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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by representatives and spokespersons of the World Health Organization and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Clinical updates regarding COVID-19

Dr. Janet Diaz, clinical management lead for the COVID-19 response at the Heath Emergencies Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the latest WHO COVID-19 Living Clinical Management and Therapeutic guidelines made three new conditional recommendations on the isolation period: ten days of isolation for symptomatic individuals; five days for asymptomatic individuals; and rapid antigen testing, if available, to reduce the period of isolation.

The new recommendations were based on evidence pooled from 12 studies with 2,799 participants. This evidence showed that the difference in onwards transmission leading to hospitalization was two times more per 1,000 in asymptomatic persons and 19 more per 1,000 in symptomatic persons. The use of a rapid test before day 10 could reduce duration of isolation by three days. WHO encouraged governments and employers to support persons infected with COVID-19 to abide by isolation periods in order to reduce onwards transmission.

Dr. Diaz said that there was expanded application of the previous strong recommendation for the use of nirmatrelvir-ritonavir in high-risk patients, and it was now an option for use in pregnant and breastfeeding women. This was based on an assessment of the WHO Vigibase drug safety database, which had found no serious adverse events in mother or child when mother took this medicine. The other updates supported the strong recommendations against the use of the monoclonal antibodies, sotrovimab and casirvirimab/imdevimab based on additional in vitro evidence.

Responding to questions, Carla Drysdale, also for the WHO, said that WHO needed every country to provide rapid and reliable reporting of data. Dr. Diaz said that the there was a small subset of patients whose COVID-19 symptoms seemed to persist beyond 12 months.

Full guidelines can be found here and here.

Trial against human rights defenders for helping migrants in Greece

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed that this week a long-awaited trial of 24 human rights defenders charged over their role in helping to rescue migrants in distress at sea had begun in Lesvos, Greece.

Trials like this were deeply concerning because they criminalized life-saving work and set a dangerous precedent. There had already been a chilling effect, with human rights defenders and humanitarian organisations forced to halt their human rights work in Greece and other EU countries. OHCHR reiterated its call for charges against the 24 to be dismissed. The charges were in connection with their actions in rescuing migrants at sea and included several alleged misdemeanours related to the facilitation of migrant smuggling. Those facing trial were all members of, or volunteers with, a Greek NGO called Emergency Response Centre International or ERCI, which had helped more than 1,000 people to reach safety and provided survivors with medical and other assistance on the Greek island of Lesvos from 2016 to 2018.

Full statement is available here.

Ms. Throssell, replying to questions, said that such actions by the authorities had a chilling effect on aid organizations which were working to save lives. The charged NGO had helped bring more than 1,000 people to safety over the years. Other NGOs might stop their activities out of fear that they too might end up in court. There were a number of charges in this case, Ms. Throssell explained, which included espionage, transferring sensitive information, forgery, aiding and abetting. She reiterated that humanitarian work ought not be criminalized, and the charges should be dropped. Ms. Throssell did not have details on what type of sentences the NGO activists might receive. Most charged individuals were Greeks, but there were foreign national as well. Trials like this were concerning as they criminalized actions to save human lives. No State should take such steps.

Indonesian President apologizes for human rights violations in the past

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR welcomed President Joko Widodo’s acknowledgment and expression of regret for 12 historical incidents of serious human rights violations, including the 1965-1966 anti-Communist crackdown, the 1982-1985 protester shootings, enforced disappearances in 1997 and 1998, and the Wamena Incident in Papua in 2003. The President’s gesture was a step on the long road to justice for victims and their loved ones.

OHCHR urged the Indonesian Government to build on this momentum with tangible steps to take forward a meaningful, inclusive and participatory transitional justice process, guaranteeing truth, justice, reparations, and non-recurrence to victims and affected communities, including victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

Answering questions from the media, Ms. Throssel said that an estimated half a million people had been killed in the anti-Communist crackdown of the 1960s. There should be no statute of limitations on gross violations of human rights.

OHCHR statement can be found here.

Announcements

Carla Drysdale, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the WHO would be sending a press release today, embargoed until 4:30 p.m. on 14 January, on the subject of one billion people around the world being served by health facilities without electricity.

With regard to the cough syrup which had already caused dozens of children deaths in West Africa, and which was now reportedly causing deaths in Uzbekistan, Ms. Drysdale asked that questions be sent to mediainquiries@who.int, and the WHO media team would provide latest figures.

 

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