Overseas Situation Report Friday 11th June 2021
By Mike Evans
“Life is a condition filled with ups and downs. There will be always ‘if’, in a life”. — Santosh Kalwar
Today’s report is focusing on what is happening around the world with both infections and vaccinations.
India on Friday reported 91,702 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours, and 3,403 daily deaths from the coronavirus. The South Asian country’s total Covid-19 case load now stands at 29.3 million, while total fatalities are at 363,079, according to data from the health ministry.
The Japanese government is considering ending a State of Emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures, as scheduled on June 20, but keeping some curbs such as on restaurant hours until the Olympics start in July, local media reported. New coronavirus infections in Olympics host Tokyo have inched down during the last month of emergency restrictions, although authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources.
British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, says nations of the world must set aside the “beggar my neighbour” attitude that led to squabbling over medicine, protective gear and badly needed Covid-19 vaccines.
Johnson said on Thursday that the Group of Seven leaders meeting this weekend in England will commit to vaccinating the world by the end of 2022. He told The Times of London that it was time for wealthy countries to “shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world, because no one can be properly protected until everyone has been protected.”
But he faces criticism because the U.K. has yet to send any doses abroad and has cut its international aid budget, citing the economic blow of the pandemic.
U.S. President Joe Biden was due to announce on Thursday that the U.S. will buy hundreds of millions more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to share with poorer countries over the next year. The figure mentioned is expected to be 500 million.
The U.S. is now set to be COVAX’s largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion US commitment. The global alliance has thus far distributed just 81 million doses, and parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts. In Africa, about 90 percent of African countries will miss a September target to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations, a WHO official said. Tanzania’s Finance Minister said it has begun talks with the International Monetary Fund over a Covid-19 relief loan.
In Europe, Spain’s health ministry on Wednesday scrapped a nationwide plan to gradually reopen nightlife just a week after introducing it, following widespread complaints from regional authorities who dismissed it as either too strict or too loose.
The plan, which would have allowed areas with low infection rates to open nightclubs until 3 a.m., drew the ire of several regions and a legal challenge from Madrid’s conservative leader, Isabel Diaz Ayuso. After a week of tension, health chiefs from Spain’s 17 regions unanimously approved a revised version of the document on Wednesday in which the rules are reduced to non-binding guidelines, Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters.
“The measures for the hospitality sector are no longer included in the document, and those for nightlife…are now recommendations,” she said at a news conference. “It doesn’t mean that (clubs) will open everywhere, but rather that each region, depending on its epidemiological situation, will decide how to open,” she added.
While Madrid’s Ayuso, who won a landslide election campaigning for looser Covid-19 measures, slammed the plan as restricting civil liberties, Basque leader Inigo Urkullu said he wanted tougher rules to curb infections, highlighting the stark divisions between regions.
Since a nationwide State of Emergency expired a month ago, restrictions on travel and business have eased, with bars in most regions open until midnight or later.
Transmission has fallen steadily as vaccination rates have picked up, Darias said, adding that Spain’s 14-day infection rate had fallen 5% over the week to 111.9 cases per 100,000 people.
This follows the about face of the situation with Portugal over the border crossing where originally Spain was demanding anyone arriving from Portugal needed a negative PCR test. With the Portuguese Government knowing nothing about this, the Spanish Interior Minister had to admit that it was a mistake and that legislation would be put in place to counteract the decree.
Provisional data showed 24% of the population had received a full course of vaccine, while nearly 43% had at least one dose.
One of a handful of countries participating in an early rollout of the European Union’s digital vaccine certificate, Spain has given out nearly 125,000 of the green cards since Monday, Darias said.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, starting on June 15, Abu Dhabi will restrict access to shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and other public places to those who have been vaccinated or who have recently tested negative.
The new rules were announced as the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates, has seen daily cases rise over the past three weeks. The UAE, which does not give a breakdown for each emirate, recorded 2,179 new infections on Wednesday, up from 1,229 on May 17.
