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Russia Claims First COVID-19 Vaccine As Global Cases Top 20 Million

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Russia claimed Tuesday that it had developed the world’s first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus, as the pandemic marked another bleak milestone with 20 million infections globally.

President Vladimir Putin said that one of his own daughters had received the inoculation, dubbed “Sputnik” after the pioneering 1950s Soviet satellite.

Western scientists have previously raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday warned any approval of the Russian vaccine would require rigorous review of data to show its safety and efficiency.

“I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” Putin said of the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with Moscow’s defence ministry.

Russia hopes to begin production in September and start vaccinating medical staff immediately afterwards.

Some 20 foreign countries have pre-ordered over a billion doses according to Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which helped develop the vaccine.

The race for a vaccine heats up as nations across the globe brace for new outbreaks of the disease even as they try to restart economies battered by months of initial lockdowns to curb the spread.

An AFP tally from official sources showed that by 1100 GMT Tuesday, the number of confirmed infections worldwide passed 20.1 million, having topped 20 million the previous night.

Almost 737,000 deaths had been recorded since the virus first emerged in China late last year and spread globally, with the figure expected to surpass 750,000 within days.

Tests underway

Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that clinical trials of the vaccine involving several thousand participants would continue.

Elsewhere in the world, Indonesia said it would launch a “Phase 3” human trial of a vaccine candidate from China’s Sinovac Biotech.

“Phase 3” refers to trials involving large numbers of human test subjects and is usually the last step before regulatory approval.

Sinovac’s vaccine, dubbed CoronaVac, is already being tested on 9,000 Brazilian health workers.

A WHO overview said 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, with six reaching Phase 3.

But the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan warned that a vaccine was “only part of the answer,” pointing to polio and measles as diseases with vaccines that have not been fully eradicated.

“You’ve got to be able to deliver that vaccine to a population that want and demand to have that vaccine,” he said.

Second waves ‘inevitable’

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has pointed to “green shoots of hope” in countries that had successfully clamped down on COVID-19, such as Rwanda and New Zealand, which says it plans to open a virus-free “travel bubble” with the Cook Islands.

But Wellington on Tuesday reported its first locally-transmitted coronavirus infections in more than 100 days.

“We have all worked incredibly hard to prevent this scenario,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, but added that “we have also planned and prepared for it.”

So far New Zealand has reported just 22 deaths from the COVID-19 disease, although authorities repeatedly warned a second wave was “inevitable”.

The remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan on Tuesday announced its first coronavirus lockdown after months largely shielded from the disease.

And in Europe, the EU’s health agency urged countries to reinstate some controls as new cases began to pick up again.

“There is a true resurgence in cases in several countries as a result of physical distancing measures being relaxed,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said.

France had already reacted by requiring mask-wearing in certain crowded areas and tourist hotspots of capital Paris.

Several French towns and cities have already introduced similar measures, as well as parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain.

There was better news for residents of the Gaza Strip Tuesday, as the enclave’s only border crossing with Egypt was opened to people wanting to leave for the first time since the pandemic began.

But some residents were fearful of leaving the tightly-sealed territory, which has seen just 81 cases.

“There is a fear of being infected with COVID-19 in cars or buses in Egypt,” Hatem al-Mansi told AFP. “In Gaza, we don’t have that problem.”

‘Every day like my last’

In China, the city of Wuhan where the novel coronavirus first emerged is limping back towards normal after lockdowns were lifted in April.

Business is slow for stall owners at food markets, while a pandemic-themed exhibition shows off autographed hazmat suits used by medical workers.

China officially recorded around 85,000 cases and just over 4,600 deaths — a fraction of the world’s total — and has now largely brought its domestic virus spread under control.

Despite fears of a resurgence, some Wuhan residents are keen to enjoy the city’s recovery.

“Now I enjoy every day as if it were the last,” says Hu Fenglian. “I don’t want to worry too much.”

 

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Peng Liyuan Calls for Global Efforts in AIDS and TB Prevention and Treatment

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Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, called on people from all walks of life in all countries to join hands and take action to strengthen the prevention and treatment of AIDS and tuberculosis (TB), in order to benefit all mankind and build a global community of health for all.

Peng, also World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, made the remarks via video link on Monday at the opening ceremony of a special high-level event on the sidelines of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS.

The event aimed to provide a platform for WHO member states to reassert their commitment to ending TB deaths among people living with HIV and deliberate on how they will intensify the response to HIV-associated TB in the context of COVID-19.

Peng said the global fight against AIDS and TB has achieved remarkable results in recent years thanks to the concerted efforts made by the international community.

China has gradually established a cooperation mechanism between prevention and control institutions of AIDS and TB, she said. The country has kept the prevalence of AIDS at a low level, and in the past 20 years, the incidence of TB has dropped by more than 40 percent and the mortality rate by more than 70 percent.

