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'Deeply concerned' #WHO declares #COVID-19 a pandemic



The World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March declared COVID-19 a pandemic, pushing the threat beyond the global health emergency it had announced in January, writes Mary Van Beusekom.

In the WHO's daily briefing, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said that the label should galvanize the world to fight. However, "describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO's assessment of the threat posed by the virus, it doesn't change what WHO is doing, and it doesn't change what countries should do," he said.

The novel coronavirus, the first known to cause a pandemic, has infected more than 118,000 people and killed more than 4,000 in 114 countries, numbers expected only to rise. The WHO is "deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and the alarming levels of inactivity," Ghebreyesus said. "In the past 2 weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of countries has tripled."

WHO: Still possible to turn tide

Tedros and other WHO officials in the briefing, however, emphasized that the organization believes that containment is still possible and called for countries to focus on control rather than on mitigation in the healthcare system. "This is not an escape clause to mitigation," said Michael Ryan, MD, executive director of emergency response. "The difficulty is that, if you do not try to suppress this, it can overwhelm your health system."

Tedros cautioned against focusing on numbers, pointing out that some countries have had some success with aggressive containment strategies. "More than 90% of cases are in just four countries, and two of those countries, China and South Korea, have significantly declining epidemics," he said. Eighty-one countries have reported no cases, and 57 have reported fewer than 10, he added.

He urged countries to avoid apathy. "We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough—that all countries can still change the course of this pandemic," he said. "If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases from becoming clusters and those clusters from becoming community transmission. Even countries with clusters can turn the tide against this virus."

Ryan implored people to put aside the blame and come together in solidarity. "Iran and Italy are on the frontline now, they're suffering, but I guarantee that other countries will be in that situation soon," he said.

Countries, Tedros said, need to educate people on how to protect themselves, mobilize their public health teams, and ready their medical workforce for the onslaught of cases and the need for intensive care. Consider Italy, he said, where 900 people are in intensive care, requiring healthcare workers to work long hours in personal protective equipment.

"We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action," Ghebreyesus said.  "We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear."

Cases, deaths surge around the world

In its daily situation report, the WHO outlined how COVID-19 continues its spread, with Bolivia, Burkina Faso, and Jamaica reporting their first cases. The agency announced a global tally of 118,326 confirmed cases (4,627 new since yesterday) and 4,292 deaths (280 new). The Johns Hopkins online COVID-19 tracker lists 125,108 confirmed cases this afternoon and 4,550 deaths.

New Chinese cases continue to decrease, with just 31 new infections reported today, according to the WHO situation report. Outside of China, there have been 37,371 cases (4,596 new), and 1,130 deaths (258 new).

Yesterday the International Federation of the Red Cross, UNICEF, and WHO issued new guidance on protecting schoolchildren from the virus. The document offers advice on practical actions and checklists for administrators, children, parents, and teachers.

Cases mount in Iran, Europe

In hard-hit Iran, where officials announced 881 new cases and 54 new deaths today, the senior vice-president and two other cabinet members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to today's South China Morning Post. Elsewhere in the Middle East, reported cases have grown to 262 in Qatar and 189 in Bahrain, the newspaper reported.

Italy reported 168 new deaths, bringing the total there to 631. The country has identified at least 12,462 total cases, making it second only to China.

Spain, the second hardest-hit European country, reported 615 new cases and 8 more deaths, bringing its case total to 1,639 and the deaths to 36, according to the WHO, but the Johns Hopkins tracker lists 2,277 cases and 54 deaths.

French health officials reported 15 new coronavirus deaths today, bringing that country's number of deaths to 48, according to Reuters. The total number of confirmed cases has also risen to 2,281, up from 497 on Tuesday.

The United Kingdom announced the death of an eighth patient and 83 new cases, raising its total to 456 cases, according to Public Health EnglandThe BBC reports that a junior health minister, Nadine Dorries, is in self-quarantine at home since being diagnosed as having COVID-19.

South Korea, where the epidemic had been declining, reported 242 new cases and 6 more deaths, according to the WHO, for a tally of 7,755 and 60.

Sweden and Bali announce first deaths

Sweden reported its first death on 11 March, according to Reuters. The older patient, who had an underlying disease, had been in intensive care at a Stockholm-area hospital.

Sweden has confirmed about 460 cases of the virus since the end of January. One other COVID-19 patient is being treated in intensive care in the same area, the regional health authority said. Today the Public Health Agency asked the Swedish government to ban gatherings of more than 500 people to try to contain the disease.