On the vaccine front, if the spread of Covid-19 continues at current rates it will be years before the virus is controlled in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization said, as it called for countries to share excess vaccine doses.
Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, authorized Phase 1 and 2 clinical tests to be carried out on volunteers for the domestically developed Butanvac vaccine.
Moderna Inc. said on Thursday it has filed for U.S. authorization to use its Covid-19 vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 18, to help expand the inoculation drive in the country.
Moderna’s vaccine is already being used in the U.S., the European Union and Canada for anyone over 18. The drug maker has already submitted applications to European and Canadian health regulators seeking authorization for the vaccine’s use in adolescents.
The European Commission became more isolated on Thursday morning in its opposition to a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines, after the European Parliament backed the waiver.
The temporary suspension of Covid-19 vaccine patents – a move that’s intended to help expand manufacturing and speed up the global vaccination drive, thus shortening the pandemic – was originally proposed by South Africa and India last year. Over recent months, it has gained new supporters like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pope, and, crucially, the Biden administration.
However, Europe – home to major players such as BioNTech and AstraZeneca – has resisted the waiver. Just last week, the European Commission submitted an alternative plan to the World Trade Organization (WTO), proposing other measures such as limits on export restrictions, and the compulsory licensing of the patents in some circumstances.
That doesn’t go far enough, said members of the European Parliament on Thursday, as it passed an amendment calling for a temporary waiver of the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement, the global intellectual-property rulebook, in relation to Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and equipment. The amendment passed by 355 votes to 263, with 71 abstentions. The European Parliament cannot tell the Commission to change its influential tune on the issue, but the vote sent a strong political message nonetheless: Europe, with its many national votes at the WTO, is gradually shifting to the pro-waiver camp.
Within the Parliament – the only EU law making institution whose members are directly elected by citizens – the split over the issue has largely followed left-right lines, with leftists such as the Socialists and Democrats (S&D, Parliament’s second-biggest voting bloc) backing the waiver and those on the right, such as the European People’s Party (EPP, the biggest bloc), opposing it.
“With today’s vote, the European Parliament calls on the Commission to finally do the right thing and save lives by supporting the lifting of patents for Covid-19 vaccines and medical equipment,” said Kathleen Van Brempt, the S&D’s lead negotiator on the subject, in a statement after the vote. “The TRIPS waiver may not prove to be a miracle solution, but it is one of the essential building blocks of a strong global vaccination campaign. Exceptional situations call for exceptional measures.
“The alternative proposal submitted by the European Commission to the WTO falls short in the face of the epochal challenge we are facing,” she added.
But it is not just the European Commission that is becoming more isolated on the issue. Germany, too, is increasingly lonely in its opposition to the waiver.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has previously sided with Germany, travelled to South Africa a couple of weeks ago to discuss the waiver with President Cyril Ramaphosa. On Wednesday, just ahead of the G7 summit, he flipped and joined the patent-suspension camp. That means at least two G7 leaders (also including U.S. President Joe Biden) now favour the waiver.
Add to that the fact that the WTO agreed on Wednesday to fully debate the waiver – a step that the EU and some other countries had previously resisted – and it seems the tide may be turning. There is still a way to go, though. World Bank President, David Malpass, slammed the waiver idea on Wednesday, saying “it would run the risk of reducing the innovation and the R&D” in the pharmaceutical sector. (Malpass, a Trump appointee, is therefore now in opposition to the current White House.)
And remember too, that all waiver proposals are not equal: The U.S. is calling for the suspension of vaccine patents only, while South Africa and India – and now the European Parliament – want it to also cover other Covid-19-related medical products such as therapeutics and personal protective equipment.
This subject has a way to go before there is an agreement.
In the meantime, Stay Safe.
Total Cases Worldwide – 175,639,577
Total Deaths Worldwide – 3,789,362
Total Recovered Worldwide – 159,192,642
Total Active Cases Worldwide – 12,657,573 (7.2% of the total cases)
Total Closed Cases Worldwide – 162,982,004
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