These achievements have been made due to the attention paid by the Chinese government, the efforts of the medical personnel and the silent contributions of the volunteers, she said.

Peng also shared some touching stories and expressed her respect for people and volunteers worldwide who have contributed to the prevention and treatment of the diseases.

Major communicable diseases are among the common challenges facing mankind, and it is people’s common wish to end the threats of AIDS and TB, said Peng.

She added that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought more challenges to the containment of the diseases, calling for global efforts to protect lives and forge ahead.

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Xi Jinping’s Qinghai Tour: Developing Special Industries, Improving Community-Level Governance

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Development of special industries and improvement of community-level governance were highlighted on the first day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inspection tour of northwest China’s Qinghai Province on Monday.

Xi, who is also the general secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, visited a company that makes Tibetan carpets and learned about the design and production processes. Noting the unique features of the carpets, he praised the locals for aptly combining traditional and modern crafts to meet diversified market demands.

The Tibetan carpet industry in Qinghai has helped people out of poverty and promoted rural vitalization and ethnic unity, he noted, adding that he hopes Qinghai will develop more such characteristic industries and achieve better development through innovation.

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Later on, Xi visited a residential community in provincial capital Xining to learn about its efforts in strengthening Party building, improving community-level governance and advancing ethnic unity.

“Whenever I go on an inspection tour, I would visit rural villages and urban communities to see how people’s lives are going,” said Xi.

He stressed strengthening primary-level CPC organizations, calling on them to offer high-quality community services in all aspects.

(Cover: Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting a carpet company in Qinghai Province, northwest China, June 7, 2021. /Xinhua)

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China Outlines Four-Point Proposal on Global Fight Against Corruption

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China made a four-point proposal on international cooperation against corruption on Wednesday, calling for a zero-tolerance attitude toward corruption and respect for differences between countries.

Zhao Leji, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC (CCDI), made the remarks during a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on challenges and measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation.

“China is an active participant in and contributor to global anti-corruption governance,” Zhao said. The country contributed to the adoption of the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption by APEC and the High-Level Principles on Cooperation on Persons Sought for Corruption and Asset Recovery by the G20, and put forward the Beijing Initiative for the Clean Silk Road to deepen Belt and Road cooperation, he noted.

China’s anti-graft chief Zhao Leji addresses a special session of the UN General Assembly on fighting corruption via video link, June 2, 2021. /Xinhua

Outlining China’s proposal on global anti-corruption cooperation, he called for extensive efforts to uphold fairness and justice.

“The international community needs to forge broad political consensus, take a zero-tolerance attitude toward corruption, build zero-loophole institutions, carry out zero-barrier cooperation, and press ahead with cooperation on persons sought for corruption and asset recovery and on foreign business bribery,” he said.

Meanwhile, countries should respect differences between them and promote equality and mutual learning, he stressed.

“We need to respect the sovereignty and political and legal systems of each country, respect their right to choose their own ways of fighting corruption, and foster an international partnership for anti-corruption cooperation that is based on equality, respect for differences, exchanges and mutual learning, and common progress.”

China’s anti-graft chief called on the international community to “pursue mutually-beneficial cooperation through extensive consultation and joint contribution.”

He also urged countries across the world to “honor commitments and put action first.” Signatories to the UN Convention against Corruption should “honor their solemn commitment of fighting corruption together.”

China’s ‘sweeping victory’ against corruption

Zhao reviewed China’s anti-corruption drive, stressing that the CPC and the Chinese government “stand unequivocally against corruption.”

“We have adopted a holistic approach to address both symptoms and root causes of corruption, and combined law-based punishment, institutional checks, and education and guidance to made our anti-corruption governance more effective,” he said.

In 2020, disciplinary inspection commissions and supervision agencies across the country investigated about 618,000 corruption cases, leading to the punishment of 604,000 people, a report by China’s top anti-graft body said. A total 1,421 fugitives were brought back to China last year, the CCDI report showed.

With “multi-pronged measures” to tackle all acts of corruption, China has secured and consolidated a “sweeping victory” in the fight, Zhao said.

According to a recent survey by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, 95.8 percent of the Chinese people are satisfied with the country’s anti-corruption efforts, he noted.

‘We cannot allow corruption to continue’

The UN General Assembly convened its first ever special session on combating corruption on Wednesday. The special session will conclude on Friday.

President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly Volkan Bozkir addresses a special session on fighting corruption in New York, June 2, 2021. /Xinhua

Addressing the special session, Volkan Bozkir, president of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, said Wednesday the effects of corruption are “detrimental to all of society” and that it should not be allowed to continue unchecked.

“Transnational financial crime and corruption are unfortunately commonplace in our interconnected, interdependent world,” Bozkir said, adding that corruption affects decision-making processes and “remains one of the most critical challenges for states, institutions, and communities.”

“We cannot allow corruption to continue. We will not,” he stressed.

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