A 53-year-old British traveler hospitalized in Bali has died, which is a first for the country, according to Reuters. Health officials said that the woman had diabetes, high blood pressure, an overactive thyroid, and lung disease, all risk factors for death.

Lebanon has reported a second death, in a 53-year-old man, the South China Morning Post reports. The country's health ministry said that 37% of its cases have originated in Britain, Egypt, Iran, and Switzerland.

Economic stimulus, workforce staffing, cancelations, restrictions

In the United Kingdom, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged adequate resources for the National Health Service (NHS), a "temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme" to support small businesses, coverage of the cost of sick pay for businesses with as many as 250 employees, and sick day benefits for self-employed workers, the BBC reported.

In a move similar to that of the US Federal Reserve last week, the Bank of England also announced that it cut interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25% today to help the economy weather the pandemic.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, announced plans to invite "up to 18,000 third year undergraduate nurses to help out on the frontline." Public Health England, which has conducted more than 25,000 tests for the virus, is scaling up to be able to test 10,000 people a day, according to the news agency.

Meanwhile, Brexit talks involving about 150 delegates scheduled for next week may not happen, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said in The Guardian.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced Wednesday that the country would set aside the equivalent of $28.3 billion to tackle the crisis. Meanwhile, Albania, Malta, and Spain have halted all inbound flights from Italy. Air Canada and British Airways have also halted all flights to Italy, while Austria, Malta, and Slovenia have closed their borders to Italy, according to NPR.

Spanish officials announced Wednesday that they have closed all state-run museums, including the Prado, Reuters reported. Madrid had already closed schools and halted large gatherings, as have the Rioja region and Basque Country.

Saudi Arabia, which has banned travel to and from 14 countries and canceled pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, announced today that all cinemas are closed until further notice, according to the South China Morning Post. Kuwait has announced a 2-week shutdown of the country.

Israel, which has reported 77 cases, announced an equivalent of a $2.8 billion package to stabilize the economy, doubling a previously announced fund to help businesses and the healthcare system, the South China Morning Post reported.

Meanwhile, China continues its slow recovery. Local officials in China have begun relaxing travel restrictions it imposed in January. The Japanese automaker Nissan said today that it would restart manufacturing at two plants in China, including one in Hubei providence, according to NPR.


Belgium probes top EU think-tanker for links to China



A former UK diplomat and ex-European Commission official who runs a Brussels think tank is being investigated by Belgian security services on suspicion of passing sensitive information to China — allegations that he denies. Fraser Cameron, who directs the EU-Asia Centre, rejected as “absurd” the investigation into his alleged contacts with two Chinese journalists accredited in Brussels who — according to Belgian security officials speaking on condition of anonymity — also work for the Chinese ministry of state security and the Chinese military, as reported  by Barbara Moens in POLITICO.

The Belgian officials who spoke to POLITICO also briefed Belgian newspapers De Standaard and L’Avenir on the case. It is unclear where the investigation might lead, since the charges he might face were not specified and espionage — which was cited by the Belgian officials — is not treated as a crime under Belgian law. According to a person close to the case, the federal prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into Cameron, though the prosecutor’s office itself declined to comment. The case was opened on the basis of the Belgian state security investigation that judged Cameron’s alleged activities could constitute a risk for European officials, though they did not specify what kind of risk he might pose.

Contacted by POLITICO for comment, Cameron said in an email that the allegations “are without foundation.” He stressed that he has “a wide range of Chinese contacts as part of my duties with the EU-Asia Centre and some of them may have a double function,” but added: “I retired 15 years ago from official employment and have zero access to any sensitive information.”

Cameron said his lawyer was not aware of any case having been opened, adding: “The allegations themselves are obviously damaging but they really are absurd if you just stop to think about them for a minute.” Cameron, who according to his entry on the EU-Asia Centre’s website has “lived and worked in Belgium for 20 years” and is “a visiting professor at several universities in Asia,” is suspected by Belgian intelligence of receiving thousands of euros for providing confidential — but not necessarily classified — political and economic information to the Chinese regarding European institutions.

In a separate email to L’Avenir, seen by POLITICO, Cameron said the EU-Asia Centre receives “a small annual grant” from the Chinese diplomatic mission to the EU, to help organize events on EU-China relations. “This is the only funding received from the Chinese,” he said.

Cameron added, in his response to L’Avenir, that the EU-Asia Centre’s recent activities, including a webinar on this week’s virtual EU-China summit, demonstrated “that we are highly critical of China!” ‘Close to Beijing’ POLITICO was told the names of the two Chinese journalists allegedly involved, but was unable to confirm their status independently.

