AFP
AFP (Agence France-Presse) is an international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. The agency, founded in 1944, transmits news in several languages, including French and English.
Coronavirus
Kat Bohmbach

Who Will Find It First? The Global Race For A Vaccine

Cooperation is important, but so is competition ... as research bodies and nations look to find the only true solution to the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as possible.

PARIS — As the coronavirus continues to spread its deadly tracks via human contact at remarkable speeds, medical researchers are in a race against time to develop a vaccine to immunize the global population. But there are also races within that race: among private foundations and public health administrations — and from one country to the next. Yes both cooperation and competition are vital to get an effective vaccine as quickly as possible.

So far, the general consensus is that it will take at least 12 to 18 months to map out, test and produce an effective solution. In an effort to accelerate, Bill Gates said last week that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the construction of factories for the seven most-promising vaccine candidates. Only one vaccine will ultimately be chosen, while the remaining candidates most likely make it very far at all, shining a light on the tumultuous, arduous, and extremely costly road to developing a vaccine., Meanwhile on Tuesday, Russia announced that it will begin testing a vaccine on humans as soon as June. Here are some of the factors and projects that could be key to find a solution:

  • Cost & Scale: There are currently at least 35 companies and academic institutions working on the development of a vaccine. The cost is upwards of $2 billion, according to Le Monde, meaning that only large global laboratories and start-ups backed by foundations or companies can afford to try. Once a vaccine has been approved, Johnson & Johnson in the U.S has already made a $1 billion deal to produce more than a billion doses.

  • Sequence: China sent out the genetic sequence of COVID-19 in mid-January, giving researchers a head-start, but they still don't know how the virus will evolve or react to treatments.

  • Bird study: Les Echos visited researchers in Israel working to create vaccines based on "prototype" pathogens they had already been studying in birds, as well as monitoring the effects different medications have on COVID-19 patients.

  • Real time: Because it can take so long to map out a vaccine, doctors in Italy are helping to mobilize a first of its kind effort to share research, in real-time, 24-hours a day over social media, reports La Stampa.

  • Trials: Several companies, including Moderna, in the race for developing a vaccine will be pushing forward with human testing trials in the coming weeks. This does not mean that a cure for COVID-19 is a near-reality. Seth Berkley, head of the Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, cautions that it usually takes between 10 and 15 years for a drug to go from development to testing phases and onto licensing then manufacturing. The vaccine for Ebola was ready in 5 years. One of the lead researchers behind that effort said there are some signs of hope for quicker results for COVID-19.

Geopolitics

Coronavirus ~ Global Brief: Will Africa Be Spared?

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The rapid and insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet teaches us in a whole new way how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world.

SPOTLIGHT: WILL AFRICA BE SPARED?

Nationwide curfews across Europe, the White House preparing a $1 trillion relief package, Saudi officials banning pilgrimages to Mecca. As the number of people infected by COVID-19 keeps rising — and spreading — the world has turned upside down. That would also seem true when we look at how the global crisis is playing out in Africa, where reported cases are still in the low hundreds across the entire continent. Since the first infection was detected on February 27, in an Italian man traveling through Nigeria, there are still no signs of a serious outbreak in certain countries that have battled in recent years with endemic diseases such as ebola, malaria and tuberculosis. Experts are scratching their heads: Are the low infection statistics a matter of climate, lack of testing, luck, or other factors that set Africa apart from other parts of the world?

While it's too early to say how the COVID-19 reacts to warmer weather, tropical countries aren't immune to virus seasonality, with flu peaking in the dry season in many African countries. Rather, most bets have so far been put on its lower travel exposure. This might seem puzzling at first, particularly as the virus originated in China, which has become Africa's biggest trade partner, with over 10,000 Chinese-owned firms sprinkled across the continent. Still, there are relatively few Chinese posted on the continent for work, compared to those who travel, for example, to Europe for business and pleasure, estimated to be ten times the number who go to Africa.

Pessimists, however, fear that Africa is a ticking coronavirus time bomb. After all, if advanced French and Italian healthcare systems are overwhelmed, how will African countries — with scarce intensive-care beds and low-testing capacity — manage to contain the virus when it eventually starts to spread? On Wednesday, Le Monde reported the first death in sub-Saharan Africa, a 62-year-old woman in Burkina Faso. Fears are not unfounded, but Africa also has a few things going for it: the median age is under 20, which will likely reduce the mortality rate among those infected, and the continent has plenty of hard-earned experience in fighting endemic diseases — an important resource, as proven by the sleepy response of many Western leaders. But for now, we can only hope the world doesn't turn again.​

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics

The Latest: Biden's Big Day, Jack Ma Is Back, Tokyo Games At Risk

Welcome to Wednesday, where Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th U.S. president, Italy's prime minister hangs on, and the Tokyo Olympics may be cancelled again. We also visit six iconic businesses around the world, which have survived wars and depressions, but are now at risk of closing down due to the pandemic.

