Covid live news: UK considering compulsory vaccination for NHS staff; Malaysia to increase immunisation efforts | World news



A health expert affiliated with the World Health Organization has called on the US to share any intelligence it has about the origins of the coronavirus outbreak with the WHO and the scientific community.

Last week the Wall Street Journal cited US intelligence agencies who said they were told that three unnamed members of staff at a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan were sick enough to go hospital in November 2019 with Covid-like symptoms.

US intelligence chiefs later stressed they did not know how the virus was transmitted initially, but that they had two theories: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, or it was a laboratory accident.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, Dr Dale Fisher said the theory that the virus leaked from a laboratory was “not off the table”, but remained “unverified”. Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, which is coordinated by the WHO, urged the US to share any intelligence it had. “The Wall Street Journal is not really the way to share science,” he said.

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Ministers have been urged not to “threaten” NHS staff by forcing them to get vaccinated against coronavirus under plans being considered by the government.

The shadow Commons leader, Thangam Debbonaire, said it was not a “good idea” after the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, admitted the proposal was being investigated alongside the existing consultation on making jabs mandatory for social care workers.

There is nervousness in Whitehall about doing anything to destabilise the vaccine rollout by requiring that people get the jab instead of keeping it voluntary – something that several behavioural scientists have warned could dampen take-up among already vaccine-hesitant groups.

But after concerns that a sizeable number of health and social care staff, who were among the first to be offered the vaccine, are reluctant to get jabbed, the government has been consulting on making vaccines mandatory for care workers, and is now expanding that to include all those working in the NHS.

People who remain chronically ill after Covid infections in England have had to wait months for appointments and treatment at specialist clinics set up to handle the surge in patients with long Covid.

MPs called on Matt Hancock to explain the lengthy waiting times and what they described as a “shameful postcode lottery” which left some patients facing delays of more than four months before being assessed at a specialist centre while others were seen within days.

NHS England announced in December that people with long Covid, or post-Covid syndrome, could seek help at more than 60 specialist clinics. But despite government assertions in January that the network of 69 centres was already operating, the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus found that some clinics were still not up and running three months later.

The theory that the coronavirus outbreak began with a leak from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan has not been ruled out, according to a health expert affiliated with the WHO.

Dr Dale Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, which is coordinated by the WHO, said the WHO’s investigation into the origins of the virus had only just begun.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World This Weekend he said: “The lab leak theory is not off the table, there’s more research to be done.”

An investigation visit by WHO experts earlier this year, which was highly controlled by the Chinese authorities, concluded it “extremely unlikely” that the pandemic began with a laboratory incident.

Fisher said this theory remained “unverified” despite a report, based on US intelligence, which claimed three members of staff at the lab had become sick with Covid-like in early December 2019.

He urged the US to share this intelligence. Fisher said: “We believe that all the laboratory workers have had serology [tests] done and all those antibody tests were negative and that was part of the reason why the risk was downplayed.”

Fisher added: “WHO could do itself a favour, by describing the plans for further investigation because people really haven’t heard anything since the February mission was done and therefore people think they’ve stopped looking for the origins, which is far from the truth, it’s only really just begun.”

He also suggested China’s secrecy about the origins of the virus could be driven by fears of compensation claims. Fisher said: “Any country that found any Covid-19 in its borders before the outbreak started would suddenly clam up. This is why I would argue that diplomacy is the way forward with this, creating a no blame culture. The only way you really can get to the bottom of this is just to say ‘look there’s no penalties, we just need to sort this out’.”



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