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Coronavirus: More online risks for children and more digital skills for parents to mitigate them

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Children learning remotely report that they face negative online content, such as cyberbullying or exposure to inappropriate material, more often than before the pandemic, according to a Joint Research Centre (JRC) report, part of the ‘Kids' Digital lives in COVID-19 Times (KiDiCoTi)' project. The research is conducted by the JRC and supported by 26 research centres in 15 countries across Europe. Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, said: “The safety of our children – online and offline – is a priority and a source of concern for us all. The study carried out by the Joint Research Centre helps us to understand better the risks posed to children online and to find improved ways to protect them. These factual findings are invaluable to our science-based policymaking, contributing to tackling issues with the appropriate solutions.”

Some 21% of pupils experienced some sort of cyberbullying more often during the first lockdown in spring 2020; 28% reported having seen an increase in the same period of hate messages related to people of different race, religion, nationality or sexuality, while 29% had their personal data used online in a way they did not like. Active parental mediation, associated with the ‘scaffolding' approach (where parents try to enable children to learn strategies to cope with digital risks by explanation and using the internet together), became much more popular overall; whereas gatekeeping tactics, such blocking of content, or keeping track of visited websites or apps, were employed more frequently during the lockdown. The insights from KiDiCoTi fed into the new EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child adopted on 24 March.

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China disease expert says COVID-19 origins probe should shift to US - Global Times

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A senior Chinese epidemiologist said the United States should be the priority in the next phase of investigations into the origin of COVID-19 after a study showed the disease could have been circulating there as early as December 2019, state media said on Thursday (17 June), write David Stanway and Samuel Shen, Reuters.

The study, published this week by the US National Institutes for Health (NIH), showed that at least seven people in five US states were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, weeks before the United States reported its first official cases.

A China-World Health Organization (WHO) joint study published in March said COVID-19 most likely originated in the country's wildlife trade, with the virus passing into humans from bats via an intermediary species.

But Beijing has promoted the theory that COVID-19 entered China from overseas via contaminated frozen food, while a number of foreign politicians are also calling for more investigations into the possibility it leaked from a laboratory.

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state-owned tabloid the Global Times that attention should shift to the United States, which was slow to test people in the early stages of the outbreak, and is also the home of many biological laboratories.

"All bio-weapons related subjects that the country has should be subject to scrutiny," he was quoted as saying.

Commenting on the US study on Wednesday (16 June), foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was now "obvious" the COVID-19 outbreak had "multiple origins" and that other countries should co-operate with the WHO.

The origin of the pandemic has become a source of political tension between China and the United States, with much of the recent focus on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), located in Wuhan where the outbreak was first identified in late 2019.

China has been criticised for its lack of transparency when it comes to disclosing data about early cases as well as the viruses studied at WIV.

A report by a US government national laboratory concluded that it was plausible that the virus had leaked from the Wuhan lab, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

A previous study has raised the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could have been circulating in Europe as early as September, but experts said this didn’t necessarily mean it did not originate in China, where many SARS-like coronaviruses have been found in the wild.

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EU approval of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine delayed, sources say

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European Union approval of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine will be delayed because a 10 June deadline to submit data was missed, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters, diminishing the shot's prospects in the EU's pandemic response, write Andreas Rinke and Emilio Parodi.

One of the sources, a German government official, said the failure to provide the necessary clinical trial data to the EU medicines watchdog would postpone any go-ahead in the bloc until at least September.

"Approval of Sputnik will be delayed probably until September, maybe until the end of the year," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) had previously been expected to conclude its review of the Russian vaccine and issue a decision in May or June.

A second source said the 10 June cut-off date not been met and that the vaccine's developer, Russia's Gamaleya Institute, said it will file the requested data next week or at the latest at the end of the month.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the vaccine, said the EMA review was on track.

"All of the information on the Sputnik V vaccine clinical trials has been provided and GCP (General Clinical Practice) review has been completed with positive feedback from the European Medicines Agency," the RDIF said.

"While it is up to EMA to decide on the timing of the approval procedure, the Sputnik V team expects the vaccine approval with the next two months," it added. EMA was not immediately available for comment.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has held talks to buy Sputnik V but has made any purchase contingent on EMA approval. Read more.

Frustrated by a sluggish immunisation campaign, some regional German states including Bavaria earlier this year flagged interest in placing orders for Sputnik V, but vaccination has since picked up speed.

Slovakia became the EU's second country after Hungary to start inoculating people with Sputnik V this month, despite lack of EU approval. Read more.

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Emerging stronger from the pandemic: Acting on the early lessons learned

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The European Commission has presented a Communication on the early lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months and building on them to improve action at EU and national level. This will help to better anticipate public health risks and enhance contingency planning leading to swifter and more effective joint responses at all levels.

