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China and the World Health Organisation during the Covid-19 crisis



A team from the World Health Organisation (WHO) will arrive in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to begin investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here is a timeline looking at key events in the relationship between China and the WHO since the outbreak began.


Dec 31st: The WHO is first notified by China of a “pneumonia of unknown cause”. WHO says its China office picked up a report of “viral pneumonia” from Wuhan Municipal Health Commission website and asked Chinese authorities for more information.

January 2020

Jan 3rd: China begins regular briefing with WHO about the outbreak of “viral pneumonia of unknown cause” in Wuhan.

Jan 5th: WHO says it has asked China for more information and advises other member states to take precautions.

Jan 9th: China tells WHO a newly discovered coronavirus is the cause of the outbreak.

Jan 10th: Chinese officials hold phone meeting with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. China shares information about how the coronavirus is detected.

Jan 11th: After reporting the first official fatality from the disease, China shares genome sequence of the coronavirus with WHO.

Jan 14th: WHO tweets that “preliminary investigations conducted by China have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”. WHO expert Maria Van Kerkhove tells news conference the same day “it is certainly possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission”.

Jan 20-21st: WHO sends delegation to Wuhan. Chinese experts share detection and treatment protocols with WHO delegation.

Jan 25th: China’s National Health Commission said in a letter to WHO’s Tedros that it would welcome international experts to China to help “strengthen epidemic prevention and control”.

Jan 28th: President Xi meets Tedros in Beijing and says China has responded in a timely, open, transparent and responsible manner, and is ready to work with the WHO and the international community.

Jan 30th: WHO declares outbreak to be a public health emergency of global concern – its highest alert level.

February 2020

Feb 16th: 25-member China-WHO team begins nine-day field trip in China. They arrive in Wuhan on February 22nd and learn about epidemic control measures and medical treatments.

Feb 24th: Joint team holds news conference in Beijing and says China’s actions slowed the spread of the epidemic and prevented or delayed hundreds of thousands of cases.

Feb 28th: Joint team publishes report praising the “remarkable speed” at which China isolated the virus, established diagnostic tools and learned how the virus was transmitted.

April 2020

April 14th: President Donald Trump announces halt to US funding for WHO, accusing it of being biased towards China and failing in its duties.

April 18th: Senior diplomat Wang Yi rebukes US criticism of WHO in phone conversation with Tedros.

April 22nd: Australia calls for independent investigation into Covid-19 origins, further angering Beijing. China’s ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye says the call is “politically motivated”.

May 2020

May 19th: Annual ministerial meeting of WHO’s 194-member states passes resolution calling for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of global Covid-19 response to be launched at the earliest opportunity. Evaluation should include the “zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population.” China and the United States also sign.

May 20th: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accuses China of denying investigators access to facilities, withholding virus samples and censoring discussion.

July 2020

July 8th: United Nations says it received formal notice from the United States to withdraw from WHO. President Trump accuses WHO of “alarming lack of independence” from China.

July 9th: WHO sets up independent panel chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to examine global pandemic response.

September 2020

Sept 17th: Independent panel sets terms of reference for inquiry, saying it aims to establish “the timeline and events which culminated in Covid-19 becoming a global pandemic”.

December 2020

Dec 18th: WHO says it will send a team of 10 scientists to Wuhan “next month”. Independent panel says it is now “well advanced” in its preparation of chronology about the global spread of Covid-19.

January 2021

Jan 6th: WHO’s Tedros expresses disappointment WHO experts have not yet been granted visas to begin the investigation.

Jan 11th: Chinese health authorities confirm a WHO team will arrive in Wuhan on January 14th.

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Egypt’s Al-Azhar prohibits excavating and displaying mummies



A scholar at Egypt’s leading religious establishment, the Al-Azhar University has caused outcry by prohibiting the excavation of ancient Egyptian tombs and putting mummies on display.

Sheikh Ahmed Karima, a professor of comparative jurisprudence at the Al-Azhar, said in a televised statement earlier this month that exhuming graves was against Islamic teachings and that “extracting the bodies of the ancient Pharaohs and putting them on display in return for dollars from visitors is forbidden.”

