The United States hopes to begin a sweeping program of Covid vaccinations in early December, the head of the government coronavirus vaccine effort said Sunday as cases surge across the worst-hit nation.
The beginning of vaccinations could be a crucial turning point in the battle against the virus that has claimed more than 255,000 lives in the US, the world’s highest reported toll, since emerging from China late last year.
“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours of approval” by the US Food and Drug Administration, Moncef Slaoui told CNN, pointing to possible dates of December 11-12.
FDA vaccine advisors reportedly will meet December 10 to discuss approving vaccines which pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna say are at least 95 percent effective.
Worldwide, nearly 1.4 million people have died this year and at least 58 million cases have been registered.
Slaoui estimated that 20 million people across the US could be vaccinated in December, with 30 million per month after that.
– ‘Herd immunity’ by May? – He said that by May, with potentially 70 percent of the population having been vaccinated, the country could attain “herd immunity,” meaning the virus can no longer spread widely — and that people can move closer to resuming their pre-coronavirus way of life.
But Slaoui added a note of caution, saying, “I really hope and look forward to seeing that the level of negative perception of the vaccine decreases and people’s acceptance increase.
“That is going to be critical to help us.”
A recent Gallup poll showed that four in 10 Americans still say they would not get a Covid-19 vaccine, though that is down slightly from five in 10 surveyed in September.
Slaoui said he thought it would help in persuading vaccine skeptics to learn that trials have shown the new vaccines to be 95 percent effective — well above the 50 percent level that an earlier target for vaccine approval.
Officials have yet to announce which groups in the population would receive the vaccine first, though health care workers are certain to receive priority, followed by vulnerable groups like the elderly.
Slaoui said that while the trials had ensured only short-term safety, decades of experience showed that nearly all adverse effects of vaccines occurred within 40 days of being administered, while the current trials protectively covered 60 days.
With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Slaoui added, there were no serious adverse effects in that period.
For now, the vaccines have not been tested on young children, but the doctor said trials are underway, with a chance toddlers could be vaccinated starting in the second quarter of 2021, with infants coming afterward.
Countries worldwide, as well as international organizations, were working out plans for global distribution of these vaccines and potentially others still being developed.
The G20 countries, in a virtual meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia, plan to pledge to “spare no effort” in ensuring fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines worldwide, according to a draft communique seen by AFP on Sunday.
The communique offered no details, however, on how the effort would be funded.
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.
President Donald Trump on Monday announced by tweet that he had fired his defense secretary Mark Esper, further destabilizing a government already navigating Trump’s refusal to concede election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.
“Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service,” Trump said on Twitter, announcing his replacement by Christopher Miller, the current head of the National Counterterrorism Center.
The firing of Esper, who had clashed with Trump over his suggestion of using military personnel to quash civic unrest, comes a week after the US presidential election.
Trump, who is pursuing so far flimsy claims of election fraud in the courts, has only until January 20 before he has to leave office and Biden takes over.
Tens of thousands of Californians fled their homes in the Napa and Sonoma wine regions in the face of wildfires, emergency officials said, as a new blaze in the north of the state killed three people.
Under an orange sky and a sweltering heatwave, some of Napa Valley’s best-known vineyards were consumed by an out-of-control blaze that raced through more than 35,000 acres (14,000 hectares), according to state fire agency Cal Fire.
Celebrated wineries such as Chateau Boswell and part of Castello di Amorosa went up in smoke, while there was a “significant loss” of buildings on the fringes of Santa Rosa — neighbouring Sonoma County’s largest town — said fire chief Tony Gossner.
Around 200 miles (320 kilometres) north, three people perished in a “very fast-moving, very fluid, very hot” fire in Shasta County, said Sheriff Eric Magrini.
The fires prompted authorities to order more than 35,000 residents to evacuate, with thousands more poised to flee, as “explosive fire growth” burnt through dry vegetation and difficult mountainous terrain, officials said.
The causes of the fires are still being investigated.
Calistoga, a picturesque community at the top of the Napa Valley known for hot springs and as a launchpad for wine tours, has largely been evacuated.
CeeBee Thompson spent sleepless hours watching flames in the distance and packing her car, as Calistoga’s recently installed warning sirens sounded twice during the night.
“We could see flames shooting up all night long,” Thompson told AFP. “The only thing we have left to do is put the cats in the car.”
– ‘All hell breaks loose’ –
The inferno is threatening communities in Napa and neighbouring Sonoma, still reeling from devastating wildfires in 2017 when 44 people died and thousands of buildings were razed.
