Vaccine Push Vital As Delta Strain Threatens EU, Health Agency Says

Staff proceed to disinfect a light rail in Sydney on June 23, 2021, as residents were largely banned from leaving the city to stop a growing outbreak of the highly contagious Delta Covid-19 variant spreading to other regions. (Photo by Saeed KHAN / AFP)

 

 

The highly contagious Delta variant could soon account for 90 percent of new coronavirus cases in the EU, the bloc’s disease control agency said Wednesday, urging members to spur vaccination drives.

While the Alpha variant first discovered in the UK is the predominant strain now circulating in the European Union, that is expected to change quickly, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said.

“It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination,” Andrea Ammon, the centre’s director, said in a statement.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, is more infectious than other strains, she said, adding “that by the end of August it will represent 90 percent” of new cases in the EU.

The centre’s warning comes as Russia warned of an “explosive” surge in infections that has been made worse by low rates of vaccine uptake.

The UK has also seen the Delta variant become dominant, but has been shielded by a successful vaccination campaign, with 82.5 percent of adults having had at least one jab and 60 percent fully protected.

“It is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace” in order to stop the spread of the variant and mitigate its health impact, the centre said.

To date, about 30 percent of the over-80s and 40 percent of the over-60s in the EU are still not fully vaccinated, the centre’s data show.

– Speed up vaccine rollout –
“At this stage it becomes crucial that the second vaccination dose is administered… to speed up the rate at which vulnerable individuals become protected,” Ammon said.

The centre estimates that the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), is 40 to 60 percent more contagious than the Alpha variant (Β.1.1.7).

“Unfortunately, preliminary data shows that it can also infect individuals that have received only one dose of the currently available vaccines,” Ammon said.

“The good news is that having received two doses of any of the currently available vaccines provides high protection,” she added.

In the UK, hospitalisations and the numbers of patients on mechanical ventilators have crept up in recent weeks. There were 250 people requiring help breathing on June 22, more than double the number from a month earlier, National Health Service data show. Still, both measures are well down from their peak.

– Don’t drop guard –
The centre also urged countries to be cautious about relaxing curbs aimed at limiting the spread, especially over the summer months.

Any relaxation “could lead to a fast and significant increase in daily cases in all age groups,” the agency said.

This increase could in turn lead to a rise in “hospitalisations, and deaths, potentially reaching the same levels of the autumn of 2020 if no additional measure are taken,” it said.

France on Wednesday added Russia to its list of countries from which non-essential travel is banned, as concern grows over the spike of cases in Moscow.

With 50,000 new infections recorded in Moscow over the past two weeks, Mayor Sergei Sobyani on Wednesday warned that “the situation has become explosive,” with 90 percent of cases being the Delta variant.

Since it was first discovered in India at the end of last year, the Delta variant has been reported in 85 countries according to the World Health Organization.

In mid-June, the emergence of the Delta variant in the UK prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay a planned full lifting of virus restrictions in England.

Portugal has also recently seen a rise in cases and on Tuesday reported that more than half of new cases in Lisbon were from the Delta variant.

US To Miss July 4 Goal Of One Covid Shot For 70% Adults: White House

FILE: US President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP)

 

The administration of President Joe Biden on Tuesday conceded it won’t meet its goal of administering one or more doses of a Covid vaccine to 70 percent of US adults by July 4.

“We think it’ll take a few extra weeks to get to 70 percent of all adults with at least one shot,” said Jeffrey Zients, head of the White House Covid response team.

As of Tuesday, 65.4 percent of over-18s had received one or more doses of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots.

But the vaccination rate has been declining since April when it hit a peak average of 3.4 million daily shots. The latest average is around 850,000 daily shots.

Adult vaccination rates vary greatly by state. The Northeast has some of the highest uptake, with Vermont leading the charge at 84 percent partially vaccinated and 75 percent fully vaccinated.

The bottom of the table is dominated by states in the South, with Mississippi covering just 45 percent of adults with one shot and 37 percent with two.

According to nationally representative surveys carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation, unvaccinated adults are significantly younger, less educated, more likely to be Republicans, people of color and uninsured.

Despite missing the Independence Day goal, Zients said the administration had “succeeded beyond our highest expectations” in returning the nation to a pre-pandemic normal.

“Instead of just small backyard gatherings, America is getting ready for a truly historic Fourth of July, with large celebrations planned in communities across the country,” he said.

He added the White House would invite 1,000 people including military and frontline workers to celebrate the holiday at an outdoor party.

