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New COVID-19 Variants Under The Microscope As Travel Bans Mount Over UK Mutation

UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking A healthcare worker at Bamrasnaradura Infectious Disease Institute in Thailand.

The UN health agency chief said on Monday that scientists have been working to understand new COVID-19 variants that have been reported in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

According to news reports, more than 40 countries have now banned arrivals from the UK, because of mounting concerns over a new, more transmissible mutation of the new coronavirus, although health officials there stress that there is no evidence it is more deadly, or that it would not respond in the same way to the vaccines cleared for emergency use.

“The bottom line is that we need to suppress transmission of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses as quickly as we can”, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a regular press briefing.

“The more we allow it to spread, the more opportunity it has to change”, he added.

In early 2021, $4.6 billion in additional funding will be needed to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for at least 20 per cent of low and lower middle income countries, according to the WHO chief.

“This will ensure health workers and those at highest risk of severe disease are vaccinated, which is the fastest way to stabilize health systems and economies and stimulate a truly global recovery”, he said.

Charting new courses

As part of the hundred-hundred initiative – a major sprint by WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank to support 100 countries in conducting rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans within 100 days for vaccines and other COVID-19 tools – 89 countries have already completed assessments and teams are working round the clock to ensure that governments and health systems are ready for the global vaccine rollout.

While the pandemic has exploited the world’s vulnerabilities and inequalities, it has also shown that “in the face of an unprecedented crisis, we can come together in new ways to confront it”, said Tedros.

“Every crisis is an opportunity to question the way we do things, and to find new ways of doing them”, he upheld.

‘A gateway’

For 30 years, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has published an annual snapshot of global development. The 2020 Human Development Report, released last week, takes an in-depth look at the COVID-19 pandemic and what it might mean for the future.

While acknowledging that the coronavirus outbreak has led to an unprecedented development crisis, UNDP chief Achim Steiner told journalists at the regular WHO briefing that that it can, however, be turned into a “gateway” for deploying social norms, incentives and nature-based solutions.

He flagged that the equitable distribution of COVID vaccinations requires governments to work together in unprecedented ways and called it “the ultimate stress test for planetary health” as it will be delivering the “largest public health intervention of a lifetime and driving an inclusive and green recovery”.

Mr. Steiner doubled down on the belief that empowering people can bring about the action needed to live in balance with the planet in a fairer world.

He reiterated UNDP’s commitment to play its part, along with WHO, the UN family, and GAVI, the vaccine alliance, and others through the ACT Accelerator and the third Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDGs) Global Action Plan.

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