“It’s like a double whammy,” Thompson said.
On Monday strong winds gusted up to 55 mph (90 kph) sent embers flying, fueling the wine country blaze named the “Glass Fire,” and the “Zogg Fire” further north.
California governor Gavin Newsom — who blames the severity of recent blazes on climate change — said winds were expected to stabilize overnight, which should help firefighters.
The new conflagrations come during a record season, with five of the state’s six biggest wildfires in history currently burning.
The Zogg Fire, which has already torn through more than 30,000 acres, is expected to merge with the 900,000-acre August Complex fire.
Kale Casey, a spokesman for firefighter efforts at the blaze, said winds had already been “pulling” flames away from contained areas before the latest conditions.
“And then you have a day like yesterday where all hell breaks loose,” he said.
More than 2,000 firefighters battled Monday to bring the flames under control in a region that “has been hit over and over and over again,” said Governor Newsom.
Susie Fielder fled her St Helena home in Napa County before dawn, grabbing a photo of her grandparents off the wall and a small, bag of essentials after a warning alarm sounded in her neighbourhood.
“This morning I was thinking what do you do if you lose everything?” Fielder told AFP.
Returning from a refuge in the city of Napa shortly before noon, she found her home ash-coated and without electricity, but otherwise unscathed.
Nearby flame-ravaged Spring Mountain was barely visible through the smoke as Fielder got to work cleaning and moving food into a freezer powered by a generator.
She doesn’t plan to unpack her “go bag” of essentials.
– Peak fire season –
“I’m going to stay until somebody comes and knocks on my door and tells me I have to leave,” Fielder said.
California has been battling massive wildfires for months, stoked by dry conditions, strong seasonal winds and high temperatures.
Newsom warned that California is only “now moving into the peak of the wildfire season,” with Santa Ana winds sweeping south toward Los Angeles, where another major heatwave is expected.
Evacuations have been complicated by the coronavirus, which has hit the Golden State hard. Hotels and university accommodation are being used as alternatives to mass shelters.
A teenager was arrested on murder charges Wednesday after two people were shot dead during anti-police protests in the US city of Kenosha, as President Donald Trump said he was sending in additional federal forces.
Violent clashes have erupted in the Midwestern city since police shot a black man point-blank as many as seven times in his back as he tried to enter his car.
During protests on Tuesday, two people were shot dead and a third injured after a man in civilian clothes with an assault rifle opened fire on demonstrators.
“This morning Kenosha County authorities issued an arrest warrant for the individual responsible for the incident, charging him with First Degree Intentional Homicide,” Antioch police said.
“The suspect in this incident, a 17-year-old Antioch resident, is currently in custody of the Lake County Judicial System pending an extradition hearing to transfer custody from Illinois to Wisconsin.”
Trump announced that additional federal forces were headed to Kenosha as police try to keep control of the volatile demonstrations.
“We will NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets,” Trump tweeted.
“TODAY, I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!”
Trump made the announcement after speaking with Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who a day earlier announced he was authorizing increased National Guard support for the county to 250 members.
289 Nigerians who had been stranded in the United States have arrived in Abuja.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), announced this on Wednesday.
The returnees arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja at about 13:35 pm via Ethiopian Air.
BREAKING EVACUATION UPDATE 289 Nigerians arrived Nnamdi Azikwe Int’l Airport Abuja from USA 4th Evacuation flight on Wednesday 29th July 2020 from Newark New Jersey about 13:35 hours. The flight departed on Tuesday 28th July 2020.
According to NIDCOM, the flight is the fourth evacuation from the US since series of repatriations commenced following the COVID-19 pandemic and the returnees included 135 male, 142 female and 12 infants.
The commission also noted that all the evacuees tested Negative to COVID-19 before boarding the flight and will also commence a 14-day self-isolation as mandated by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
Meanwhile, it said arrangements for two additional evacuation flights are being concluded from the USA to Lagos on July 31, from Houston Texas and a combined flight to Abuja and Lagos on August 7, 2020 from Newark, New Jersey.
President Donald Trump assailed likely opponent Joe Biden as “not competent” to lead the country, speaking as polls over the weekend showed deepening voter disenchantment with his own handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s shot, he’s mentally shot,” Trump said about Biden in a wide-ranging interview with “Fox News Sunday.”
He said that if Biden is elected on November 3, he will “destroy this country.”
