Poorest Countries Can Expect COVID-19 Vaccines Within Weeks – WHO

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The world’s poorest countries can expect to start receiving their first Covid-19 vaccine doses between the end of January and mid-February, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Vaccination is already under way in some of the world’s wealthiest nations, including the United States, Britain, European Union countries and Canada.

Covax, the globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort, has struck agreements to secure two billion doses — and the first of those will start rolling out within weeks, said the WHO’s head of vaccines, Kate O’Brien.

Covax aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population in each participating country by the end of the year, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower-middle income economies involved in the scheme.

It is co-led by the WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Asked how quickly lower-income African nations would get vaccines, O’Brien told a WHO live social media event: “The facility has access to over two billion doses of vaccine.

“We will start to deliver those vaccines probably by the end of January, and, if not, certainly by early February and mid-February.

“That’s how countries in Africa and South Asia, and other countries around the world of these 92 that are less able to afford vaccines, are actually going to get vaccines.”

– Vaccines pipeline –

The WHO granted emergency validation to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 31, paving the way for countries worldwide to give swift approval to its import and distribution.

According to the WHO’s overview of candidate vaccines, 63 have been tested on humans, 21 of which reached final-stage mass testing.

A further 172 candidate vaccines are being developed in laboratories with a view to eventual human trials.

“There is a really big pipeline of vaccines that are coming through,” said O’Brien.

“We are in active review of the data on other vaccines and we do expect to be emergency-use listing additional vaccines in the coming weeks and the next months.

“We have 15 manufacturers that have contacted us believing that they have the data that are required to meet these highest standards.”

As for the new mutations of the virus detected in Britain and South Africa, WHO experts have said that while they seem more transmissible, there is no indication that the current vaccines would not work against those variants — and the vaccines are easily adaptable in any case.

“The evaluation about whether the existing vaccines will be impacted at all is under way,” said O’Brien.

However, “the kinds of changes being seen in these variants are not felt to be likely to change the impact”, she added.

O’Brien said it was too early to tell how long protection would last for following vaccination, and the WHO had no data yet to make any recommendations on receiving doses of different vaccines, having fully reviewed only the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

She said prospective recipients should be aware it is not uncommon to feel unwell or have a sore arm after receiving a shot.

“Up to a third of people are going to get a headache or not feel well for perhaps 24 hours; the data says sometimes up to 48 hours,” she said.

“It is your body’s immune response that is actually turning on.

“You might not feel at your best for the first couple of days, but there’s a reason for it: something good is happening in your body.”

Global COVID-19 Cases Cross 25 Million As India Sets Grim Record

Moderna's COVID-19 Vaccine Set For Final Trial Stage After 'Promising' Results
In this file photo taken on May 18, 2020, a syringe is pictured on an illustration representation of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in Paris. AFP

 

Global coronavirus infections soared past 25 million on Sunday, as countries around the world further tightened restrictions to try to stop the rampaging pandemic.

A million additional cases have been detected globally roughly every four days since mid-July, according to an AFP tally, with India on Sunday setting the record for the highest single-day rise in cases with 78,761.

The surge in India, home to 1.3 billion people, came as the government further eased lockdown restrictions on the weekend to help ease pressure on the reeling economy.

Even nations such as New Zealand and South Korea, which had previously brought their outbreaks largely under control, are now battling new clusters of infections.

On the other side of the world, Latin America — the worst-hit region — was still struggling with its first wave, with Covid-19 deaths in Brazil crossing 120,000, second only to the United States.

Brazil’s curve “has stabilised now, but at a very dangerous level: nearly 1,000 deaths and 40,000 cases per day,” said Christovam Barcellos, a researcher at public health institute Fiocruz.

“And Brazil still isn’t past the peak.”

Nearly 843,000 people have died of Covid-19 globally, and with no vaccine or effective treatment available yet, governments have been forced to resort to some form of social distancing and lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.

Masks will become mandatory from Monday on public transport and flights in New Zealand, which went more than 100 days without local transmission before the current cluster emerged.

And tightened virus curbs kicked in on Sunday in South Korea, which is also battling fresh clusters — including in the greater Seoul region, home to half the country’s population.

 ‘Anti-corona’ rallies in Europe 

Despite the grim numbers, there has been steady opposition to lockdowns and social distancing measures in many parts of the world, often because of their crushing economic cost.

But resistance has also come from the extreme right and left of the political spectrum, as well as conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine campaigners.

In Berlin on Saturday, around 18,000 people gathered to march against coronavirus restrictions — but police later stopped the rally because many were not respecting social distancing measures.

