China on Thursday recorded its first death from Covid-19 in eight months, as experts gathered to discuss worrying new strains of the coronavirus that are spreading rapidly around the world.
The Geneva World Health Organization emergency committee rally comes as their colleagues disembark in Wuhan on a long-delayed mission to find the origins of the virus.
More than 91 million people have been infected, of which nearly two million have died, according to largely underestimated figures.
Much of the planet is shrouded in a second or third wave of the disease, with populations rubbing shoulders with painful and economically damaging restrictions.
China – where the virus first appeared – has once again locked up millions of people as it battles to control a new epidemic that has now taken its first victim, sparking angst on social media.
The hashtag “New dead virus in Hebei” quickly increased by 100 million views on the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
“I haven’t seen the words ‘virusdeath’ for so long, it’s a bit shocking! Hope the epidemic can pass soon, ”wrote one user.
The death comes as a politically sensitive investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic finally began with the arrival of a team of 10 people in Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late 2019.
Mission chief Peter Ben Embarek said the group would start with a two-week quarantine at a hotel before the investigation began in earnest.
But, he warned, “it could be a very long journey before we fully understand what happened.”
Beijing argued that Wuhan may not have been the place of origin of the virus, but only the place where it was first identified.
“I don’t think we will have clear answers after this initial mission, but we will be on our way,” Embarek added.
Whatever the origins of the virus, scientists say large-scale vaccination is the only way to escape its ravages.
There have been successive programs in a number of countries, although progress is slower than many expect.
In the United States, where more than 4,000 people die from the disease every day, about 10 million have received their first vaccine.
California Disneyland opened as a vaccination site on Wednesday, with Gary Dohman, 81, near the front of the line.
“Easy – piece of cake, nothing like that. I didn’t even feel it come in,” he said after receiving his injection.
“I’ve been locked in a house for 10 months, I can’t go anywhere. I want to take my second photo and travel a bit.”
There was good news for those who have had Covid-19 before, with a British study suggesting recovery confers immunity for at least five months for most people.
The research will be welcomed by British healthcare workers under pressure as they struggle to cope with an increase in the number of cases caused in part by a new, more infectious strain of the virus.
This strain, and another identified in South Africa, was under the microscope in Geneva on Thursday when the WHO emergency committee meets.
The newly identified variants have been registered in dozens of countries.
The committee normally meets every three months, but the WHO said the director-general had brought the meeting forward “to consider matters requiring urgent discussion.”
A million pilgrims
Sport has provided a diversionary measure for many trapped in their homes, but top athletes were warned this week that they must lead by example.
English Premier League bosses have told clubs they could face penalties if players hug or shake hands after goals.
“We are fortunate to be able to continue playing and present our competition to fans at home and around the world,” said EPL General Manager Richard Masters.
“This brings justified additional scrutiny and the Premier League must take the initiative to set a good example to follow.”
The raging pandemic has been widely dismissed by Hindu pilgrims gathered on the banks of the Ganges in India.
Up to a million people are expected to show up for the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar on Thursday alone.
“The pandemic is a little worrying, but we are taking all precautions,” said organizer Siddharth Chakrapani, but added that he was not too worried about the faithful.
“I am sure Maa Ganga will ensure their safety,” he said, referring to the holy river.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)