Virus may never go away, warns WHO

Prolonged crisis:People in front of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris after a partial lifting of restrictions imposed two months ago to fight the pandemic.AFPTHOMAS COEX

Prolonged crisis:People in front of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris after a partial lifting of restrictions imposed two months ago to fight the pandemic.AFPTHOMAS COEX  

European Medicines Agency says data from trials suggest vaccine could possibly be ready in a year

The European Union’s medicines agency suggested on Thursday that a vaccine for the COVID-19 could be ready in year, even as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the disease may never go away.

World leaders past and present have insisted that any eventual vaccines and treatments should be made available to everyone free of charge, with the global death toll from the disease nearing 300,000.

The pandemic has caused massive social and economic upheaval across the planet and while some nations have begun easing punishing lockdowns, fears of a second wave have kept many businesses shuttered and people confined to their homes.

Washington ratcheted up tensions over the crisis by accusing China of trying to steal research, and U.S. President Donald Trump upped the rhetoric with a colourful phrase that was likely to infuriate Beijing.

“We just made a great Trade Deal, the ink was barely dry, and the World was hit by the Plague from China. 100 Trade Deals wouldn’t make up the difference — and all those innocent lives lost!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

‘Best-case scenario’

With the race to find a vaccine gathering pace, the European Medicines Agency said one could possibly be ready in a year based on data from trials under way.

Announcing the forecast at a video news conference, Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, stressed that it was a “best-case scenario”.

“We know also that there may be delays,” he said, voicing scepticism over reports a vaccine could be ready as early as September.

Patent-free science

And world leaders were among 140 signatories to a letter published on Thursday, saying any vaccine should not be patented and that the science should be shared among nations. “Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge,” it said.

A vaccine could allow countries to fully reopen from shutdowns that have battered economies and thrown millions of people out of work.

But the WHO cautioned that the virus may never be wiped out entirely.

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away,” said Michael Ryan, the global health body’s emergencies director.

“HIV has not gone away — but we have come to terms with the virus.”

The UN also warned that the outbreak risked a major mental health crisis and called for urgent action to address psychological suffering.

Mr. Trump has been pushing for a swift resumption of economic activity in the U.S., often against the advice of health officials, as he tries to jumpstart the world’s largest economy before a November election.

‘Wave of bankruptcies’

The U.S. is the country hardest-hit by COVID-19, logging a total of more than 84,000 deaths.

Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has said reopening too soon risks triggering uncontrollable outbreaks, but Trump dismissed the call for caution as “not acceptable”.

The tensions between health and the economy were thrown into sharp relief on Wednesday when Federal Reserve chief Jay Powell warned of a potential “wave of bankruptcies” that could cause lasting harm.

Further signs of the damage to businesses emerged on Thursday when Lloyd’s of London forecast the pandemic will cost the global insurance industry about $203 billion.

And Australia released figures showing almost 6,00,000 people lost their jobs as the country’s virus shutdown took hold in April, the steepest monthly drop in employment since records began more than 40 years ago.

But the reopening of economies continued across Europe, where the EU has set out proposals for a phased restart of travel and the eventual lifting of border controls.

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