Protesters waved German flags and shouted slogans against Chancellor Angela Merkel often used by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Many carried placards promoting widely debunked conspiracy theories about vaccines, face masks and 5G communications.

Similar protests were held in London and Zurich, where some carried signs supporting the far-right QAnon movement, which promotes bizarre theories about Satan-worshipping cabals and “deep state” plots — without any credible evidence.

 ‘A big first step’ 

The pandemic has upended economies and societies around the world, and halted most large gatherings — from sport and music to religion and politics.

The Tour de France set off from the French Riviera on Saturday, two months later than planned and with the French sport minister not ruling out the cancellation of the event because of the coronavirus.

Under the Tour rules, a team with two positive tests in its entourage would be expelled. A virus testing cell will travel with the teams throughout the race.

The world’s top sport, culture and music events are struggling with the challenge of hosting spectators while reducing the risk of virus transmission.

But there was some cheer on Saturday in New York, once among the world’s biggest coronavirus hotspots.

Visitors raised their arms, clapped and lined up to get tickets as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened its doors to the public in a festive atmosphere after a six-month closure.

Tracy-Ann Samuel, who came with her daughters aged four and nine, said she couldn’t wait to again be “surrounded by beautiful art”.

“It means that there is some semblance of normalcy,” Samuel said.

“The Met has been a part of New York history for over 150 years… So this is a big first step.”

AFP

Indian Ministry Website Crashes In Repatriation ‘Panic’

Stranded migrant workers sit in a waiting hall before registering with police officials for a movement pass to be able to return to their hometowns after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, on the outskirts of Hyderabad on May 5, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP.

 

The Indian civil aviation ministry’s website crashed on Wednesday as panicked citizens abroad rushed to register for a mass repatriation of almost 15,000 nationals from 12 countries on planes and naval ships.

India banned all incoming international flights in late March as it imposed one of the world’s strictest virus lockdowns, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers and students stranded abroad.

Two ships were steaming towards the Maldives to evacuate some 1,000 Indian citizens from Friday while another was headed for the Gulf, according to the navy and the defence ministry.

The first of 64 flights over the next week were due to leave the United Arab Emirates — home to more than three million Indians — and Qatar on Thursday bound for the southern state of Kerala.

In total 26 flights will bring Indians home from the Gulf region, while others will operate from Southeast Asia, Britain and the United States, including in San Francisco and Washington.

Indian media quoted civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri as saying that 200,000 Indians abroad had registered for repatriation and that the final number could be twice that.

His ministry blamed the crashing of its website on “unprecedented traffic” and urged people to check the website of Air India, which is operating the flights, for details.

Kerala is the biggest source of Indians in the Gulf.

OV Mustafa, the director of Norka Roots, a government welfare body for non-resident Keralites, told AFP that the people were “desperate” and in a “panic”.

READ ALSO: India Embarks On ‘Massive’ COVID-19 Repatriation

“There are about 200,000 people who have registered to go to Kerala from the UAE alone,” he said.

“People are worried about the lack of clarity on the testing procedure. Especially pregnant women. They’re absolutely worried that people, even if they are asymptomatic, might be carriers. It’s a real fear.”

AFP

COVID-19: UN Seeks Ease Of Sanctions On Iran, Other Countries

People queue in line to receive packages for precautions against COVID-19 coronavirus disease provided by the Basij, a militia loyal to Iran’s Islamic republic establishment, from a booth outside Meydane Valiasr metro station in the capital Tehran on March 15, 2020. – Iran on March 15 announced that the new coronavirus has killed 113 more people, the highest single-day death toll yet in one of the world’s worst-affected countries. STRINGER / AFP.

 

The UN rights chief called Tuesday for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran facing the new coronavirus pandemic to be “urgently re-evaluated” to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.

“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

“In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” she said.

Bachelet insisted “humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be given broad and practical effect, with prompt, flexible authorisation for essential medical equipment and supplies.”

Her comments came as the number of cases of COVID-19 approached 400,000 worldwide, including nearly 17,000 deaths, according to an AFP tally using official sources.

Bachelet pointed in particular to the case of Iran — one of the hardest-hit countries in the pandemic with nearly 2,000 deaths.

READ ALSO: Over 200,000 Coronavirus Cases Declared In Europe

Even before the pandemic, she pointed out that human rights reports had repeatedly emphasised the impact of sectorial sanctions on access to essential medicines and medical equipment in the country, including respirators and protective gear for healthcare workers.

