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UK approves GlaxoSmithKline drug to treat COVID-19

British regulators on Thursday approved GlaxoSmithKline drug sotrovimab to treat those at high risk of developing severe Covid-19 symptoms, with the manufacturer saying it “retains activity” against the new Omicron variant.

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The monoclonal antibody “was found to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 infection who are at an increased risk of developing severe disease,” said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

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WHO chief Tedros reappointed to second 5-year term

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was reappointed to a second five-year term on Tuesday by the UN health agency’s member countries.

No other candidate challenged Tedros for the post amid the ongoing difficulties of responding to the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

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“I am really grateful, I am very humbled for your confidence and trust,” Tedros said.

Tedros, a former government minister from Ethiopia, has directed WHO throughout its management of the global response to COVID-19 and withstood occasionally withering criticism over its multiple missteps.

He is the first African to lead the agency and the only director-general not qualified as a medical doctor.

He is also the first WHO leader not to be supported by their home country; Ethiopia has previously accused Tedros of “misconduct” after his sharp criticism of the war and humanitarian crisis there and raised concerns about his leadership on Tuesday.

Under Tedros, the UN health agency failed to call out countries including China for blunders that WHO officials grumbled about privately, advised against mask-wearing for months, and said initially that the coronavirus wasn’t likely to mutate rapidly.

Scientists drafted by WHO to investigate the coronavirus’ origins in China said the critical probe was “stalled” last year, after issuing a report that even Tedros acknowledged had prematurely ruled out the possibility of a laboratory leak.

Tedros has frequently railed against rich countries for hoarding the world’s limited supply of vaccines and insisted that pharmaceuticals aren’t doing enough to make their medicines available to the poor.

Amid the near-universal focus on Ukraine after the Russian invasion, Tedros slammed the global community for not doing enough to solve crises elsewhere, including Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, arguing that it was possibly because those suffering weren’t white.

Still, critics say Tedros has failed on some fundamental issues, like holding staff accountable after allegations that dozens of outbreak workers managed by WHO sexually abused young women in Congo during an Ebola outbreak that began in 2018, in one of the biggest sex scandals in UN history.

None of the senior WHO managers alerted to the abuse allegations and who did little to stop the exploitation, have been fired.

In January, The Associated Press reported that staffers in WHO’s Western Pacific office filed an internal complaint accusing regional director Dr. Takeshi Kasai of abusive, racist and other misconduct, undermining efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. In response, Tedros said an investigation into the allegations had been launched and promised to act “with urgency.”

But last week, several WHO staffers wrote to the agency’s Executive Board complaining that Kasai “has been able to continue his unethical, abusive and racist conduct without any form of restriction.” In an email to staff, Kasai disputed the charges.

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Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules

Beijing stepped up quarantine efforts to end its month-old COVID outbreak as fresh signs of frustration emerged in Shanghai, where some bemoaned unfair curbs with the city of 25 million preparing to lift a prolonged lockdown in just over a week.

Even as China’s drastic attempts to eradicate COVID entirely – its “zero-COVID” approach – bite into prospects for the world’s second-biggest economy, new reported infection numbers remain well below levels seen in many Western cities.

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The capital reported 48 new cases for Monday among its population of 22 million, with Shanghai reporting fewer than 500.

Still, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan called for more thorough measures to cut virus transmission and adhere to the nation’s zero-COVID policy during an inspection tour in Beijing, state agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

The situation in Beijing was manageable, but containment efforts cannot ease, she said, according to Xinhua.

In one example of the stringency of Beijing’s approach, around 1,800 people in one city neighborhood were relocated to Zhangjiakou city in the nearby Hebei province for quarantine, the state-backed Beijing Daily reported.

Still in place are instructions for residents in six of the capital’s 16 districts to work from home, while a further three districts encouraged people to follow such measures, with each district responsible for implementing its own guidelines.

Beijing had already reduced public transport, requesting some shopping malls and other venues to close and sealing buildings where new cases were detected.

In Shanghai, authorities plan to keep most restrictions in place this month, before a more complete lifting of the two-month-old lockdown from June 1. Even then, public venues will have to cap people flows at 75 percent of capacity.

