Almost A Million People Inoculated With Chinese Covid-19 Vaccine -Firm

CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS
File photo: A medical worker takes a swab sample from a student to be tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus as senior students prepare to return to school in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on May 14, 2020. STR / AFP) / China OUT.

 

Nearly a million people have taken an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Chinese company Sinopharm, the firm said, although it has not yet provided any clear clinical evidence of efficacy.

China has been giving experimental Covid-19 vaccines to people including state employees, international students and essential workers heading abroad since July.

Sinopharm’s chairman told media this week that nearly a million people have now received their vaccine for emergency use, though he did not provide a specific figure.

“We have not received a single report of severe adverse reaction, and only a few had some mild symptoms,” Liu Jingzhen said in an interview re-published by the state-owned firm on Wednesday.

China has been bullish about the development of its vaccine for the new virus — which first emerged in the centre of the country late last year — with four vaccines now in late-stage testing.

READ ALSO: UK Vaccine News Gives Hope As US Plans Mass Rollout

Many of the trials are taking place overseas, as China has largely brought the virus under control within its borders.

Sinopharm is testing two vaccines in late-stage trials in countries including the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Peru and Argentina.

The company claimed this week to be “leading the world in all aspects” of vaccine development, although it did not offer clinical evidence from ongoing trials.

Instead it cited anecdotal experiences from those who have been inoculated, including “construction personnel, diplomats, and overseas students” who it said have gone on to visit more than 150 countries after vaccination without being infected.

READ ALSO: No Sinister Plan Behind COVID-19 Vaccine, Says Nigerian-Born Doctor Leading Pfizer Research

President Xi Jinping has declared that any Chinese vaccine would be a “global public good”, after the country came under criticism, particularly from the US, for its early handling of the outbreak.

Many who have been inoculated in China are not formal participants in drugmakers’ trials and are said to have done so voluntarily.

Competition has intensified among pharmaceutical companies racing to develop a Covid-19 shot, with two vaccines — one by US company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and another by US firm Moderna — publishing large-scale trial data this month that showed their jabs were around 95 percent effective against Covid-19.

AFP

Trump To Address APEC Summit As He Contends Election Loss At Home

silhouette of Donald Trump
(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 21, 2020 US President Donald Trump speaks to the media prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

 

US President Donald Trump will take part Friday in an Asia-Pacific summit as he continues to reject his election loss, a day after Xi Jinping used the forum to hail China’s growing economic clout.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering, held online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, brings together 21 Pacific Rim countries, accounting for about 60 percent of global GDP.

Beijing has become the main driving force behind the trade grouping after the United States began withdrawing from multilateral bodies during Trump’s presidency.

Xi, boosted by the signing last week of the world’s biggest trade pact, gave a keynote address to the forum Thursday, hailing China as a pivot point for global commerce and vowing to keep its “super-sized” economy open.

Washington broke with its usual practice and did not send a representative to deliver a public speech at the two days of meetings, but a senior US official confirmed Trump would take part in the official summit on Friday evening.

He will deliver a speech to fellow leaders but the event is mostly closed to the media, according to officials in host country Malaysia.

It will be only the second time that Trump, who is pursuing legal challenges after his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, has participated in APEC, the other occasion being in 2017.

Oh Ei Sun, an analyst from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Trump would be aiming to “present himself as ‘presidential’ on the global stage”.

“Trump would, of course, take this opportunity to present himself as a sitting president for domestic political advantage,” he told AFP.

The president would also “like to reiterate his administration’s hallmark emphasis on protectionism and in the process forestall China from claiming leadership in the global free-trade agenda”, he added.

– ‘Don’t repeat past mistakes’ –
Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the voting and counts in the November 3 election were fraudulent, with his campaign launching various lawsuits.

Trump has taken a hard line on China during his tenure, hitting the world’s number-two economy with a barrage of tariffs and tech restrictions, and a Biden administration is expected to see a more nuanced extension of Washington’s current China policy.

This year’s APEC gathering comes a week after China and 14 other Asia-Pacific countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s biggest free-trade pact.

The deal, which excludes the US, is viewed as a major coup for China and further evidence that Beijing is setting the agenda for global commerce as Washington retreats.

Signatories hope the pact will help their virus-hit economies on the road to recovery, and many leaders at the APEC forum warned against turning inwards in response to the pandemic.

“Trade has been the engine of growth and prosperity in APEC since it was founded 30 years ago,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“As we confront the region’s biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism.”

