandemic treaty idea for future emergencies

GENEVA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Leaders of 23 countries and the World Health Organization on Tuesday backed an idea to create an international treaty that would help deal with future health emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic by tightening rules on sharing information.

The idea of such a treaty, also aimed at ensuring universal and equitable access to vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for pandemics, was floated by the chairman of European Union leaders, Charles Michel, at a summit of the Group of 20 major economic powers last November.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has endorsed the proposal, but formal negotiations have not begun, diplomats say.

Tedros told a news conference on Tuesday that a treaty would tackle gaps exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A draft resolution on negotiations could be presented to the WHO’s 194 member states at their annual ministerial meeting in May, he said.

The WHO has been criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and was accused by the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump of helping China shield the extent of its outbreak, which the agency denies.

A joint WHO-China study on the virus’s origins, seen by Reuters on Monday, said it had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” as a cause. But the study left many questions unanswered and called for further research.

On Tuesday, the treaty proposal got the formal backing of the leaders of Fiji, Portugal, Romania, Britain, Rwanda, Kenya, France, Germany, Greece, Korea, Chile, Costa Rica, Albania, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Senegal, Spain, Norway, Serbia, Indonesia, Ukraine and the WHO itself.

“There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone,” the leaders wrote in a joint opinion piece in major newspapers.

“We believe that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response.”

The leaders of China and the United States did not sign the letter, but Tedros said both powers had reacted positively to the proposal, and all states would be represented in talks.

The treaty would complement the WHO’s International Health Regulations, in force since 2005, through cooperation in controlling supply chains, sharing virus samples and research and development, WHO assistant director Jaouad Mahjour said.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

New York City holds off school closure as U.S. braces for virus-stricken winter

By Gabriella Borter and Anurag Maan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City schools were set to remain open for at least another day despite a rising COVID-19 case count, the mayor said on Tuesday, as surging infections and hospitalizations in the United States from coast to coast prompted new restrictions and predictions of a difficult winter ahead.

New York, home to the nation’s largest school district, reported a 7-day positive COVID-19 test rate of 2.74% on Tuesday – more than double what it was over the summer, but below the 3% threshold that Mayor Bill de Blasio set for keeping schools open.

“Everyone’s been participating in the things that have kept schools safe. Everyone has been wearing their masks … and we need to keep doing that to do our very, very best to keep schools open,” de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday.

“We have some new challenges because of what’s going on around us,” he added.

Beyond New York City, which was the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 crisis in the spring, infections have reached unprecedented levels nationwide.

Forty-one U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases in November, while 20 have seen a record rise in deaths and 26 reported record hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally of public health data. Twenty-five states reported test positivity rates above 10% for the week ending on Sunday, Nov. 15. The World Health Organization considers a positivity rate above 5% to be concerning.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit U.S. region. It reported 444,677 cases in the week ending on Monday, Nov. 16, 36% more than the combined cases of the Northeast and West regions.

The number of coronavirus patients hospitalized in the United States hit a record of 73,140 on Monday. Hospitalizations have increased over 46% in past 14 days, according to a Reuters tally.

New York is among several northeast states that had managed to contain the virus fairly well over the summer after a frightening spring wave, but now has one of the highest week-over-week case increases as of Sunday.

Infections have also jumped in neighboring Connecticut by more than 50% in the last week from the week prior.

“Right now we see the storm clouds coming again,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, told MSNBC in an interview on Tuesday.

Governors of several states and city officials have imposed new restrictions on indoor gatherings in recent days in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease over the winter, with the prospect of a widely available, effective vaccine still months away.

Several have urged citizens to exercise caution around the Thanksgiving holiday and not travel or socialize with extended family for the traditional indoor feast.

“I know this is difficult & frustrating, especially with the holidays right around the corner,” Vermont Governor Phil Scott wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, referring to his ban on multihousehold gatherings. “But it’s necessary & we need your help to get this back under control.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Anurag Maan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Maria Caspani; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

We may soon have a COVID-19 vaccine. But will enough people take it?

By John Miller and Kate Kelland

ZURICH/LONDON (Reuters) – With COVID-19 vaccine trial results looking positive, governments and pharmaceutical firms face their next daunting challenge: convincing the world to get inoculated.

Public resistance to vaccines has been much discussed this year, but the issue became very real on Monday when Pfizer and BioNTech announced their candidate was more than 90% effective in large trials – hoisting an actual shot onto the horizon.