Federal indoor mask recommendations were lifted for vaccinated people in May and cases are at their lowest since the start of the pandemic.

The country is registering around 10,000 new daily cases a day — just three per 100,000 people, with the daily death rate around 270, or 0.1 per 100,000.

Still, epidemiologists are worried about the rise of the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than past strains and badly hit India, Britain and other countries. It now accounts for at least 20 percent of US cases.

Current vaccines remain effective against the variant if a person is fully vaccinated, but there are fears that undervaccinated parts of the country could incubate new waves.

 

AFP

Rwanda Cancels Weddings As COVID-19 Cases Surge

A handout picture taken on March 11, 2021, and released by Urugwiro Village, the office of the President, shows Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame (L) receiving the first injection of the Covid-19 vaccine at King Faisal hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo by – / Urugwiro Village / AFP)

 

 

Rwanda on Monday announced fresh restrictions including a ban on weddings as it struggles to contain a surge in coronavirus infections.

“All social gatherings including celebrations of all kinds are prohibited,” a government statement said Monday evening. “Traditional, civil and religious weddings are suspended.”

Other measures due to come into force on Wednesday include the extension of a nationwide curfew, from 7 pm (1700 GMT) until 4 am, restrictions on movement between districts, and the suspension of air travel to neighbouring Uganda where coronavirus cases are spiralling.

“The public is reminded of the critical importance of complying with health measures including physical distancing, wearing face masks, and ensure hand hygiene. Penalties will be applied for non-compliance,” the statement said.

Rwanda has, up to now, avoided the worst of the pandemic by enforcing some of the strictest containment measures on the continent and implementing a rigorous regime of testing and contact tracing.

But over the last few weeks, cases have shot up with authorities counting 662 cases and seven deaths on Monday.

The country of 13 million people has registered a total of 31,435 positive cases and 388 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

A nationwide campaign aimed at vaccinating 60 percent of the population by next year has so far reached just three percent of the population.

Indonesia Hits Two Million COVID-19 Cases As Crisis Deepens

File photo: Health officials take samples of saliva and nasal fluid from a resident (L) to test for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Tangerang on April 2, 2020. FAJRIN RAHARJO / AFP.

 

Indonesia passed two million coronavirus cases Monday as infection rates soar and hospitals are flooded with new patients, prompting warnings that the Southeast Asian nation’s health crisis could spiral out of control.

The unwanted milestone comes after daily case rates more than doubled in recent weeks and authorities identified the presence of highly infectious Covid-19 variants.

On Monday, official figures showed that Indonesia had recorded a daily record high of 14,536 cases, taking the total to just over two million with nearly 55,000 deaths, among a population of nearly 270 million.

But those figures are widely thought to be a severe undercount, due to low testing and contact tracing — some experts have said that official cases may only be about 10 percent of the real number.

“It’s starting to bubble up to the surface, like a time bomb,” said Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist at Indonesia’s Airlangga University.

“This is just the beginning. Depending on how things are handled, we could end up with a major explosion like in India.”

Case numbers are spiking as Indonesia grapples with new virus strains, including the highly infectious Delta variant first identified in India.

The rise has also been blamed on millions travelling across the Muslim-majority nation at the end of Ramadan, despite an official ban on the annual migration.

Hospital occupancy rates have soared to over 75 percent in Jakarta and other hard-hit areas, while funerals for Covid-19 victims have also reportedly jumped.

“It’s worrying,” Jakarta resident Rahmani told AFP at a cemetery where he attended the funeral of a relative who died of the virus.

“As good citizens we have to follow government orders to obey health protocols.”

– Younger victims –

The Indonesian Medical Association said the variants appeared to be sickening younger people.

“Previously, Covid-19 patients were elderly or those with [pre-existing conditions],” the association’s Covid-19 spokeswoman Erlina Burhan said earlier.

“But since the virus variants were detected, a lot of patients were younger” and did not have pre-existing conditions, she added.

Widespread rule-breaking on mask-wearing and other health protocols, as well as vaccine scepticism, are among factors cited for the worsening situation.

The World Health Organization has called for tougher movement restrictions.

Indonesia’s government, widely criticised for a weak pandemic response, said Monday it would temporarily beef up restrictions in the capital Jakarta and other hot spots — but enforcement has been lacklustre.

While Indonesia has not put major cities under the kind of strict measures rolled out in some virus-hit nations, dozens of communities in Central Java’s Kudus regency were put into lockdown after the Delta variant was spotted in local testing samples.

