Tag Archives: world

COVID-19: Vaccines could be ready in ‘a month’ – Trump

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United States President Donald Trump said Tuesday that a coronavirus vaccine may be available within a month — an acceleration of even his own optimistic predictions — but added that the pandemic could go away by itself.

“We’re very close to having a vaccine,” he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania aired on ABC News.

“We’re within weeks of getting it you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” he said.

Only hours earlier, speaking to Fox News, Trump had said a vaccine could come in “four weeks, it could be eight weeks.”

Democrats have expressed concern that Trump is putting political pressure on government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to help turn around his uphill bid for reelection against challenger Joe Biden on November 3.

Experts including top US government infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci say vaccine approval is more likely toward the end of the year.

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At the ABC town hall Trump was asked why he’d downplayed the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed close to 200,000 people in the US.

Trump replied by saying: “I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”

US President Donald Trump poses with ABC New anchor George Stephanopoulos ahead of a town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 15, 2020. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

But Trump himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews for the new book “Rage” — published Tuesday — that he had deliberately decided to “play it down” to avoid alarming Americans.

‘Herd mentality’
Returning to one of his most controversial views on the virus, that has ravaged the economy and which government scientists say will remain a danger for some time, Trump insisted “it is going to disappear.”

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“It would go away without the vaccine but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it,” he said.

Challenged about how the virus would go away by itself, he said “you’ll develop like a herd mentality,” apparently meaning the concept of herd immunity, when enough people have developed resistance to the disease to effectively stop transmission.

“It’s going to be herd developed and that’s going to happen. That will all happen but with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly. But I really believe we’re rounding the corner,” he said.

The president, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, said “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t think masks are good.”

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Asked what people he meant, Trump answered: “Waiters.”

“They come over and they serve you and they have a mask,” he said. “I saw it the other day when they were serving me and they’re playing with the mask. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying what happens: They’re playing with the mask. So the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate, and that can’t be good.”

Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the health crisis.

The latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking poll Tuesday found that 52 percent of adults do not trust Trump’s statements about an upcoming coronavirus vaccine, compared to 26 percent who do.


#Newsworthy…

Oil slumps after China drops demand.

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Saudi Arabia cuts its oil prices to Asia amid falling energy demand as economies struggle to recover from coronavirus.

Oil prices were trading down more than 1 percent on Monday after hitting their lowest since July, as Saudi Arabia made the deepest monthly price cuts for supply to Asia in five months and optimism about demand recovery cooled amid the pandemic.

Brent crude was at $42.11 a barrel, down 55 cents or 1.3 percent by 06:42 GMT, after earlier sliding to $41.51, the lowest since July 30.

US West Texas Intermediate crude skidded 64 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $39.13 a barrel after earlier dropping to $38.55, the lowest since July 10.

The world remains awash with crude and fuel despite supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, known as OPEC+, and government efforts to stimulate the global economy and oil demand. Refiners have reduced their fuel output as a result, causing oil producers such as Saudi Arabia to cut prices to offset the falling crude demand.

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“Sentiment has turned sour and there might be some selling pressure ahead,” Howie Lee, an economist at Singapore’s OCBC bank said.

The Labor Day holiday on Monday marks the traditional end of the peak summer demand season in the US, and that renewed investors’ focus on the current lacklustre fuel demand in the world’s biggest oil user.

China, the world’s biggest oil importer which has been supporting prices with record purchases, slowed its intake in August and increased its products exports, according to customs data on Monday.

Demand for oil in China fell in August, customs data released on Monday showed, adding to the downward pressure on crude oil prices and the economies of the world’s top oil exporters including Saudi Arabia [File: LM Otero/AP]

‘So many uncertainties’
“There are so many uncertainties with regard to the Chinese economy and their relationship with key industrialized countries, with the US and, these days, even Europe,” Keisuke Sadamori, director for energy markets and security at the International Energy Agency told the Reuters news agency.

“It’s not such an optimistic situation – that casts some shadow over the growth outlook.”

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Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, cut the October official selling price for Arab Light crude it sells to Asia by the most since May, indicating demand remains weak. Asia is Saudi Arabia’s largest market by region.

In August, the OPEC+ group eased production cuts to 7.7 million barrels per day after global oil prices improved from historic lows caused by the coronavirus pandemic cutting fuel demand.

Oil is also under pressure as US companies increased their drilling for new supply after the recent recovery in oil prices.

US energy firms last week added oil and natural gas rigs for the second time in the past three weeks, according to a weekly report by Baker Hughes Co on Friday.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: 220M vaccine set for test in Africa – WHO

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Africa the Initial Testing Ground for Coronavirus Vaccine Doses
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that 220 million covid-19 vaccine doses will be tested on the African population. The distribution will be based on nation inhabitant numbers and — front-line health workers and the most vulnerable being given first-batch priority, as confirmed by WHO Africa programme manager Richard Mihigo.

Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO Africa immunisation and vaccines coordinator, outlined the process, “This will not necessarily cover all the needs of the continent but at least will cover 20 percent of the African population, initially prioritising those that are on the frontline, healthcare workers, then expanding to cover vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with a pre-existing condition.”

COVAX is the global vaccine initiative that consists of nine vaccine candidates being tested around the world — two of which are already being tested in Africa, according to the head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Richard Hatchett. The initiative seeks to contribute to the purchase and equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021.

Mixed Reactions from Africans
Mr. Mihigo volunteered that all 54 African countries have expressed their interest in participating in this initiative and some African leaders are publicly welcoming the vaccine trials.

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Mitoha Ondo’o Ayekaba, Vice-minister for Health of Equatorial Guinea is in support, “From the Equatorial Guinean perspective, I think the government position has consistently been that all efforts to contain the pandemic in the country has to be free for all citizens.”