Ten lessons focus on what has to be improved and what can be done better in the future. The ten lessons are not exhaustive, but provide a first snapshot of what needs to be acted upon now for the benefit of all Europeans:   

  1. Faster detection and better responses require a robust global health surveillance and an improved European pandemic information gathering system. The EU should lead efforts to design a new robust global surveillance system based on comparable data. A new and improved European pandemic information gathering system will be launched in 2021.
  2. Clearer and more coordinated scientific advice would facilitate policy decisions and public communication. The EU should appoint a European Chief Epidemiologist and a corresponding governance structure by the end of 2021.
  3. Enhanced preparedness requires constant investments, scrutiny and reviews. The European Commission should prepare an annual State of Preparedness Report.
  4. Emergency tools need to be ready faster and easier to activate. The EU should establish a framework for the activation of an EU Pandemic State of Emergency and a toolbox for crisis situations.
  5. Coordinated measures should become a reflex for Europe. The European Health Union should be adopted swiftly, before the end of the year and coordination and working methods should be strengthened between institutions.
  6. Public-private partnerships and stronger supply chains are needed to ensure the flow of critical equipment and medicines. A Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) should be operational by early 2022 and a Health Important Project of Common European Interest should be set up as soon as possible to enable breakthrough innovation in pharmaceuticals. The EU FAB facility, should ensure that the EU has enough “ever-warm” capacity to produce 500–700 million vaccine doses per year, with half of these doses to be ready in the first 6 months of a pandemic.
  7. A pan-European approach is essential to making clinical research faster, broader and more effective. A large-scale EU platform for multi-centre clinical trials should be established.
  8. The capacity to cope in a pandemic depends on continuous and increased investment in health systems. Member States should be supported to strengthen the overall resilience of health care systems as part of their recovery and resilience investments.
  9. Pandemic prevention, preparedness and response is a global priority for Europe. The EU should continue leading the global response, notably through COVAX, and strengthening the global health security architecture by leading on strengthening the World Health Organization. Pandemic preparedness partnerships with key partners should also be developed.
  10. A more coordinated and sophisticated approach to tackling misinformation and disinformation should be developed.

Next Steps

This report on the early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic will feed the leaders' discussion at the June European Council. It will be presented to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and the Commission will follow up with concrete deliverables in the second half of 2021.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The EU's comprehensive response to the pandemic has been unprecedented in scale and delivered in record time, proving the importance of working jointly in Europe. Together, we have achieved what no EU Member State could have done alone. But we have also learned what worked well and where we could do better in future pandemics. We must now turn these lessons into changes.”

Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Despite the fact that health policy at European level is still in its nascent years, the EU's response to the pandemic was ample, and has included a wide range of unprecedented initiatives that were designed and delivered in record time. We acted with speed, ambition and coherence. This was achieved also thanks to the unprecedented solidarity demonstrated amongst EU institutions that ensured a united EU response. This is one great lesson we must continue to build on. But there is no time, nor room for complacency. Today, we are identifying specific areas where we already know more can and should be done to secure a more effective health response in the future.  This crisis can be a catalyst for furthering European integration in the areas where it is most needed.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “An unprecedented public health crisis needs to be turned into an opportunity to build back stronger. The key lesson learnt from the COVID-19 crisis is the need to transform the ad hoc solutions that were used to deal with the crisis into permanent structures that will allow us to be better prepared in the future. We need to have a strong European Health Union in place as soon as possible. Time cannot be lost when faced with a public health threat or another pandemic. Emergency action must become structural capacity. Solidarity, responsibility, common effort at European level for the threats that touch all of us equally is what will sustain us through this crisis and the next.”

Background

As the crisis started unfolding, the EU developed a wide range of health policy responses, exemplified by the common approach to vaccines through the EU Vaccines Strategy and initiatives across a range of other policies. The Green Lanes initiative kept food and medicines flowing throughout the Single Market. A common approach to assessing infection rates in different regions made testing and quarantining much more consistent. And more recently, EU Digital COVID Certificates were agreed on and implemented in record time, paving the way for the safe resumption of tourism and travel this summer, and beyond. At the same time, the EU took decisive action to tackle the economic fallout of the pandemic. This drew heavily on the experience and arrangements built to address previous challenges and crises in the economic and financial area.

However, these successes do not mask the difficulties that were encountered, notably on the scaling up of manufacturing and production capacities, partly due to a lack of a permanently integrated approach to research, development and production that slowed down the initial availability of vaccines. While this has since been addressed, longer term solutions are needed for mitigating future detrimental health events or crises.

More information

Communication on drawing on the early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

The European Commission's coronavirus response website

Safe and effective vaccines in the EU

EU Digital COVID Certificate

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