The World Health Organization warned Friday of a “new and dangerous phase” of the coronavirus pandemic with people tiring of lockdowns despite the disease’s accelerating spread.
The warning came as it emerged the virus was present in Italy in December, months before its first confirmed cases and about the same time as the disease was first reported in China.
The virus, which has now killed more than 454,000 people and infected 8.4 million people worldwide, is surging in the Americas and parts of Asia even as Europe starts to ease restrictive measures.
Lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the disease have caused crippling economic damage, but the WHO said the pandemic still posed a major threat.
“The world is in a new and dangerous phase. Many people are understandably fed up with being at home… but the virus is still spreading fast,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference.
A vaccine remains months off at best despite several trials, while scientists are still discovering more about the virus, its symptoms and the extent to which it may have spread before being identified.
Italian researchers discovered genetic traces of SARS-CoV-2 — as the virus is officially known — in samples of waste water collected in Milan and Turin at the end of last year, and Bologna in January, the ISS institute said.
Italy’s first confirmed cases were not until February.
The results “help to understand the start of the circulation of the virus in Italy,” the ISS said.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by the virus and the first in the world to impose a nationwide lockdown, in early March.
In a sign of the persisting risks, ISS, Italy’s top health agency, also urged caution after last week seeing “warning signs” of virus transmission following two outbreaks in Rome.
“In certain parts of the country, the circulation of the virus is still significant,” ISS said in its weekly report.
Many European countries followed Italy into lockdown, and most have only begun reopening this month after painful shutdowns that devastated their economies.
Facing the biggest recession in the EU’s history, leaders on Friday held a virtual summit on the European Commission’s proposal for a 750 billion euro ($840 billion) rescue fund.
However they fell short of reaching a deal on a plan seen as a key gesture of the bloc’s solidarity and unity.
Opposition is fierce from the “frugal four” — Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Austria. But Italy and Spain that were the first and hardest hit by the pandemic were already crippled by overstretched finances.
‘Came from Europe’
Chinese scientists have said the virus likely emerged in a market that sold wildlife in the central city of Wuhan in December, but Beijing officials have recently suggested it may have originated elsewhere.
After largely bringing the virus under control and easing restrictions, China is now fighting a resurgence after finding a cluster centred on a market in Beijing.
Authorities launched a nationwide campaign to inspect food imports, while tens of thousands of people are also being tested and neighbourhoods have been locked down.
Chinese authorities said studies of genome data, which it had shared with the WHO, suggest the new outbreak in Beijing “came from Europe”, but is different from what is currently spreading there.
“It is older than the virus currently circulating in Europe,” Zhang Yong of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
He raised the possibility of the virus lurking in imported frozen food or in the wholesale market itself, resulting in similarities to older strains.
The United States still leads the world in the number of confirmed infections and deaths, with a recent surge in southern states, while the economy has also been hammered in a year when US President Donald Trump seeks re-election.
However top US expert Dr Anthony Fauci offered hope as he said in an interview with AFP that he did not see America returning to fresh lockdown.
He predicted it would instead focus on “trying to better control those areas of the country that seem to be having a surge of cases”.
Fauci said he was optimistic the world would soon have a vaccine to end the pandemic, calling early trial results “encouraging”.
Still, Apple said it was closing some stores in US states experiencing a surge in infections, reversing course after reopening many of its retail locations.
The Philadelphia Phillies baseball team also said five players and three staff tested positive for COVID-19 at the club’s Clearwater training base in Florida.
But normality is returning to cultural and sporting events disrupted by the virus.
Football returned to hard-hit South America on Thursday after a three-month hiatus with a Rio state tournament match in Brazil.
And in France, the nation of le grand amour, actors have started kissing again on film shoots.
“No, the kiss is not over with,” French Culture Minister Franck Riester declared when asked if social distancing was in danger of killing off love scenes altogether.
Actors must however be tested before they start smooching again.
Highlights: 19th CPC Central Committee holds press conference on fifth plenary session
The 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held a press conference on Friday to introduce the guiding principles of its fifth plenary session. The four-day session concluded on Thursday with the release of a communique.
