US pledges $1 bn for coronavirus vaccine as risks grow

Monitoring Desk

WASHINGTON: The US President Donald Trump will seek $2.5 billion from Congress to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

Countries around the world are stepping up efforts to prevent a pandemic of the flu-like virus that originated from China late last year and has now infected more than 80,000 people, 10 times more cases than the SARS coronavirus.

The White House said more than $1 billion of the requested virus budget would go toward developing a vaccine, while other funds would be used for therapeutics and the stockpiling of personal protective equipment such as masks.

The US and South Korean militaries said on Monday they may cut back joint training due to mounting concerns about the spreading coronavirus, in one of the first concrete signs of the virus’s fallout on global US military activities.

The disclosure came during a visit to the Pentagon by South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, who acknowledged following talks with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper that 13 South Korean troops had tested positive for the virus.

“We do regard this situation as a serious one,” Jeong told a news conference, adding he had suspended military vacations and off-base leave.

“We have also limited their movement across the nation.”

PEAK IN CHINA

China reported a rise in new coronavirus cases in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, on Tuesday while the rest of the country saw a fourth-straight day of declines.

Hubei had 499 new confirmed cases on Feb. 24, the National Health Commission said, up from 398 a day earlier and driven mainly by new infections in the provincial capital of Wuhan.

Mainland China reported 508 new cases, up from 409 on Feb. 23, bringing the total number to 77,658.

The epidemic in China peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been declining since, said the World Health Organization (WHO). China’s actions of locking down cities and severely restricting the movement of people has probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, it said.

“They’re at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in,” said head of the WHO delegation in China, Bruce Aylward.

Italy on Monday became the new frontline in the fight against the coronavirus with 220 cases reported from just three on Friday. The death toll in Italy stands at seven.

Italian authorities have sealed off the worst-affected towns, closed schools and halted the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.

Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran where the toll was 12 dead and 61 infected. Most of the Iran infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the word “pandemic” did yet not fit the facts.

“We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic,” he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the world was not witnessing an uncontained spread or large-scale deaths.

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to about 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

Courtesy: (Reuters)