News in Brief 3 December 2021

News in Brief 3 December 2021

This is the News in Brief, from the United Nations.   

Omicron: Don’t panic but prepare for likely spread, says WHO 

As scientists continue to investigate the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday urged countries not to panic but to prepare for its likely spread. 

It’s been nine days since South Africa reported the appearance of the Omicron mutation and WHO has indicated that it will take another two weeks before more is known about how transmissible and how dangerous it is. 

Speaking in Geneva, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier stressed that preliminary data suggested that Omicron was highly transmissible, but that this will take time to confirm.  

He also repeated WHO advice against blanket travel bans, except for countries whose health systems were unable to withstand a surge in infections. 

The WHO official also cautioned against knee-jerk reactions to reports about Omicron’s spread. 

“Let’s not get deterred right now, let us first get as much information as possible to make the correct risk assessment” based on the information we get, and move on, he said. 

“It is much more preferred to prepare your country, your health system to possibly incoming cases because we can be pretty sure that this Omicron variant will spread around. Delta started off somewhere and now we have it as the predominant variant with over 90 per cent all around the world. This is how this virus behaves and we will not most likely be able to keep it out of individual countries.” 

Avoiding starvation, immediate priority for 3.5 million in Afghanistan 

Afghanistan is in the grip of “truly unprecedented levels” of hunger which means that avoiding widespread starvation “is an immediate priority”, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said.  

With temperatures now dangerously cold, the UN agency has appealed for much more support for 3.5 million people displaced by conflict inside Afghanistan, including 700,000 who were displaced in 2021.  

“It's a crisis of hunger and starvation. People don't have enough to eat, and it's very visible,” said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson. 

Speaking in Geneva following his recent return from Kabul, Mr. Baloch pointed out that a lack of insulated shelters, warm clothes, insufficient food, fuel for heating, and medical supplies are just some of the deprivations confronting forcibly displaced people. 

To help them, the organization has launched a global fundraising winter campaign to help forcibly displaced families in Afghanistan and elsewhere. 

WTO agrees to landmark deal to cut red tape on foreign trade 

A key agreement now at the World Trade Organization (WTO), where Member States have agreed to lower costs and cut red tape to help the trade in services worldwide.   

The deal is the first such accord in 24 years and is expected to save business – and in particular small businesses - $150 million annually in costs, said WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. 

Some 67 nations supported the move, including the United States, the EU and China, representing 90 per cent of all services trade. 

Hailing the deal, the WTO ambassador of Costa Rica Gloria Abraham Peralta explained that the improved regulatory services regime encouraged growth and development in developing countries like her own. 

Research by the WTO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested that the $150 billion reduction in annual trade costs would see particularly important gains in financial, business, communications and transport services. 

Katy Dartford, UN News.    

  • Omicron: Don’t panic but prepare for likely spread, says WHO 

  • Avoiding starvation, immediate priority for 3.5 million in Afghanistan 

  • WTO agrees to landmark deal to cut red tape on foreign trade 

Audio Credit
Katy Dartford, UN News - Geneva
Photo Credit