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How Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam contain the coronavirus outbreak

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Students eat their lunch on desks with plastic partitions as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus at Dajia Elementary School in Taipei, Taiwan on April 29, 2020.

Sam Yeh | AFP | Getty Images

Several Asian economies appear to have contained the spread of the coronavirus within their borders, with the number of daily new cases slowing to a trickle in the last few weeks.

That’s a feat that few globally have achieved even as an increasing number of countries and territories started winding down containment measures to get their economies going again.

Public health experts have warned governments against resting on their laurels because new outbreaks could resurface even after the virus appears to be contained — as seen in China and South Korea.

Still, some Asian economies such as Taiwan and Hong Kong have for many days over the past month reported no new infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Those economies arrived at that stage via different routes, but experts pointed out that their governments were generally quick to enact containment measures and appeared to have learned from their experience handling the SARS outbreak nearly 20 years ago.

SARS, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, first emerged in China in 2002 before affecting nearly 30 countries and territories, most of them in Asia, according to the World Health Organization.  

The coronavirus disease, which has been formally named Covid-19, was also first detected in China. Since its emergence last December, the virus has infected more than 4 million people across 188 countries and territories, according to Hopkins.  

Taiwan

  • Population size: Roughly 24 million
  • Covid-19 tally: 440 confirmed cases, 395 recoveries and seven deaths, according to Hopkins data as of May 17

Taiwan, a self-ruled island across a narrow strait from mainland China, is one economy that has avoided a large outbreak of the coronavirus disease. That’s despite its extensive air links with the mainland and not having access to vital information from the WHO.

A widely cited report published in March in the Journal of the American Medical Association attributed Taiwan’s ability to contain its outbreak partly to its use of big data and technology.

Specifically, the ways that Taiwan — which China claims as its province — uses technology include:

  • Integrating its national health insurance and immigration and customs databases, which allowed authorities to identify potential cases based on their travel history and clinical symptoms;
  • Requiring travelers to the island to complete an online health declaration form prior to their departure or upon arrival, so that they can be separated based on their risks of infection at immigration.

Those effort came on top of the Taiwanese government’s early decisions to close borders, ban exports of face masks and increase mask production domestically. Authorities encouraged the use of masks to reduce transmission — months before many others, including the WHO, recommended the same.

The effectiveness of those measures allowed Taiwan to avoid locking down its economy, with businesses largely operating as usual. Schools were closed for an extended winter break but reopened in late February with additional precautions in place.

Hong Kong

  • Population size: Around 7.5 million
  • Covid-19 tally: 1,055 confirmed cases, 1,024 recoveries and four deaths, according to Hopkins data as of May 17

Hong Kong’s government was relatively quick in tightening border controls, implementing strict quarantine, and introducing extensive social-distancing measures such as shutting government offices, closing schools and canceling large-scale events.

Measures were tightened when the city – a special administration region of China — experienced a surge in cases in March due to residents who returned from overseas. Authorities expanded Hong Kong’s testing capacity and closed gyms and restaurants — but stopped short of a lockdown or stay-at-home order.

Hong Kong has one of the highest testing rates in Asia. The 168,291 tests that it’s estimated to have conducted translates to around 22,448 tests per 1 million people, according to statistics site Worldometer.

But some experts said Hong Kong owes some of its success so far at containing its outbreak to its people who — among other things — started wearing protective masks early on even without any official directive to do so.

“Researchers studying Hong Kong’s approach have already found that swift surveillance, quarantine and social-distancing measures, such as the use of face masks and school closures, helped to cut coronavirus transmission,” read an article published in scientific journal Nature.

Earlier this month, the city started to reopen schools and other venues such as gyms, cinemas, and bars and pubs. The government also eased the limit on public gatherings from a group of four to eight.

Vietnam

  • Population size: More than 97 million
  • Covid-19 tally: 320 confirmed cases, 260 recoveries and no deaths, according to Hopkins data as of May 17

As a frontier economy that shares a border with China, Vietnam has punched above its weight in the way it responded to the outbreak, experts said.

The country was among the earliest to tighten border controls in January. The government also imposed large-scale quarantines, as well as closing schools and some businesses such as gyms and restaurants very early on.

Experts said it helped that Vietnam is a single party and “pervasive surveillance” state with an informant culture. That allowed authorities to effectively monitor, identify and isolate potential cases without having to spend its limited resources on mass testing programs such as those in South Korea and Singapore.

Despite the low number of infections, the government ordered a nationwide partial lockdown on April 1 that required people to stay indoors, suspended public transportation and limited gatherings. But it was the first Southeast Asian country to start easing those restrictions from late last month.

But in recent days, Vietnam reported a spike in new cases involving citizens placed under quarantine after returning from overseas.

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WHO says 2 million coronavirus deaths is ‘not impossible’ as world approaches 1 million

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As the global death toll from the coronavirus approaches 1 million people, the World Health Organization said Friday that it’s “not impossible” that number could double if countries don’t uniformly work to suppress the virus’ spread.

“It’s certainly unimaginable, but it’s not impossible, because if we look at losing 1 million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting vaccines out there in the next nine months, it’s a big task for everyone involved,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said in regard to whether the coronavirus death toll could rise to 2 million people. 

“The real question is: Are we prepared, collectively, to do what it takes to avoid that number?” Ryan said. 

Since the coronavirus emerged from Wuhan, China, late last year, it has infected more than 32 million worldwide and has killed at least 983,900 people as of Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Covid-19 fatality rates have slowly declined over the course of the pandemic because scientists and health experts have made strides in treating seriously ill patients through the better use of oxygen and the steroid dexamethasone, among other therapeutics, Ryan said during a press briefing at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva. 