However, not all Africans share this sentiment as an incident back on April 2 that saw two French professors — during a broadcast on the local channel LCI, overtly suggest that coronavirus vaccine trials be conducted on Africans because ‘in Africa there are no masks, no treatment, no intensive care’ ignited a fire of indignation amongst many Africans worldwide.

Their remarks set social media networks ablaze in protest as many within the African population declared that they will not be used as”lab rats” or “guinea pigs” in the initial vaccine trials that will eventually benefit the entire human population.

The controversy found its way to Geneva, where the director of the World Health Organisation, Ethiopian doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, interviewed by a Nigerian journalist, castigated the banter of the French professors — labelling their mentality “colonial” and their remarks “racist.” His stance was as follows, “Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine.”

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This incident only added to the already existent distrust that many people worldwide have of organisations that seek to conduct medical tests to reduce diseases.

Covid-19 Numbers in Africa
Africa has a population of over 1.3 billion people and hit the 1.2 million mark of confirmed Covid-19 cases. Around half of these cases are attributed to South Africa, the hardest-hit country on the continent with the seventh-highest number of cases globally — whose population started coronavirus vaccine trials back in June amidst public demonstrations from some locals.

In proportion to the case numbers, the continent has confirmed under 30,000 deaths with a recovery rate of around 72%

According to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University, over 26.19 million Covid-19 cases have been reported worldwide with recoveries over 17.4 million. The US, Brazil, India and Russia are currently worst-hit countries.


#Newsworthy…

As school resumes: Public schools suffer reduction as kids move to Private.

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By the time the school year ended this spring, Clara Obermeier knew remote learning was not a good option for her two children.

Her 13-year-old daughter had grown withdrawn after going months without seeing her friends. Her 11-year-old son had struggled academically, and due to a Zoom glitch, was frequently blocked from the virtual breakout rooms where the rest of his classmates were assigned to work in small groups. And neither Obermeier, an engineer, nor her husband, an active-duty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, have jobs that will allow them to work from home full-time this fall.

“I waited and waited to figure out what the plan was from the school system,” Obermeier says. On July 21, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland announced that the district would offer virtual-only instruction at least through January. “At that point, we were like, OK, this is definitely not going to work out for us,” she says.

So Obermeier pulled her children from the public school district and enrolled them in St. Bartholomew School, a private Catholic school in Bethesda, Md., that charges $13,600 in tuition and is planning to bring all students back to campus by Sept. 21 after a phased reopening beginning Sept. 8.

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Such decisions are playing out across the country ahead of the first day of school, as districts announce reopening plans and individual families craft ad-hoc solutions in preparation for what will be, at best, an unusual school schedule. But the solutions available to wealthier families — from private schools to pricey learning pods — have highlighted the ways the pandemic is exacerbating educational inequities. While many students struggled through the spring to access the most basic remote learning opportunities, often without home Internet service and computers, others had the benefit of private tutors or all-day virtual instruction provided by their schools.

“Schools are highly unequal. But the ability of families to provide education is even more unequal,” says Richard Kahlenberg, director of K-12 equity at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

That’s a fact acknowledged even by parents who can afford private tutoring or private school for their children, and who struggle with the question of how to help their own kids without exacerbating educational inequity. Mayssoun Bydon, the managing partner at the Institute for Higher Learning, which offers test prep and admissions consulting, expects the coming school year to reveal an educational divide “like we’ve never seen before.” And yet, Bydon hired a private tutor for her own son, who attends a private school. “I felt like I couldn’t afford to just fail him personally,” she says.

Fall reopening plans vary widely among schools. About half of the country’s public school districts are planning on full in-person instruction, but 41% of the highest-poverty districts are beginning the year with entirely remote learning, according to an analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. That means many of the students who are most likely to need the academic, social and emotional support of in-person instruction won’t receive it.

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As of late July, 40% of private schools were planning on full in-person reopening, 19% were preparing for entirely virtual instruction, and 41% were offering a mix of both, according to a survey by the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents 1,600 private schools across the U.S.

Many of the private schools that are planning to bring students back for in-person learning have the advantage of small class sizes and large outdoor spaces that make social distancing easier, in addition to endowments and donations that have made it possible to upgrade air filtration systems, revamp nurses’ offices, set up tented classrooms outside, secure COVID-19 testing and hire more staff.

“Schools are highly unequal. But the ability of families to provide education is even more unequal.”

In Brooklyn, Poly Prep Country Day School— a 166-year-old private school where families pay as much as $53,000 in tuition and fees — will reopen for in-person learning on Sept. 8, setting up 70 “socially distanced tents” across its 25-acre campus. Younger students will be divided into pods that will be kept separate from one another, and the average lower-school class size has shrunk to 12 students. The school will require a negative COVID-19 test for everyone returning to school, and one family’s anonymous donation will cover testing costs for faculty.

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At Boston Trinity Academy, a pop-up on the school’s website asks visitors for patience “as we are experiencing an unusually high number of applications.” Compared to a typical summer, the small Christian school saw a 40% increase in applications this summer, mostly from public school families. But social distancing requirements led the school to cap some classes at nine or 12 students, limiting how many new students they can accept. Admissions Director Bisi Oloko said the school’s seventh grade was full, but two students transferring there from other schools were willing to repeat sixth grade to get a spot at Boston Trinity. Boston Public Schools, a district that serves more than 53,000 students across 125 schools, will begin the year remotely until Oct. 1, when the district plans to begin a hybrid model. Boston Trinity Academy, which enrolls about 230 students at a tuition rate of $20,700, will begin classes in person on Sept. 8, with about 10% of students choosing a virtual option instead.

