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Dr. Anthony Fauci says new virus in China has traits of 2009 H1N1 and 1918 pandemic flu

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White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that U.S. health officials are keeping an eye on a new strain of flu carried by pigs in China that has characteristics of the 2009 H1N1 virus and 1918 pandemic flu.

The virus, which scientists are calling “G4 EA H1N1,” has not yet been shown to infect humans but it is exhibiting “reassortment capabilities,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during a hearing. 

“In other words, when you get a brand new virus that turns out to be a pandemic virus it’s either due to mutations and/or the reassortment or exchanges of genes,” he told lawmakers. “And they’re seeing virus in swine, in pigs now, that have characteristics of the 2009 H1N1, of the original 1918, which many of our flu viruses have remnants of that in it, as well as segments from other hosts, like swine.”

The H1N1 swine flu and 1918 pandemic flu were both considered horrific viruses that spread across the globe.

The H1N1 swine flu emerged in Mexico in April 2009, infecting 60.8 million people in the United States alone and at least 700 million worldwide. An estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people died from the virus across the globe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is now seen as one of a variety of seasonal flu viruses. 

The 1918 flu, which Fauci has often compared to Covid-19, is estimated to have killed between 30 million and 50 million people, according to the CDC. More than 20 million people died in World War I, by comparison. 

The new strain that is spreading in pig farms in China has been identified as having “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” scientists say.

Fauci said Tuesday there’s always “the possibility that you might have another swine flu-type outbreak as we had in 2009.”

“It’s something that still is in the stage of examination,” he said. It’s not “an immediate threat where you’re seeing infections, but it’s something we need to keep our eye on, just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu.”

Fauci’s comments came as the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across the U.S., with the seven-day average of new cases growing by 5% or more in at least 40 states, including Arizona, Texas, Florida and Oklahoma, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Public health officials and physicians have criticized the Trump administration’s lack of coordinated response to the virus. In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has downplayed the virus, saying the U.S. is nearing the end of the pandemic, contrary to experts in his own administration.

Earlier this month, Fauci said Covid-19 turned out to be his “worst nightmare” come to life as the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across the globe.

He said the virus is “very different” from other outbreaks such as Ebola and HIV. The virus jumped from an animal host and has a high degree of transmissibility and mortality, he said. It is historically one of the worst pandemics the world has ever experienced, he said, adding people have compared it to the 1918 flu.

First detected in Wuhan, China, about six months ago, the new coronavirus has already infected more than 10.4 million people across the globe, killing more than 500,000.

On Tuesday, Fauci told lawmakers that he is concerned about the rise in new cases in places such as Texas and Florida. 

He said reopening schools in the fall season will depend on the dynamics of the outbreak and the particular location of the school in question. 

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Modi’s Weibo account removed at request of Indian embassy in China

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talks to Chinese President Xi Jingping during the BRICS meeting in Goa, India, on October 16, 2016.

Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images

China’s Twitter like service, Weibo, has removed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account at the request of the Indian embassy in Beijing. 

The unusual move comes amid rising tensions between India and China over their disputed border high in the Western Himalayas and a clash earlier this month that left 20 Indian soldiers dead

India retaliated by banning 59 Chinese apps, including high-profile ones such as TikTok and WeChat. New Delhi is also reportedly weighing whether to let Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei participate in the rollout of the country’s next-generation 5G mobile networks. 

Weibo announced late on Wednesday that it had received a request from the Indian embassy in China to close Modi’s account.

“Weibo received an application from the Indian embassy in China, which said: ‘(I) hope to have the official Weibo account of Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed from the platform,'” it said.

The Chinese microblogging platform complied with the request and announced that: “Weibo has closed what was certified as the account of the Prime Minister of India.”

The Indian embassy in Beijing was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Modi has been on Weibo since 2015 but posted quite infrequently. 

His first ever post was written in Chinese and translated as: “Hello China! Looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo.” 

Because social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are effectively blocked in China, Weibo is a major way to communicate with a Chinese audience. 