Here are some highlights of the press conference:
The agenda of the session has all been completed, said Wang Xiaohui, executive deputy head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee.
The proposals for formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Social and Economic Development (2021-2025) and Long-Range Objectives for 2035 were adopted during the session, said Wang, calling it the most important outcome of the session.
This is the first time that China has set long-term objectives for the country to achieve socialist modernization by 2035, according to the official.
The drafting of the proposals, which consists of three parts and 15 chapters in total, has followed five principles, said Han Wenxiu, deputy director of the Office of the Central Economic and Financial Affairs Commission.
The principles include balancing the relationship between inheritance and innovation, government and market, opening-up and independence, development and security, as well as between strategy-making and operational tactics, according to Han.
Double development dynamic
The concept of double development dynamic emphasizes both domestic and international circulations, Han said.
It takes the domestic market as the mainstay and allows domestic and foreign markets to boost each other.
Focusing on the internal market is by no means a downgrade of opening-up, instead, the pattern aims to promote a higher level of opening-up by using two resources and two markets, said Han.
“As the two largest economies in the world, the economic ties between China and the United States are determined by the complementary of their economic structures and the openness of the global economy,” Han said.
A complete decoupling between the two countries is unrealistic and will not benefit either nation as well as the world, said Han.
China will promote high-level opening-up to provide more opportunities for the rest of the world, Han told reporters.
Talking about technological innovation, the Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang told reporters that China has not and will never close its doors.
China is willing to hold international dialogues on sci-tech innovation with other countries.
The country will focus on climate change, energy resources, and public health and other global issues, strengthening intellectual property protection and providing better conditions for overseas talent.
Xi Jinping highlights innovation in message to 3rd World Laureates Forum
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday addressed the third World Laureates Forum via video. In his message, Xi hailed the great contribution scientists had made in conducting international cooperation on vaccines, medicines development against the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also called on scientists to focus on everyday issues, such as climate change and public health, and step up efforts to advance the well-being of humankind.
Stressing that China is focused on scientific innovation, Xi said the country is committed to making innovation a driving force for development.
China is ready to work with top scientists around the world and international science and technology organizations to implement a more open, inclusive, and mutual beneficial international scientific strategy, Xi said, pledging greater efforts in scientific research and technology breakthrough.
Xi said he welcomes exchanges of thoughts, hoping that the scientists could work jointly to enhance cooperation and advance the cause of science.
The third World Laureates Forum, held in Shanghai from October 30 to November 1, will feature about 140 world-class award winners, including 61 Nobel Prize laureates, according to the organizing committee.
The forum, which was initiated in 2018 by the World Laureates Association (WLA), was organized by the Shanghai municipal government and has been held every October in Shanghai for the past two years, according to Wang Hou, secretary-general of the WLA.
How will China shape its new journey for the coming five years?
China is holding the widely-anticipated fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing starting from Monday, with a focus on the blueprint for the country’s future.
Undoubtedly, China will keep upholding the centralized and unified leadership of the CPC and staying on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, but on the future prospects of the world’s second-largest economy as it prepares economic and social development plans for the next five years, questions remain.
How will China navigate this new stage of development? What will China’s economic and social roadmap be in the post-epidemic era? The following is a comprehensive guide for you to catch the pulse of the meeting.
Why does the meeting matter?
The highest decision-making bodies of the CPC, China’s ruling party, are composed of two parts: the CPC National Congress, and the CPC Central Committee elected by its national congress.
Here is a review of all such plenary sessions since late 2012:
The fourth plenary session last year reviewed and adopted the CPC Central Committee’s decision on some major issues concerning how to uphold and improve the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and advance the modernization of China’s system and capacity for governance.
According to the agenda of this year’s session, the proposals for formulating the country’s 14th Five-Year (2021-2025) Plan for Economic and Social Development and future targets for 2035 will be assessed.
Drawn up every five years since 1953, the FYP is a major feature of China’s governance system, setting growth targets and defining economic and social development policies to ensure national strategies keep pace with the times.