“There are disgruntled parents out there,” says Headmaster Frank Guerra. “There are people who felt like their school systems let them down, and their kids were almost like on a three-month vacation, and that’s devastating.”

That’s why, for parents who can afford it, private schools with unique reopening plans have become an attractive solution.

Roxana Reid, founder of the New York City educational consulting firm Smart City Kids Inc, saw a “ridiculous uptick” in business beginning in June, as she heard from families looking to transfer from public to private schools. Bydon, of the Institute for Higher Learning, has seen a 38% increase in her business since March as parents seek private tutors or ask the company to develop personal curricula for their children.

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The experience has left Bydon worried about the growing divide between students at elite private schools and those at underfunded public schools.

“We’re going to end up with a real educational divide between the haves and the have-nots and without a way to reverse it,” Bydon says. “Who’s going to fail are the kids who don’t have the money.”

But Bydon, who lives in New York City, can also relate to her clients who have sought out expensive help for their kids. When schools shut down in March, her son was in kindergarten and had just been learning to read, so she hired a private tutor to make sure he didn’t fall behind. “Nobody imagined that there was going to be another full academic year of this,” she says.

In Vienna, Va., Colleen Ganjian withdrew her daughter from Fairfax County Public Schools after the district announced it would begin the school year remotely, enrolling her in a private Catholic school instead.

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“I just want her to have consistency,” says Ganjian, an educational consultant and founder of DC College Counseling. “The bottom line is I am so busy. I own a business, and I can’t be that person. I can’t provide her with the consistency that she needs. That’s kind of why I feel I needed to look for an alternative.”

On Aug. 26, she dropped her daughter off at her new school “bright and early” for the first day of third grade, in person and wearing a mask. “I think she was excited to just get out of the house,” Ganjian says.

Exacerbating inequity
The role of private schools has become a hot button issue within the contentious debate over whether it’s safe to send kids back to class. President Donald Trump has called on public schools to fully reopen in person, and if they don’t, he said school funding “should follow students so parents can send their child to the private, charter, religious or home school of their choice.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a rule for more coronavirus relief funding to be directed to private schools, prompting lawsuits from states and school districts in response.

On July 31, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued an order directing all non-public schools to remain closed for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1, saying “at this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers.” That prompted backlash from private school parents. Many of them signed petitions, arguing that private and parochial schools should be allowed to develop plans in line with CDC and state guidance “without arbitrary and capricious interference from county officials.”

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Obermeier was one of several parents who sued the county to reverse Gayles’s decision. The lawsuit argued that private schools had spent time and “millions of dollars” to ensure safe environments for children and staff, and it accused Gayles of being driven more by concerns over equity than public health.

“It appears to be a political response, an answer to complaints by some public school parents about ‘why their schools are closed and private schools are not,’” the lawsuit stated.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, issued an executive order overruling the county’s directive, giving school districts and private schools across the state the authority to decide when and how to reopen. (An attorney representing the parents said their lawsuit has not been dismissed but that they’re focusing on “promoting collaboration between Montgomery County and nonpublic schools.”) While all public school districts in Maryland are beginning the year virtually, Hogan encouraged schools to reopen in person, announcing on Aug. 27 that all districts had met state benchmarks to offer some in-person instruction.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced that any school—public or private— in a county on the state’s coronavirus watchlist cannot reopen in-person. But schools can apply for waivers to reopen early for kindergarten through sixth grade. Informal surveys by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) found that “most CAIS schools that include grades K-6 are keen to re-open on campus” and many have applied for waivers. The association said it believes that “on-campus schooling is better for kids than distance learning, provided it can be done safely.”

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It’s not yet clear whether families are withdrawing from public schools in significant numbers. A survey by the National Association of Independent Schools conducted in August found that 51% of private schools either maintained or grew enrollment for the coming school year, and 58% reported a “larger than average” number of admission inquiries from families in other types of schools — a category that could include traditional public schools, charter schools and parochial schools. Some private schools have also faced financial challenges during the pandemic, reporting a drop in international student enrollment and fewer fundraising opportunities. More than 100 private schools — mostly private Catholic schools — have permanently closed this year because of pandemic-related challenges, according to the libertarian Cato Institute.

Education experts warn that moving children from public to private schools would have a negative effect on public schools in the long run.

“I can’t say that I fault individual parents for doing what they think is best for their own kids. But the secession of upper middle class families from public school to private school is very bad for the country and for educational equality,” Kahlenberg says.

And the very thing that is drawing some parents to private schools is also cause for concern among private school teachers. While teachers’ unions have opposed plans for in-person learning, threatening to strike if teachers and other school staff aren’t protected, most private school teachers are not unionized and have less leverage to object to their schools’ plans.

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As of Aug. 30, nearly 3,000 teachers and other employees at more than 350 private schools had signed two anonymous petitions, calling for their schools to pursue virtual-only instruction to protect students’ and educators’ health. In interviews with Media (known to Noble Reporters Media), several private school teachers said they are worried about the virus spreading when in-person classes begin but fear retaliation for raising concerns about school plans.

“There may be fears around enrollment numbers dropping that are driving people to be back on campus, fears around losing families who are paying pretty enormous tuitions,” said a teacher who organized one of the petitions and who requested anonymity for fear of being fired. “At schools that can offer a robust, successful remote program, it feels irresponsible not to take that route. Our hearts go out to underfunded public schools that do not have the luxury of making this choice that many private schools can make.”

That’s something that Erica Turner has been thinking about a lot, as both a parent and an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studies racism and inequity in educational policy. She recently published a guide for Equity in Pandemic Schooling, intended to be a resource for communities and families as they make plans for the coming school year.