And a rash of severe cases in inoculated medical workers has raised questions about the China-produced Sinovac jab, which Indonesia is heavily relying on to vaccinate more than 180 million people by early next year.

This month, more than 300 vaccinated doctors and health-care workers in Central Java were found to have been infected with Covid-19, with about a dozen hospitalised.

Nearly 1,000 Indonesian health workers have died from the virus since the pandemic started.

Indonesia is ramping up inoculations by expanding the programme to anyone over 18 and eyeing incentives, such as giving away free live chickens to older people willing to get jabbed, in a rural part of West Java.

But there is widespread misinformation about the pandemic, and many are sceptical about vaccines.

“I’m convinced that we don’t need to react excessively,” said Jakarta-area resident Rateka Winner Lee.

“My wife and I both had Covid-19 before so we already have the natural vaccine inside our body.”

AFP

Brazil Exceeds 500,000 COVID-19 Deaths

A gravedigger wearing protective clothing is silhoutted at sunset as he digs a grave for a victim of COVID-19 at the Caju cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 28, 2020. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP

 

Brazil on Saturday crossed the grim threshold of 500,000 coronavirus deaths, the country’s health minister said, trailing only the United States in lives lost to Covid-19.

“500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic that affects our Brazil and the world,” Marcelo Queiroga tweeted, without giving the death toll from the past 24 hours.

As of Friday, the Health Ministry had recorded 498,499 deaths, with a daily average of more than 2,000 in the last seven days.

According to a consortium of the country’s main media groups, the overall death toll rose to 500,022 Saturday afternoon. The government releases its toll after 2100 GMT.

Brazil, with a population of 212 million, became the second country after the United States to surpass 500,000 Covid-19 deaths.

The South American country experienced a second wave of the pandemic this year, when it topped 4,000 deaths per day.

Brazil now appears to be grappling with a third wave in its outbreak, with infections and deaths spiking.

According to the latest weekly report from the Fiocruz medical research foundation, the country is in a “critical” situation with a high number of deaths and the possibility of things worsening in coming weeks as winter arrives in the southern hemisphere.

Experts are concerned about the slow rollout of the country’s vaccination campaign, the spread of more aggressive virus variants and President Jair Bolsonaro’s hostility toward preventative measures like mask wearing and lockdown restrictions.

Queiroga tweeted that he was working “tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians in the shortest possible time and change this scenario that has plagued us for more than a year.”

 

AFP

Olympic Staff, Volunteers Vaccinated As Tokyo Games Near

A lone protester (L) holds up a sign in reference to recent comments made by Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, next to a display of the Olympic Rings outside the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo on February 11, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

 

 

Thousands of Olympic volunteers and officials began receiving vaccines in Tokyo on Friday, five weeks before the Games, as experts warned it would be safest to hold the event without fans.

With just over a month until the July 23 opening ceremony, organisers are in the home stretch and scrambling to finalise virus rules and get participants vaccinated in time.

They also face a controversial and difficult decision over how many domestic fans, if any, will be in the stands for the pandemic-postponed Games.

Japanese Olympic athletes have already begun receiving vaccines, and the rollout expanded on Friday to Olympic staff, volunteers and others who will interact with overseas participants.

The International Olympic Committee has donated enough Pfizer/BioNTech doses for 40,000 people, including airport staff, local media and Olympic referees.

Chika Hirai, director of doping control for Tokyo 2020, was among those being vaccinated on Friday and said she had some niggling concerns about virus risks before getting jabbed.

“Now that I will be vaccinated, I will feel a little more reassured doing my job,” she told reporters.

“Many people from abroad, including inspectors from my field, are coming to Japan after having been vaccinated themselves. I feel more relieved that we also won’t be the source of the virus spread.”

The jabs are separate from those being used in Japan’s national vaccine rollout, which began slowly but has picked up pace lately, with over six percent of the population now fully inoculated.

The vaccinations come as organisers work to convince a sceptical public that the biggest international event since the pandemic began will be safe.

This week they have rolled out new virus rulebooks, warning athletes they could be barred from the Games if they violate regulations on mask-wearing or daily testing.

But they face a difficult decision over whether to allow spectators into the stands, with a group of leading medical experts who advise the government saying Friday a closed-door Games would be safest.

“Having no spectators would create the least risk in terms of the spread of infections inside venues, so we think this would be ideal,” they wrote in a report submitted to Tokyo 2020 organisers and the government.