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UK extends visa rights to Hong Kongers, offers path to citizenship

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In this photo taken in Hong Kong on June 3, 2020, Reese Tan, a 25-year old tutor, poses with his British National (Overseas), or BN(O), in his favorite part of the city and the place he would miss the most if he leaves, the bustling shopping and eating district of Mongkok.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

The U.K. is offering around 3 million Hong Kong residents a path to British citizenship after a new national security law was imposed in the city, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday.

That announcement came after Beijing passed and implemented a new national security law in Hong Kong. Raab called the move “grave and deeply disturbing.”

“The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitute a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher guarantees Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework. The city was a British colony for over 150 years before being transferred back to China in 1997.

The new national security law is spurring concerns about excessive oversight from Beijing and eroding rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

About 3 million Hong Kongers are eligible for British National (Overseas) passports. There were 357,156 BN(O) passport holders as of April 17.

The new measures extend the visa rights of BN(O) passport holders, allowing them to stay in the U.K. for five years with the ability to work or study. That’s far greater than the six months previously allowed.

After five years, the passport holders will be able to apply for settled status and citizenship, according to information on the U.K. government website.

“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” said Raab in Parliament.

“We want a positive relationship with China. But, we will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people,” he added.

The U.S. and Taiwan are also looking into helping those who want to leave Hong Kong.

In the U.S., a bipartisan bill known as the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act” would grant Hong Kongers priority refugee status. Introduced in both chambers of Congress this week, the bill would enable those who fear political persecution from China to more quickly leave the city.

Taiwan on Wednesday set up an office to help resettle fleeing Hong Kongers.

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Pakistan central bank governor on economic challenges during coronavirus pandemic

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The coronavirus pandemic is a public health crisis and until it’s addressed, there will most likely be economic hardships ahead, Pakistan’s central bank governor told CNBC. 

Pakistan has reported more than 213,000 cases of infection and nearly 4,400 people have died.

“We are very concerned. First and foremost, this is a public health crisis — we have to remind ourselves of that,” Reza Baqir said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Wednesday.

“And, only on a secondary basis, then it becomes an economic crisis. Until the public health crisis is addressed, we should continue to expect challenges on the economic front,” he added. 

For countries like Pakistan, the trade-off between lives and livelihood is a very real trade-off.

Reza Baqir

Pakistan’s central bank governor

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government lifted a two-month-long lockdown in early May, a few weeks before an important festival. 

As millions were struggling with starvation during that time of drastically reduced economic activity, the country’s Covid-19 cases surged once the lockdown was eased, Reuters reported

Lockdowns are a ‘luxury’

At the moment, the government is targeting coronavirus hotspots in the country and locking those areas down. 

Baqir explained that prolonged national lockdowns are a “luxury of the rich.” 

“For countries like Pakistan, the trade-off between lives and livelihood is a very real trade-off,” he said. The country has many day laborers who earn daily wages and lockdown would abruptly cut off their source of income. Without having a savings pool to dip into, many of those people would be looking at starvation, according to Baqir. 

Policemen put barbed wire as an market area is sealed by the authorities in Rawalpindi on July 1, 2020, as COVID-19 coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Farooq Naeem | AFP | Getty Images

Pakistan has limited fiscal policy options to help the economy weather the coronavirus crisis. Considering the country’s relatively large public debt, excessive government spending to boost the economy will be difficult.

On the monetary policy side, Baqir said the central bank injected so far about $7 billion, or 2.5% of GDP, in terms of liquidity support to households and businesses.

The central bank last week slashed its monetary policy rate by 100 basis points to 7% — State Bank of Pakistan has cut interest rates by 625 basis points since March when the coronavirus infection began spreading through the country. Baqir told CNBC the move was in tandem with the fall in inflation, from above 14% in January to around 8% currently. 

“There is no doubt that we face grave challenges,” Baqir said.

He outlined the three considerations in Pakistan’s response to the crisis. 

First, he highlighted that before the virus struck, the country’s economic fundamentals was improving – such as bringing down its current account deficit, which was a core part of its economic problems. Second, its fiscal and monetary policies are “prudent,” and finally, Pakistan is working with international financial organizations like the IMF and World Bank to keep its economy afloat. 

“I think the smart lockdown strategy of locking down hot spots in cities so far is working reasonably well, and we are confident that with the combination of measures – for us on the economic side, we should come out of this crisis largely unscathed,” Baqir said. 

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