However, 2 million or more coronavirus deaths could be reported before a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available if world leaders don’t better implement lifesaving measures and “evolve the nature and scale and intensity of our cooperation,” Ryan warned. 

“The time for action is now on every single aspect of this strategic approach,” Ryan said. “Not just test and trace, not just clinical care, not just social distancing, not just hygiene, not just masks, not just vaccines. Do it all. And unless we do it all, [2 million deaths] are not only imaginable but unfortunately and sadly very likely.” 

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the Covid-19 pandemic, said that several countries in Europe are reporting an “increasing trend in cases.” That increase is partially due to better testing, but there’s also been a “worrying” rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions, she said.

Coronavirus cases were growing by 5% or more compared with a week ago, based on a seven-day average to smooth out the reporting, in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, according to a CNBC analysis of Hopkins data as of Thursday. 

“We’re at the end of September, not even toward the end of September, and we haven’t even started our flu season yet,” Van Kerkhove said. “What we are worried about is the possibility that these trends are going in the wrong direction.”

The United Nations’ health organization is working to provide Covid-19 vaccines to populations across the globe through the Covid-19 vaccine global access facility, or COVAX. The facility aims to work with vaccine manufacturers to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as older people and health-care workers.

As of Friday, 159 countries had committed to joining COVAX, but the final count could be “well over” 170 countries and economies, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor to the director-general. 

The Trump administration has previously said it doesn’t plan to join the initiative. Aylward said WHO officials remain “in discussion” with China, which also hasn’t joined. 

“Whether another million people die of Covid-19 is not a function of whether or not we have a vaccine. It’s a function of whether or not we put the tools, approaches and knowledge we have today to work to save lives and prevent transmission,” Aylward said.

“If we start thinking about it as a function of the vaccine, people will unnecessarily and unacceptably die as we wait for a vaccine,” he said. “We should not be waiting.” 

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Democrats prepare new relief bill

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Alphabet settles shareholder lawsuit

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Alphabet has reached a settlement on a shareholder lawsuit that accused the board of allegedly mishandling sexual misconduct by its executives.

Execs will not be able to receive severance or amend their stock sale plans while they are while they are subject to investigations or a lawsuit for sexual misconduct, according to a summary of the settlement provided by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The settlement also eliminates mandatory arbitration and limits Google’s use of non-disclosure agreements for employees involved in these cases.

It also includes a $310 million commitment to fund and create a diversity, equity and inclusion advisory council comprised of outside experts.

In a post announcing the settlement, Google’s head of people operations Eileen Naughton said the company is committing to five new guiding principles and a list of detailed changes. 

Among those changes:

  • The Settlement prevents employees with 10b5-1 stock purchase plans from amending them while under investigation for sexual misconduct or harassment. This would prevent, for example, an executive under investigation from accelerating sales of stock.
  • Alphabet will commit $310 million to fund the DEI Council and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives over 10 years.
  • The Advisory Council includes outside experts including Judge Nancy Gertner, former EEOC Commissioner Fred Alvarez, and employment lawyer Grace Speights as well as internal leaders, including CEO Sundar Pichai who will participate for the first year.
  • The settlement requires Alphabet to amend its leadership charters for its Leadership Development and Compensation Committee — the committee that approved payouts to former Google executives Andy Rubin and Amit Singhal — to oversee data regarding reports and resolutions of claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It will also need to report to the board any compensation decisions for senior executives who may have engaged with claims of misconduct. Google’s chief diversity officer will also have access to misconduct allegation data and add it to its annual diversity reports.
  • On limiting Google’s use of non-disclosure agreements, employees of Alphabet, including its Other Bets segments, who settle claims will be able to discuss facts and circumstances of alleged harassment, discrimination or wrongdoing.
  • Google said it will also create a new “Employee Disciplinary Committee” to review the investigative team’s recommendations prior to taking disciplinary actions.
  • It will also expand its coaching for executives, and will emphasize that senior leaders will be held to a higher standard, “while ensuring fairness and consistency by having the relevant investigative team continue its existing practice of both formally calibrating corrective action recommendations and recommending a single disciplinary outcome,” plaintiffs’ attorneys stated.

“Over the past several years, we have been taking a harder line on inappropriate conduct, and have worked to provide better support to the people who report it,” Naughton stated. “Protecting our workplace and culture means getting both of these things right, and in recent years we’ve worked hard to set and uphold higher standards for the whole company.”

In early 2019, attorneys filed a lawsuit against Alphabet’s board of director’s on behalf of a company shareholder for allegedly shielding senior execs from accusations of sexual misconduct, claiming a breach of fiduciary duty, abuse of control, unjust enrichment and waste of corporate assets.

Google reportedly paid Android leader Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package, despite asking for his resignation after finding sexual misconduct claims against him credible, which led to a global walkout of employees and the amendment of some of its policies relating to sexual misconduct in 2018.

The settlement comes nearly one year after the board of Google parent company Alphabet formed a Special Litigation Committee of independent directors last year and hired the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore to conduct an investigation into sexual misconduct by executives, CNBC first reported last November.  

The investigation encompassed behavior by Alphabet’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond — one of the highest paid executives at the time — who ended up retiring from the company shortly after, in January.

In a statement, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said:

“This settlement is likely to have lasting, long-term success in bringing about major, transformative changes at Alphabet because, subsequent to the filing of Plaintiffs’ lawsuit, many of the enablers and perpetrators were forced to step back or leave the Company altogether: Chief Legal Officer David Drummond—whose unpunished violations of the company’s relationships policy epitomized Google’s double-standard—resigned, and Eric Schmidt—whose open affairs and flouting of company policies set the tone for Google’s executives—left the Board.”

A spokesperson for Schmidt declined to comment. Drummond could not be immediately reached.

WATCH NOW: Why Alphabet’s investigating executives over inappropriate relationships

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