– ‘Stricter standards’ –
The number of fans at the Games will be limited by government virus measures, which in Tokyo currently cap spectators at 5,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is smaller.

That rule is scheduled to stay in place until July 11, even though a virus state of emergency will end on Sunday.

After July 11, the cap will be raised to 10,000 people or 50 percent capacity, but the experts urged Olympic organisers to “impose stricter standards” if they allow fans.

They also want limits on spectators from outside the area.

And they warned organisers should be prepared to reverse course and ban fans if the infection situation or pressure on the medical system worsens during the Games.

A final decision on local fans is expected next week, with local media reports saying a 10,000-person cap was most likely.

Overseas fans have already been barred from attending for the first time in Olympic history as organisers try to tamp down infection fears.

Tokyo 2020 said Friday they have further slashed the number of overseas participants coming to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympics to 53,000, not including around 15,500 athletes.

That is down from original plans for 177,000 people, including officials, sponsors and media, they said.

Tokyo 2020 also said Friday they had received offers from more than 100 overseas volunteer medical staff.

The foreign volunteers facilitated by the IOC are meant to help ensure the Games do not place extra pressure on Japan’s medical system.

US Announces $3.2bn Plan To Develop COVID-19 Antiviral Treatments

US President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP)

 

The administration of US President Joe Biden announced plans on Thursday to spend $3.2 billion to accelerate the development and discovery of antiviral treatments against Covid-19 and future threats.

The plan is called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics and its funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package passed by Congress in March.

“Antivirals are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for individuals with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk, for those whom vaccines may not be as protective,” Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor on the pandemic, told reporters.

Antiviral medication can also act as an important line of defense against emerging variants of concern that evade the protective action of current generation vaccines, he added.

The plan will help accelerate clinical testing for oral antiviral pills currently under various stages of development, such as Merck’s molnupiravir as well as efforts by Pfizer and Atea-Roche.

The plan is for these to be taken very early after an infection is confirmed, in order to stop the disease from progressing to the severe stage — mimicking what Tamiflu does for influenza.

The other pillar of the program is seeding the discovery of new antivirals — not just against this coronavirus and its wider family, but other families of viruses that are believed to have pandemic potential.

AFP

The Economist To Moderate Webinar On Nigeria’s Economic Recovery After COVID-19

A file photo of a food trader at a market in Akure, the Ondo State capital. Sodiq Adelakun/Channels Television
Food prices have recently skyrocketed across Nigeria amid rising insecurity, as the country continues to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Sodiq Adelakun/Channels Television

 

The Intelligence Unit of British magazine, The Economist, is set to moderate a webinar on Nigeria’s economic recovery.

The webinar, sponsored by Mastercard and Farmforte, is themed ‘Nigeria’s Hope Horizon: Getting back on the growth trajectory’.

It is scheduled to hold on June 23 and the public can register here.

“A‌ ‌pandemic‌ ‌took‌ ‌our‌ ‌globalized‌ ‌world‌ ‌by‌ ‌surprise‌ ‌and‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌most‌ ‌active‌ ‌hubs‌ ‌dead‌ ‌in‌ ‌their‌ ‌tracks,” a note from the organisers said.

“As‌ ‌New‌ ‌York,‌ ‌Paris,‌ ‌London,‌ ‌and‌ ‌other‌ ‌economy-defining‌ ‌cities‌ ‌froze,‌ ‌in‌ ‌Africa‌ ‌the‌ ‌dynamic‌ ‌development‌ ‌has‌ ‌not‌ ‌slowed‌ ‌down.‌

“A‌ fresh‌ ‌wind‌ ‌of‌ ‌youthful‌ ‌countries‌ ‌are‌ ‌too‌ ‌strong‌ ‌to‌ ‌hold‌ ‌down.‌ They‌ ‌have‌ ‌seen‌ ‌mistakes‌ ‌made‌ ‌in‌ ‌other‌ ‌parts‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌and‌ ‌are‌ ‌avoiding‌ ‌them,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌the‌ ‌best‌ ‌of‌ ‌technology‌ ‌and‌ ‌entrepreneurship‌ ‌to‌ ‌move‌ ‌ahead‌ ‌swiftly.‌ ‌

“Join‌ ‌us‌ ‌in‌ ‌an‌ ‌exciting‌ ‌review‌ ‌of‌ ‌companies‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌lead‌ ‌the‌ ‌way‌ ‌after‌ ‌Covid-19.”