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that “making rules for a free and fair global economy is critically important”, at a time there was a risk of turning inward during the global economic slump.

APEC gatherings have in recent years been overshadowed by trade tensions between the US and China — leaders could not agree on a joint declaration at their previous summit in 2018 — but there are hopes for a more constructive American approach under Biden.

Chinese Official Backs Hong Kong Judicial ‘Reform’ Calls

Hong Kong lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai (back C) speaks during a meeting at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after pro-democracy lawmakers said they would all quit in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city’s pro-Beijing authorities.
Peter PARKS / AFP

 

A senior Chinese official on Tuesday backed calls to “reform” Hong Kong’s judiciary, in a landmark speech signaling Beijing’s determination to assert more control over the city’s independent legal system.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong owes much of its success to a transparent and internationally respected common law legal system that stands in stark contrast with the opaque, party-controlled courts in authoritarian China.

But following months of pro-democracy protests last year, Beijing has cracked down on dissent and ramped up direct oversight in the city.

On Tuesday a veteran official in charge of Beijing’s Hong Kong policy said it was time to re-examine how the judiciary operated.

“Even in Western countries, judicial systems have to catch up with the times and reform constantly,” Zhang Xiaoming, deputy head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

“This does not affect judicial independence,” he insisted.

Zhang did not give any specifics on what path such reform should take.

But he did name-check Henry Litton, a retired senior judge who has written multiple columns in recent months critical of Hong Kong’s judiciary.

“Such a rational voice from a person inside the trade should be valued by the whole society, in particular the judiciary and the legal community,” Zhang said.

Litton, who served on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal from 1997 to 2015, has been celebrated by Beijing’s state media as a voice calling for an overhaul of the city’s judicial system.

He was highly critical of a ruling during last year’s protests when senior judges struck down an order banning face masks, as well as other judicial reviews by democracy supporters.

He has also called for Hong Kong’s judges to “regain Beijing’s trust” and claimed courts “have subordinated the common good to the assertions of personal right”.

Dozens of protester acquittals -– often accompanied by withering court criticism of police –- have triggered a growing backlash from Beijing loyalists.

Defenders of Hong Kong’s legal system counter that the courts are simply doing their jobs.

Beijing has dramatically altered its relationship with Hong Kong since last year’s protests.

In June, it bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature to impose a sweeping national security law which outlawed the expression of certain political views.

Beijing also toppled the judicial firewall between the two, awarding itself power over especially serious national security cases and allowing its security services to operate openly in the city for the first time.

Last week Hong Kong authorities ousted four lawmakers after China’s top lawmaking body said any legislator deemed a threat to national security could be removed without going through the courts.

In response, 15 other pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse, reducing the legislature to a gathering of Beijing loyalists.

In Tuesday’s speech, Zhang hailed the removal of the legislators.

“Patriots rule, anti-China trouble-rousers out is a political rule… Now it has also become a legal norm,” he said.

-AFP

Expulsion Of Hong Kong Lawmakers ‘Right Medicine’ For Normal Operation: China

Pro-democracy lawmakers (L-R) Helena Wong, Wu Chi-wai, Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk-ting talk to the media before handing in their resignation letters at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, after the pro-democracy bloc said they would resign en masse in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city’s pro-Beijing authorities.
Peter PARKS / AFP

 

 

The ousting of four pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong’s legislature was “the right medicine” for the city, China said, telling foreign governments the issue was none of their business.

Fifteen politicians vowed to quit in anger after their colleagues were removed on national security grounds by the Beijing-appointed chief executive, boosting fears that the room for dissent in Hong Kong is shrinking.

Millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets last year in months of disruptive protests over ebbing freedoms. Demonstrations were stamped out by the pandemic and a swingeing new law that made certain opinions illegal overnight.

The expulsions this week were “the right medicine that will start a new chapter in ensuring smooth operation” of Hong Kong’s legislature, said China’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong in a statement dated Thursday.

“The decision is intended to guarantee normal operation of governing bodies… and better ensure Hong Kong is governed by Hong Kong people with a high degree of autonomy,” it said.

Britain — which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 — summoned China’s ambassador in London on Thursday, accusing Beijing of breaking international treaty obligations that guaranteed the financial hub special status and a high degree of autonomy.

London has increasingly locked horns with China since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong this year.

The European Union urged the “immediate reinstatement” of the lawmakers, and Canada said their ousting had the effect of “eroding human rights in Hong Kong”.

