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Coronavirus COVID-19 risk increased to ‘very high’ but containment still possible

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Countries must act quickly and robustly to contain the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic, the World Health Organization said on Friday, as it raised the global risk assessment of the infection to “very high”.

The development comes as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed data showing that in the past 24 hours, China had recorded its lowest number of cases in more than a month (329), with 78,959 cases in total.

More than 36,000 people have also recovered from COVID-19 in China alone, WHO said.

Fear, rumour and stigma the greatest enemy

Speaking to the international press on Friday,  UN chief António Guterres called on all governments to step up and do everything possible to contain the disease, without stigmatization, and respecting human rights, and appealed for solidarity, and full global support.

Echoing the words of Tedros, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of preparation, rather than panic, and declared that the “greatest enemy right now is not the virus.  It’s fear, rumors and stigma”.

Global spread continues

The rest of the world has continued to show an uptick in infections, however, with 4,351 cases confirmed in 49 countries and 67 deaths as of 6am in Geneva.

Tedros said that although the increase in the number of cases and affected countries in recent days was concerning, there was no evidence of the virus spreading freely in communities.

He added that 24 cases of infection had been exported from Italy to 14 countries and 97 cases had found their way from Iran to 11 countries.

“The continued increase in the number of cases and the number of affected countries over the last few days are clearly of concern,” he said. “Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level.”          

First sub-Saharan case in Africa

In Nigeria, where the first case of infection has been confirmed and isolated, the UN agency said it had “great confidence” that the country could contain the virus.
This was thanks to the fact that the country has had success in dealing with other disease outbreaks, such as Lassa fever and measles – and it had invested significantly to do so – said WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

Currently, more than 20 vaccines are in development around the world, along with several therapeutic medicines; the first results were expected within weeks, Tedros said.

Personal responsibility is critical

In the meantime, the best thing people can do is to be diligent about their personal hygiene, the UN health agency chief insisted, and look out for symptoms, which include a dry cough and fever, rather than a runny nose.

The preventative health advice is particularly important with regard to handwashing with soap or alcohol gels, sneezing or coughing into a tissue or the crook of your arm, and staying at home if you feel poorly.  

Explaining the implications of the latest threat assessment, Dr Ryan said that while it was the highest level of alert, the aim was to encourage countries to act, rather than alarm them.

“We need to keep this virus slowed down, because health systems around the world – and I mean North and South – are just not ready…the risk of spread has clearly increased but the risk of impact has also increased because of what we see in health systems around the world.

Time to act is now

“It’s time to prepare, it’s time to get ready. It’s time to act and people need to take a reality check now and really understand that an all-of-government and an all-of-society approach (is required). It’s time to act.”

Echoing the need for aggressive action such as that implemented by China, WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove noted that other countries which had followed its lead has seen similar successes in containing the virus, resulting in valuable breathing space for their health systems.

“In Singapore, you look at what has happened in terms of the cases they have had; they’re now seeing a rapid decline in cases. You see what happened in Nepal, there was an onward transmission there. You see what’s happened in Viet Nam, where there were some cases and now there’s no further cases”, she said. “These are all examples of where countries have been successful in containing this.”

She added: “The point is, the earlier we act…and how robustly in those initial cases, will determine if you’re dealing with a number of cases, one case, or a small cluster, or if you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands.”

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Health & Wellness

Moderna vs. Pfizer: Two Recent Studies Show Moderna to Be The More Effective One

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The first study was published by medRxiv “The Preprint Server for Health Sciences” on August 9th, and compared (on 25,589 vaccinated v. 25,589 unvaccinated Minnesotans) “the effectiveness of two full-length Spike protein-encoding mRNA vaccines from Moderna (mRNA-1273) and Pfizer/BioNTech (BNT162b2) in the Mayo Clinic Health System in Minnesota over time from January to July 2021.” Moderna was 86% effective against the infection; Pfizer was 76% effective. In July (when the “Delta” variant first became dominant) Moderna was 91.6% effective against hospitalization; Pfizer was 85%. But during that month, effectiveness against the infection was 76% for Moderna v. 42% for Pfizer. Nationwide (including Mayo in MN, WI, AZ, FL, & IA), Moderna was about twice as effective “against breakthrough infection” v. Pfizer.

The second study was far smaller, published on September 10th by the CDC, and studied only 1,175 hospitalized U.S. veterans (93% male) at V.A. centers nationwide. Moderna was estimated at 91.6% effective, Pfizer at 83.4%. Since no non-hospitalized comparison-sample were studied, “Vaccine effectiveness … to prevent Covid-19-associated hospitalization was estimated by using multivariate logistic regression to compare the odds of full vaccination between case-patients and controls,” and so the reliability of this study was far less than in the Mayo Clinic study.

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Africa Today

Republic of Korea offers support for smallholder farmers in Mozambique

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The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) donated US$5.7 million through the World Food Programme (WFP) for a project to support smallholder farmers in Sofala Province, central Mozambique.

The project will improve food security and livelihoods with a focus on climate resilience for smallholder farmers and will be implemented from this year in the districts of Chemba, Maringue and Caia in Sofala province and will benefit 36,000 smallholder farmers and their families until 2025.

The programme will work with the Ministry of Land and Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the National Institute of Meteorology (INAM).

