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Zika virus to spread across Americas, warns WHO

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GENEVA/LONDON — The mosquito-borne Zika linked, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, causing Australia to issue new travel advice.

Zika has not yet been reported in the continental United States, although a woman who fell ill with the virus in Brazil later gave birth to a brain-damaged baby in Hawaii.

Brazil’s Health Ministry said in November that Zika was linked to a foetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains.

Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last Friday, more than 30 times more than in any year since 2010 and equivalent to 1 to 2 per cent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.

New advice issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday night listed 22 countries of concern, including Pacific neighbour Samoa.

The advice said Samoa was the only country in the region with an ongoing outbreak after previous incidences on Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, and French Polynesia.

The Zika outbreak comes hard on the heels of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, demonstrating once again how little-understood diseases can rapidly emerge as global threats.

“We’ve got no drugs and we’ve got no vaccines. It’s a case of deja vu because that’s exactly what we were saying with Ebola,” Trudie Lang, a professor of global health at the University of Oxford, said.

“It’s really important to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”

The virus is not expected to be a problem in Canada and Chile due to the absence of the type of mosquitoes that carry the virus in those countries.

Large drug-makers’ investments in tropical disease vaccines with uncertain commercial prospects have so far been patchy, prompting health experts to call for a new system of incentives following the Ebola experience.

“We need to have some kind of a plan that makes (companies) feel there is a sustainable solution and not just a one-shot deal, over and over again,” said Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, last week.

Reuters

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Economy

Govt decides to award Budhi Gandaki Hydel project to Chinese firm again

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KATHMANDU — The government has decided to award contract for the construction of the 1,200-megawatt Budhigandaki hydropower project, a national pride project, to China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) once again.

A Cabinet meeting on Friday has decided to award the contract for the project to CGGCL reverting the erstwhile Sher Bahadur Deuba government’s decision to develop the 1200MW project with internal resources.

The Cabinet meeting has directed the Energy Ministry to initiate the process to award the project to the Chinese company.

Following the government decision, the Energy Ministry will now invite the Chinese company for talks and prepare a draft of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) before signing it, according to multiple sources at the ministry.

As per the Cabinet decision, the ministry has been asked to hold talks with the Gezhouba, prepare a proposal, and strike a deal to execute the $2.5 billion reservoir project.

Earlier on May 15, 2017, the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government had awarded the contract to construct the Budhigandaki project to CGGCL, juat nine days before he was to resign from the PM’s post.

The Dahal-led government had awarded the contract to CGGCL at a cost of Rs 260 billion as per a study carried out by a French company, Tractebel Engineering.

The agreement, however, invited controversy as the project was handed to the Chinese company without initiating a competitive bidding process.

The Budhi Gandaki hydel project has been touted as a key project to resolve the perennial power crisis in the country. The government has allocated Rs18 billion for compensation payments and operational expenses for this fiscal year.

The Gorkha and Dhading district administration offices are currently distributing compensation to owners of the land taken over by the project.

More than 8,000 households will be affected by the project, according to the latest report.

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