China pushed back at the criticism, telling a “handful of foreign politicians to grasp the trend of the times, keep their hands off China’s internal affairs, stop meddling with Hong Kong affairs in any form, and avoid going further down the wrong path.”

London has already angered Beijing by offering Hong Kongers holding British National Overseas passports a route to UK citizenship by relaxing entry and residency requirements.

Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of the legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

The expulsions and resignations will leave just two legislators outside the pro-Beijing camp, both of them unaligned with either bloc.

-AFP

China Sends ‘Congratulations’ To Joe Biden On US Election Win

Tense Future For US-China Ties, With Or Without Trade Deal

JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

 

China congratulated US President-elect Joe Biden on Friday nearly a week after he was declared winner of the American election.

US-China ties have grown increasingly strained in recent years under the administration of incumbent Donald Trump, and relations are as icy as at any time since formal ties were established four decades ago.

“We respect the choice of the American people. We express our congratulations to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris,” said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin at a regular press briefing, referring to incoming vice president Kamala Harris.

Wang said China understands “the result of the US election will be determined in accordance with US laws and procedures”.

China was previously among a handful of major countries including Russia and Mexico that had not congratulated the president-elect, with Beijing commenting earlier this week simply that it had “noticed Mr. Biden declared he is the winner”.

Since US media called the presidential race, Trump has not conceded to Biden as is traditional practice once a winner is projected.

Trump’s four years in the White House have been marked by a costly trade war between the two powers, with Beijing and Washington also sparring over blame for the Covid-19 pandemic and China’s human rights record in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Under his “America First” banner, Trump has portrayed China as the greatest threat to the United States and global democracy

-AFP

 

Trump Bans US Investment In Chinese Firms That Help Military

This combination of file pictures created on April 4, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump in St. Louis, Missouri on October 9, 2016 and China’s leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on December 5, 2012. Ed Jones, Paul J. RICHARDS / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump signed an order Thursday that will ban Americans from investing in Chinese firms that could help Beijing’s military and security apparatus.

The executive order said the Chinese government obliges private firms to support these activities and through capital markets “exploits United States investors to finance the development and modernization of its military.”

The ban takes effect January 11 just days before Trump’s presidency ends and is the latest move in increasingly tense US relations with the Asian power.

Investors have until November 11, 2021 to divest any holdings in the banned companies, according to the order.

Trump declared a national emergency saying American investors are helping China “to directly threaten the United States homeland and United States forces overseas, including by developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction, advanced conventional weapons, and malicious cyber-enabled actions against the United States and its people.”

The prohibition targets a list of 31 companies, including telecoms, aerospace and construction firms, according to press reports.

AFP

US Won’t Enforce TikTok Ban Following Court Ruling – Report

In this file photo illustration taken on November 21, 2019, the logo of the social media video-sharing app Tiktok is displayed on a tablet screen in Paris.  (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP).

 

The US government has decided against enforcing its ban on Chinese-owned social media sensation TikTok to comply with a federal court ruling issued in the national security case, a media report said Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal reported the US Commerce Department had decided to hold off on enforcing a Trump administration order to ban the video-sharing app owned by Chinese-based ByteDance.

The move comes after a federal court in Pennsylvania blocked the Trump administration from carrying out the ban, which had been ordered by the White House based on claims the app posed a security threat due to the company’s links to Beijing.

According to the report, the Commerce Department said the shutdown order won’t go into effect “pending further legal developments.”

Other court cases are also pending on the matter.

ByteDance had been given until Thursday to restructure ownership of the app in the United States to meet national security concerns, but it filed a petition in a Washington court this week asking for a delay.

The company said in a Tuesday statement that it had asked the government for a 30-day extension because of “continual new requests and no clarity on whether our proposed solutions would be accepted,” but it was not granted.

The Trump administration has been seeking to transfer ownership of TikTok to an American business to allay security concerns, but no deal has been finalized.

AFP

China Condemns Mass Resignations In Hong Kong Legislature

Hong Kong prominent pro-Beijing legislator Starry Lee (C) speaks during a meeting at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after pro-democracy lawmakers said they would all quit in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city's pro-Beijing authorities. Peter PARKS / AFP
Hong Kong prominent pro-Beijing legislator Starry Lee (C) speaks during a meeting at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after pro-democracy lawmakers said they would all quit in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city’s pro-Beijing authorities. Peter PARKS / AFP

 

China warned Thursday the mass resignations of pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong were a “blatant challenge” to its authority over the city.

