Coronavirus live news: 1m tests to be rolled out across Africa, as WHO warns over Europe situation | World news

Closer international cooperation is needed to coordinate the fight against Covid-19 with greater involvement by the United Nations, international law experts have urged, writes Owen Bowcott, the Guardian’s legal correspondent.

The former legal director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Professor Gian Luca Burci, and the prominent international lawyer Professor Philippe Sands QC have called for a better alert system and more information sharing.

While accepting that now, in the middle of a pandemic, is not the time to allocate blame, they questioned whether China should have sounded the alarm earlier and doubted whether there is a legal basis for President Trump unilaterally withdrawing US funding for the WHO.

In a webinar organised by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law held on Thursday afternoon, Professor Burci said:

There’s enough evidence to suggest that China knew and should have known earlier…. The WHO acted fairly quickly and quite diligently.

More developed countries should have known that a virus of this nature could spread internationally and it was [their] responsibility [to prepare].

The lessons from this crisis is to learn planning for the next one .. There should be a more consultative mechanisms where states sit together. There needs to be cooperation. There should be a blueprint for working together. There’s a real place for the UN rather than [working] through a sectoral organisation. We need a politically effective forum for consultation.

The number of diseases spread internationally is expanding. So this is our future and we may not have long time to prepare. Most of the diseases [like HIV or Ebola] have had an animal origin.

In terms of Trump’s funding withdrawal, Burci said: “There’s no legal basis for a unilateral decision by the US to stop funding.” He said there is a dispute resolution in article 56 of the International Health Regulations but it has never been tested.

Professor Sands agreed that there is a need for improved international cooperation at a time of populist politics but any inquiry into the Covid-19 outbreak should be conducted by a panel of independent academics, he sugested, rather than the UN security council which is vulnerable to vetoes from its members such as China, the US or the UK.

Taiwan, not a member of WHO, he pointed out has been a model in terms of country responses: it was testing incoming passengers from Wuhan even before China declared an outbreak on December 31st last year. Coronavirus is a wake-up call for larger threats such as climate change, Sands added.

UK lockdown extended for three weeks

Britain’s lockdown is to continue for at least another three weeks because experts still cannot be sure the coronavirus epidemic has peaked, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has said, writes Rowena Mason, the Guardian’s deputy political editor, in London.

Raab, who is deputising for the prime minister while he recovers from Covid-19, said there was hope that the number of new infections was no longer rising in the community daily but there was less certainty about some hospitals and care homes.

However people would have to stick with the instructions to “stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives” until scientists and medics could be sure the outbreak was under control.

“The worst thing we could do is ease up too soon. It would be the worst outcome not just for public health but the economy and the country as a whole,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak in Canada’s long term care homes has become so grave that one province has repeatedly asked for the military to be deployed, prime minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, Leyland Cecco reports from Toronto.

Calling it an “unusual request”, Trudeau said the officials in Quebec have sent three requests to the federal government for help.

“We know this is a serious situation if Quebec is asking the federal government for help. We will do this as quickly as possible so we can send them the support they need,” said Trudeau. But he also said that while the military had a number of doctors, he wasn’t sure if troops were well-suited to aid in care homes.

The hardest-hit province in the country, Quebec is grappling with a mounting death toll among its elderly population and a shortage of workers for retirement homes. On Wednesday, premier François Legault said an additional healthcare workers were needed, calling the situation a “national emergency”.

Centre d’hebergement de la Piniere, an elderly care home affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Laval, Quebec

Centre d’hebergement de la Piniere, an elderly care home affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Laval, Quebec Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

There are more than 14,000 cases recorded in the province with at least 487 deaths. Across the country, nearly half of the 1,048 deaths from Covid-19 have been in long term care home.

Ontario, the country’s most populous province, is also grappling with outbreaks in its care homes. On Wednesday, premier Doug Ford announced new directives to prevent care aides and nursing staff from working at multiple locations.

The prime minister admitted the impact to seniors residences has been “more severe” than the government had hoped. “The conditions are getting more and more difficult.”

More good news for Greece on the Covid-19 front, as research showed that when it comes to containing the deadly disease it is the best performing country in Europe, writes Helena Smith in Athens.

In what has been described as ground-breaking analysis of the best and worst performing countries on the continent, Greece has outstripped all others in both dealing with the outbreak, according to The Bridge Tank. The independent economic think tank says:

Thanks to early and strict containment measures, they have successfully managed to flatten the curve and slow down the spread of the virus. The contrast between Greece – which suspended public events and closed schools even before the first 100 cases were detected, and Spain – which took similar decisions at a much later stage of the epidemic – is particularly striking.

Greek health authorities have confirmed 2,207 cases of coronavirus and 105 deaths to date. In the pan-European comparative analysis it was followed by the Czech Republic and Romania. The report went on:

Four weeks after the first 100 COVID-19 cases were detected in each country, it took 19 days for the number of cases in Greece to double, a clear indicator that Greece has successfully ‘flattened the curve’. At the other end of the spectrum, the UK is still witnessing a sharp rise in confirmed cases.

This week we looked into how a country more normally associated with crisis apparently managed to avert this one.

EU chief: ‘Europe owes Italy an apology’

Europe owes Italy “a heartfelt apology” for not being there when the country was suffering the consequences of coronavirus, the head of the European Union executive has said.

Speaking at the European parliament, European commission president Ursula von der Leyen said truth was needed to overcome the pandemic, including political honesty.

Too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning. And yes for that it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology.

She went on to claim that Europe is now “the world’s beating heart of solidarity,” citing German deliveries of ventilators to Spain, the Czech Republic’s decision to open hospitals to French coronavirus patients, as well as the Polish paramedics and Romanian doctors saving lives in Italy.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, speaking in the European parliament on Thursday

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, speaking in the European parliament on Thursday Photograph: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

The direct apology to Italy went further than von der Leyen’s previous expressions of regret, where she chided member states for an “only-for-me response” during the early phase of the pandemic. At the start of the crisis, France and Germany imposed export bans on vital medical equipment, while no European country initially answered Italy’s call for aid via the EU’s emergency mechanism.

A mid March opinion poll found that 88% of Italians felt Europe was failing to support Italy, results that rattled Brussels and other national capitals.

EU leaders are meeting next Thursday, where they will again try to chart a common path out of the crisis, but they remain divided on the best economic recovery plan.


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