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WUHAN: World Health Organization experts on Wednesday inspected a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan that some Trump administration officials speculated could have been the source of the coronavirus, as countries tracked the latest research on rival vaccines.

Britain meanwhile, said farewell to centenarian “Captain Tom”, the World War II veteran who last year won the nation’s heart when he raised millions for health charities during the coronavirus lockdown.

Vaccines are key to overcoming the pandemic that has infected nearly 104 million, killed more than 2.2 million and devastated the global economy.

British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and German biotech firm CureVac announced on Wednesday they were teaming up to develop a vaccine with the potential to counter multi-variants of Covid-19.

Russia is working to increase production of its Sputnik V jab in foreign countries after a report showed strong results for it.

And the WHO-backed Covax programme published its first distribution list Wednesday, planning enough doses for 145 countries to immunise 3.3 percent of their populations by mid-year.

Countries will receive doses in proportion to population size, with the most going to India (97.2 million), Pakistan (17.2 million), Nigeria (16 million), Indonesia (13.7 million), Bangladesh (12.8 million) and Brazil (10.6 million).

China said on Wednesday it planned to provide 10 million doses of Covid-19 jabs to the Covax programme.

In Washington last year, then-president Donald Trump and officials in his administration promoted the theory — providing no evidence to back it — that the virus had leaked from Wuhan’s high-security lab.

Hopes for ending the pandemic were boosted by the publication of final-stage trial results showing that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6 percent effective against symptomatic Covid-19 cases.

Russia and several other countries rolled out the vaccine last year, amid scepticism about its quality and concerns that it had been rushed.

But the results published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, put it at a par with Western-developed vaccines.

Sputnik V is relatively cheap and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, unlike the below-freezing storage required for shots from Pfizer and Moderna.

Spain said it was “open” to using Sputnik V if it was approved by European regulators. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, citing “good data” for the Russian jab, said “every vaccine is welcome in the European Union”.

But in Britain, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson dodged questions on Sputnik V, despite having been quick to hail the success of rival jabs.

His attention was focussed on paying tribute to Captain Moore, who died on Tuesday, months after he earned affection and admiration for his fund-raising exploits.

Belgium joined a growing list of EU countries Wednesday in restricting access to the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine to younger age brackets — in their case the under-55s. Although the European Medicines Agency recommended the jab for adults of all ages last week, several countries have advised against administering it to older people.

Germany, Italy and Poland have all moved to limit its use on older people.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said last week the AstraZeneca jab was “quasi-ineffective”. His comments were rejected by the firm and described by one UK global health expert, Michael Head of the University of Southampton, as “extremely unhelpful, ill-founded and inaccurate”.

Preparations for the Australian Open meanwhile were thrown into chaos Wednesday when up to 600 tennis players and officials were told to isolate and get tested after a hotel staff member tested positive for coronavirus.


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