FG Reopens First Dose COVID-19 Vaccination, Says Second Dose To End June 25

NPHCDA Executive Director, Dr Faisal Shuaib, flanked by two men at a press briefing in Abuja on June 15, 2021.

 

The Nigerian government has reopened the administration of the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in various parts of the country.

This takes effect from Tuesday, according to the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib.

“Recall that we officially closed the vaccination for the first dose on May 24, 2021. Since then, we have been inundated with requests by Nigerians to be vaccinated,” he told reporters on Tuesday in Abuja at a briefing to update Nigerians on the status of COVID-19 vaccination.

Shuaib added, “In response, we have decided to reopen vaccination for the first dose from today.

“This means anyone 18 years and above who has not been vaccinated should visit the nearest vaccination site for the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s Headline Inflation Drops To 17.93%, But Food Prices Rise

A file photo of a medical doctor receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Hospital in Abuja on March 5, 2021.

 

He explained that such persons would be due to receive their second dose of the jab in 12 weeks, noting that Nigeria would have received the next consignment of vaccines.

The NPHCDA boss noted that dedicated teams have continued to make strides in the vaccine rollout, working hand-in-hand with the local communities all across the country.

As of June 15, he disclosed that the agency has administered 1,978,808 and 680,345 first and second doses of the vaccine respectively.

Shuaib called on all Nigerians who have received their first dose to check their vaccination cards for the date of their first dose.

 

He asked them to ensure that they receive the second dose between six and 12 weeks from the date they took the first dose, to gain full protection against the COVID-19 virus.

The NPHCDA boss stated that in some cases, the location of the second dose could be different from that of the first dose.

“I, therefore, urge all Nigerians who have received their first dose at least six weeks ago to visit the nearest vaccination site to receive their second dose, for full protection against COVID-19 on or before June 25 when we shall close the administration of the second dose,” he pleaded.

COVID-19: Death Toll In US Surpasses 600,000 – Johns Hopkins

In this file photo taken on May 21, 2020 Worker move a coffin with the body of a COVID-19 victim out of a refrigerated container.
Ernesto BENAVIDES / AFP

 

The death toll in the US from the Covid-19 pandemic on Tuesday surpassed 600,000 according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, with President Joe Biden mourning the latest “sad milestone” and urging Americans to press on with vaccinations.

The United States has racked up by far the largest death toll of the pandemic, ahead of Brazil and India.

“There’s still too many lives being lost,” Biden said, noting that the daily number of dead has dropped sharply since the peak of the pandemic but that the continuing loss of life was still “a real tragedy.”

“My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one,” Biden said, speaking on Monday in Brussels as the tally ticked close to 600,000.

“We have more work to do to beat this virus. And now’s not the time to let our guard down. Please get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The massive vaccination campaign has been pushed by US health authorities since the authorization of the first vaccines in December, and peaked in April, with up to more than four million shots a day.

But the pace has slowed rapidly since then, and unvaccinated people still remain vulnerable to the disease.

Just over 52 percent of the US population, or 174 million people, have already received at least one dose of one of the three vaccines authorized in the country, according to health officials.

Biden has set a goal of 70 percent of adults to have received at least one shot by the national holiday of July 4, but the program may fall short of that goal.

Nightclubs Shut As DR Congo Hit By Third COVID-19 Wave

A DR Congo flag.

 

Nightclubs in DR Congo must close and funeral wakes will be banned for two weeks in the face of the third wave of Covid cases, President Felix Tshisekedi said Tuesday.

Speaking in the eastern city of Goma, Tshisekedi said he hoped the measures will be effective, notably against the “highly contagious” Delta variant first detected in India.

The vast central African country of at least 80 million people has had fewer than 40,000 cases and a total of 854 deaths since March 2020.

But daily cases have risen with 250 new infections recorded on Tuesday including 218 in the capital Kinshasa.

Tshisekedi said a nighttime curfew from 10 pm to 5 am will remain in effect, “with military patrols, (and) violators will be severely punished.”

Funeral wakes — a mainstay of Congolese social life — were also prohibited during the first wave of the pandemic in the former Belgian colony.

Tshisekedi also urged the Congolese to get vaccinated — the country has received 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca and hopes to receive Pfizer, Russian and Chinese jabs.

The surge in Covid has forced the authorities to postpone a tribute to Patrice Lumumba, a revolutionary figure who helped steer the former Belgian Congo to independence.

