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70 per cent of COVID cases located in just 10 countries

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While COVID-19 has affected all countries, the pandemic is “uneven”, and it is estimated that 10 per cent of the global population may have been infected with the virus, senior officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Speaking to a special session of the agency’s Executive Board, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 10 countries account for 70 per cent of all reported cases and deaths, and just three countries account for half.  

 “Not all countries have responded the same way, and not all countries have been affected the same way”, he told the 34 members. 

Most people still at risk 

Globally, there were more than 35 million cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, and more than one million deaths. 

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO Emergencies Director, reported that the pandemic continues to evolve, with a surge in Southeast Asia, an “upward trajectory” in the northern hemisphere, and an increase in cases and deaths in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.  Meanwhile, the situation “is currently rather more positive” in Africa and the Western Pacific. 

“Our current best estimates tell us that about 10 per cent of the global population may have been infected by this virus. This varies depending on country; it varies from urban to rural; it varies between different groups. But what it does mean is that the vast majority of the world remains at risk”, said Dr. Ryan. 

“We know the pandemic will continue to evolve. But we also know we have the tools that work to suppress transmission and save lives right now, and they are at our disposal.  The future depends on the choices we collectively make about how we use those tools; develop, scale-up and distribute others.” 

Four country scenarios 

Tedros outlined four scenarios countries are facing during the crisis.  

Some nations took quick and decisive action against the pandemic, thus avoiding large outbreaks.  And while some countries suffered large outbreaks, they were able to bring them under control and suppress the virus. 

“Third, while some countries brought the virus under control, as economies and societies have eased restrictions, there has been an increase in cases”, he continued.  And fourth, there are still some countries in the “intense phase of transmission.” 

Tedros stressed that “every situation can be turned around”, underlining the importance of strong leadership, clear and comprehensive strategies, consistent communication, as well as engaging the population. 

Funding and solidarity 

With the northern hemisphere influenza season fast approaching, and COVID-19 cases increasing in some countries, the WHO chief outlined three priorities for the coming months, including increasing funding to ensure all people will have equal access to any potential treatments. 

Tedros urged countries to “realize the full potential” of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which includes a groundbreaking global collaboration to speed up development of vaccines that will be available to anyone, anywhere who needs them. 

The ACT Accelerator was launched in April and has secured around $3 billion so far. However, Tedros said some $34 billion is still required, with $14 billion needed now to maintain momentum. 

“History will not judge us kindly if it records that trillions of dollars were poured into domestic stimulus packages, but the international community could not find the funds to ensure equitable access for all people”, he said. 

Besides highlighting the funding gap, Tedros underscored the need to “continue to make the most of the tools we have” to fight the pandemic.  These range from practicing physical distancing and wearing masks, but also include surveillance, isolation, compassionate care, contact tracing and quarantine. 

“And third, I will never tire of calling for solidarity”, he said. “Finger-pointing will not prevent a single infection. Apportioning blame will not save a single life.” 

Independent review expected 

The meeting with WHO’s Executive Board provided an opportunity to discuss developments around the implementation of a COVID-19 strategic preparedness and response plan, as well as steps taken to initiate a review by an independent panel. 

The 34 members will be briefed on Tuesday by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR).  They also will hear from two other bodies: the International Health Regulations Review Committee and the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme

Tedros has also launched an urgent investigation into reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse by people who identified themselves as working for WHO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the major Ebola outbreak in the east which ended in June. 

A list of candidates to lead the investigation has been identified, with more details to follow.

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Development

Viet Nam’s mango industry: towards compliance with export market requirements

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A Swiss-funded project, implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), is helping mango value chain stakeholders in the Mekong River Delta to maximize export opportunities.

Viet Nam is the world’s 13th largest producer of mangoes, with an annual production of 788,000 tons (2018). Much of this production is cultivated in four provinces in the Mekong River Delta in south-western Viet Nam.

With world demand for mangoes continuing to surge, Viet Nam is well-placed to diversify its mango export markets. Currently, the vast majority of mango exports are destined for neighbouring China, but the short shipping links to important markets in the Republic of Korea, Japan, Singapore and Australia offer obvious opportunities for diversification.

A project workshop has brought together more than 150 representatives of different mango value chain stakeholders, including government ministries, local authorities of Mekong River Delta provinces, farmers, cooperatives, packing houses, exporters and logistics companies, as well as representatives of importing countries. In the workshop’s technical session, participants were advised by experts on what needs to be done and what conditions need to be met in order to be able to export in terms of quality infrastructure, and value chain and market promotion, and the key requirements for establishing a sustainable, diversified and high-value export market.

The workshop was organized in the framework of the project, “Increasing the standards and quality compliance capacity of the mango value chain in Mekong River Delta”, funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

During the workshop, Jonas Grunder, Deputy Director of SECO in Viet Nam, said the country has signed some key trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Viet Nam-EU FTA (EVFTA).  But he noted that despite the opportunities to strengthen integration into the world trade system, Viet Nam’s agricultural sector still faces numerous challenges in substantially increase their access to global markets. This is why, he said, the Swiss Federal Economic Bureau had decided to join hands with UNIDO to start a technical assistance programme focusing on  the mango value chain in the Mekong Delta.

