The head of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said she would leave quarantine on Tuesday after having been in contact with someone positive for Covid-19 a week earlier, despite EU recommendations of 14 days of self-isolation.
Von der Leyen is following Belgium’s rules, which have just been softened. But her decision to ignore the stricter advice from the bloc’s public health body could further weaken calls for a EU common approach to battle the epidemic.
Von der Leyen, who is 61 and is a physician by training, said she would remain in precautionary self-isolation until Tuesday evening, after a person she came into contact with on 29 September in a meeting in Portugal tested positive on Sunday.
She tested negative for the virus on Thursday and Monday.
A spokesman for the commission declined to comment on the EU recommendation but said the length of her quarantine was in line with Belgian rules.
Belgium, which is home to the EU headquarters, shortened mandatory quarantine from 14 to seven days on 1 October, despite having one of Europe’s highest infection rates.
That was done mostly because people struggled to respect the rule which had a heavy social and economic impact, a spokeswoman for the health ministry said.
However, the country’s decision disregarded the advice of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) which has recommended a two-week quarantine for people who have had contact with confirmed cases.
Poland suffers worst day
Poland reported its worst daily death toll on Tuesday, as the country’s health ministry said 58 people had died. The official data showed sharp increases in the number of ventilators and hospital beds devoted to Covid-19 patients.
The country reported 2,236 new cases on Tuesday, close to Saturday’s 2,367 – the worst daily total yet. With a population of 38 million, Poland has reported 104,316 cases overall and 2,717 deaths.
The ministry said that, as of Tuesday, there were 263 ventilators and 3,719 hospital beds devoted to Covid-19 patients, compared with 141 and 2,399 respectively a week ago.
Australia will spend A$4bn over the next year to pay businesses that hire those under the age of 35, the country’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has said, as part of an ambitious plan to boost jobs and growth.
Australia has been widely lauded for limiting the spread of Covid-19. But strict lockdown measures forced shut entire sectors of the economy, sending unemployment to a 22-year high of 7.5% in July.
The impact on younger Australians is even worse, with recent data showing the unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24 was hovering near 20%.
As part of the government’s hiring credit scheme, Canberra will pay businesses A$200 a week for the next a year if they employ a person under 29.
Businesses will get A$100 per week if they employ a person aged between 30 and 35. Eligible employees will have to work for at least 20 hours a week.
Chinese vaccines to be assessed – WHO
China is in talks to have its locally produced vaccines assessed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a step towards making them available for international use, a WHO official has said.
Reuters reports that hundreds of thousands of essential workers and other groups considered at high risk in China have been given locally developed vaccines even as clinical trials had not been fully completed, raising safety concerns among experts.
Socorro Escalate, the WHO’s coordinator for essential medicines and health technologies in the Western Pacific region, told a news conference conducted online that China had held preliminary discussions with WHO to have its vaccines included in a list for emergency use.
The body’s emergency use listing procedure allows unlicensed vaccines and treatments to be assessed to expedite their availability in public health emergencies. This helps assist the member states and UN procurement agencies to determine the acceptability of the vaccines. Escalante said:
Potentially through this emergency use listing the quality and safety of these vaccines and efficacy could be assessed … and then this could be made available for our licensees.
Workers were clearing undergrowth from wasteland on Tuesday to add 400 graves to the Indian capital’s oldest functioning cemetery beside the ruins of historic city walls, as the coronavirus death toll grows.
Reuters reports that, with more than 100,000 deaths nationwide, India’s tally of infections has passed 6.6m. But there is little sign of any sustained fall in daily numbers.
Since its first virus burial in April, the Islamic graveyard of Jadid Qabristan has had more than 700 funerals on a patch of adjoining wasteground designated for pandemic victims.
“We weren’t expecting that we will have to clear more land for the graves,” said the head gravedigger Mohammad Shameem, a 38-year-old in a pale green traditional tunic, who is the third generation of his family to work in cemeteries. “But bodies just keep arriving.”
A respite in infections has cut virus burials to about four a day, from 10 in the summer, but Shameem said the graveyard, founded in 1924, would soon be at capacity.
The way things are moving, I think we will clear the last remaining patch of land for graves in the coming months.
Hindus, who make up the majority of India’s population of about 1.4 billion, are typically cremated after death. But its estimated 200 million Muslims typically bury their dead.
Like the workers at a nearby crematorium for Hindus, Shameem said he often faced difficult conditions.
We are doing so much work for the last eight months, but there has been hardly any help from the government, in terms of personal protective equipment.
China and 25 other nations have called for the immediate lifting of sanctions by the US and other western countries to ensure an effective response to the pandemic, the Associated Press (AP) has reported.
Speaking on behalf of the 26 countries at a meeting of the UN general assembly’s human rights committee, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said unilateral coercive measures violate the UN charter, multilateralism, and impede human rights by hindering the well-being of the population in the affected countries and undermining the right to health.
Global solidarity and international cooperation are the most powerful weapons in overcoming the pandemic, the joint statement said.
We seize this opportunity to call for the complete and immediate lifting of unilateral coercive measures, in order to ensure the full, effective and efficient response of all members of the international community to Covid-19.
Among the countries that backed the statement were half a dozen that face sanctions by the US, European Union or other western nations, including Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.
The statement notes that both the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and the body’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet have called for the waiving of sanctions that undermine a country’s capacity to respond to the pandemic.
The AP said there was no immediate response to an email seeking comment from the US mission.
Germany’s UN ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, addressed the sanctions issue at a security council meeting on Syria in May saying EU sanctions do not affect the delivery of humanitarian aid or medical goods to limit the effects of Covid-19, citing specific EU guidance on ensuring aid gets to the Syrian people.