Tag: COVID-19

Ros Spence: Victoria looks after multicultural communities during pandemic

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With so many Victorians facing hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re working hard
to support multicultural communities with the unique challenges they face, says Victorian
Multicultural Minister Ros Spence

By Ros Spence, Multicultural Minister, Victoria

MELBOURNE, 8 May 2020: As I take up the role of Minister for Multicultural Affairs, it is not lost on me how challenging this health pandemic has been for our multicultural and multi-faith communities.
Access to health advice in your language, ensuring your community stays connected and looking
after those most affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been my focus.

That’s why the Victorian Government has just announced an $11.3 million package to ensure that all
our multicultural communities are looked after.

The package strengthens our partnership with the many wonderful community organizations who
provide vital services, such as delivering food to families, refugees and asylum seekers who are
struggling at the moment.

A large part of the funding will improve the digital infrastructure of community organizations,
ensuring that you can stay connected to your community while you stay at home.

A new $65,000 leadership program will also support young men and women to support their
communities through the pandemic and into the recovery phase.

Many of you will have come to Victoria as students many years ago – and you’ve contributed so much
to our state. That’s why we’ve also announced a $1,100 support payment for International Students
in Victoria. It’s important we support these young men and women during this stressful time.

So far, we have translated health materials in 48 languages on the Department of Health and Human
Services website. This is important. Whether it be for a parent or someone new to our state, sharing
health advice in the right language helps us all stay safe. Now, a further $1 million means we can
ensure even more Victorians are getting the information they need.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all Victorians for responding to the Government’s
message about staying home. It has saved lives.

We value our multiculturalism – and we have a proud history of standing with these communities
who contribute so much to our state.

It’s been incredibly disappointing to see a minority lash out at Asian Victorians in recent weeks and
we condemn these incidents. Racism is never acceptable. Not now. Not ever.

We are working with the Victorian Multicultural Commission and the Victorian Equal Opportunity
and the Human Rights Commission to make it easier for Victorians to report this horrible behavior to
authorities.

Victoria can learn a lot from our multicultural and multifaith communities about how we can look
after each other – and I know that already so many of you are leading our state in this space.
For this, I thank each and every one of you. We will get through this – and we will get through it
together.

WHO convenes meeting of COVID-19 vaccine producers in India, Indonesia and Thailand

Poster Revised

By SAT News Desk/WHO Release

New Delhi – Gearing up for the much needed COVID-19 vaccines, the World Health Organization today organized a meeting of vaccine manufacturers and national regulatory authorities from its South-East Asia Region.

“The manufacturing capacity that exists in our Region is of the quality and scale required to produce and roll-out a COVID-19 vaccine globally. This Region is a vaccine manufacturing powerhouse, and it must now also play a lead role in overcoming the ongoing pandemic,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.

At the virtual meeting, leading manufacturers from India, Indonesia and Thailand discussed timelines and production capacity, while regulatory bodies deliberated on adjustments that would be needed in processes to make COVID-19 vaccines available at the earliest.

Several steps must be completed before COVID-19 vaccine can be used on a large scale. These include pre-clinical and clinical trials, production, licensure, deployment of vaccines and plans for post-marketing surveillance.

Mapping the full landscape of vaccine development activities in the Region will help coordination with global stakeholders, and support countries preparing COVID19 vaccine deployment plans, she said.

Globally, WHO has mobilized a broad coalition of scientists, researchers and industry partners to develop and evaluate candidate vaccines for COVID-19. More than 120 potential vaccine candidates have been proposed globally, and WHO continues to track their type and progress. Seven candidate vaccines are already in clinical evaluation and 82 vaccines are in pre-clinical evaluation.

Last week, WHO launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, which brings together key global health actors, private sector partners and other stakeholders to accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 essential health technologies, including vaccines, and to help guarantee equitable access.

The launch of the initiative comes in the wake of a UN General Assembly resolution through which Member States called for all countries to have “equitable, efficient and timely” access to any future vaccines developed to fight COVID-19.

Dr Khetrapal Singh said, “All countries are now preparing to safely transition towards a ‘new normal’ in which social and economic life can function amid low or no COVID-19 transmission. As countries continue to assess and minimize risks, they are very much aware that we are in this together and must get through it together – that no country is safe until we all are safe, for which an effective vaccine that is accessible to all is needed.”

“We are also working to ensure that, once developed, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available to all of humanity. To do that, we are coordinating expert consultations, developing target product profiles and supporting clinical trials. For the Region and for the world, WHO is committed to facilitating and coordinating your efforts,” the Regional Director said.

India, Indonesia and Thailand are among the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers. Every day, millions of people of all ages are provided life-saving protection by vaccines produced in these three countries.

