From the first cases in China to the two millionth death a year later as vaccinations are being rolled out across the world, here are the key developments in the spread and fight against Covid-19.

How we got to two million Covid-19 deaths

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From the first cases in China to the two millionth death a year later as vaccinations are being rolled out across the world, here are the key developments in the spread and fight against Covid-19.

– First death –
On December 31, 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) is alerted to a cluster of pneumonia cases “of unknown cause” in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

A week later, a new coronavirus is identified. China confirms on January 11 its first death in Wuhan from an illness which will be named Covid-19.

– Wuhan cut off –
On January 23 Wuhan is placed under quarantine and cut off from the world. Countries start to repatriate their citizens from China.

France reports the first death confirmed outside Asia, a Chinese tourist, on February 15.

– ‘Pandemic’ –
By March 6 more than 100,000 cases have been recorded around the world.

Northern Italy is locked down, quickly followed by the rest of the country.

On March 11 the WHO says Covid-19 is a pandemic.

Global stock markets crash.

Governments and central banks roll out massive economic support measures.

– Europe in lockdown –
Spain (March 14) and France (March 17) order their populations to stay at home. Germany and Britain say people should avoid all social contact. The 27-nation European Union closes its external borders.

– Olympics postponed –
On March 24 the Tokyo summer Olympics scheduled for July 2020 are put off for a year.

The following day, the United Nations warns that the pandemic is “threatening the whole of humanity”.

– Half of world confined –
Lockdown measures are enforced all around the world.

On April 2 more than 3.9 billion people — half of the world’s population — are forced or called on to confine themselves, according to an AFP count. The same day the threshold of one million cases is crossed.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is infected and ends up in intensive care.

– Economy on its knees –
The battered US aircraft manufacturer Boeing slashes 16,000 jobs on April 29.

Many other airlines and car manufacturers follow.

– Hydroxychloroquine row –
Backed by US President Donald Trump as a potential treatment for Covid-19, malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is judged to have no benefit at all, according to British scientists on June 5.

– Surge in Latin America –
By June 7 the global death toll reaches more than 400,000.

Brazil becomes the country with the second biggest death toll after the US. Its president Jair Bolsonaro calls it a “little flu”, before himself becoming infected. Fellow Covid-19 sceptic Donald Trump will also get it.

– Masks and anti-masks –
With cases on the increase, several European countries make mask wearing compulsory on public transport, in schools and shops and on the street.

Anti-mask demonstrations are organised in London, Paris and Rome, with protesters attempting to storm the Reichstag building in Berlin on August 30.

– More waves, new variants –
The grim milestone of one million deaths worldwide is passed on September 28. In October, infections start to spiral in Europe, where many countries order new lockdowns and curfews.

The pandemic also picks up pace in the United States, where its handling is a key issue in the presidential campaign.

The emergence in Britain of a variant believed to be more contagious — first detected in the country in September — forces PM Johnson to announce a new lockdown on January 4.

The variant appears in several other countries and the rest of Europe tightens restrictions.

Other strains feared to be highly contagious are also detected in South Africa and Brazil.

On January 7 the WHO calls the surging cases and new variants “alarming… and a tipping-point of the pandemic.”

– Vaccines kick in –
On November 9 US biotech giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech say they have a highly successful vaccine.

A week later, a similar announcement comes from US firm Moderna, with an AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine following fast behind.

Britain is the first Western nation to start vaccinating, with rollout in the rest of Europe uneven.

China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines and Russia’s Sputnik V jab have been rolled out in both countries and beyond for months, although none have yet to be fully approved by either Beijing or Moscow’s health authorities.

– Two million dead –
The number of deaths doubles in less than four months, passing the two million mark on Friday, January 15, 2021.

New daily deaths records are logged in the US, reaching 4,470 fatalities on January 12, and in the UK, which a day later records 1,564 deaths.

Agence France-Presse

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Maduro accused of selling Venezuela’s gold reserves

by Javier TOVAR

Venezuela’s opposition on Wednesday accused the government of President Nicolas Maduro of illegally selling the country’s international gold reserves to access liquidity and elude international sanctions.

Julio Borges, who represents opposition leader Juan Guaido, traveled to Washington to share the results of an investigation into the sale of 300 tons of gold since 2014 that allegedly involves Russia, Mali and the United Arab Emirates.

Borges said the UAE was the “nerve center of this great theft of Venezuela’s riches.”

He added that Maduro had been able to access “a bit more than one billion euros” in 2020 through the sales.

“Huge amounts of cash have left UAE for Venezuela to be exchanged for Venezuelan gold,” said Borges, who presented his findings to the US Treasury and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“This money is arriving in Venezuela without any control” leaving Maduro with access to it.

Venezuela’s government did not reply to an AFP request for a comment.

Venezuela had 85.7 tons of gold in the Central Bank, according to the last count in December 2020.

But the government has long struggled with a lack of cash, largely due to the crash in oil production exacerbated by US sanctions.

Gold reserves stood at 275 tons in 2014, according to official figures.

The government is also trying to recover 30 tons of gold held in the Bank of England to which it has been denied access as Britain recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s leader, alongside around 50 countries.

Guaido proclaimed himself acting president in January 2019 in his role then as parliament speaker over claims Maduro was fraudulently re-elected in a vote the previous year.

Borges said he has “documents, photos or videos” to prove his claims.

He said the gold ingots were flown on a Russian plane to a refinery in Mali “to remove the traces that it’s Venezuelan gold.”

Most of the gold ends up in the UAE, although some was destined for Libya and Switzerland, said Borges, who claimed armed forces officials had provided the information.

Borges asked the US to investigate the matter further and apply sanctions to those allegedly involved, including Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami and Colombian businessman Alex Saab, currently held in Cape Verde and wanted by Washington for corruption linked to Maduro.

He said two French citizens working for the Emirati financial company Noor Capital were also involved in exchanging the gold for cash.

Agence France-Presse

LOOK: Duterte gets his PhilSys ID

By Prince Golez

President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday received his Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) ID.

Photos provided by the Malacañang Presidential Photographers Division showed National Economic and Development Authority Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua handing over the ID to Duterte in Malacañang.

The PhilSys ID is the official national identity card for Filipino citizens worldwide and foreign permanent residents in the Philippines.

To recall, Duterte registered himself on the PhilSys late January.

In August 2018, the President signed PhilSys Act of 2018, which aims to use a single official identification card for any transaction.

COVID vaccine rollout to seniors, cabinet execs up to iNITAG, says Nograles

By Prince Golez

The Interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group for Covid-19 vaccines (iNITAG) will decide if senior citizens may receive Covid-19 vaccination, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said.

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration previously advised against using China’s Sinovac vaccines on health workers and senior citizens due to its lower efficacy rate.

“Ang proseso kasi natin sa (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) at sa pamahalaan ay we will leave it to iNITAG to give us their recommendations in terms of anong brand ng vaccine ang puwedeng gamitin sa anong sektor ng population maging yung sa prioritization ng sectors ng population,” Nograles said during a virtual presser Thursday.

On the possibility of other Cabinet members to get inoculated, the secretary said they will ask iNITAG to also give them the vaccine.

“To the President’s mind and concern, I believe, he considers us in the Cabinet as also frontline workers and very much exposed also. Kita niyo naman lahat kami umiikot sa mga hospital doing the simultaneous ceremonial inoculations… kaya nag-aalala lang si Pangulo,” he added.

So far, only four ranking government officials took the first vaccine shots. They were vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., testing czar Vince Dizon, and Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo, and MMDA Chief Benhur Abalos.

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