Numerous opinion polls carried out before and during the pandemic showed confidence is volatile, and that political polarization and online misinformation threatens uptake. Many people have concerns about the accelerated speed of COVID-19 vaccine development.

The World Health Organization estimates about 70% of people must be inoculated to break transmission of the virus. Since it is unlikely a vaccine, once approved, will be immediately available for the masses, experts said getting medical workers on board will be critical.

“We should have really targeted discussions and engagement with healthcare providers,” Heidi Larson, director of the global Vaccine Confidence Project, told Reuters.

“Not only are they going to be the first ones expected to get a vaccine – if not required to – they’re also going to be the ones on the frontlines facing the onslaught of questions from the public.”

FIRST IN LINE?

While about 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in development globally, with dozens in human clinical trials, no shot has actually crossed the finish line and been approved, though the one from Pfizer-BioNTech appears to be on track.

The high rate of efficacy in the Pfizer-BioNTech interim results could help boost confidence, Cornell University government Professors Douglas Kriner and Sarah Kreps said.

Their recently published research showed that if an initial COVID-19 vaccine was about as effective as a flu shot, uptake by the American public may fall far short of the 70% level needed to achieve “herd immunity.”

“However, if the vaccine was 90% effective it would significantly increase Americans’ willingness to vaccinate by more than 10%, critical to ensuring enough public acceptance to help the U.S. eventually get closer to herd immunity,” said Kreps.

Experts are also cautioning any conversation over a vaccine’s risks and rewards must be frank. A return to normal life will still take time, with no one shot likely to be a silver bullet. And many questions are likely to remain, including how long a vaccine will provide protection.

The Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA, a non-profit that supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has been holding focus groups to gauge the public mood and is now crafting campaign messages to help tackle concerns.

Its chief executive, Susan Winckler, said more than a dozen focus groups of 150 people in total held since August – some in person, some by video – had unearthed numerous concerns.

“We heard distrust of both government and the healthcare system,” Winckler said. “Many didn’t want to be first in line for the shot.”

It’s a global phenomenon; a survey from early November, carried out by the World Economic Forum and covering 18,526 people in 15 countries, showed 73% of people willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, a four-point fall since August.

EARLY BATTLE

Regulators and the drug industry have taken pains to reassure the public they won’t cut corners on safety, with a top U.S. drug agency official saying he would quit if an unproven vaccine were rubber stamped.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, a drug industry group, also plans a campaign by 2021, while the U.S. Council for International Business, with 300 multinational corporations as members, is also getting behind a campaign pushing for workforce take-up of eventual COVID-19 vaccines.

Some studies show government and employer recommendations will help convince people to get vaccinated.

Scott Ratzan, co-leader with Larson of ‘CONVINCE’, an initiative supporting communication and engagement for vaccine uptake globally, stressed the importance of medical workers getting inoculated, saying others would then be more likely to follow suit.

“If we don’t have the medical folks signed on … we’ll lose the early battle,” he added. “The only way to get back to normal is if we can get enough workers or employees covered.”

(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich and Kate Kelland in London; Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in London, Doug Busvine in Frankfurt and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Josephine Mason and Pravin Char)

Bolsonaro threatens WHO exit as COVID-19 kills ‘a Brazilian per minute’

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro threatened on Friday to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization after the U.N. agency warned Latin American governments about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the region.

A new Brazilian record for daily COVID-19 fatalities pushed the county’s death toll past that of Italy late on Thursday, but Bolsonaro continues to argue for quickly lifting state isolation orders, arguing that the economic costs outweigh public health risks.

Latin America’s most populous nations, Brazil and Mexico, are seeing the highest rates of new infections, though the pandemic is also gathering pace in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia.

Overall, more than 1.1 million Latin Americans have been infected. While most leaders have taken the pandemic more seriously than Bolsonaro, some politicians that backed strict lockdowns in March and April are pushing to open economies back up as hunger and poverty grow.

In an editorial running the length of newspaper Folha de S.Paulo’s front page, the Brazilian daily highlighted that just 100 days had passed since Bolsonaro described the virus now “killing a Brazilian per minute” as “a little flu.”

“While you were reading this, another Brazilian died from the coronavirus,” the newspaper said.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported late on Thursday that confirmed cases in the country had climbed past 600,000 and 1,437 deaths had been registered within 24 hours, the third consecutive daily record.

