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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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Xi Jinping Reviews Poverty Relief Progress in Hunan as China’s War on Poverty Nears End

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China has vowed to eradicate absolute poverty in rural areas by the end of 2020 despite the COVID-19 epidemic. While efforts are being made to ensure “no single poor area or individual shall be left behind” – as President Xi Jinping puts it – people that have recently shaken off poverty are striving for a better life.

Among the 529 residents in a small village in central China’s Hunan Province, 95 in 30 households used to live under the poverty line. The whole village was lifted out of poverty through rural tourism in 2018, and the average annual income of the residents reached 13,840 yuan (about 2,060 U.S. dollars) last year – way above the national poverty line of 2,300 yuan (about 340 U.S. dollars).

Shazhou Village, located in a mountainous area in Rucheng County, Chenzhou City, was the first stop of Xi’s inspection tour in Hunan.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, visited the village on Wednesday and learned about poverty relief industries and progress in consolidating poverty eradication at a modern agricultural tourism demonstration base.

Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about poverty relief industries and progress in consolidating poverty eradication at a modern agricultural tourism demonstration base in Shazhou Village, Rucheng County, central China’s Hunan Province, September 16, 2020. /Xinhua

Targeted poverty alleviation

China has adopted a targeted approach in in its poverty alleviation campaign, which means taking tailored relief measures to fit different local conditions.

The story of Shazhou is a prime example of that approach. The village boasts the beautiful scenery of the Luoxiao Mountains and the unique Yao ethnic culture – nearly two thirds of the residents belong to the Yao ethnic group. Tourism has played a significant role in Shazhou’s battle against poverty.

The village has promoted rural tourism and high-quality fruit planting, and arranged training programs to help villagers obtain such job skills as for restaurant cooks and rural tourism industry employees. More than 350 local jobs have been created through the efforts.

With all its residents lifted out of poverty, Shazhou has also been known for such national-level honor as the “village of beauty and leisure,” “role model for ethnic unity and progress,” “key village for promoting rural tourism” and “traditional Chinese village.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with residents of Shazhou Village, Rucheng County, central China’s Hunan Province, September 16, 2020. /Xinhua

New starting point

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in late 2012, China has achieved remarkable results in poverty reduction. More than 93 million rural people shook off poverty between 2013 and 2019.

But 5.51 million people needed to get rid of poverty by the end of 2019. And such a formidable task was coincided by accident with the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking at a symposium on poverty alleviation in March, Xi described the goal of ending absolute poverty by 2020 as a “solemn pledge” made by the CPC Central Committee to the Chinese people, urging authorities at all levels to deliver on that promise.

As China intensifies efforts in the final stage of the tough battle, Xi tours around the country to inspect economic and social development, with poverty alleviation high on the agenda. Prior to the Hunan trip, he had taken inspection tours this year of capital city Beijing and provinces of Yunnan, Hubei, Zhejiang, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Jilin and Anhui, and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In addition to increasing poor people’s incomes, China is also striving to improve the quality of poverty relief. Xi has repeatedly called for efforts to ensure rural poor people do not have to worry about food and clothing and have access to compulsory education, basic medical services and safe housing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with villagers in the village of Shazhou, Rucheng County, central China’s Hunan Province, September 16, 2020. /Xinhua

Meanwhile, he is looking into the future beyond the end of poverty. “Being lifted out of poverty is not an end in itself but the starting point of a new life and a new pursuit,” he said on several occasions this year, calling for consolidating achievements in poverty alleviation and advancing the rural vitalization strategy.

Put forward at the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, the strategy aims to build rural areas with thriving businesses, pleasant living environments, social etiquette and civility, effective governance and prosperity.

Shazhou is among many previously poor villages in China that have embarked on the journey for a better future.

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From ‘saplings’ to ‘towering trees’

On Wednesday, Xi also visited a revolution-themed exhibition hall, a village service center, a clinic, a primary school and the homes of villagers in Shazhou.

The exhibition chronicles the story of an impoverished villager named Xu Jiexiu, who offered shelter to three female Red Army soldiers during the Long March in the 1930s. Upon the soldiers’ departure, they cut their only quilt in halves, leaving one part with Xu to show their care.

Xi said the CPC owes its achievements to the people’s support, vowing to further improve the people’s wellbeing.

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While inspecting the village service center, he stressed the effectiveness of primary-level public services. The center should provide targeted services for local residents according their needs, he told workers there.

At the primary school, the president encouraged students to make progress every day and grow from “saplings” into “towering trees” of the Chinese nation.

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Coronavirus Largest Health Crisis

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The novel coronavirus pandemic is the largest global health crisis of the past decades, and China was the first country to be hit by COVID-19.

When the lives of 1.4 billion people were put under threat by the virus, China locked down Wuhan, once the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

But how did the virus spread throughout the city? And what led to the unprecedented lockdown? CGTN launches “The Frontline: China’s Fight Against COVID-19”, a 90-minute-long two-part documentary.

In part one, the initial outbreak and the following two months are explored, and how a city of 11 million came to a standstill.

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Xi Jinping: China, EU Should Be Committed To Multilateralism, Dialogue

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China and the European Union (EU) should be committed to peaceful coexistence, openness and cooperation, multilateralism and dialogue, and consultation, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Monday, calling on the two sides to firmly promote the healthy and stable development of their comprehensive strategic partnership.

Xi made the remarks while co-hosting a China-Germany-EU leaders’ meeting on Monday evening in Beijing via video link with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the process, Xi said, adding that humanity is standing at a new crossroads.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of China-EU diplomatic ties, and this was the second video meeting between Chinese and EU leaders in less than three months. It also comes after recent visits by senior Chinese diplomats to EU member states such as Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Greece.

During the meeting, the leaders announced the official signing of the China-EU Geographical Indications (GI) Agreement.

GI is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. The agreement is expected to prevent counterfeiting of GI and enable consumers on both sides to eat and use authentic high-quality products.

The two sides also vowed to accelerate the negotiation of the China-EU investment agreement and reaffirmed the goal of concluding the negotiation by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Xi and the European leaders decided to establish a China-EU high-level dialogue on environment and climate, and one in the digital field, in order to build a green partnership and a digital cooperative partnership.

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