Huge European rescue plans, vaccine hopes fuel virus optimism

by Michael Mathes, with Hui Min Neo in Berlin and AFP bureaus

A half-trillion-euro European fund laid out by France and Germany sparked optimism Monday about fighting economic fallout from the coronavirus, as did encouraging early results on vaccine research by a US biotech firm.

Global markets surged as Europe pushed towards normality with major landmarks reopening after a two-month hiatus, and as China told the World Health Organization it would back an independent inquiry into the handling of the outbreak once the pandemic is “brought under control.”

At the White House, US President Donald Trump slammed China’s handling of the crisis — and dropped a bombshell by revealing he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that is an unproven treatment against coronavirus.

Trump, who has tested negative for COVID-19, dismissed safety warnings about the drug, saying he is taking it “because I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories.”

Nearly 4.8 million people have tested positive and more than 317,560 have been killed by the disease since it emerged in Wuhan, China late last year, according to an AFP tally.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, battling allegations from Washington and elsewhere that his country concealed the scale of the problem, told the World Health Assembly — the WHO’s decision-making body — that Beijing had been “transparent” throughout the crisis.

Beijing also offered to share a vaccine once one became available.

But China’s main critic, the United States, sharpened the tone at the same talks, accusing the WHO of being too close to Beijing, citing as evidence the continued exclusion of Taiwan from the UN health agency. (AFP)