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Coronavirus digest: WHO unveils new team to probe pandemic

  • October 14, 2021

The World Health Organization on Wednesday unveiled a team of 26 scientists to revive the stalled investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

The group is also set to investigate new pathogens and ways to prevent future pandemics.

A growing number of high-risk pathogens have appeared or reappeared in recent years, including MERS, bird flu viruses, Lassa, Marburg and Ebola. The WHO announced earlier this year that it would set up a Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).

“The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while SARS-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks.”

The team’s members include Christian Drosten, the head of Berlin’s Institute of Virology, and Yungui Yang of the Beijing Institute of Genomics.

Here are the latest major coronavirus developments from around the world:


The United States Food and Drug Administration is wrestling with whether and when to offer another dose of the single-shot Johnson Johnson vaccine, after a new study showed that using a different brand as a booster could be more effective.

In an online review, FDA scientists said they didn’t reach a firm conclusion over whether there is enough evidence for boosters, citing shortcomings in Johnson Johnson’s data and little information on protection against the highly contagious delta variant. Next week, the FDA will make a final decision on authorizing those boosters and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will debate who should actually get them.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has confirmed he will not get vaccinated against the virus, having previously said he would be the “last Brazilian” to do so.

The far-right leader has stirred controversy over his handling of the pandemic, and for initially downplaying the seriousness of the virus despite catching it himself. He once claimed that the Pfizer vaccine could turn people into crocodiles.

“I’ve decided not to get vaccinated. I’m looking at new studies, I already have the highest immunization, why would I get vaccinated?” the 66-year-old said late Tuesday night in an interview with Jovem Pan radio. “It would be the same as betting 10 reais on the lottery to win two. It doesn’t make sense.”


Russia is ready to provide up to 300 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to the UN-backed COVAX initiative, a top Russian official promoting the shot said. 

Sputnik V has been authorized for use in 70 countries around the world despite not being approved by the World Health Organization even for emergency use.

Production issues have also fanned customers’ concerns worldwide. Some countries, especially in Latin America, have expressed fears lately that they are not getting the vaccine’s second shot in time to properly inoculate people from COVID-19.

Romanian doctors have penned an open letter called a “cry of despair” as the country’s overwhelmed and deteriorating health care system copes with a record surge of infections and deaths.

The College of Physicians of Bucharest, a nongovernmental organization representing doctors in Romania’s capital, said in a letter addressed to Romanians that the medical system has “reached the limit” and that low vaccination rates reveal a “failure of trust” between doctors and the population.

“We are desperate because every day we lose hundreds of patients who die in Romanian hospitals,” the letter said. “We are desperate, because, unfortunately, we have heard too many times: I can’t breathe … I’m not vaccinated.”


Nigeria will require civil servants to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to gain access to their offices from the beginning of December.

“An appropriate service wide advisory/circular will be issued to guide the process,” Boss Mustapha, chairman of the presidential steering committee on COVID-19, said in a statement.

Nigeria has administered around 5 million vaccine doses to its 200 million citizens and is in the process of distributing more. The country, which has not tested widely for the virus, has recorded over 208,000 infections and 2,756 deaths.

lc/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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