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UN seeks ‘quantum leap’ in funding for virus fight

The UN on Thursday called for an immediate “quantum leap” in funding to fight the new coronavirus as the death toll crossed 900,000 six months after the pandemic broke out.

Alarming figures cropped up, with France registering a record of almost 10,000 new Covid-19 cases over the last 24 hours ahead of a key meeting to decide a toughening of coronavirus measures.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries to find $15 billion over the next three months to fund the ACT-Accelerator programme, a global collaboration to hunt for a vaccine and treatments led by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

“Either we stand together or we will be doomed,” Guterres said, calling the virus the “number one global security threat”.

“We need a quantum leap in funding to increase the chances of a global solution to get the world moving, working and prospering again,” he said.

He said the near $3 billion contributed so far had been critical but $35 billion more was needed to shift from start-up to scale-up — beginning with $15 billion in the next three months.

– Tightened restrictions –

He said typical aid budgets would not cover the costs, urging donors to “go deep” into money set aside for combating coronavirus.

As the infections burgeoned, countries began to scale up restrictions.

Portugal tightened curbs ahead of the start of the school year, limiting gatherings to 10 people rather than 20 previously — a cap already in force in the capital Lisbon since late June.

Sales of alcohol will be barred from 8 pm as will drinking in public spaces.

Britain said it was reinstating mainland Portugal and adding Hungary to its coronavirus quarantine list, while Spain’s Balearic Islands region said it will impose restrictions on over 20,000 people in tourism hotspot Palma de Mallorca due to a surge in infections.

People living in four working class neighbourhoods of Palma will not be allowed out from 10 pm Friday except to go to work or school or seek medical care.

Gyms and parks in the areas must close, while the capacity at bars, cafes and restaurants will be capped at 50 percent. Gatherings will be limited to a maximum of five people.

A new study by US health authorities meanwhile provided more data showing that Covid-19 spread far more easily at bars and restaurants than going shopping, working from an office or using public transport.

The new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed the participants who tested positive and those who tested negative reported similar mask-wearing behaviour and similar levels of exposure in all the settings, except bars and restaurants.

– ‘Start saving lives’ –

The virus has killed more than 904,500 people and infected at least 27.9 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December.

According to the WHO’s latest overview, 35 candidate vaccines for the virus are being tested on humans, of which nine have reached Phase III trials where they are tested on tens of thousands of people.

A further 145 candidate vaccines are in earlier testing phases. Typically only about 10 percent of candidate vaccines succeed.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the speed at which vaccines, diagnostics and treatments were being developed but said much more needed to be done.

“We need to rapidly scale up our clinical trials, manufacturing, licensing and regulation capacity so that these products can get to people and start saving lives,” he said.

“Fully financing the ACT-Accelerator would shorten the pandemic and pay back this investment rapidly as the global economy recovers.”

The pandemic has continued to wreak economic mayhem.

Europe’s top economy Germany said it would see a massive drop in tax revenue this year and next due to the impact of the coronavirus and won’t return to pre-pandemic federal intake until 2023.

It will take in 275 billion euros ($327 billion) in federal tax revenues in 2020, down from 329 billion euros last year, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said.

Airline giant IAG, the owner of British Airways and Spanish carrier Iberia, said it was cutting more flights because of coronavirus restrictions and quarantine rules.

IAG expects to operate 60 percent less capacity in the three months to the end of December from a year earlier.

Singapore Airlines, the city-state’s official carrier, said it was cutting about 4,300 jobs — around 20 percent of its workforce.