“As we mark World Immunization Week, we must build on our success and redouble our efforts to ensure all people in the Region can access the life-saving benefits vaccines bring. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique challenge. But I am certain that through collaboration and innovation we can produce a vaccine faster than ever before, while maintaining all standards,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

INTERVIEW: Yuval Noah Harari on COVID-19: ‘The biggest danger is not the virus itself’

This interview has been reproduced from DW (Deutsche Welle) – dw.com and click HERE for the original interview.

A crisis can be a turning point for society. Which way will we go now? Professor Yuval Noah Harari, whose company donated $1 million to WHO, explains how the decisions we make today on COVID-19 will change our future.

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DW: Professor Harari, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. What concerns you most about how the world is changing?

Yuval Noah Harari: I think the biggest danger is not the virus itself. Humanity has all the scientific knowledge and technological tools to overcome the virus. The really big problem is our own inner demons, our own hatred, greed and ignorance. I’m afraid that people are reacting to this crisis not with global solidarity, but with hatred, blaming other countries, blaming ethnic and religious minorities.

But I hope that we will be able to develop our compassion, and not our hatred, to react with global solidarity, which will develop our generosity to help people in need. And that we develop our ability to discern the truth and not believe all these conspiracy theories. If we do that, I have no doubt that we can easily overcome this crisis.

We face, as you’ve said, the choice between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. If we’re not careful, the epidemic might mark a watershed in the history of surveillance. But how can I be careful with something which is out of my control?

It’s not completely out of your control, at least in a democracy. You vote for particular politicians and parties who make the policies. So you have some control over the political system. Even if there were no elections now, politicians are still responsive to public pressure.

If the public is terrified of the epidemic and wants a strong leader to take over, then this makes it far easier for a dictator to do exactly that, to take over. If, on the other hand, you have pushback from the public when a politician goes too far, then that can stop the most dangerous developments from happening.

How do I know whom, or what, to trust?

First, you have past experience. If you have politicians who have been lying to you for a couple of years, then you have less reason to trust them in this emergency. Second, you can ask questions about the theories that people are telling you. If somebody comes up with some conspiracy theory about the origin and spread of the coronavirus, ask this person to explain to you what a virus is and how it causes disease. If the person has no clue, which means they have no basic scientific knowledge, then don’t believe anything else this person is telling you about the coronavirus epidemic. You don’t need a Ph.D. in Biology. But you do need some basic scientific understanding of all these things.

In recent years, we have seen various populist politicians attacking science, saying that scientists are some remote elite disconnected from the people, saying that things like climate change are just a hoax, you shouldn’t believe them. But in this moment of crisis all over the world, we see that people do trust science more than anything else.

I hope we remember this not only during this crisis but also once the crisis is over. That we take care to give students in school a good scientific education about what viruses, and the theory of evolution, are. And also, that when scientists warn us about other things besides epidemics, like about climate change and ecological collapse, we will take their warnings with the same seriousness that we now take what they say about the coronavirus epidemic.

Many countries are implementing digital surveillance mechanisms in order to prevent the virus from spreading. How can these mechanisms be controlled?

Whenever you increase surveillance of the citizens, it should always go hand-in-hand with increased surveillance of the government. In this crisis, governments are spending money like water. In the US, 2 trillion dollars. In Germany, hundreds of billions of euros, and so forth. As a citizen, I want to know who is making the decisions and where the money goes. Is the money being used to bail out big corporations who were in trouble even before the epidemic because of the wrong decisions of their managers? Or is the money being used to help small businesses, restaurants and shops and things like that?

If a government is so eager to have more surveillance, the surveillance should go both ways. And if the government says, hey, it’s too complicated, we can’t just open all the financial transactions, then you say: “No it’s not too complicated. The same way you can create a huge surveillance system to see where I go every day, it should be as easy to create a system that shows what you are doing with my tax money.”

That works by distributing the power and not letting it accumulate in one person or one authority?

Exactly. One idea people are experimenting with is if you want to alert people who have been near a coronavirus patient. There are two ways to do it: One way is to have a central authority which gathers information on everybody, and then discovers that you have been near somebody who has COVID-19 and alerts you. Another method is for phones to directly communicate, one with the other, without any central authority that gathers all the information. If I pass near somebody who has COVID-19 the two phones, his or her phone and my phone, just talk with each other and I get the alert. But no central authority is gathering all this information and following everybody.

Possible surveillance systems for the current crisis go one step further, to what you would call under-the-skin-surveillance. So the skin, as the untouchable surface of our bodies, is cracking. How can we control that?

We should be very, very careful about it. Over-the-skin-surveillance is monitoring what you do in the outside world, where you go, whom you meet, what you watch on TV or which websites you visit online. It doesn’t go into your body. Under-the-skin-surveillance is monitoring what’s happening inside your body. It starts with things like your temperature, but then it can go to your blood pressure, to your heart rate, to your brain activity. And once you do that, you can know far, far more about people than ever before.