‘Let’s strike’

With Shanghai officially declared to be a zero-COVID city, some authorities allowed more people to leave their homes for brief periods over the past week, and more supermarkets and pharmacies were authorized to reopen and provide deliveries.

But other lower-level officials separately tightened restrictions in some neighborhoods, ordering residents back indoors to cement progress achieved so far during the city’s final lap towards exiting the lockdown.

That has led to frustration and complaints of uneven treatment among some residents.

While the zero-COVID status describes the entire city, and residents in some compounds have been allowed to move in and out of their homes freely, others have been told they can only go out for a few hours, and many of those stuck indoors were told nothing.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Videos circulating on social media this week showed residents arguing with officials to be let out of their residential compounds.

The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

One resident told Reuters people in his compound decided on the WeChat social media platform to go out in groups.

“Let’s strike at our gate tonight to demand that we be allowed to go out like many of other compounds in the neighborhood,” he quoted one of his neighbors as saying in the group chat.

A video he shared then showed a group of people arguing at the entrance of the compound with a man who described himself as a sub-district official, who asked the residents to go back inside and discuss the situation.

“Don’t bother with him,” one person said as some people were socializing outside the compound.

People in at least two other compounds were planning to try going outside despite not being told they were allowed to do so, residents said.

Economic respite?

At a time when most other countries are moving to models of living with the virus, China’s COVID measures are inflicting damage on its economy, as well as disrupting global supply chains.

Many analysts expect the economy to shrink in the second quarter, even if the overall COVID situation across China and economic activity has improved this month when compared with April.

To support the economy, China will broaden tax credit rebates, postpone social security payments by small firms and loan repayments and roll out new investment projects among other steps, state television quoted the cabinet as saying.

In one positive signal for Shanghai, electric vehicle giant Tesla plans to reach on Tuesday production levels similar to those before the lockdown at its plant in the city, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

Nomura analysts estimate 26 Chinese cities were implementing full or partial lockdowns or other COVID measures as of May 23, accounting for 208 million people and 20.5 percent of China’s economic output. That would be down from 271 million the week before and 27 percent of output.

“But to us, this is merely a respite instead of a turning point,” the analysts wrote in a note. They said passing a turning point would depend exclusively on an exit from the zero-COVID strategy, and not so much on daily case numbers and monthly activity data.

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Fresh photos of UK PM Johnson drinking reignite ‘Partygate’ row

Britain's ITV news channel on Monday published new photographs of Prime Minister Boris Johnson drinking at a leaving party at his Downing Street residence, reigniting opposition accusations that he breached his own COVID-19 lockdown rules.

The photographs were taken at a gathering in honour of Downing Street's outgoing director of communications Lee Cain in November 2020, an event previously investigated by police for potential breaches of the law.

Monday's photographs show Johnson making a speech and raising a toast, with half a glass in his hands, ITV said.

At that time, large gatherings with people outside of your own household were banned after England had been put back into a national lockdown due to rising cases of COVID-19.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Reuters could not independently verify when or where the pictures were taken. Johnson's office has said police had access to all information during their investigation, including photos.

Johnson was not fined for taking part in the November 2020 event, though he was issued with a fixed penalty notice for a Downing Street gathering to mark his birthday in June that year, an event which he said lasted no more than 10 minutes.

He has apologised for what he called a mistake but refused to resign over the issue.

The Metropolitan police did not immediately respond when asked if it had been aware of the Cain leaving party pictures during its investigation.

The Cabinet Office, which has been handling a separate government investigation into the parties, did not immediately comment.

The government is expected this week to publish a long-awaited report by the senior civil servant Sue Gray into the events held at Johnson's Downing Street office during coronavirus lockdowns. Police have handed out 126 fines in connection with the parties.

The report, which is expected to include details of some events that were not investigated by the police, could spur more criticism of the British leader, who has been under months of pressure over several scandals and U-turns.

Angela Rayner, the opposition Labour Party's deputy leader, accused Johnson of lying after he told parliament last year that all rules were followed in Downing Street during the pandemic.

“Boris Johnson said repeatedly that he knew nothing about law-breaking – there’s no doubt now, he lied,” Rayner said. “Johnson made the rules, and then broke them.”

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