Facing the multiple challenges of a spreading pandemic, racial unrest and a struggling economy, Trump made several unfounded or highly speculative accusations against the former vice president, saying Biden would “triple your taxes” and “defund the police.”
He added, “Religion will be gone,” referring to Democratic officials banning large church services to stem the virus spread.
Asked whether he would accept the election result in November, even if he loses, Trump echoed his position of 2016, saying, “I have to see … I’m not going to just say yes.”
The interview, which was taped in advance, came as new polling results showed support for Biden surging as doubts about Trump’s handling of the pandemic grow amid a resurgence in many states.
Interviewer Chris Wallace told the president that a new Fox opinion poll showed Biden with a substantial lead over Trump not only on his ability to manage the pandemic (with a 17-point edge) and to deal with racial unrest (by 21 points), but even — by a single point — on handling the economy, long a Trump strong point.
And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll has Biden leading Trump among registered voters nationwide by a resounding 15-point margin, 55-to-40 percent.
Trump dismissed such polling as “fake,” saying White House surveys show him winning both nationally and in key swing states.
– ‘Mommy, Mommy…’ –
He repeatedly pummeled Biden, who has kept a relatively low profile amid the restraints imposed by the pandemic.
Trump claimed that the Democrat wanted to “defund the police” — a battle cry of some anti-racist protesters — and insisted that such language was in a Biden policy document, though he was unable to produce it when challenged by Wallace.
As he repeatedly questioned his rival’s mental acuity, Wallace asked him directly if thought Biden was senile.
“I don’t want to say that,” Trump replied. “I say he’s not competent to be president.”
He questioned whether the Democrat could pass a cognitive ability test that he said he had “aced,” and said the former vice president would fall apart under tough questioning.
“Let Biden sit through an interview like this, he’ll be on the ground crying for Mommy. He’ll say, ‘Mommy, Mommy, please take me home.'”
– ‘Envy of the world’ –
Trump again defended his handling of the pandemic, claiming that “we are the envy of the world” on testing; and, of his early prediction that the virus would someday disappear, said, “I’ll be right eventually.”
He again opposed any national mandate for mask-wearing, saying, “I want people to have a certain freedom.”
Referring to the racial unrest in the country, and a recent spike in violent crime in some cities, the president blamed “Democrat-run cities,” which he said were “stupidly run.”
Asked about statistics showing American blacks are twice as likely to be shot and killed by police as whites, Trump replied, “Many whites are killed also. You have to say that.”
And he equated those who fly the Confederate flag with those saying that “Black Lives Matter,” adding, “It’s freedom of speech.”
– ‘Long overdue’ –
Trump again stated his opposition to renaming US military bases named after Confederate generals — even after the military supported the idea.
“I don’t care what the military says,” the president said.
“We’re going to name it after the Reverend Al Sharpton?” he asked rhetorically, referring to a prominent African-American civil rights leader.
There was no immediate response to the interview from Biden or his campaign, though the former vice president did tweet that “Banning the Confederate flag from military installations was long overdue.”
On other subjects, Trump said the economy was “doing very well,” even as millions remain jobless, with some states reimposing lockdowns. The stock market, he said, was near record highs.
The United States and China imposed visa restrictions on each other in tit-for-tat moves over their disagreement on Tibet, adding fuel to the diplomatic fire between the superpowers.
China announced Wednesday its curbs on people from the US who “behave badly” on Tibet-related issues, in retaliation for American curbs unveiled a day before.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday he was taking action against an unspecified number of officials under a new US law that presses China to let Americans visit the far west region, renewing a call for “meaningful autonomy” in the predominantly Buddhist area.
“Unfortunately, Beijing has continued systematically to obstruct travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas by US diplomats and other officials, journalists and tourists, while PRC officials and other citizens enjoy far greater access to the United States,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo restricted visas to Chinese officials determined to be “substantially involved” in the exclusion of foreigners from Tibetan areas.
The State Department declined to name the officials or say how many people were affected, citing US confidentiality laws.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed China’s “firm opposition” to the move and urged the US to “immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs through Tibet-related issues”.
“In response to the wrong actions of the US, China has decided to impose visa restrictions on US personnel who behave badly on Tibet-related issues,” he said, warning of further damage to US-China relations and cooperation.
Amid high tension with China, the United States has increasingly been issuing such visa sanctions, earlier taking action over Beijing’s clampdown on free expression in Hong Kong and its incarceration of some one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic minorities.
The Tibet action comes under a 2018 law passed by Congress that aims to pressure China over its tight restrictions in the Himalayan region.