Brazil reported another 1,005 deaths Friday night, while Mexico reported 625 additional deaths.

With more than 35,000 lives lost, the pandemic has killed more people in Brazil than anywhere outside of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Asked about efforts to loosen social distancing orders in Brazil despite rising daily death rates and diagnoses, World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said a key criteria for lifting lockdowns was slowing transmission.

“The epidemic, the outbreak, in Latin America is deeply, deeply concerning,” she told a news conference in Geneva. Among six key criteria for easing quarantines, she said, “one of them is ideally having your transmission declining.”

In comments to journalists later Friday, Bolsonaro said Brazil will consider leaving the WHO unless it ceases to be a “partisan political organization.”

President Donald Trump, an ideological ally of Bolsonaro, said last month that the United States would end its own relationship with the WHO, accusing it of becoming a puppet of China, where the coronavirus first emerged.

Bolsonaro’s dismissal of the coronavirus risks to public health and efforts to lift state quarantines have drawn criticism from across the political spectrum in Brazil, where some accuse him of using the crisis to undermine democratic institutions.

But many of those critics are divided about the safety and effectiveness of anti-government demonstrations in the middle of a pandemic, especially after one small protest was met with an overwhelming show of police force last weekend.

Alfonso Vallejos Parás, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said infections are high in Latin America as the virus was slow to gain a foothold in the region.

“It is hard to estimate when the pace of infection will come down,” he said.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Gabriela Mello in Sao Paulo, Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Editing by Brad Haynes, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now 5-21-20

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

“A long way to go”

The World Health Organization is starting to raise the alarm bell about the rising number of new coronavirus cases in poor countries, even as many rich nations emerge from lockdowns.

The global health body said on Wednesday 106,000 new cases had been recorded in the previous 24 hours, the most in a single day since the outbreak began.

“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Global coronavirus cases have surpassed 5 million, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases.

Vaccine: high hopes and a reality-check

The United States said it will pump up to $1.2 billion into developing AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and confirmed that it would order 300 million doses.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he hoped the first doses of the vaccine, which is being developed with the University of Oxford, would be available by October.

AstraZeneca meanwhile stressed it was still awaiting results from an early-stage trial to know if the vaccine worked at all.

China fur and traditional medicine trade to continue?

China’s parliament is preparing new laws to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife, following on from a temporary move in January after exotic animals traded in a Wuhan market were identified as the most likely source of COVID-19.

However, local action plans published this week suggest the country’s fur trade and lucrative traditional medicine sectors will continue as usual.

That means practices that lead to cross-species virus transmission could continue, said Peter Li, China policy specialist with Humane Society International, an animal rights group. China’s annual national session of parliament, delayed from March, starts on Friday.

Sports and sleepwear over suits and ties

The new bestsellers at Marks & Spencer are sportswear, sleepwear and bras, while sales of suits and ties are down to “a dribble”, as the lockdown transforms shoppers’ priorities, Britain’s biggest clothing retailer said on Wednesday.

What customers are buying is “completely different from what it would have been a year ago,” M&S chairman Archie Norman told reporters, after the 136-year-old group published annual results and its response to the pandemic.

Along with surging sales of jogging pants, hoodies and leggings, an emphasis on home comforts and family needs has boosted bedding sales by 150%.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Mark John; editing by Nick Macfie)

After WHO setback, Taiwan president to press for global participation

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will strive to actively participate in global bodies despite its failure to attend this week’s key World Health Organization (WHO) meeting, and will not accept being belittled by China, President Tsai Ing-wen will say on Wednesday.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won January’s presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide, vowing to stand up to China, which claims Taiwan as its own, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed.

China views Tsai, who will be sworn into office for her second and final term on Wednesday, as a separatist bent on formal independence for Taiwan. She says Taiwan is already an independent state called the Republic of China, its official name.

Tsai will say at her inauguration that Taiwan will seek to “actively participate” in international bodies and deepen its cooperation with like-minded countries, generally a reference to the United States and its allies, according to an outline of her speech provided by Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang.

Taiwan sees the need for participation in WHO as all the more urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first reported in China.

Taiwan is locked out of most global organisations like the WHO due to the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a sovereign state.

Despite an intense lobbying effort and strong support from the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and others, it was unable to take part in this week’s meeting of the World Health Assembly.

