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WHO tackles new strains as China logs first Covid-19 death in 8 months

  • Published at 07:44 pm January 14th, 2021
Members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
File Photo: Members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic sit on a bus while leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 14, 2021 Reuters.

The World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee session comes with their colleagues seeking the origins of the virus on a long-delayed mission to the pandemic ground zero in Wuhan

Global health experts gather on Thursday to tackle new strains of the coronavirus blamed for a fresh surge in infections after China recorded its first Covid-19 death in eight months.

The World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee session comes with their colleagues seeking the origins of the virus on a long-delayed mission to the pandemic ground zero in Wuhan.

Almost two million of the more than 91 million people who have caught the disease have died, but the figures are widely believed to be an underestimate.

Much of the planet is facing a second or third wave of infections, with populations chafing under painful and economically damaging restrictions.

Lebanon went into full lockdown on Thursday with residents barred even from grocery shopping.

France is hoping to avoid another national lockdown with the government due to announce tighter controls such as an extended night curfew across the country.

But there was better news for those who have already had Covid-19, with a British study suggesting recovery can confer immunity for at least five months.

The research will be welcomed by UK healthcare workers struggling to cope with surging caseloads and a new, more infectious strain of the virus.

That strain, and another identified in South Africa, was going under the WHO microscope in Geneva on Thursday after being logged in dozens of countries.

WHO's emergency committee normally gathers every three months, but the meeting was brought forward "to consider issues that need urgent discussion".

In China, millions of people have been locked down again to try to tame a fresh outbreak that has now claimed its first victim.

Long journey

The hashtag "New virus death in Hebei" quickly ratcheted up 100 million views on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

"I haven't seen the words 'virusdeath' in so long, it's a bit shocking! I hope the epidemic can pass soon," one user wrote.

The death comes as a 10-strong investigation team arrived in Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late 2019.

Mission leader Peter Ben Embarek said they would enter a two-week hotel quarantine before the probe begins in earnest.

It "could be a very long journey before we get a full understanding of what happened." he cautioned.

Ganges mega-gatherings

Despite huge infection risks, millions of Hindu pilgrims in India - which has the second-highest number of infections in the world - gather on the banks of the Ganges river for the start of the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage and festival.

Two popes get vaccine

Both Pope Francis and his predecessor, former pope Benedict XVI, have received their first jabs, with Italian media saying it was the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.

10 million US shots

Official data shows more than 10 million people have received their first shot in the United States even as the country trails behind its targets.

WHO meets over variants

The WHO's emergency committee mets two weeks early to try to combat more infections variants emerging in South Africa and Britain.

Nearly 2 million dead

The pandemic has killed more than 1,979,596 million people worldwide, according to a tally compiled by AFP at 8pm using official sources and information from the WHO.

The US is the country most affected with more than 384,784 deaths, followed by Brazil (205,964), India (over 151,727), Mexico (136,917) and Britain (84,767).

The number of deaths globally is broadly under-estimated. The toll is calculated from daily figures published by national health authorities and does not include later revisions by statistics agencies.