Since 1953, China has formulated and implemented 13 FYPs. This year, for the first time, a 15-year “long-term vision” is mentioned along with the 14th version of the FYP, aiming for 2035 when the country’s socialist modernization is expected to be basically achieved.
Eyes on China’s plan for coming years
Development goals set for the 13th FYP period (2016-2020) are about to be accomplished, which will mark a new and major step forward in China’s economic and scientific power, as well as national strength.
Analysts said that given growing uncertainties, the 14th FYP has attracted great attention, as it will be the first FYP after China accomplishes building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realizing its first centennial goal in 2020, as well as making all-out efforts to achieve its second centennial goal – to build a great modern socialist country around 2049.
“The 14th Five-Year Plan will be a critical plan, drawn up at a critical time,” said Wang Changlin, president of the Academy of Macroeconomic Research of the National Development and Reform Commission.
The Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee has said that the FYP is a “vivid practice of China’s socialist democracy.” But how?
China has solicited public opinions online on compiling the 14th FYP since August 15, and by convening and presiding over a number of symposiums, Chinese President Xi Jinping has directly listened to opinions and advice on the country’s economic and social development in the 2021-2025 plan period from all walks of society.
After gathering suggestions widely, how will the blueprint be drawn up?
Clues can be found from the Political Bureau’s meetings, during which the following principles are stressed in making the 14th FYP – upholding the overall leadership of the CPC, maintaining and improving the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, putting people first, building a new development pattern, deepening reform and opening up and forestalling and defusing major risks and challenges.
Adhering to these key points, three aspects may be highlighted in the plan.
– Dual circulation
First introduced in May, the new development pattern known as “dual circulation,” which takes the domestic market as the mainstay while letting domestic and foreign markets boost each other, has been placed high on the authorities’ agenda.
In pursuing the new development pattern, scientific and technological innovation, especially making breakthroughs in core technologies, is widely regarded as the key to shaping domestic circulation.
When talking about what to expect for the next five-year plan, Bert Hofman, former World Bank Country Director for China, told CGTN during an interview that the dual circulation is a vital strategy in China’s economic blueprint.
“Two elements of more domestic demand and more domestic capability and innovation are, I think, an important part of the dual circulation. It does not mean that China is going to close down,” he said, and added that the domestic circulation is going to be more important than the international circulation when rebalancing towards more domestic capabilities.
“Over the past decade, China has increased household consumption in GDP a little bit, from 35 percent to about 40 percent but it has a long way to go,” he said.
– High-quality development in economy
While chairing a meeting on the new plan in November last year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed several principles of making the new plan, including to keep the economy running within a reasonable range, to promote high-quality development, to emphasize the vision of people-centered development and to highlight the role of reform and innovation in tackling difficulties.
Following the principle of pursuing progress while ensuring stability, all regions and departments have deepened the all-round reform, taken the initiative to further open up and maintained medium-high economic growth within a reasonable range, he said.
Wang Tao, the chief China economist at UBS Investment Bank, predicted in his article that the 14th FYP will emphasize fostering structural changes domestically and improve the quality of growth.
“This means that the 14th FYP will likely set ambitious targets for urbanization (likely another 5-point increase in hukou urbanization rate), new urban employment growth (possibly another $50 million in 2021-25), increase in shares of consumption and services, improvement in the social safety net, and an increase in education and research and development spending,” said the economist.
– People’s sense of fulfillment, happiness and security
Aside from providing the general direction, the 14th FYP is more like “a super policy package” – setting quantitative indexes on many fields, including economic growth and environmental protection, and listing major programs and infrastructure projects affecting people’s livelihood, Yan Yilong, a research fellow with the Center for China Studies at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.
Meeting people’s ever-growing needs for a better life has always been an important issue in China, and Xi Jinping has called for efforts in promoting the development of China’s education, culture, health and sports sectors to reach the goal.
In this regard, policies concerning these areas will undoubtedly be covered in the 14th FYP.
Managing editor: Duan Fengyuan
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