On relations with China, Tsai will reiterate her commitment to peace, dialogue and equality, but that Taiwan will not accept China’s “one country, two systems” model that “belittles” Taiwan.

China uses this system, which is supposed to guarantee a high degree of autonomy, to run the former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It has offered it to Taiwan too, though all major Taiwanese parties have rejected it.

Tsai will also pledge to speed up the development of “asymmetric warfare” capabilities, and boost renewable technologies in a move to position Taiwan as a hub of clean energy in the Asia Pacific.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Global coronavirus cases pass three million as lockdowns begin to ease

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – Global confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 3 million on Monday, as the United States neared 1 million cases, according to a Reuters tally.

It comes as many countries are taking steps to ease lockdown measures that have brought the world to a standstill over the past eight weeks. he first 41 cases were confirmed in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10. The 3 million confirmed infections in less than four months are comparable in number with the roughly 3-5 million cases of severe illness caused by seasonal influenza around the world each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

An average of 82,000 cases have been reported per day in the past week. Over a quarter of all cases are in the United States, and over 43% have been recorded in Europe.

The death toll from the virus stood at more than 205,000 as of Monday, and almost one in seven reported cases of the disease has been fatal.

The true mortality rate is likely to be substantially lower as the tally of infections does not include many mild or asymptomatic and unconfirmed cases.

Some severely affected countries in Europe, including Italy, France and Spain, have recorded a drop in daily case numbers over recent weeks, but still recorded 2,000-5,000 new infections per day in the past week.

Total cases rose 2.5% on Sunday, the lowest daily rate in almost two months, and down from a peak in late March when the total was rising by more than 10% a day.

The United States has reported an average of more than 30,000 new cases a day in the past week, and now represents around a third of all new cases.

TENTATIVE REOPENING

Italy said it will permit some factories to reopen on May 4 as part of a staggered reopening, while Spain relaxed lockdown rules on Sunday, allowing children outside under supervision.

Several U.S. states have reopened businesses amid predictions that the jobless rate could hit 16% for April.

In Asia, which accounts for just under 7% of all cases, some countries are struggling to keep new infections in check. They include Japan and Singapore, which saw cases rise in April despite earlier successful efforts to slow the spread.

Others in the region have managed to rein in outbreaks, including South Korea, which has reported around 10 cases a day in the past week, down from a peak of over 1,000 in February.

In China, where the virus first emerged, officials reported just three new infections for Sunday and said all patients in Wuhan, the original epicentre, had now been discharged.

Case numbers continue to rise faster than the global average in Latin America and Africa. Total cases in Mexico grew 7-10% a day in the past week, reaching 13,800, while cases in Brazil surpassed 60,000 on Sunday.

Over 40% of Africa’s 32,600 cases are in the north, where Morocco, Egypt and Algeria are reporting serious outbreaks.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; editing by Nick Macfie and Kevin Liffey)

At least 300,000 Africans expected to die in pandemic: U.N. agency

By Joe Bavier

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic will likely kill at least 300,000 Africans and risks pushing 29 million into extreme poverty, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said on Friday, calling for a $100 billion safety net for the continent.

Africa’s 54 countries have so far reported fewer than 20,000 confirmed cases of the disease, just a fraction of the more than two million cases reported globally. But the World Health Organization warned on Thursday that Africa could see as many as 10 million cases in three to six months.

“To protect and build towards our shared prosperity at least $100 billion is needed to immediately resource a health and social safety net response,” the UNECA report stated.

UNECA is also backing a call by African finance ministers for an additional $100 billion in stimulus, which would include a halt to all external debt service.

The agency modelled four scenarios based on the level of preventive measures introduced by African governments.

In the total absence of such interventions, the study calculated over 1.2 billion Africans would be infected and 3.3 million would die this year. Africa has a total population of around 1.3 billion.

Most of Africa, however, has already mandated social distancing measures, ranging from curfews and travel guidelines in some countries to full lockdowns in others.

Yet even its best-case scenario, where governments introduce intense social distancing once a threshold of 0.2 deaths per 100,000 people per week is reached, Africa would see 122.8 million infections, 2.3 million hospitalisations and 300,000 deaths.

Combating the disease will be complicated by the fact that 36% of Africans have no access to household washing facilities, and the continent counts just 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. France, in comparison, has 5.98 beds per 1,000 people.

