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WHO begins initiative to speed coronavirus vaccines, diagnoses

By Don Jacobson & Darryl Coote
WHO begins initiative to speed coronavirus vaccines, diagnoses
Bicyclists wear face masks in Beijing, China, on Thursday. Worldwide, there have so far been nearly 200,000 deaths since the coronavirus outbreak began and more than 2.7 million cases. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

April 24 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization announced a global initiative Friday intended to speed up development of coronavirus vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

World leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined in a teleconference hosted by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to begin the "landmark collaboration."

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Called the COVID19 Tools Accelerator, the effort merges "combined power" of several organizations to work with "speed and scale," Ghebreyesus said.

"Each of us are doing great work, but we cannot work alone," he added. "We're coming together to work in new ways to identify challenges and solutions together."

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The WHO leader said the new tool will promote "equitable distribution" of new vaccines and diagnostic tools to ensure all will have access to "all the tools to defeat COVID-19."

Several European leaders lauded the effort, including Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Worldwide, there have so far been nearly 200,000 deaths since the outbreak began and more than 2.7 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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In China, health officials said Friday there are no more seriously ill coronavirus patients in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic.

The National Health Commission said the last Wuhan patient in serious condition recovered and left the hospital. No new cases were reported in Hubei province. Overall, six new cases were reported in China.

Earlier, the Saudi presidency of the Group of 20 nations called on the international community Friday to urgently fund an emergency response to the crisis.

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G20 Sherpa Fahad Almubarak warned that less than $2 billion of an $8 billion target set by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board has been raised.

The board set the goal in March to fund countries with weak health systems and for the WHO to coordinate worldwide efforts to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte extended a lockdown in Manila until May 15, his office said. The quarantine was to expire April 30. Duterte also expanded the lockdown to several other provinces.

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"If there is no deterioration, [the lockdown] will be relaxed leading to normalization," a spokesperson said.

The United Arab Emirates began to loosen restrictions Friday by opening restaurants, malls, markets and other commercial outlets, and allowed residents to leave their homes during the day without a permit.

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The UAE, which has fewer than 9,000 cases, relaxed the measures to coincide with the Ramadan holiday. Officials added, however, that all gatherings are still banned and those who violate guidelines will be fined.

In Indonesia, the Transport Ministry canceled all passenger travel beginning Friday.

Restrictions on land transportation and passenger flights will be in place until the start of June, and sea travel will be barred until at least June 8.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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