Fifteen legislators were set to quit the chamber in protest at the Beijing-sanctioned ousting of four colleagues, leaving the assembly a muted gathering of government loyalists.

The resignations come with the city’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement and avenues of dissent already under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law this year.

Half of the group had made good on their pledge by Thursday afternoon, which sparked a furious response from Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

“It once again showed their stubborn confrontation against the central government and a blatant challenge to the power of the central government. We severely condemn this,” a statement said.

“We have to tell these opposition lawmakers, that if they want to use this to advocate a radical fight, and beg for foreign forces to interfere, and once again drag Hong Kong into chaos, that’s a wrong calculation.”

Inside the chamber, government loyalists discussed a transport bill, but without any of the rambunctious debate that has been the mark of Hong Kong’s semi-democracy in recent years.

“Hong Kongers — prepare for a long, long time where there is only one voice in society,” pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters outside.

“If you are a dissident, get ready for even more pressure.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, a Beijing appointee, on Wednesday was granted the power to turf out any legislator who she deems insufficiently patriotic, without recourse to the city’s courts.

She immediately made use of those powers, kicking out four lawmakers she said were a threat to national security, and sparking criticism both at home and abroad, with the United States threatening further sanctions on regime figures.

A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
A pro-Beijing supporter holds China’s national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city’s pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Chris Patten, the city’s last colonial governor, said the move demonstrated Beijing’s “total hostility to democratic accountability, and those who wish to stand up for it”.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin rejected the international criticism.

“We urge the relevant people to strictly abide by the basic norms of international law and international relations, stop any form of interference into China’s internal affairs, of which Hong Kong affairs are a part,” he said.

The exodus of opposition lawmakers neuters one of the last forums for dissent in Hong Kong, as its once-boisterous media reels under a crackdown unleashed by the national security law and Beijing loyalists target the legal system that has underpinned the city’s success as a finance hub.

Restrictions on gatherings, partly because of the coronavirus, have also put the lid on the kind of huge rallies that roiled the city last year.

Millions took to the streets in largely peaceful protests over a lack of political accountability and what demonstrators saw as overbearing policing.

Violence and vandalism erupted at some demonstrations, and more than 10,000 people were arrested.

‘Final nail in coffin’

Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of the legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Scuffles and protests would routinely break out in the chamber, with the out-gunned pro-democracy minority often resorting to filibustering and other tactics to try to halt bills they oppose.

The expulsions and resignations will leave just two legislators outside the pro-Beijing camp, both of them unaligned with either bloc.

“It seems that the control of Hong Kong has now been exercised by the Chinese Communist Party authority in Beijing,” political analyst Willy Lam said, adding the basic rights enshrined when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997 were “seriously jeopardised”.

The move by Beijing “has put the final nail in the coffin,” Claudia Mo, one of the lawmakers who resigned, told AFP. “It’s rule by decree.”

“What’s the point of going to work every morning thinking ‘am I going to be kicked out’?”

 

AFP

Chinese Tech Shares Fall As Beijing Begins Industry Clampdown

A screen shows sales information during the 2020 Tmall Global Shopping Festival on Singles’ Day, also known as the Double 11 shopping festival, at a media centre in Hangzhou, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province on November 11, 2020.
STR / AFP

 

Chinese tech giants including Alibaba and Tencent tumbled for a second day Wednesday after Beijing’s market regulator put out draft antitrust rules that signaled a looming crackdown on high-flying internet giants.

Rules published on Tuesday outlined plans to prevent “monopolistic behaviour” among internet companies, a shift from a previously more hands-off approach to antitrust issues.

The timing of the announcement also raised eyebrows, coming on the eve of China’s mammoth Singles’ Day, the world’s biggest shopping festival, which is propelled by Alibaba.

Shares in the e-commerce titan dropped 9.8 percent in Hong Kong — just a week after regulators halted an enormous IPO for the group’s financial arm — while tech rival Tencent slipped more than seven percent.

Meanwhile, online shopping platform JD.com plunged more than nine percent, smartphone maker Xiaomi dived more than eight percent and food delivery firm Meituan was 9.7 percent lower.

The losses followed massive drops for the firms on Tuesday.

Dave Wang, portfolio manager at Nuvest Capital told AFP the authorities’ move marks an “inflection point” for the sector.

“The dominance of the big players may have reached a point that is making authorities feel uncomfortable,” he said.

“They are looking to reduce this dominance or at least keep it in check.”