Beijing says its troops “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1951, but many Tibetans accuse the central government of religious repression and eroding their culture.
Human rights groups say that Tibetans live under strict surveillance with the threat of jail or abuse for any signs of a non-Chinese identity, including possessing images of the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader.
Beijing has largely barred foreign journalists from visiting Tibet since 2008, when the region experienced a wave of self-immolations as protests, and has not responded to US requests to set up a consulate in the regional capital Lhasa.
By contrast, the law notes that Chinese nationals admitted to the United States face no restrictions on visiting any part of the country.
– ‘A clear message’ –
The International Campaign for Tibet, a rights advocacy group close to the Dalai Lama, welcomed the implementation of the law.
“The US is sending Beijing a clear message that it will face consequences for its human rights abuses and continued isolation of Tibet from the outside world,” said the group’s president, Matteo Mecacci.
The campaign said it saw momentum, pointing to a recent joint call by 57 European parliamentarians from 19 countries to set up their own version of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act.
A British MP has also introduced similar legislation.
“China’s oppression of the Tibetan people won’t stop tomorrow even with this law’s implementation,” Mecacci said.
“But international pressure on the Chinese government to open up Tibet to the outside world is a vital step toward bringing justice and human rights back to Tibet.”
The US action comes one day after the 85th birthday of the Dalai Lama, who has spent most of his life in exile in India.
While the Dalai Lama is believed to be in good health, the charismatic monk has reduced his once constant travel, raising fears that the spotlight on Tibet will fade without him.
The United States on Thursday took the grim title of the country with the most coronavirus infections and reported a record surge in unemployment as world leaders vowed $5 trillion to stave off global economic collapse.
More than 500,000 people around the world have now contracted the new coronavirus, overwhelming healthcare systems even in wealthy nations and triggering an avalanche of government-ordered lockdowns that have disrupted life for billions.
In the United States, more than 83,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, edging out Italy, which has reported the most deaths, and China, where the virus was first detected in December in the metropolis of Wuhan.
The US has recorded 1,178 deaths, while the global death toll stood at 23,293.
“We are waging war on this virus using every financial, scientific, medical, pharmaceutical and military resource, to halt its spread and protect our citizens,” US President Donald Trump said.
With about 40 percent of Americans under lockdown orders, Trump urged citizens to do their part by practicing social distancing: “Stay home. Just relax, stay home.”
With fears mounting of a global recession if not depression, leaders from the Group of 20 major economies held crisis talks by video link Thursday, pledging a “united front” to fight the outbreak — along with an enormous financial injection.
“The virus respects no borders,” the leaders said in a statement.
“We are injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.”
They also pledged “robust” support for developing nations, where coronavirus could next take hold after ravaging China and then Europe.
But the unity pledged by the G20 has been in short supply, with China and the United States trading barbs over their handling of the coronavirus crisis.
And Italy as well as Spain, which has the second-highest death toll, objected to a draft economic plan by the European Union which they saw as too weak.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wants a “strong and sufficient” financial response that deploys “innovative financial instruments truly adapted to a war,” his office said.
– Record one-day toll in France – Alarmed by the rapid spread of the sickness in Italy, France has taken aggressive action to stem the virus and went under lockdown on March 17.
But the 365 deaths reported Thursday was its highest in a one-day period and, alarmingly, included a 16-year-old girl — a rare case of a young person succumbing to a virus that has devastated the elderly.
“It is very difficult to estimate when the peak will come,” French health official Jerome Salomon said. “People who are ill now were infected before the confinement began.”
“Now there is less contact, people are going out less and get infected less. So we hope there will be fewer people getting sick next week and fewer people going to hospital,” he told reporters.
With hospitals under severe strain, medical workers in Italy and Spain are making painstaking choices.
“If I’ve got five patients and only one bed, I have to choose who gets it,” Sara Chinchilla, a pediatrician at a hospital near Madrid, told AFP.
“People are dying who could be saved but there’s no space in intensive care.”
In Britain, the National Health Service said London’s hospitals are facing a “continuous tsunami” of seriously ill COVID-19 patients, despite a lockdown imposed this week.
And in New York, the virus hotbed in the United States, authorities hope to stem infections as the city struggles to more than double the number of available hospital beds.
“Almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the current healthcare system,” Governor Andrew Cuomo warned.
First responders in New York were receiving more than 6,000 calls to the 911 emergency line a day, many from people seeking virus testing.