When families abandon public schools and turn to private options, Turner wrote, “they undermine the schools upon which less privileged families depend,” making it harder for other students, especially low-income children of color, to get good educations. The guide encourages parents to advocate for more school funding from Congress, demand the resources to make remote learning accessible for all students—including those who are homeless or have disabilities—and keep their own children enrolled in public schools.

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Obermeier, the mother in Maryland, says the issue of equity weighed heavily on her when she decided to pull her kids from public school. “It was hard to think that, ‘OK I can solve it for myself,” while many others in the district would be left without a solution, she says.

As an immigrant from Ecuador, she also worries that the challenges of this school year will disproportionately affect low-income families or immigrants who don’t speak English and who can’t easily help their children learn at home. “To me, the most equitable thing to have done was to open the schools and give priority to precisely the kids who need it,” she says.

But as more school districts fail to reopen, families will continue to find individual, if inequitable, solutions.

“In the end, we just have to make sure we have our priorities straight,” Obermeier says, “and for us right now, it’s stability and the least amount of disruption for our kids.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: World cases crosses 25 million milestone.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: 12-year-old children and above should wear face mask – WHO.

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The World Health Organization has recommended that children aged 12 and over now use masks in the same situations as adults, as the use of face coverings helps stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The health agency made the recommendation in a COVID-19 guidance document it published via its website on Friday.

It said children aged five years and under should not be required to wear masks, while children aged 6-11 should only wear masks under certain conditions, including the presence of widespread transmission in the area where the child resides and the child’s ability to safely and appropriately use a mask.

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However, children aged 12 and over are required to wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, “in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”

The WHO has said the world should be able to rein in the coronavirus pandemic in less than two years, even as the world’s death toll hit 800,000 and the number of confirmed cases continues to rise.

“We have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness, but an advantage of better technology, so we hope to finish this pandemic before less than two years,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Friday.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Death toll globally surpass 800,000 benchmark.

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The number of deaths from the new coronavirus has surpassed 800,000 around the world, according to an AFP tally based on official sources at around 1100 GMT on Saturday.

In total, 800,004 fatalities have been recorded globally, out of 23,003,079 declared infections.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region the most affected with 254,897 deaths. More than half of global fatalities have been reported in four countries: the United States with 175,416, Brazil with 113,358, Mexico 59,610 and India 55,794.

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The number of deaths has doubled since June 6, and 100,000 have been recorded in the last 17 days alone.

The toll had reached 400,000 deaths around the world 147 days after the announcement of the first fatality in China, while it has taken 77 days to reach 800,000.

Latin America and the Caribbean, which have a total of 6,575,960 declared cases, reported 17,095 new deaths over the past seven days, slightly below the previous week.

Asia reported 8,501 new deaths over the week, Canada and the United States 6,964, Europe 2,550, Africa 2,227, the Middle East 2,188 and Oceania 99.

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After Latin America, Europe has 212,533 deaths from 3,681,448 cases, ahead of Canada and the United States (184,516 deaths, 5,749,093 infections), Asia (86,288, 4,410,622) and the Middle East (33,930, 1,389,619).

Africa, with 27,319 fatalities out of 1,169,204 declared cases, is the least affected continent after Oceania (521 deaths, 27,133 cases).

The United States is the country with the most reported new deaths over the past week with 6,927, followed by Brazil (6,835), India (6,809), Mexico (3,702) and Colombia (2,076).

Belgium remains the country with the greatest number of deaths per capita, with 86 deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Peru (83), Spain (62), Britain (61) and Italy (59).


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: WHO hopes pandemic ends under two years.

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The world should be able to rein in the coronavirus pandemic in less than two years, the World Health Organization said on Friday, as millions of Lebanese wearily entered a new lockdown following a spike in coronavirus infections.

Western Europe was also enduring the kind of infection levels not seen in many months, particularly in Germany, France, Spain and Italy — sparking fears of a full-fledged second wave.

In the Spanish capital Madrid, officials recommended people in the most affected areas stay at home to help curb the spread as the country registered more than 8,000 new cases in 24 hours.

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But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sought to draw favourable comparisons with the notorious flu pandemic of 1918.

“We have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness, but an advantage of better technology, so we hope to finish this pandemic before less than two years,” he told reporters.

By “utilising the available tools to the maximum and hoping that we can have additional tools like vaccines, I think we can finish it in a shorter time than the 1918 flu”, he said.

With no usable vaccine yet available, the most prominent tool governments have at their disposal is to confine their populations.

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Lebanon is the latest country to reintroduce severe restrictions, beginning two weeks of measures on Friday including nighttime curfews to tamp down a rise in infections, which comes as the country is still dealing with the shock from a huge explosion in the capital Beirut that killed dozens earlier this month.

“What now? On top of this disaster, a coronavirus catastrophe?” said 55-year-old Roxane Moukarzel in Beirut.

The capital’s streets largely emptied of cars at the start of the curfew, but some locals were unenthusiastic.

“There’s no point in this lockdown,” said Samer Harmoush, running along the Beirut seafront. “Some shops are complying completely, while others aren’t at all.”

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Officials fear Lebanon’s fragile health system would struggle to cope with a further spike in COVID-19 cases, especially after some hospitals near the port were damaged in the explosion.

‘We lead the world in deaths’
The Americas has borne the brunt of the virus in health terms, accounting for more than half of the world’s fatalities.

“We lead the world in deaths,” said Joe Biden while accepting the Democratic nomination for the US presidential election late on Thursday.

He said he would implement a national plan to fight the pandemic on his first day in office if elected in November.

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“We’ll take the muzzle off our experts so the public gets the information they need and deserve — honest, unvarnished truth,” he said.