The guidelines, put out by the State Administration for Market Regulation, take specific aim at internet platforms and issues such as exclusivity clauses that hinder competition.

China’s antitrust watchdog is also targeting acts constituting an “abuse of dominant market positions” that could squeeze out smaller rivals — including unfair pricing, restricting transactions without justifiable reason, or pushing different prices and conditions on customers based on their buying habits.

The move to force business partners to “pick one of two”, therefore selling exclusively on one platform, is explicitly cited as a monopolistic practice as well.

China’s tech firms are known to have captive ecosystems. Alibaba’s Taobao platform, for example, supports payments via its own Alipay rather than Tencent’s WeChat Pay.

Beijing has moved to clip the wings of its fast-growing online platforms, most recently halting a planned record-smashing $34 billion IPO of Ant Group — Alibaba’s financial arm.

But Supun Walpola, equity analyst at LightStream Research, noted that even if the new rules affect companies’ current operations, it does not “drastically” hit their core business models.

“For instance, given its scale and penetration, I see no reason why Alibaba cannot be successful even without practices like data collaboration, price discrimination or exclusivity clauses,” he said

-AFP

China Set For World’s Biggest Shopping Frenzy

In this picture taken on November 6, 2020, an employee works in the warehouse of Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, the logistics affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, in Wuxi, China's eastern Jiangsu province, ahead of Singles' Day, also known as the Double 11 shopping festival - the world's biggest shopping event - which falls on November 11. Hector RETAMAL / AFP
In this picture taken on November 6, 2020, an employee works in the warehouse of Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, the logistics affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, in Wuxi, China’s eastern Jiangsu province, ahead of Singles’ Day, also known as the Double 11 shopping festival – the world’s biggest shopping event – which falls on November 11. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

The world’s largest online shopping bonanza began in China Wednesday with an army of workers and robots primed to sort packages, and international superstars hired to drive sales, on “Singles’ Day”.

Conceived as an antidote to Valentine’s Day, the event falls on the eleventh of the eleventh — with all its ones — and was meant to be an occasion for individuals to treat themselves to something new.

It has morphed into something else, however, and November 11 is expected to generate sales far outstripping the pre-Christmas “Black Friday” in the United States.

It will also be closely watched in China for signs of consumer sentiment during the coronavirus pandemic.

The event started in 2009 with apparel sales on e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Tmall platform.

But in a nation of online shoppers, it now rakes in double what US retail giant Amazon does in a month, according to a recent report by consultants Bain & Co.

“Over the past five years, the ‘Double 11’ sales event has grown by an annual 35 percent, generating 410 billion yuan (approximately $60.4 billion) in gross merchandise value for retailers and brands,” the report said.

Reignite domestic demand

At Alibaba’s logistics hub, some 1,000 robots hummed in readiness Tuesday, with an anticipated flood of orders.

In China, where the coronavirus first surfaced, the recovery in retail sales has lagged behind that of industrial sectors, with authorities and retailers trying to reignite domestic demand.

Alibaba — quite literally playing on the numbers — has this year extended “Singles’ Day” from 24 hours to an 11-day shopping campaign.

In this picture taken on November 6, 2020, an employee works in the warehouse of Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, the logistics affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, in Wuxi, China's eastern Jiangsu province, ahead of Singles' Day, also known as the Double 11 shopping festival - the world's biggest shopping event - which falls on November 11. Hector RETAMAL / AFP
The event started in 2009 with apparel sales on e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Tmall platform. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

And in a continued riff to hype the event, superstars such as Katy Perry have been hired to appear at an 11.11 Gala in Shanghai — to be broadcast online.

Singer Taylor Swift and supermodel Miranda Kerr are also expected to take part in interactive live broadcasts with Chinese consumers.

“Singles’ Day sales stats could be a useful anecdote of rebounding consumption,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi, in a report this week.

The Economist Intelligence Unit said it expects China’s retail sales recovery to firm up in the last three months of the year — well supported by this shopping festival.

“China’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic before other major economies will also support consumer confidence,” it said.

 

AFP

Brazil Suspends Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 8, 2020, a doctor shows the box of a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine produced by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech at Sao Lucas Hospital in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil. 

 

Brazil’s health regulator said it had suspended clinical trials of a Chinese-developed Covid-19 vaccine after an “adverse incident” involving a volunteer recipient, a blow for one of the most advanced vaccine candidates.