It is “breaking records. We didn’t have this many calls on 9/11,” said Anthony Almojeria, a leader in the emergency medical services union, referring to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
– Economic devastation – The pandemic has already, and rapidly, been catastrophic to the global economy.
In the United States, the world’s largest economy, the Labor Department reported that 3.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week — by far the highest number ever recorded.
Job losses have swept across sectors from food services to retail to transportation, as nearly half of the country has closed to “non-essential” businesses.
“It is staggering. We are only seeing the initial numbers; they will get worse, unfortunately,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters, estimating that half a million people in the city would lose work.
But Wall Street soared for a third straight day, recouping more of this month’s hefty losses, on expectations for the largest stimulus in US history.
The Senate early Thursday unanimously passed a $2 trillion package that will provide cash payouts averaging $3,400 for a family of four.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced confidence that the House of Representatives would follow suit on Friday.
– Glimmer of hope – The global lockdown — which also hemmed in India’s huge population this week — tightened further on Thursday as Russia announced it was grounding all international flights, while Moscow’s mayor ordered the closure of cafes, shops and parks.
Tokyo’s millions of citizens have been told to stay home, too, just days after the city was forced to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games for a year.
China said it was barring entry to most foreigners, fearing that imported cases were undermining its success in bringing domestic transmissions way down.
And South Africa came under a nationwide military-patrolled lockdown as its cases climbed to more than 900 — about a third of Africa’s 3,200 cases.
The impact of the virus has stretched well beyond frontline health workers, with billions trapped in their homes and facing what experts say could be lasting psychological harm.
But offering a glimmer of hope, both Italy and Spain have seen lower daily rates of new infections this week.
The World Health Organization called Italy’s numbers “encouraging signs,” but warned it was “still too early to say whether the pandemic is peaking.”
A study from Britain’s Imperial College provided a grim prediction, saying 1.8 million people could die worldwide this year even with swift action to halt the virus.
Despite clamour for a unification fight between Fury and fellow Briton Anthony Joshua, Wilder was widely expected to exercise his contractual right for a rematch — likely to take place by July.
In a video message posted on social media on late Friday, Wilder promised to return “in a few months.”
“I will rise again,” Wilder stated. “I will be back. We will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and regain the title.
“I’ll see you in a few months. For the war has just begun.”
Wilder also said Friday that he would keep co-trainer Mark Breland in his corner, despite earlier hints that he was ready to part company with Breland, who threw in the towel in the seventh round of the loss to Fury.
“I’m a warrior. I feel the same way I felt on fight night — if I have to go out, I want to go out on my shield,” Wilder said.
“But I understand that my corner and my team has my best interest at heart. Mark Breland is still a part of Team Wilder and our team looks forward to preparing for the rematch.”
Breland, a former Olympic and world champion, called a halt to last week’s fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena after Wilder had been knocked down twice and pummelled relentlessly by Fury.
Fury seized the World Boxing Council heavyweight title from Wilder, 14 months after the two fought to a dramatic split-decision draw in their first meeting in Los Angeles.
According to a communique by Force Spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, the police commanders have been directed to ensure strategic deployments of both overt and covert Police operatives to ensure adequate security and safety of citizens, foreigners especially diplomats and diplomatic missions domiciled in Nigeria as well as the protection of critical national assets.
Meanwhile, the IGP has assured all Nigerians and foreigners resident in Nigeria of adequate security. He has equally warned all potential troublemakers to steer clear of the streets and territory of Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari has urged the United States of America (USA) to ensure that its sources of information on Nigeria cut across all sectors owing to what he described as ‘misleading and manipulative’ narratives by some people.
Nigeria recently was placed on a Special Watch List of countries that had engaged in or tolerated the severe violation of religious freedom by the US Government.
President Buhari who received Letters of Credence of United States of America Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Mary Beth Leonard, said the recent listing of Nigeria for human rights concerns created an impression that some people were being unfairly treated or marginalized in the country.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, President Buhari urged the envoy to use the opportunity of her posting to Nigeria, with her experience, knowledge, and energy to get the facts on the country.
“I know that those with access have created an impression of being marginalized.
“I sit here with a clear conscience. I took an oath and I am honouring the office.
“It is not an easy task to work for the unity of the country, and I am doing my best. During your stay in the country I am asking you to ensure that your sources of strategic information cut across,’’ he added.
President Buhari said he took some time to explain the situation in the country when he met with President Donald Trump in Washington DC as the American President expressed concern with reports of attacks on segments of the society.