Further south, Latin American countries were counting the wider costs of the pandemic — the region not only suffering the most deaths, but also an expansion of criminal activity and rising poverty.

Without an effective political reaction, “at a regional level we can talk about a regression of up to 10 years in the levels of multidimensional poverty”, Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva of the UN Development Programme told AFP.

His warning came after World Bank President David Malpass said on Thursday that the virus may have driven as many as 100 million people back into extreme poverty.

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‘No apres-ski’
Economies around the globe have been ravaged by the pandemic, which has infected more than 22 million and killed nearly 800,000 since it emerged in China late last year.

New financial figures laid bear the huge cost of the pandemic in Britain, where government debt soared past £2 trillion ($2.6 trillion) for the first time in the UK after a massive programme of state borrowing for furlough schemes and other measures designed to prop up the economy.

“Without that support things would have been far worse,” said finance minister Rishi Sunak.

Even Germany, famed for its financial prudence, was waking up to a new reality with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz conceding his country would need to continue borrowing at a high level next year to deal with the virus fallout.

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Western European politicians are also beginning to ramp up restrictions to tackle infections that are rising to levels not seen for months.

While Spain has responded with confinement measures and Germany with updated travel guidelines, the UK is now watching clusters in northern England and suggesting some towns could soon face lockdown.

“To prevent a second peak and keep Covid-19 under control, we need robust, targeted intervention where we see a spike in cases,” said health secretary Matt Hancock in a statement.

Irish politicians, meanwhile, fell foul of their own updated rules this week.

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Two politicians resigned after attending a restrictions-busting anniversary dinner of parliament’s own golf society that involved more than 80 guests, including lawmakers and a supreme court judge.

The virus thrives in confined areas where people are in close contact, meaning many sports have suffered mass cancellations.

One of Austria’s most virulent outbreaks was in a ski resort in the west — although the finger of blame was pointed at the socialising rather than the skiing in Ischgl, known as the “Ibiza of the Alps”.

With the ski season rapidly approaching, the region’s tourism association had a clear message: “There won’t be any apres-ski partying as we know it next season.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: UN experts call governments to ban evictions.

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A UN rights expert called Tuesday for governments to ban evictions until the COVID-19 pandemic ends, warning the number of people being expelled from their homes was rising globally.

Warning of an impending “tsunami” of evictions, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the United Nations’ top expert on the right to housing, stressed that “losing your home during this pandemic could mean losing your life”.

The independent expert, who is appointed by the UN but does not speak on its behalf, stressed that “the right to housing is central to any response to the pandemic”.

“But now we are seeing an acceleration in evictions and home demolitions.”

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Rajagopal said that while some governments have implemented temporary bans on forced evictions, many people are continuing to lose their homes.

He pointed for instance to Kenya where more than 8,000 people were forcibly ejected from their homes in a single day in May, and Brazil where more than 2,000 families have been evicted amid the pandemic.

But he emphasised that the danger was global.

“Temporary bans in many countries have ended or are coming to an end, and this raises serious concerns that a tsunami of evictions may follow,” he warned.

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“Governments must not allow people to become homeless during this pandemic because they lose their job and cannot pay their rent or mortgage.”

His comments came as activists and relief groups in the United States — the country hardest hit in the pandemic — scramble to avert seeing millions pushed into homelessness.

The Aspen Institute has estimated that more than 40 million people in the country could be at risk of eviction in coming months.

“Forced evictions are an outrageous violation of human rights,” Rajagopal said.


#Newsworthy…

Just in: How climate change could attract fresh epidemics

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Long-dormant viruses brought back to life; the resurgence of deadly and disfiguring smallpox; a dengue or zika “season” in Europe.

These could be disaster movie storylines, but they are also serious and increasingly plausible scenarios of epidemics unleashed by global warming, scientists say.

The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the globe and claimed over 760,000 lives so far almost certainly came from a wild bat, highlighting the danger of humanity’s constant encroachment on the planet’s dwindling wild spaces.

But the expanding ecological footprint of our species could trigger epidemics in other ways too.

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Climate change — already wreaking havoc with one degree Celsius of warming — is also emerging as a driver of infectious disease, whether by expanding the footprint of malaria- and dengue-carrying mosquitos, or defrosting prehistoric pathogens from the Siberian permafrost.

– ‘Ignorance is our enemy’ –

“In my darkest moments, I see a really horrible future for Homo sapiens because we are an animal, and when we extend our borders things will happen to us,” said Birgitta Evengard, a researcher in clinical microbiology at Umea University in Sweden.

“Our biggest enemy is our own ignorance,” she added. “Nature is full of microorganisms.”

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Think of permafrost, a climate change time bomb spread across Russia, Canada and Alaska that contains three times the carbon that has been emitted since the start of industrialisation.

Even if humanity manages to cap global warming at under two degrees Celsius, the cornerstone goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the permafrost area will decrease by a quarter by 2100, according to the UN’s climate science panel, the IPCC.

And then there are the permafrost’s hidden treasures.

“Microorganisms can survive in frozen space for a long, long time,” said Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

– An Anthrax comeback? –

As ground thaws, once-frozen soil particles, organic material and microorganisms that had been locked away for millennia are carried toward the surface by water flows, he explained.

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“That’s how thawing can spread these microorganisms into present day environments.”

There are already examples of ancient, long-frozen bugs coming to life.

“When you put a seed into soil that is then frozen for thousands of years, nothing happens,” said Jean-Michel Claverie, an emeritus professor of genomics at the School of Medicine of Aix-Marseille University in France.

“But when you warm the earth, the seed will be able to germinate,” he added. “That is similar to what happens with a virus.”

Claverie’s lab has successfully revived Siberian viruses that are at least 30,000 years old.