The setback for CoronaVac, developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, came on Monday as US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said its own vaccine candidate had shown 90 percent effectiveness — sending global markets soaring and raising hopes of an end to the pandemic.

Sinovac Biotech on Tuesday stood by its creation, saying: “We are confident in the safety of the vaccine”.

The Brazilian regulator Anvisa said it had “ruled to interrupt the clinical study of the CoronaVac vaccine after a serious adverse incident” involving a volunteer recipient on October 29.

It said it could not give details on what happened because of privacy regulations, but that such incidents included death, potentially fatal side effects, serious disability, hospitalization, birth defects and other “clinically significant events.”

Sinovac, however, said the incident was “not related to the vaccine”, adding it will “continue to communicate with Brazil on this matter.”

The public health center coordinating the trials of the vaccine in Brazil, the Butantan Institute, said it was “surprised” by Anvisa’s decision.

The institute “is investigating in detail what happened,” and “is at the Brazilian regulatory agency’s disposal to provide any clarification necessary on any adverse incident the clinical trials may have presented,” it said.

CoronaVac has been caught up in a messy political battle in Brazil, where its most visible backer has been Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a top opponent of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

The Sao Paulo state government said in a statement it “regrets that it learned of the decision from the press, instead of directly from Anvisa,” and was waiting along with the Butantan Institute for more information on “the real reasons for the suspension.”

– Pandemic politics –

Bolsonaro has labeled CoronaVac the vaccine from “that other country,” and pushed instead for a rival vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.

Last month, he shot down a plan by his own health minister to buy 46 million doses of CoronaVac, saying, “The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig,” and referring to it as “Joao Doria’s Chinese vaccine.”

Doria announced earlier Monday that the first 120,000 doses of CoronaVac would arrive in Sao Paulo on November 20.

His state has a deal with Sinovac to buy a total of 46 million doses — six million produced in China and the rest produced in Sao Paulo, which broke ground last week on a factory to make the vaccine domestically.

“Officials in the state government fear Bolsonaro will use technical decisions to delay the timeline of the vaccine for political reasons,” newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported, citing unnamed Doria allies.

Anvisa told AFP it had no comment beyond its statement announcing the suspension, which said that halting trials was standard procedure in such cases.

Bolsonaro faces criticism for his handling of the pandemic, which has included playing down the virus, opposing lockdown measures and relentlessly promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine despite studies showing it is ineffective against Covid-19.

The Sinovac, Pfizer and Oxford vaccines are all in Phase 3 trials, the final stage of testing before regulatory approval.

All are being tested in Brazil, the country with the second-highest death toll in the pandemic after the United States, with more than 162,000 people killed by the new coronavirus.

-AFP

Scholars Seek More Climate Cooperation between China and Africa

This file photo taken on June 29, 2019 shows an iceberg floating in Bonavista Bay in Newfoundland, Canada. The extent of sea ice in the Arctic was at record lows for October, Danish researchers said Wednesday, October 28, 2020, adding the unusually warm season meant it was not recovering as fast as normal. Johannes EISELE / AFP
This file photo taken on June 29, 2019 shows an iceberg floating in Bonavista Bay in Newfoundland, Canada. Rising temperatures across the world could see icebergs like this become extinct, changing the world’s topography with devastating consequences. Johannes EISELE / AFP

 

Academics and professionals knowledgeable about climate change have called for more cooperation between China and African nations in the aspect of climate cooperation.

The call was made at the ninth meeting of the China-Africa Think Tank Forum, in a session organised by the Department for Developing Countries Studies of the China Institute for International Studies.

The experts agreed that China and African countries have, over the years, cooperated on climate change issues through training exchanges, scholarship programs, transfer of technology, among many others.

However, the scale of challenges posed by climate change calls for increased investment in the existing, thriving relationship between China and African nations.

“Climate change has a higher impact on the already vulnerable, including children and the elderly,” Robert Gituru, a Professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya, said during the session. “If we want to improve the lives of poor people, then we must have close collaboration between African and Chinese scientists.”

Zhu Weidong, a research fellow of the China-Africa Institute, correctly noted that while Africa contributes little to climate pollution, the effect is harsher on the continent, thus the need for more cooperation between both China and African nations.

The ninth China-Africa Think-Tank Forum took place between November 4 and 5, and brought together hundreds of diplomats and experts from across the world to discuss the history of cooperation between China and Africa over the last two decades, as well as future cooperation.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a dynamic plaform which has elevated and strengthened the quality of discourse between China and African countries.