Mozambique is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. Over the past three years, five tropical cyclones (Desmond, Idai, Kenneth, Chalane, Eloise and Guambe) have caused human and material damages mainly in central Mozambique.

H.E. Ambassador Sung Jun Yeo said that he expects the project is going to be successfully implemented and 36,000 smallholder farmers and their families will have the capacity to maintain a stable livelihood and secure food through the project. “We hope that the friendly relationship between the Government of Mozambique and that of the Republic of Korea is firmly established through various grant aids from the Korean Government via KOICA,” emphasized the Ambassador.

“This generous donation from the people of Korea through KOICA will help change the lives of Mozambicans most affected by climate change“, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Mozambique Country Director. “By supporting smallholder farmers to become climate resilient, we are also protecting their livelihoods and food security of their families and communities. We thank KOICA on behalf of the people that we serve“.

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) was established as a governmental agency dedicated to providing grand aid programs of the Korean government in 1991. KOICA endeavors to combat poverty and support the sustainable socioeconomic growth of partner countries. By doing so, KOICA establishes and strengthen friendly ties with developing countries.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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Environment

Global Plastic Action Partnership Making an Impact in Fighting Plastic Pollution

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The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) released its second annual impact report, which highlights strides made over the last two years in building coalitions, extending global reach, and helping nations make a difference by confronting plastic waste.

“Plastic pollution was already a global emergency, and with the pandemic-induced explosion in packaged goods, as well as increased of use of single-use plastics through masks, gloves and other PPE, it has become a global disaster,” said Kristin Hughes, GPAP Director and a member of the World Economic Forum Executive Committee. “The good news is that our GPAP 2021 impact report proves that what we’re doing works, and if we act together now, we can halt the plastic pollution crisis in its tracks.”

On the heels of a challenging year dominated by the COVID pandemic, GPAP and its partner governments have met critical milestones, including:

– Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Viet Nam came together as early adopters in the Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership

– Viet Nam pledged to reduce marine plastics by 75% by 2030

– Ghana committed to a 100% circular economy for plastics

– Indonesia’s action and investment roadmap is poised to prevent 16 million tonnes of plastic leakage into the ocean; Create 150,000 jobs; and Generate $10 billion in annual revenues.

Taking collaborative action to tackle plastic pollution

“The Forum’s platform approach aligns various stakeholders from public and private organisations, works toward common objectives, and creates outcomes far greater than could be achieved by any nation or organization acting alone,” said Hughes. “It’s a great honor to lead the GPAP platform, and to see what we can accomplish through the convening power and influence that the Forum brings to bear. Our second annual report shows what can be done and, now more than ever, what needs to be done.”

In the face of global disruption and re-set, GPAP’s initiatives are performing and moving the needle on climate change by promoting a circular economy for plastics. The report outlines key progress in the following impact areas:

Transforming behaviour – GPAP amplified initiatives that help citizens and consumers form more sustainable relationships with plastics

– Raised awareness of the COVID-19 impact on the plastic ecosystem through public town hall communications

– 14 solutions to address plastic waste and pollution were developed in collaboration between government, business, and media influencers on the GPAP platform

– 116 recycling points were identified in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, up from just 10 before the National Plastic Action Partnership was initiated

Unlocking financing – GPAP engaged stakeholders to promote investments that tackle plastic waste and pollution

– $196.7 million was committed by GPAP members to National Plastic Action Partnership countries

– 13 financial institutions engage in GPAP finance events and task forces

– 140,000 people will be reached through financing committed by GPAP partner, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste in Indonesia

– GPAP collaborated with HRH The Prince of Wales Sustainable Markets Initiative to host a Roundtable on Financing Plastic Action in Emerging Markets to unlock opportunities for investing in plastic action

Informing policy – Supporting the collaboration of policy makers with stakeholders to confront plastic pollution, GPAP has established National Plastic Action Partnerships (NPAPs) in Indonesia, Ghana, Viet Nam, and Nigeria

– 57% of GPAP’s members have been involved in government policy consultations; 53% report being involved in corporate policy decisions

– GPAP’s National Action Roadmaps offer a suite of solutions for policy makers to consider when developing plans to address plastic pollution.

Boosting innovation – GPAP created opportunities for high-potential innovators to access partners who are helping to scale their ideas

– Established a platform for connecting innovators, experts, and investors through the Global Plastic Innovation Network in partnership with UpLink where 70+ solutions are now showcased

– Crowdsourced plastic waste solutions in Indonesia and produced videos of innovators engaged in the plastic space, which reached 1.75 million views on social media

Harmonizing metrics – GPAP has facilitated evidence-based, country-level analysis and action planning to create consistent, best-practice frameworks for measuring plastic waste reduction

– Forum research determined that almost 50% of ocean waste can be prevented by reusing only 10% of plastic products (see The Future of Reusable Consumption Models Report)

– Baseline assessments and scenario analyses were completed with Indonesia, Ghana, and Viet Nam to give governments clear evidence and inform action roadmaps

Promoting inclusivity – GPAP maintained its commitment to ensure that diverse voices and inclusive perspectives are integrated across all partnerships

– Established gender-responsive principles for plastic action through GPAP’s Guide to Ensure Gender-Responsive Action in Eliminating Plastic Pollution

– Conducted a ground-breaking Gender Analysis of the Plastics Sector in Ghana

– Brought together key youth leaders through the inaugural Plastic Action Champions cohort

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