WHO Expert Warns Coronavirus 'May Never Go Away'
Many people are anxious to know when life will return to normal after the emergence of the new coronavirus, but a top World Health Organization (WHO) official warned that we may never be rid of the new disease.
"This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," WHO health emergencies program leader Mike Ryan said at a Wednesday news briefing reported by The New York Times. "H.I.V. has not gone away but we've come to terms with the virus and we have found the therapies and we have found the prevention methods, and people don't feel as scared as they did before."
Media briefing on #COVID19 with @DrTedros https://t.co/euggX435FQ— World Health Organization (WHO) (@World Health Organization (WHO))1589383370.0
Many people have pinned their hopes on a vaccine, and there are currently more than 100 in development, according to Reuters. But health experts have said that it can be difficult to find vaccines for coronaviruses, and Ryan described a vaccine as a "massive moonshot."
He also noted that many diseases for which vaccines exist continue to spread, such as measles.
"[W]e have some perfectly effective vaccines on this planet that we have not used effectively for diseases we could have eradicated," he said, according to The New York Times.
He also said that it could take a long time for anything approaching herd immunity to develop, since relatively few people had caught the virus.
"I think it is important we are realistic and I don't think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear," he said, according to Reuters. "I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be."
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also spoke and urged everyone to do all they could to fight the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
"The trajectory is in our hands, and it's everybody's business, and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic," he said.
At the same time, the agency warned of a mental health crisis as people around the world deal with the anxiety and loneliness caused by the disease and subsequent social distancing measures.
"The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all cause or could cause psychological distress," WHO mental health department director Devora Kestel said, as The Guardian reported.
In a report to the UN, her department warned of serious mental illness among children, young people and medical workers.
"The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently," she said.
As of Thursday morning, the new coronavirus has sickened more than 4.3 million people worldwide and killed almost 300,000, according to data provided by Johns Hopkins. The U.S. and Russia currently lead the world for infections, while the U.S. and the UK have the highest death tolls.
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By Alexander Freund
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
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