The DRC’s first post-colonial prime minister was executed by separatists in the region of Katanga who were backed by Belgian mercenaries.

A Belgian policeman admitted dissolving Lumumba’s body in acid to get rid of the evidence of the crime but said he had kept a tooth.

The relic was to be handed over in a ceremony in Brussels on June 21 and then displayed in several DRC towns before being buried.

The tribute will now take place on January 8-17 2022, culminating on the 61st anniversary of his death, Tshisekedi said on Sunday.

G7 Leaders Take On China, Covid And Climate

anada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, France's President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP
anada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy’s Prime minister Mario Draghi, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP

 

G7 leaders on Saturday confronted China and the threat of future pandemics as the elite club of wealthy nations advertised a newfound Western unity at its first physical summit since 2019.

After an informal evening get-together — featuring a Royal Air Force aerobatics display, beach barbecue, firepit marshmallows and a Cornish troupe singing sea shanties — the leaders were to wrap up their three-day summit on Sunday.

At their concluding session in Cornwall, southwest England, US President Joe Biden and his colleagues will back new conservation and emission targets to curb climate change, according to the UK hosts.

In a “Nature Compact” to be released Sunday with the G7’s final communique, they will commit to nearly halving their carbon emissions by 2030 — relative to 2010 — as well as vowing to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

The leaders are also set to promise more financial support for developing countries on the sharp edge of climate change, in the buildup to the UN’s COP26 environmental summit in Scotland in November.

Such actions were unthinkable under former president Donald Trump, but Biden is touting a message of revived US leadership on his first foreign tour.

“We’re on the same page,” Biden told reporters as he met French President Emmanuel Macron on the summit sidelines, pushing to rally the West against a resurgent China and recalcitrant Russia.

Asked if other G7 leaders agreed with him about a US diplomatic renaissance, Biden pointed to Macron, who replied: “Definitely.”

‘Build back better’

Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.

Their “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project is aimed squarely at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose nation has huge investments in China, called it an “important initiative” that was much needed in infrastructure-poor Africa.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) welcomes South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 12, 2021. PETER NICHOLLS / POOL / AFP
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) welcomes South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 12, 2021. PETER NICHOLLS / POOL / AFP

 

Britain meanwhile hailed G7 agreement on the “Carbis Bay Declaration” — a series of commitments to curb future pandemics after Covid-19 wrecked economies and claimed millions of lives around the world.

The collective steps include slashing the time taken to develop and license vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for any future disease to under 100 days, while reinforcing global surveillance networks.

The G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — will formally publish the pact on Sunday, alongside the summit communique containing further details on the B3W.

Covid vaccines

“The #CarbisBayDeclaration marks a proud and historic moment for us all,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, criticised in some quarters for being too accommodating towards China where the coronavirus originated, welcomed the health pact.

The G7 leaders are also expected to pledge to donate one billion vaccine doses to poor countries this year and next — although campaigners say the rollout is much too slow to end the crisis now.

After briefing the leaders in Cornwall, Tedros said he had set them the challenge of vaccinating at least 70 percent of the world’s population by their next summit in Germany in 2022.

“We welcome the generous announcement made by G7 nations about donations of vaccines but we need more and we need them faster,” he told reporters. “Immediate donations are vital.”

Aid charity Oxfam said the declaration “does nothing to address the fundamental problems that are preventing vaccines being accessible to the vast majority of humanity”.

‘Concrete action’

The G7 was joined Saturday by the leaders of Australia, South Africa and South Korea, with India taking part remotely, for a wide-ranging discussion about foreign policy challenges.

The regimes of Belarus and Myanmar are among those in the G7’s sights. Biden pushed also for measures against China’s alleged forced labour practices, including against the Uyghur minority.

A US official said Biden wanted “concrete action” on the forced labour accusations, calling them “an affront to human dignity, and an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition”.

China denies allegations that it is waging “genocide” by forcing up to one million Uyghurs and people from other ethnic-Turkic minorities into internment camps in the region of Xinjiang.

Putin weighs in

The US president will also seek to address frayed relations with Moscow, in particular over its cyber activity.

Most of the G7 leaders will reconvene Monday in Brussels for a NATO meeting, before Biden heads on to his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, vowing to deliver a blunt message about Russian behaviour.

In an interview with US network NBC News released Friday, Putin voiced hope that Biden would exhibit none of the “impulse-based movements” of Trump, who notoriously sided with the Russian leader against the views of his own intelligence chiefs.

 

AFP