Viet, Malaysia cases up as WHO eyes treaty

·3-min read

Vietnam and Malaysia have registered a record high number of daily coronavirus cases as World Health Organisation members prepare to negotiate a new international treaty on pandemic preparedness.

Vietnam widened lockdown measures in its industrialised north on Tuesday to combat its biggest COVID-19 outbreak so far as authorities reported a daily record in new cases that was more than double the previous high.

The health ministry late on Tuesday announced 447 new COVID-19 infections, the biggest jump since the 190 cases on May 16, driven by clusters in factory zones in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang provinces.

The figure was revised from 457 announced earlier.

"The COVID-19 variant found this time has been spreading very rapidly and widely," Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in a statement, without specifying which variant.

The outbreak has spread to more than 30 of Vietnam's 63 cities and provinces, including the capital Hanoi, which has shut restaurants and banned public gatherings.

Bac Ninh, home to production facilities of Samsung Electronics, started a curfew and other travel restrictions from Tuesday, state media reported.

That followed the temporary closure of four industrial parks, including three with Foxconn facilities, by authorities in neighbouring Bac Giang province.

The outbreak could be a big challenge for Vietnam, which successfully contained earlier smaller outbreaks and avoided the level of economic damage suffered by its neighbours.

Malaysia also registered a record number of daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

Malaysia has experienced a rapid climb in new cases since April, straining its hospitals and prompting the government to impose a near lockdown until June 7.

But infections have not abated, with a record 7289 new cases reported on Tuesday, pushing the country's tally to more than 525,000 - a five-fold increase since the start of the year.

It is the third worst-hit country in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and the Philippines.

South Africa said on Tuesday that consensus had been reached to hold a special ministerial session of the WHO at the end of the year to consider negotiating a new international treaty on pandemic preparedness.

The WHO, whose handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is under scrutiny, has endorsed a proposal initially made by the European Union to negotiate a global treaty as a way to ensure countries' political commitment to fighting outbreaks of new or particularly dangerous diseases.

The WHO's World Health Assembly will meet from November 29 to December 1.

A report by an independent panel faulted China for being slow to apply public health measures when the first COVID-19 cases emerged in late 2019 and the WHO for waiting too long to declare an emergency a month later.

South African ambassador Mxolisi Nkosi, speaking on behalf of 26 main sponsors of the resolution, told the WHO's annual ministerial assembly that the special session would "consider the benefits for such a convention, agreement or other international instrument".

The resolution was likely to be formally adopted on Wednesday, diplomats said.

Nkosi added: "Probably the most important lesson COVID-19 has taught us is the need for stronger and more agile collective defences against health threats as well as for building resilience to address future potential pandemics.

"A new pandemic treaty is central to this."

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