According to Karima, the digging up the graves violates the dignity of the dead and that Islamic law forbids their desecration. “Bodies of the dead cannot be exhumed unless for the purpose of scientific search,” the scholar said.

“The grave is a blessing from God to house the human being after his demise,” he added.

“Museums can exhibit the treasures of the Pharaohs, talk about [their civilization] and about the mummification, but without displaying their dead bodies.”

READ: Egypt unveils biggest ancient coffin find in over a century

However, leading Egyptian archaeologist and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, who was appointed minister of state for antiquities affairs under the late former President Hosni Mubarak, has criticised the ruling.

“We do not excavate the graves of Muslims, Christians or Jews,” Hawass explained during a telephone interview with Egypt’s Sada Al-Balad channel, adding that the function of the Antiquities Ministry is to revive the greatness of ancient people and introduce their civilisation to people of today.

“The opinion of Sheikh Karima can be applied to thieves who tamper with graves and destroy mummies, but archaeologists work to immortalise these people, as they restore their coffins, graves and mummies, because the presence of these coffins inside the wells exposes them to decomposition and fragmentation,” he said.

However, Hawass agreed with Karima that the way the mummies were previously displayed before they were transferred to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization was humiliating, but that they were later properly displayed. “The mummies will be exhibited at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in a civilised way, with a detailed explanation of each mummy and the historical era in which it lived,” he explained.

Columnist and TV host Khaled Montaser, known for his reformist views also disagreed with Karima’s opinion, which he described as negative propaganda ahead of the planned inauguration of the Egyptian Grand Museum, one of the largest museums in the world set to be opened later this year and which the Egyptian government hopes will boost its dwindling tourist industry which has been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

READ: Egypt showcases scores of 2,500-year-old coffins

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Zarif describes talks with Armenian officials as productive



Zarif describes talks with Armenian officials as productive

In a tweet on Wednesday, Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “Productive consultations with Armenian PM and FM. Reviewed common regional challenges & opportunities following recent conflict.”

“Agreed on further strengthening bilateral ties & regional cooperation – incl on connectivity projects: turning old rivalries into future synergies,” he added.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, who arrived in Yerevan on Wednesday for the third destination of his trip to the region, met and held talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his Armenian counterpart Ara Aivazian.

During the meeting, the two sides discussed the latest regional issues, as well as bilateral cooperation.

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Nations team up to disrupt dangerous malware



Law enforcement authorities in several countries, including the UK, have joined forces to disrupt what they call one of the world’s most dangerous pieces of malware.

They said it allowed criminal gangs to install ransomware and steal data from computer users.

European Union police and judicial agencies Europol and Eurojust said that investigators took control of infrastructure behind a botnet called EMOTET. A botnet is a network of hijacked computers used to carry out cyber attacks.

Authorities in the Netherlands, Germany, the US, France, Lithuania, Canada and Ukraine also took part in the international operation co-ordinated by the two Hague-based agencies.

Dutch prosecutors said the malware was first discovered in 2014 and “evolved into the go-to solution for cyber criminals over the years”. They added: “The EMOTET infrastructure essentially acted as a primary door opener for computer systems on a global scale.”

The Dutch prosecutors said two of the main servers for the infrastructure were based in the Netherlands and a third in another undisclosed country. The national prosecutor’s office said the damage caused by EMOTET runs into the hundreds of millions of euros.

The malicious software was delivered to computers in infected email attachments containing Word documents.

“A variety of different lures were used to trick unsuspecting users into opening these malicious attachments,” Dutch prosecutors said in a statement. “In the past, EMOTET email campaigns have also been presented as invoices, shipping notices and information about Covid-19.”

Europol said law enforcement agencies teamed up to take down the criminal infrastructure from the inside.

“The infected machines of victims have been redirected towards this law enforcement-controlled infrastructure,” the agency said. “This is a unique and new approach to effectively disrupt the activities of the facilitators of cyber crime.”

The operation was not the first time that cyber crime fighters have infiltrated illicit computer operations. In 2017, police shut down the world’s leading “darknet” marketplace — then Dutch police quietly seized a second bazaar to amass intelligence on illicit drug merchants and buyers.

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