The World Health Organization is launching an independent investigation into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic after some countries appear to have done a better job at tackling the outbreak than others.
"This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday. "The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation."
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson will lead the panel. Other members will be added later.
"I cannot imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process," Tedros said.
The WHO chief has said numerous times that global coordination is key to battling the pandemic, including work on developing a vaccine that he says must be made available to all and not just those who can afford to pay for it.
Airborne spread, asymptomatic transmission
Also Thursday, the WHO formally recognized what more than 200 scientists have been telling it to acknowledge – that COVID-19 could be spread through the air.
Australian and U.S. scientists – backed by more than 200 others – wrote this week that studies show "beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air."
The WHO had dismissed that possibility, but now says "airborne spread, particularly in specific indoor locations such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons, cannot be ruled out."
It also added that it agrees with some researchers who say that even people who show no symptoms are capable of spreading the coronavirus through the air.
Meanwhile, officials around the world are reimposing lockdowns and other restrictions as the global number of COVID-19 cases appears to grow – more than 12 million cases and 553,000 deaths as of late Thursday. In the United States, records for the number of new cases are being set every day.
Health experts say people got complacent as restaurants, bars and tourist attractions began to reopen in the past several weeks, believing that the worst was over, and did not wear masks or practice social distancing.
The state of California is suing the Trump administration over its policy requiring international students to attend college classes in person or face possible deportation.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says not allowing international students to take classes remotely threatens to further spread the coronavirus and would deprive financially struggling schools of talent and tuition dollars.
"Shame on the Trump administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college, but now their health and well-being as well," Becerra said. "President Trump appears set to do just that amidst a global pandemic of historic proportions. Not on our watch."
There has been no response from the White House. About 21,000 international students attend California colleges and universities.
At the White House
A White House reporter who attends briefings has tested positive for COVID-19, the correspondents' association said Thursday.
It did not name the reporter, who showed no symptoms before testing positive.
Other White House correspondents who were in the briefings with the affected reporter will be tested.
Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Áñez says she has tested positive for COVID-19.
"I feel good, I feel strong, I will continue to work virtually from my isolation," she tweeted Thursday.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has also come down with COVID-19 after months of dismissing the disease as nothing to worry about.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella says the city's world-famous beaches will not officially open until there is a coronavirus vaccine.