Belgian security officials said the suspect activities had been going on for a number of years, but they would not say whether that included Cameron’s time at the European Commission, before his retirement in 2006. One official in the Commission, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Cameron was known to be “very close to Beijing”. Since espionage is not classified as a crime in Belgium, public prosecutors have long called for an update of the country’s law on espionage, which dates back to the 1930s.

That means prosecutors may have to identify other criminal offenses if they want to press charges — which happened in the case of former Belgian diplomat Oswald Gantois. Investigated for leaking information to Russian secret services throughout his career, he was convicted in 2018 of illegal association with the purpose of committing forgery. Public prosecutors have cited Belgium’s role as a diplomatic hub, hosting the EU institutions and NATO headquarters, as justification for broadening the definition of espionage in national law to facilitate prosecution.

The current federal justice minister, Koen Geens from the Flemish Christian Democratic party CD&V, is trying to push an update of the espionage law through parliament but has made little progress because of an impasse in forming a government since late 2018. “The minister and CD&V have been asking for a long time to vote on the proposal,” said a spokesperson for the minister. Earlier this year, German prosecutors revealed that they suspected another former EU official of passing information to China. German national Gerhard Sabathil, a diplomat turned lobbyist, denied the allegations and has so far not been arrested nor charged.

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Huawei ban spurs new competition for Ericsson and Nokia



The US ban on Huawei Technologies Co. was supposed to hand leadership of the lucrative market for wireless base stations to Ericsson AB and Nokia Oyj. It’s not working out that way, write Ian King, Kati Pohjanpalo, Niclas Rolander, Grace Huang, and Pavel Alpeyev.

The crackdown on China’s largest technology company has given startups such as Altiostar Networks Inc. and new entrants including Qualcomm Inc. a rare opportunity to grab a slice of the $35 billion the telecom industry spends each year on this crucial part of mobile phone networks.

“This could break up that tech vendor lock-in that’s been around for decades,” said Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer of network services at AT&T Inc., the third largest U.S. wireless carrier. “It’s about how do you create a much more competitive, innovative ecosystem.”

Technology gets political

Position on including equipment from China’s Huawei in 5G mobile networks, as of 15 July, 2020

Source: Bloomberg

Base stations are the heart of cellular networks, powering millions of antennas that perch on cell towers and city rooftops all over the world. Until recently, these boxes were a proprietary combination of processors and software that had to be purchased all at once. Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia account for three quarters of this market, which is worth as much as $35 billion a year, according to researcher Dell’Oro Group.

Open radio access network, or O-RAN, changes this by creating an open standard for base station design and ensuring all the software and components work well together -- no matter who is supplying the ingredients.

This is a potentially radical shift. When telecom giants such as AT&T and China Mobile Ltd. want to expand their network they usually have to call their existing supplier and order more of the same because a box from Nokia won’t work with one from Ericsson. The new technology lets wireless carriers mix and match more easily.

The initiative also means that new suppliers can succeed by focusing on one or two components, or a single piece of software, rather than spending lots of time and money building a whole base station from the ground up.

O-RAN gear has been used sparingly since an industry alliance was formed to promote the technology in 2018. But when the U.S. toughened its stance against Huawei last year and encouraged other countries to crack down, interest in O-RAN adoption increased. The Chinese tech giant is a low-cost provider. Now it’s unavailable in some markets, carriers are more willing to look at alternative suppliers embracing the more flexible O-RAN approach.

“Increased geopolitical uncertainty is helping them to get an invite to the table they would not normally have had,” Dell’Oro Group analyst Stefan Pongratz said. “Multiple vendors, not just in Europe but across the world, are basically reassessing their exposure to Huawei.”

How Huawei landed at the centre of global tech tussle: QuickTake

Open standard base stations will generate sales of about $5 billion in the next five years, more than originally predicted, according to Dell’Oro.

Ericsson questions the performance and cost-efficiency of current O-RAN offerings. But the telecom companies, who decide where the money is spent, aren’t being shy about telling incumbent providers to get on board or risk being left behind.

“We’ve been candid with them: This is the architecture that the operator community is pursuing,” said Adam Koeppe, who oversees technology strategy, architecture and planning at Verizon Communications Inc., the biggest U.S. wireless carrier.

The list of companies vying to fill the gap left by Huawei is a mixture of some of the oldest names in technology and newcomers. Qualcomm, Intel Corp.Hewlett Packard EnterpriseDell Technologies Inc.Cisco Systems Inc.Fujitsu Ltd. and NEC Corp. are offering various parts of the new base station technology. Startups such as Altiostar, Airspan Networks and Mavenir Systems are trying to carve out niches, too.