Joe Biden won't fix the world's broken diplomacy by himself

Democrats who reach the White House do not necessarily play into the hands of Europeans. It is up to them to unify their voice to pass their agendas.

The inauguration of Joe Biden opens a new chapter in the history of the United States, one filled with hopes that may quickly prove to be excessive. A new "New Deal" promises a shift in public health, diplomacy, and welfare for the American people.

It is also an opportunity to repair the historic bridges linking the two sides of the Atlantic. The next few days will be marked by actions of major symbolic importance: Washington's return to the Paris Climate Accord, a reconciliation with the World Health Organization, and likely, the revival of nuclear talks with Iran. Yet it would be a trap for us to believe that this means the return to a time when America and Europe were working together in defense of freedom and democracy.

From a European point of view, the hope inspired by Biden's inauguration Wednesday is just as dangerous as the blissful romanticism that swirled here with Barack Obama's arrival 12 years ago. First of all, Democrats who make it to the White House don't necessarily play into the hands of the Europeans. It was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who refused to ratify the Kyoto climate agreement and opposed the creation of an International Criminal Court. Barack Obama derailed an allied intervention in Syria.

In some ways, we may even miss Donald Trump who, for his own personal reasons, attacked the disproportionate power of the Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, which aligned with Europe's interest in reducing their powers. It is unlikely that Biden will join this fight, even if they are now the backbone of America's global domination.

We should not expect too much from the new president. The America of 2021 is not the America of the 2000s. The transatlantic relationship has reached the end of an era. The historic pillars of the international order have crumbled, and French President Emmanuel Macron already pronounced NATO "brain dead" a year ago.

Europeans will need to be particularly determined to grab the attention of Biden, who already has so much work to do domestically.

The Old World must propose a new transatlantic treaty that can seduce this new administration, around such crucial shared challenges as China's rising power, climate change, foreign investment monitoring, and industrial sovereignty. Washington will only listen if we speak with a single, unified European voice — and we offer them real value. Otherwise, our Inauguration Day hopes will quickly disappear.

— Lucie Robequain / Les Echos

Watch Video Show less
Ideas

Who Controls The Past? China's Pressure On Western Academics

Once again, life imitates art. In his masterpiece 1984, George Orwell wrote, "Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered."

This quote has proven particularly relevant in recent weeks as activists in the West suddenly became eager to tear down statues they consider offensive. But of course, the process of rewriting history is not new. Nor is it limited to the West.

In a recent article, the Financial Times describes how Chinese authorities have been using digitization to "systematically delete" from online databases used by scholars in China and abroad any historical documents from the 1950s that may "challenge the orthodoxy" President Xi Jinping wants to promote.

This will sound familiar to anybody who has read 1984: It is simply a 21st-century version of the work of Winston Smith, the main character, at the Ministry of Truth. In the real-world article, University of Michigan researcher Glenn Tiffert explains that as a result, "anyone who does research will come away misinformed or with a distorted view." But that is only the best-case scenario.

You don't mention the three Ts.

Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian who has been banned from using social media because of his criticism of Mao Zedong, describes another, perhaps more worrying, consequence of this new form of censorship: "No one dares to do research on social movements, and most spend their time researching Xi's ideas and Marxism-Leninism," he told the Financial Times. "Many of those who teach the real history have been sacked or punished."

But in a new twist, Beijing has also recently tried to pressure Western universities, eager to attract much-needed funding as well as Chinese students, into doing its bidding. Cambridge University Press, the world's oldest publishing house, initially bowed to Chinese demands and blocked online access to "politically sensitive" articles (or articles disputed by the Chinese government) in its highly respected China Quarterly. The decision caused such an outcry that CUP quickly backtracked.

But as AFP reported in late August, other publishers have quietly resorted to censorship for the sake of business. "We frequently exercise self-censorship to adapt to different markets," a business development director for a British publishing house admitted.

Looking at Chinese history — Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/Zuma

A managing director at an Asian education publishing specialist summed it all up when he said that "it is in publishers' interest to not publish something that would anger authorities." In the case of China, he explained, "you don't mention the three "Ts': Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan."

And of course, if even Apple, one of the world's most powerful companies, yields to Chinese censorship demands, there is little chance of smaller organizations, let alone individuals, offering any form of resistance.

By consenting to what Étienne de La Boétie, a French political philosopher, described almost five centuries ago as "voluntary servitude," these actors are paving the way for the realization, at least in China, of another one of Orwell's ever relevant warnings: "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."