Tran Thanh Nam, Viet Nam’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, highlighted the important role of cooperative in the effort to improve the quality of mangoes. He also added that farmers in the provinces should increase efforts to comply with the VietGAP and GlobalGAP standards of good agricultural practice.

On the margins of the workshop, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, UNIDO, the International Agricultural Development Fund (IFAD), the Dong Thap Provincial People’s Committee and Ben Tre Provincial People’s Committee co-signed a joint declaration to develop the fruit value chain in the Mekong River Delta through the project, “Building Forward Better: A Resilient Women and Youth-Centred and Digitally Enhanced Value Chain Development in Vietnam”, with the financial support of the United Nations COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UN COVID-19 MPTF).

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Human Rights

Free press ‘a cornerstone’ of democratic societies

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The United Nations Secretary-General on Monday urged governments to “do everything in their power” to support free, independent and diverse media, which the UN’s top human rights official highlighted as “a cornerstone of democratic societies”. 

In a message on World Press Freedom Day, marked annually on 3 May, Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the importance of reliable, verified and accessible information.

“During the pandemic, and in other crises including the climate emergency, journalists and media workers help us navigate a fast-changing and often overwhelming landscape of information, while addressing dangerous inaccuracies and falsehoods”, he said.

“Free and independent journalism is our greatest ally in combatting misinformation and disinformation.”

Mr. Guterres also noted the personal risks journalists and media workers face, including restrictions, censorship, abuse, harassment, detention and even death, “simply for doing their jobs”, and that the situation continues to worsen.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has hit many media outlets hard, threatening their very survival, he added.

“As budgets tighten, so too does access to reliable information. Rumours, falsehoods and extreme or divisive opinions surge in to fill the gap”, the Secretary-General said, urging all governments to “do everything in their power to support a free, independent and diverse media”.

Contributing to humanity’s well-being

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also highlighted the importance of free, uncensored and independent press as “a cornerstone of democratic societies”, conveying  life-saving information, improving public participation, and strengthening accountability and respect for human rights.

“Around the world, people have increasingly taken to the streets to demand their economic and social rights, as well as an end to discrimination and systemic racism, impunity, and corruption”, she said.

However, journalists fulfilling their fundamental role of reporting on these social protests have become targets, with many becoming victims of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrests, and criminal prosecution, Ms. Bachelet added.

In addition to dissuading other journalists from critically reporting on relevant issues, such attacks weaken public debate and hamper society’s ability to respond effectively to challenges, including COVID-19, she said.

World Press Freedom Day 

Marked annually on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom. It is also an occasion to evaluate press freedom globally, to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

The date marks the adoption of the landmark Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press at a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference in the Namibian capital, in 1991.

This year, the World Day focuses on the theme of “Information as a Public Good”, affirming the importance of information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, as well as to improve transparency and empowerment.

Helping platforms become more transparent

The theme ties in with UNESCO’s work to ensure the long-term health of independent, pluralistic journalism, and the safety of media workers everywhere, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN agency tasked with defending press freedom, said.

“As part of these efforts, we are working to create more transparency on online platforms in areas such as content moderation, while respecting human rights and international freedom of expression rules”, she said.

She also highlighted the agency’s work to equip people globally with the media and information literacy skills they need to navigate this new information landscape, so they can avoid being duped or manipulated online.

“As we mark World Press Freedom Day, I call on everyone to renew their commitment to the fundamental right to freedom of expression, to defend media workers, and to join us in ensuring that information remains a public good”, Ms. Azoulay added. 

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Finance

New ways of thinking and working are necessary to reap blockchain benefits in capital markets

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The World Economic Forum today released Digital Assets, Distributed Ledger Technology, and the Future of Capital Markets. Across the capital markets ecosystem, institutions are facing a combination of intensified competitive dynamics and accelerating technology advancements, presenting opportunities and challenges both to incumbents and new entrants. Although DLT is not a panacea, the report underlines how it can positively impact costs, market liquidity and balance sheet capacity while reducing the complexity, opacity and fragmentation of capital markets.

Written in partnership with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the report is based on nearly 200 interviews and eight global workshops with capital market incumbent players, new entrants, regulators and governments. It presents use cases from equity markets, debt markets, securitized products, derivatives, securities financing and asset management.

DLT can address real challenges and inefficiencies in some markets by providing a trusted, shared source of truth between market participants. However, the future is uncertain as there is no agreed path for market-wide adoption. What’s more, as institutions still decide where to invest, varying strategies create tensions.

The report calls for a balance between innovation and market safeguards through standardization, the breaking down of silos and regulatory engagement. According to the authors, fundamentally transforming markets will require new ways of thinking and working across the industry.

“Following several years of intense hype, examples of use cases where inefficiencies and challenges are being solved with blockchain are starting to emerge across capital markets,” said Matthew Blake, Head of the Future of Financial Services, World Economic Forum. “With the future for blockchain in financial services still being defined, a nuanced look at the opportunities this technology offers right now is particularly important for the financial services industry.”

“Distributed ledger technology has come of age as it begins to enhance efficiencies, reduce operating costs and create new business models in capital markets, but the use cases and solutions are respective to each asset class,” said Kaj Burchardi, Managing Director, BCG Platinion. “Whilst this makes sense from a commercial perspective, it has led to a complex patchwork of initiatives. For capital markets to unilaterally adopt DLT, they will require cross-institutional alignment to realize the game-changing market opportunities it can offer.”

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