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These reanimated bugs only attack amoebas, but tens of thousands of years ago there were certainly others that aimed higher up the food chain.

“Neanderthals, mammoths, woolly rhinos all got sick, and many died,” said Claverie. “Some of the viruses that caused their sicknesses are probably still in the soil.”

The number of bacteria and viruses lurking in the permafrost is incalculable, but the more important question is how dangerous they are.

And here, scientists disagree.

“Anthrax shows that bacteria can be resting in permafrost for hundreds of years and be revived,” said Evengard.

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In 2016, a child in Siberia died from the disease, which had disappeared from the region at least 75 years earlier.

– Two-million-year-old pathogens –

This case has been attributed to the thawing of a long-buried carcass, but some experts counter that the animal remains in question may have been in shallow dirt and thus subject to periodic thawing.

Other pathogens — such as smallpox or the influenza strain that killed tens of millions in 1917 and 1918 — may also be present in the sub-Arctic region.

But they “have probably been inactivated”, Romanovsky concluded in a study published earlier this year.

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For Claverie, however, the return of smallpox — officially declared eradicated 50 years ago — cannot be excluded. 18th- and 19th-century victims of the disease “buried in cemetaries in Siberia are totally preserved by the cold,” he noted.

In the unlikely event of a local epidemic, a vaccine is available.

The real danger, he added, lies in deeper strata where unknown pathogens that have not seen daylight for two million years or more may be exposed by global warming.

If there were no hosts for the bugs to infect there would not be a problem, but climate change — indirectly — has intervened here as well.

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“With the industrial exploitation of the Arctic, all the risk factors are there — pathogens and the people to carry them,” Claverie said.

The revival of ancient bacteria or viruses remains speculative, but climate change has already boosted the spread of diseases that kill about half a million people every year: malaria, dengue, chikungunya, zika.

“Mosquitoes moving their range north are now able to overwinter in some temperate regions,” said Jeanne Fair, deputy group leader for biosecurity and public health at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“They also have longer breeding periods.”

– ‘Climate change aperitif’ –

Native to southeast Asia, the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) — which carries dengue and chikungunya — arrived in southern Europe in the first decade of this century and has been moving rapidly north ever since, to Paris and beyond.

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Meanwhile, another dengue-bearing mosquito, Aedes aegypti, has also appeared in Europe. Whichever species may be the culprit, the Europe Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has registered 40 cases of local transmission of dengue between 2010 and 2019.

“An increase in mean temperature could result in seasonal dengue transmission in southern Europe if A. aegypti infected with virus were to be established,” according to the Europe Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

As for malaria — a disease that once blighted southern Europe and the southern United States and for which an effective treatment exists — the risk of exposure depends in large part on social-economic conditions.

More than five billion people could be living in malaria-affected regions by 2050 if climate change continues unabated, but strong economic growth and social development could reduce that number to less than two billion, according to a study cited by the IPCC.

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“Recent experience in southern Europe demonstrates how rapidly the disease may reappear if health services falter,” the IPCC said in 2013, alluding to a resurgence of cases in Greece in 2008.

In Africa — which saw 228 million cases of malaria in 2018, 94 percent of the world’s total — the disease vector is moving into new regions, notably the high-altitude plains of Ethiopia and Kenya.

For the moment, the signals for communicable tropical diseases “are worrying in terms of expanding vectors, not necessarily transmission,” said Cyril Caminade, an epidemiologist working on climate change at the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool.

“That said, we’re only tasting the aperitif of climate change so far,” he added.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Food exempted, not dangerous – WHO says.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged people not to fear catching the novel coronavirus from food, after Chinese testers found traces on food and food packaging.

The virus was found Tuesday in the Chinese city of Shenzhen during a routine check on samples of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil, city authorities said.

The authorities said they immediately screened people who had been in contact with the contaminated products, plus their relatives, and all the tests came back negative.

In China’s eastern Anhui province, the mayor of Wuhu announced Thursday that the virus had been discovered on the packaging of shrimp imported from Ecuador, which had been kept in a restaurant freezer.

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The WHO said there was no need to panic — and there were no examples of the respiratory disease being transmitted through food.

“People are already scared enough and fearful enough in the COVID pandemic,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual press conference in Geneva.

“People should not fear food or food packaging or the processing or delivery of food.

“There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in the transmission of this virus.

“Our food, from a COVID perspective, is safe.”

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Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said the United Nations health agency was aware of the reports and understood that China was looking for the virus on food packaging.

“They’ve tested a few hundred thousand samples of looking at packaging and have found very, very few, less than 10 positive in doing that,” she said.

“We know that the virus can remain on surfaces for some time.

“If the virus is actually in food — and we have no examples of where this virus has been transmitted as a food-borne, whereas someone has consumed a food product — the viruses can be killed, like other viruses as well, if the meat is cooked.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: WHO urges countries to make research on vaccine.

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The WHO on Thursday urged countries to invest billions of dollars in searching for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments — calling it a snip compared to the vast economic cost of the coronavirus crisis.

The World Health Organization insisted it was a smarter bet than the trillions of dollars being thrown at handling the consequences of the global pandemic.

The UN agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pleaded for investment into the WHO-led ACT-Accelerator programme, which aims to share global research and development, manufacturing and procurement in a bid to beat COVID-19.

Citing the International Monetary Fund’s predictions of the pandemic wiping out $12 trillion over two years, he urged countries to spend on shared solutions.

“It’s the best economic stimulus the world can invest in,” Tedros told a virtual press conference.

Funding the ACT-Accelerator, with $31.3 billion needed immediately, “will cost a tiny fraction in comparison to the alternative, where economies retract further and require continued fiscal stimulus packages”.

