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US-China feud takes over WHO meeting, Syrian refugee aids UK fight, and other Covid news

As the Covid-19 pandemic shows no signs of letting up, ThePrint highlights the most important stories on the crisis from across the globe.

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New Delhi: The novel coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate several countries across the world — the latest count is over 48.94 lakh cases and more than 3.20 lakh deaths.

The US-China feud escalated at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting, and US President Donald Trump is now threatening to permanently cut the international organisation’s funding. In other news, many countries that took loans from China are now struggling to pay them back. Elsewhere, a Syrian refugee is on the front lines aiding the battle against the coronavirus pandemic in UK.

ThePrint brings you the most important global stories on the coronavirus pandemic and why they matter.

US-China spat spills into WHO meeting

The escalating US-China feud, over the latter’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, played out at a WHO meeting Monday, according to Reuters.

The World Health Meeting, an annual decision making meeting of the WHO, which is being held virtually this year, was meant to chart the future course of the global coronavirus response but soon devolved into a war of words between US and China. 

The day began with Chinese President Xi Jinping announcing a $2 billion donation to aid the fight against coronavirus and also dispatched medical supplies and doctors to African and other developing nations.

Later in the day, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II used the WHO meeting to directly take on China via videotaped remarks.

“In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one-member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world,” said Azar in an unmistakable reference to China.

By the end of the day, back in Washington DC, US President Donald Trump who had recused himself from the meeting, called WHO a “puppet of China” and put a deadline to US’ temporary withdrawal of funds to WHO, saying that he would make a decision about permanently cutting off the funding in 30 days.

Meanwhile, amid mounting global pressure, the WHO has agreed to facilitate an independent review into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic as soon as possible.

Also read: With new WHO leadership role, India can’t fool partners with balancing acts

Poor countries might have a Chinese debt problem

Several countries that had received hefty loans from China are now struggling to pay them back due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and are asking Chinese authorities to restructure billions of dollars of loans, The New York Times is reporting. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, and a number of African countries have made such calls to China.

“With each request, China’s drive to become the developing world’s biggest banker is backfiring. Over the last two decades it unleashed a global lending spree, showering countries with hundreds of billions of dollars, in an effort to expand its influence and become a political and economic superpower. Borrowers put up ports, mines and other crown jewels as collateral,” notes the report.

“Now, as the world economy reels, countries are increasingly telling Beijing they can’t pay the money back,” it adds.

France and Germany’s one-time €500bn bailout for Europe

In a major development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a 500 billion euro recovery fund for distressed economies within the European Union, reports the Financial Times.

For Germany, this is a major break from the past, where the political consensus has squarely been on the side of maintaining a fiscal surplus. However, Merkel categorically described this as a “one-off effort”.

“The funds would be raised by the European Commission borrowing on capital markets — which to date has only been done on a relatively modest scale — and would be used to support EU spending rather than loans to national governments,” notes FT.

Also read: Bushmeat could cause next global pandemic. Airlines, border security must be on alert

Curious case of South Asia’s ‘low’ coronavirus deaths

Despite relatively poor healthcare standards, dense populations and often shabby infrastructure, South Asian countries have witnessed lower Covid-19 mortality rates as compared to other, more prosperous countries in the world. A report by Al Jazeera tries to find reasons for this variance.

“In South Asian countries, those rates have been far lower. India has a CFR (case fatality ratio) of 3.3 percent, Pakistan 2.2 percent, Bangladesh 1.5 percent and Sri Lanka 1 percent,” notes the report.

“Doctors and scientists say there are a number of possible explanations for the discrepancy in how COVID-19 is affecting populations in different parts of the world, whether due to varying demographics, different levels of exposure to similar viruses or even incomplete data on mortality in some countries resulting in faulty conclusions,” it adds.

Coronavirus crisis could help ease Gulf tensions: UAE Minister

The coronavirus crisis would leave the Gulf countries — which includes the six Gulf Arab states and Iran — “weaker, poorer, and damaged”, United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State Dr Anwar Gargash told the BBC. 

However, this would create a window to facilitate regional peace by de-escalating geopolitical tensions, the minister added.

“With the virus being a common enemy for everyone, Dr Gargash said he was hopeful it could lead to a de-escalation of some of the regional disputes and tensions that have dogged the region,” notes the report.

From Yemen to Iraq, the Saudi Arabia/UAE and Iran rivalry has played out in the form of proxy wars across the region, making the greater part of Middle East vulnerable to several geopolitical flashpoints.

Also read: India gives $2 million aid to UN agency working for Palestinian refugees’ welfare

Mexican president calls to reopen country, local leaders push back 

Many local governments across Mexico are criticising President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “call to reopen the economy in some 300 townships that do not have active cases of coronavirus”, the Globe and Mail is reporting. These governments say that they would rather wait until June before resuming normal economic activities.

“Mexico, which has reported nearly 50,000 total cases and some 5,000 deaths, has seen a steep climb in new infections. Front-line doctors fear that a premature reopening could lead to a second wave of infections — a scenario that recently played out in Chile and Guatemala, where governments had to roll back reopening plans,” reports the Canadian newspaper.

Nevertheless, Obrador is pressing to lift the restrictions and resume economic activity.

In the southern state of Oaxaca, which has more than 200 infection-free townships, Governor Alejandro Murat said in a video address Sunday that after consultations with other communities, officials decided to wait until June 1 to begin evaluating whether to resume economic activity,” the report adds.

Asia faces financial health check after going big on stimulus

Many Asian countries have responded to the coronavirus-led economic fallout by severely loosening their purse strings, but this is threatening years of monetary and fiscal policy progress these nations have made, the Nikkei Asian Review reports.

“Economists agree swift action is essential. Credit rating agencies, however, have their eyes on national fiscal health. Policymakers thus have to spend their conjured funds wisely to avoid loading future generations with perpetual debt while dodging damaging short-term credit downgrades,” states the report. 

“The big three raters — Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch — have yet to downgrade the sovereign rating of any large Asian economy, but outlooks have been lowered for Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, countries with experience weathering wrenching economic turmoil,” it adds.

Also read: China slaps duties on Australian barley for 5 years as tensions over coronavirus escalate

Syrian refugee on UK’s coronavirus front lines

A Syrian refugee, Hassan Akkad, who is also a BAFTA-winning filmmaker and was tortured in Syria, is now on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, Al Jazeera is reporting. 

He is helping clean Covid-19 wards at the Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, London.

The Damascus native used to be an English teacher back in Syria and had joined the protests when they broke out nearly a decade ago. He was jailed thrice and was tortured on the first occasion. Eventually, when he got out, Akkad was banned from teaching and he soon fled to London.

“In September 2015, after a punishing 87-day journey across Europe, he arrived in London,” notes the report.

“He filmed the dangerous voyage, including the moment everyone on board his packed dinghy, along with children, nearly drowned. His footage was included in a documentary series — Exodus: Our Journey to Europe — which went on to win a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award,” it adds.

For the past five years, he had been working for a film and TV production house that works for refugee advocacy, but almost two months ago, as the pandemic struck, Akkad decided to extend his help.

What else we are reading:

In depth: Controlling coronavirus may become like whack-a-mole: Nikkei Asian Review

Chile protesters clash with police over lockdown: BBC

Five robots that hope to save the US food supply chain: Financial Times

What’s going wrong in Sweden’s care homes?: BBC

As flying returns, jetmakers seek to quell fears over cabin air: Reuters

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