Bachelet’s office stressed that more than 50 Iranian medics had died since the first COVID-19 case was detected in the country five weeks ago.

She warned that Iran’s epidemic was also spreading to neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan, putting a strain on their fragile health systems as well.

The statement also cautioned that sanctions could impede medical efforts in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe during the pandemic.

“The majority of these states have frail or weak health systems,” Bachelet warned.

“Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems — but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities,” she said.

The UN rights chief stressed that “the populations in these countries are in no way responsible for the policies being targeted by sanctions, and to varying degrees have already been living in a precarious situation for prolonged periods.”

Bachelet stressed the importance of protecting health workers: “Medical professionals should never be punished by the authorities for pointing out deficiencies in the response to the crisis.”

She urged world leaders to come together.

“No country can effectively combat this epidemic on its own,” she said. “We need to act with solidarity, cooperation and care.”

AFP

Coronavirus: Affected Countries In Europe

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

With governments scrambling to contain a slew of new coronavirus cases across Europe, here is an overview of the countries affected, where people have died and precautions being taken.

– ITALY –

With 14 deaths and 528 infections, Italy is by far the European country worst affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. It has also been a point of contagion with many cases in other countries involving people who returned home after travelling in infection-hit areas of northern Italy.

Israel on Thursday began turning away foreign nationals who arrived on flights from Italy to contain the virus’s spread.

– GERMANY –

In Germany, 26 people have been infected, including 10 diagnosed since Tuesday. Fourteen of the 26 work for an equipment manufacturer in Bavaria, and were infected by a colleague returning from China. Several hundred people are quarantined in their homes.

– FRANCE –

France has so far registered 18 infections and two deaths, and has urged its nationals to delay travel to virus hotspots in northern Italy. Students returning from China, Singapore, South Korea and the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto are asked to remain at home for two weeks after their return.

– SPAIN –

Spain has registered 17 cases — 15 of them since Monday. Twelve are linked to Italy.

They include four Italians who were visiting Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The hotel where they were staying has been quarantined.

Three cases have been registered on the Spanish mainland, including one man in serious condition in the Madrid region.

– BRITAIN –

Britain has thus far recorded 15 cases, including two announced on Thursday: one patient had been in Italy and the other in Tenerife. The government has requested travellers returning from affected areas in northern Italy, China, South Korea and Iran to isolate themselves and inform authorities.

– SWITZERLAND –

Switzerland has registered four cases since Tuesday, including a man in his 70s who was infected near Milan.

– RUSSIA –

Two infected Chinese citizens have been treated in Russia, which has also repatriated and quarantined eight passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, of whom three have tested positive.

– AUSTRIA –

A 72-year-old man in Vienna tested positive on Thursday, making him Austria’s third case after an Italian couple, both 24, tested positive on Tuesday.

The Innsbruck hotel where the Italian woman worked as a receptionist was initially placed on lockdown but the measure was lifted late Tuesday following tests. Austria has urged its nationals to avoid visiting affected areas of neighbouring Italy.

– CROATIA –

Three people have tested positive for the virus, including a young man who recently stayed in Italy and his brother. A third case was detected Wednesday in a man who works in the Italian city of Parma.

GREECE –

Greece has announced three cases — all Greeks who had recently returned from northern Italy.

Athens announced its first infection Wednesday, a woman aged 38. Two more were announced on Thursday, including a 10-year-old.

All three affected are Greek nationals.

The authorities have cancelled carnival celebrations planned for this weekend.

– FINLAND –

Two virus infections were confirmed Wednesday — a Chinese tourist in Lapland and a second case involving a Finnish national who had recently visited northern Italy.

– SWEDEN –

Two cases have been detected so far. One was registered at the end of January: a woman who had visited Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus emerged in December. On Wednesday, a second infection was discovered — in a man returning from northern Italy.

– BELGIUM –

One case was detected in a Belgian national who was repatriated from Wuhan in early February.

– DENMARK –

Denmark announced its first case on Thursday — a man returning from a skiing trip to northern Italy. His wife and son tested negative. He is described as not in danger, and the family is being confined to their home.

– GEORGIA –

Georgia on Wednesday announced the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.

– NORTH MACEDONIA –

One case has been detected — a woman who recently returned from Italy.

– NORWAY –

Norwegian health authorities announced Wednesday the first case of the new coronavirus in the Nordic nation in someone who returned from China last week. They said the patient was not in danger.

– ROMANIA –

Romania reported its first case on Wednesday — a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.

AFP