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He said spreading the risk and sharing the reward is a better bet than the option some countries have taken, of going it alone in backing one of the dozens of vaccines in development.

UN agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Noble Reporters Media/)

“Picking individual winners is an expensive, risky gamble,” he said,

“The development of vaccines is long, complex, risky and expensive The vast majority of vaccines in early development fail.”

Tedros said multiple vaccine candidates, of different types, were needed in order to identify the best one.

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– Access to the winner –

Russia on Tuesday declared itself the first country to approve a vaccine, even though final stage testing involving more than 2,000 people was only due to start on Wednesday.

Bruce Aylward, who heads up the ACT-Accelerator, said the WHO was still awaiting more details from Moscow.

“We’re currently in conversation with Russia to get additional information, understand the status of that product, the trials that have been undertaken, and then what the next steps might be,” he said.

The WHO says 168 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, of which 28 have progressed to being tested on humans.

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Nine of those 28 — not including the Russian vaccine — are in the ACT-Accelerator programme.

WHO access to medicines chief Mariangela Simao said that with so many vaccine candidates being worked on, backing just one or two could not be the best bet.

“We don’t know which one will be the front-runner, which one will actually prove to be safe and effective,” she said.

“We are encouraging countries to join a global facility, because you will have access to more candidates, and you have a better chance to have concrete access… to procure one of the successful candidates.”

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The European Union said earlier Thursday that it has reserved up to 400 million doses of a potential new coronavirus vaccine being developed by US giant Johnson & Johnson.

On July 31, the European Commission said it had reserved 300 million doses of another potential vaccine being developed by French firm Sanofi.

– Eye of the storm? –

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 750,000 people and infected more than 20.6 million worldwide since it first emerged in China in December, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan warned that only a small proportion of the global population had actually been exposed to the virus.

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“This virus has a long way to burn, if we allow it,” he said.

“The vast majority of people remain susceptible to this infection.

“We may be in the eye of the storm and we don’t know it.”

Meanwhile, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said there were examples from some countries suggesting that an individual may have been reinfected the virus, but “its still not confirmed”.

She said experts would need to look for false positive or negative cases, immune response after infection, and sequencing.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Vaccine pre-orders globally exceed 5 million.

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Although none of the coronavirus vaccines under development has proved its efficacy yet in clinical trials, at least 5.7 billion doses have been pre-ordered around the world.

First shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine created by Western laboratories have often been snapped up by the United States.

Five vaccines — three Western and two Chinese — are in Phase 3 efficacy trials involving thousands of people.

In a surprise announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Tuesday that a vaccine dubbed “Sputnik V” — after the Soviet satellite — conferred “sustainable immunity” against the novel coronavirus.

As research laboratories around the world race to develop a vaccine, manufacturers have received financing to help them prepare to have millions of doses ready to administer in 2021 or even before the end of the year.

Handout picture released by the Sao Paulo State Government press office showing a volunteer receiving the COVID-19 vaccine during the trial stage of the vaccine produced by the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech at the Hospital das Clinicas (HC) in Sao Paulo state, Brazil, on July 21, 2020. The vaccine trial will be carried out in Brazil in partnership with the Brazilian Research Institute Butanta. Handout / Sao Paulo State Government / AFP

Oxford University, working with the Swedish-British pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, hopes to have results by September while the US biotech company Moderna, partnering with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), is aiming for the end of the year, possibly November.

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US: 700 million doses
President Donald Trump has launched “Operation Warp Speed” in a bid to develop, manufacture and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to all Americans by January 2021.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been directed to vaccine developers including nearly $500 million to Johnson & Johnson at the end of March.

The United States has allocated funding to more companies than other nation in the hope that one of them will come up with the vaccine to counter the highly contagious virus.

So far, Washington has handed out at a total of least 9.4 billion dollars to seven vaccine developers and signed manufacturing contracts with five of them to provide 700 million doses.

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The companies involved are: Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Oxford/AztraZeneca, Novavax, Pfizer/BioNTech, Sanofi/GSK, Merck Sharp and Dohme.

Europe: 700 million doses
Two vaccine developers — Oxford/AztraZeneca and Sanofi/GSK — have signed or are in advanced negotiations with the European Commission to provide a combined 700 million vaccine doses.

Britain, Japan, Brazil
Britain, because of Brexit, is negotiating a separate pre-order of 250 million doses from four developers.

Japan is counting on 490 million doses from three suppliers including 250 million from Novavax of the United States.

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Japanese pharmaceutical giant Takeda bought the rights to a Novavax vaccine for Japan, which has funded the research. It would be produced locally.

Brazil chose a similar model, ordering 100 million doses from AstraZeneca, and partnering with China’s Sinovac to produce 120 millions of “CoronaVac,” which is already undergoing testing with Brazilians.

This handout picture taken on August 6, 2020 and provided by the Russian Direct Investment Fund shows the vaccine against the coronavirus disease, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. Handout / Russian Direct Investment Fund / AFP

China, Russia
Clinical tests of two Chinese vaccine candidates — Sinovac and Sinopharm — are well underway but only a few international partnerships have been announced, the one with Brazil and a possible one with Indonesia.

Russia said 20 nations have pre-ordered one billion doses of Sputnik V and that with foreign partners it would be able to produce 500 million doses a year in five countries.

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Developing countries
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), launched in 2017 by Norway, India, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, seeks to ensure that there is “equitable access” to future vaccines.

It has pre-ordered 300 million doses from AstraZeneca for dozens of developing countries in a partnership with The Vaccine Alliance (Gavi).

Billions of doses would be produced for Asia and elsewhere by the giant Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest vaccine producer in the world.