You can create a totalitarian regime that never existed before. If you know what I’m reading or what I watch on television, it gives you some idea about my artistic tastes, my political views, my personality. But it’s still limited. Now think that you can actually monitor my body temperature or my blood pressure and my heart rate as I read the article or as I watch the program online or on television. Then you can know what I feel every moment. This could easily lead to the creation of dystopian totalitarian regimes.

It’s not inevitable. We can prevent it from happening. But to prevent it from happening, we, first of all, have to realize the danger, and secondly, be careful about what we allow in this emergency to happen.

Does this crisis make you readjust your image of humans in the 21st century?

We don’t know, because it depends on the decisions we make now. The danger of a useless class is actually increasing dramatically because of the current economic crisis. We now see an increase in automatization, that robots and computers replace people in more and more jobs in this crisis, because people are locked down in their houses, and people can get infected, but robots can’t. We might see that countries might decide to return certain industries back home instead of relying on factories elsewhere. So it could seem both because of automatization and de-globalization that, especially developing countries that rely on cheap manual labor, suddenly have a huge, useless class of people who’ve lost their jobs because these jobs have been automated or moved elsewhere.

And this can also happen within the rich countries. This crisis is causing tremendous changes in the job market. People work from home. People work online. If we are not careful, it could result in the collapse of organized labor, at least in some sectors of industry. But it’s not inevitable. It’s a political decision. We can make the decision to protect the rights of workers in our country, or all over the world, in this situation. Governments are giving bailouts to industries and to corporations. They can make it conditional on protecting the rights of their workers. So it’s all about the decisions we make.

What will a future historian say about this moment?

I think future historians will see this as a turning point in the history of the 21st century. But which way we turn is up to our decisions. It’s not inevitable.

Professor Yuval Noah Harari is the author of the books Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. His social impact company Sapienship donated $1 million to the World Health Organization following the US president’s decision to hold back funding.

This article was originally published on DW. Read here.

WHO reports fivefold increase in cyber attacks, urges vigilance

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By SAT News Desk/WHO, Geneva

MELBOURNE, 26 APRIL 2020: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cyberattacks directed at its staff, and email scams targeting the public at large.

This week, some 450 active WHO email addresses and passwords were leaked online along with thousands belonging to others working on the novel coronavirus response.

The leaked credentials did not put WHO systems at risk because the data was not recent. However, the attack did impact an older extranet system, used by the current and retired staff as well as partners.

WHO is now migrating affected systems to a more secure authentication system.

Scammers impersonating WHO in emails have also increasingly targeted the general public in order to channel donations to a fictitious fund and not the authentic COVID-19 Solidary Response Fund. The number of cyberattacks is now more than five times the number directed at the Organization in the same period last year.

“Ensuring the security of health information for the Member States and the privacy of users interacting with us a priority for WHO at all times, but also particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful for the alerts we receive from the Member States and the private sector. We are all in this fight together,” said Bernardo Mariano, WHO’s Chief Information Officer.
WHO is working with the private sector to establish more robust internal systems and to strengthen security measures and is educating staff on cybersecurity risks.

WHO asks the public to remain vigilant against fraudulent emails and recommends the use of reliable sources to obtain factual information about COVID-19 and other health issues.

For more information, please visit: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

WHO: No evidence recovered COVID-19 people having antibodies are protected from a second infection

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By SAT Newsdesk

MELBOURNE, 25 April 2020: The World Health Organisation (WHO) says, “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.” The WHO explanation comes after some governments suggested the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection.

A ‘Scientific Brief’(24 April 2020) emailed to SAT on 25 April 2020 says, “The development of immunity to a pathogen through natural infection is a multi-step process that typically takes place over 1-2 weeks. The body responds to a viral infection immediately with a non-specific innate response in which macrophages, neutrophils, and dendritic cells slow the progress of virus and may even prevent it from causing symptoms. This non-specific response is followed by an adaptive response where the body makes antibodies that specifically bind to the virus. These antibodies are proteins called immunoglobulins. The body also makes T-cells that recognize and eliminate other cells infected with the virus.

This is called cellular immunity. This combined adaptive response may clear the virus from the body, and if the response is strong enough, may prevent progression to severe illness or re-infection by the same virus. This process is often measured by the presence of antibodies in the blood.”

It also says, ” Laboratory tests that detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in people, including rapid immunodiagnostic tests, need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability. Inaccurate immunodiagnostic tests may falsely categorize people in two ways. The first is that they may falsely label people who have been infected as negative, and the second is that people who have not been infected are falsely labelled as positive. Both errors have serious consequences and will affect control efforts. These tests also need to accurately distinguish between past infections from SARS-CoV-2 and those caused by the known set of six human coronaviruses. Four of these viruses cause the common cold and circulate widely. The remaining two are the viruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. People infected by any one of these viruses may produce antibodies that cross-react with antibodies produced in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2.

At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate.” People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission. As new evidence becomes available, WHO will update this scientific brief.”

LINK to the Scientific Brief – https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/immunity-passports-in-the-context-of-covid-19