Africa’s young demographic – nearly 60% of the population is below the age of 25 – should help stave off the disease. On the other hand, 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded slums and many people are also vulnerable due to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malnutrition.

Africa imports 94% of its pharmaceuticals, the report said, noting that at least 71 countries have banned or limited exports of certain supplies deemed essential to fight the disease.

“In a best-case scenario … $44 billion would be required for testing, personal protective equipment, and to treat all those requiring hospitalisation,” it stated.

However, that is money Africa does not have as the crisis could also shrink the continent’s economy by up to 2.6%.

“We estimate that between 5 million and 29 million people will be pushed below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day owing to the impact of COVID-19,” the report said.

Nigeria alone will lose between $14 billion and $19.2 billion in revenues from oil exports this year. And the prices of other African commodities exports have plummeted as well.

Lockdowns in Europe and the United States also imperil Africa’s $15 billion in annual textile and apparel exports as well as tourism, which accounts for 8.5% of Africa’s GDP.

(Reporting by Joe Bavier; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Trump’s halt to WHO funding prompts condemnation as coronavirus cases near 2 million

By Jeff Mason and Paulina Duran

WASHINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to halt funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic prompted condemnation on Wednesday from world leaders as recorded global infections approached the 2 million mark.

Trump, who has reacted angrily to accusations his administration’s response to the worst epidemic in a century was haphazard and too slow, had become increasingly hostile towards the U.N. agency before announcing the halt on Tuesday.

The WHO, which is based in Geneva, had promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak than otherwise would have occurred, Trump said.

He said WHO had failed to investigate credible reports from sources in China’s Wuhan province, where the virus was first identified in December, that conflicted with Beijing’s accounts about the spread and “parroted and publicly endorsed” the idea that human to human transmission was not happening.

“The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump told a White House news conference on Tuesday.

A U.S. official told Reuters that Trump made the move despite pushback within his administration, especially from top health advisers. There was no immediate reaction from the WHO, which has been appealing for more than $1 billion to fund operations against the pandemic.

The United States is the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.

Some 1.99 million people globally have been infected and nearly 128,000 have died since the disease emerged in China late last year, according to a Reuters tally.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the time to reduce resources for the WHO.

“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said in a statement.

China, which has won WHO praise for its actions to curb the virus’s spread, urged the United States on Wednesday to fulfil its obligations to the WHO.

“This decision weakens the WHO’s capability and harms international cooperation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter: “Deeply regret U.S. decision to suspend funding to WHO. There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said apportioning blame did not help. “The virus knows no borders,” he said in a tweet.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the WHO was essential to tackling the pandemic.

“At a time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on, the WHO has provided that,” she said. “We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions.”

GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html

‘BLAME CHINA, NOT WHO’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its “unfathomable” support of re-opening China’s “wet markets”, where freshly slaughtered, and live, animals are sold.

“But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them,” Morrison told an Australian radio station.

“We are not going to throw the baby out of with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism.”

John Sawers, the former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence service, said China concealed crucial information about the outbreak from the rest of the world and that it would be better to hold China responsible rather than the WHO.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who headed the WHO from 1998 to 2003, said an attack on the organization was “the last thing we need right now” since it had the power and ability to oversee the outbreak.

In its latest Strategy Update, the WHO said countries that ease restrictions should wait at least two weeks to evaluate the impact before easing again.

It said that the world stands at a “pivotal juncture”.

More than 2,200 people died in the United States on Tuesday, a record toll according to a Reuters tally, even as it debated how to reopen its economy.

New York City, hardest hit by the outbreak, revised its death toll sharply up to more than 10,000, to include victims presumed to have died of the lung disease but never tested.

U.S. health advocacy group Protect Our Care said Trump’s WHO funding withdrawal was “a transparent attempt … to distract from his history downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis and his administration’s failure to prepare our nation”.

Global stocks fell as oil prices dropped and warnings of the worst global recession since the 1930s underscored the economic damage done by the pandemic. The International Energy Agency forecast a 29 million barrel per day dive in April oil demand to levels not seen in 25 years.

Denmark became the latest country to ease its coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday, by reopening schools and day care centres. But concerns they might become breeding grounds for a second wave of cases convinced thousands of parents to keep their children at home.

(Open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in a separate browser for an interactive graphic to track the global spread)

(Reporting from Reuters bureaux across the world; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Philippa Fletcher)