O-RAN proponents point to the success of Rakuten Inc., a Japanese e-commerce provider that has used the technology to break into mobile phone services. The company began 4G wireless service in April and is upgrading to 5G now, using O-RAN suppliers including NEC, Qualcomm, Intel, Altiostar and Airspan. Rakuten said using this more open approach has cut capital expenditure by 40% and reduced operating costs 30%.

Dish Network Corp. is building a 5G wireless network in the U.S. with help from Altiostar. New projects like this are great, but the real opportunity is with operators that are shifting their existing networks to O-RAN, according to Thierry Maupilé, Altiostar’s executive vice president of strategy and product management. The Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based company has raised more than $300 million from investors such as Rakuten, Qualcomm and Cisco.

Why 5G mobile is arriving with a subplot of espionage: QuickTake

O-RAN is part of a broader push to make all kinds of computer networks more flexible and easy to control. By standardizing hardware and using more software in centralized data centers, companies can run networks more cheaply, while fixing and upgrading them more easily. 5G will need this flexibility to work well.

For AT&T, the new approach has already started to help. The company has introduced Samsung equipment based on O-RAN in areas where it had previously been limited to Ericsson gear, AT&T’s Fuetsch said.

Nokia expects to have a full range of O-RAN offerings available in 2021. Some of the final standards aren’t yet set and they need to be completed and tested which will take time, according to Sandro Tavares, global head of marketing.

“O-RAN is supported by more than 20 major operators around the world, so it is pretty clear that there is a strong push for it to happen,” he said. “This is a big move for our industry, and it is clear for the main players that we should not be cutting corners in this process.”

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#Huawei delivered a lifeline from Samsung as latest US sanctions hit



Huawei has reportedly been delivered a helping hand from smartphone rivals Samsung as they deal with more US sanctions inflicted on them, writes Dion Dassanayake.

The P40 Pro and P30 Pro makers this week (15 September) are seeing a new set of US sanctions imposed on them. Following on from Huawei being put on the US Entity trade blacklist last year, Donald Trump's administration are ramping up the pressure on Huawei even further with a new restriction that means a company which wishes to supply parts that use any kind of American tech to Huawei needs to apply for a license. The latest sanction affects a wide range of tech used in Huawei smartphones such as chips and OLED displays from Samsung and LG.

LG has already commented about this latest round of sanctions, saying it will have little impact on its operations as the firm supplies a limited amount of panels to Huawei.

Samsung is yet to comment, but the South Korean tech giant has reportedly applied for a license to supply the P40 makers with panels.

According to a post by ZDNet, Samsung Display has applied for a license from the US Department of Commerce before the latest sanctions kick in on September 15.

If the license is given the green light then it will be great news for both parties.

Samsung Display is the world's biggest OLED provider, with Huawei their third most important customer behind Apple and Samsung Electronics.

While Huawei will be hoping the license gets approved as if it doesn't it leaves them with few alternatives.

Elsewhere, ahead of the latest US sanctions coming into force Huawei has reportedly been stockpiling Kirin chipsets.

Reports coming from China claim Huawei chartered a cargo plane to Taiwan to ship Kirin and other related chips back to them by 14 September.

Huawei has already confirmed that their upcoming Mate 40 handset will be the last to feature their own Kirin chipset.

Huawei’s consumer business CEO Yu Chengdong has confirmed the restrictions being implemented on 15 September means its Kirin chipsets "cannot be manufactured" after that date.

HuaweiHuawei have been hit by a number of restrictive US sanctions 

Huawei chips are manufactured by Taiwanese firm TSMC which use equipment sourced from the States.

Recently, Huawei chairman Guo Ping spoke about the latest sanctions coming from the Trump administration.

Staying upbeat, Guo admitted the latest sanctions would "cause certain difficulties" but said "I believe we can solve them".

Guo also said "the world has been suffering for a long time" over the power Google wields on the Android ecosystem and that the globe is "looking forward to a new open system". The Huawei bigwig added: "Since Huawei helped Android to succeed, why not make our own system successful?"

Guo, whose firm in Q2 of 2020 became the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, added that Huawei was up to the "fight" to succeed. The Huawei chairman said: "HMS must have a ‘Foolish Old Man Moving Mountain Spirit’, no matter how high the mountain is, dig an inch or less, persist and fight for a long time, we will definitely succeed".

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