Novavax and AstraZeneca have separately signed agreements with SII to produce a billion doses each for India and low- and middle-income countries on the condition, of course, that they prove their efficacy in clinical trials.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Germany trolls Russian vaccine

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Germany on Tuesday raised doubts over the quality and safety of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, stressing that drug approval is granted in the European Union only after full clinical trials.

“Patient safety is of the highest priority,” a health ministry spokeswoman told German newspaper network RND. “There is no known data on the quality, efficacy and safety of the Russian vaccine.”

Russia claimed Tuesday it has developed the world’s first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus, despite mounting scepticism about its effectiveness as fears grow over a second wave of infections across the globe.

President Vladimir Putin said the vaccine was safe and that one of his own daughters had received the inoculation, dubbed “Sputnik” after the pioneering 1950s Soviet satellite.

“I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” Putin said of the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with Moscow’s defence ministry.

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Russia’s health ministry said though clinical trials were not yet complete and final stage testing involving more than 2,000 people was to start only on Wednesday.

Western scientists have previously raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.

The World Health Organization’s spokesman in Geneva Tarik Jasarevic said it was in “close contact” with Russian health authorities but that it was too soon for any WHO stamp of approval.

“Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data,” he said.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: WHO moves to review Russian vaccine

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The World Health Organization said any WHO stamp of approval on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate would require a rigorous safety data review, after Russia announced Tuesday it had approved a vaccine.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia had become the first country to approve a vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the new coronavirus.

“We are in close contact with the Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO pre-qualification of the vaccine,” the United Nations health agency’s spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva at an online press briefing.

“Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data.”

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Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has been developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with the country’s defence ministry.

A total of 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, according to the latest WHO overview produced on July 31.

Of those, 139 are still in pre-clinical evaluation, while the other 26 are in the various phases of being tested on humans, of which six are the furthest ahead, having reached Phase 3 of clinical evaluation.

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The Gamaleya candidate being produced in Russia, which is among the 26 being tested on humans, is listed as being in Phase 1.

Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund which finances the vaccine project, said Phase 3 trials would start on Wednesday, industrial production was expected from September and that 20 countries had pre-ordered more than a billion doses.

File photo: World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP

‘Stamp of quality’
“Every country has national regulatory agencies that approve the use of vaccines or medicines on its territory,” Jasarevic explained.

“WHO has in place a process of pre-qualification for vaccines but also for medicines. Manufacturers ask to have the WHO pre-qualification because it is a sort of stamp of quality.

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“To get this, there is a review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data that are gathered through the clinical trials. WHO will do this for any candidate vaccine.”

The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.

“We are encouraged by the speed by which several candidate vaccines have been developing and as we have been always saying, we hope some of these vaccines will prove to be safe and efficient,” said Jasarevic.

“Accelerating progress does not mean compromising on safety,” he said.


#Newsworthy

COVID-19: WHO warns against despair as global cases crosses 20 million.

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The coronavirus pandemic chalked up another horrific milestone Monday as the world surpassed 20 million recorded cases of infection from the tiny killer that has upended life just about everywhere.

The number as of 2215 GMT was 20,002,577 cases, with 733,842 deaths recorded, according to an AFP tally of official sources.

In yet another staggering landmark, the death toll is expected to surpass 750,000 in a matter of days as the global health crisis that began late last year in China rages on.

As more things once unthinkable became harsh reality — having to wear a facemask in touristy spots in Paris, or reserve a spot on Copacabana beach in Rio via an app and then social distance on the sand — the World Health Organization urged people not to despair.

“Behind these statistics is a great deal of pain and suffering… But I want to be clear: there are green shoots of hope,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“It’s never too late to turn the outbreak around,” he said.

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He gave examples of countries that had successfully clamped down on COVID-19, such as Rwanda and New Zealand, which said Monday it plans to open a virus-free “travel bubble” with the Cook Islands.

With much of the world caught in a cycle of dispiriting outbreaks and economically crushing lockdowns, all eyes are on the race for a vaccine.

A WHO overview said 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, with six reaching Phase 3 of clinical evaluation.

But the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan warned that a vaccine was “only part of the answer,” pointing to polio and measles as diseases with vaccines that have not been fully eradicated.

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“You’ve got to be able to deliver that vaccine to a population that want and demand to have that vaccine,” he said.

– Europe feels the heat –
Infections have been rising ominously in Western Europe, which has also been sweltering through a heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 35 degrees Celsius (95 F).

The blistering heat sent crowds flocking to beaches at the weekend despite health warnings about the risk of infection.

In the Paris region, people aged 11 and over are now required to wear masks in crowded areas and tourists hotspots.

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These include the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital.

Marion, a 24-year-old in central Paris, said the masks are “restrictive” but necessary “if we want to avoid a second wave.”

“Anything except a second lockdown,” she added.

Several French towns and cities have already introduced similar measures, as well as parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain.

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In Berlin, thousands of children returned to school on Monday after the summer break, sporting masks, which are compulsory in common areas like school courtyards.

Greece meanwhile announced a night curfew for restaurants and bars in some of its top tourist destinations after its number of new cases increased.

In Italy, the coronavirus spikes of its neighbours caused alarm.

“France, Spain and the Balkans… Italy is surrounded by contagions,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza lamented.

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It was a different story in Pakistan, which allowed all restaurants and parks to reopen on Monday, after the country saw a drop in new cases over several weeks.

– Grim US, Brazil milestones –
As of Monday evening, the United States — the world’s worst-hit country — had recorded 163,370 deaths and 5,085,821 cases of infection, according to the tracker at Johns Hopkins University.

As the caseload shot past five million on Sunday, President Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, Joe Biden, tweeted that the number “boggles the mind and breaks the heart.”

The figure came as Trump was accused of flouting the constitution by unilaterally extending a virus relief package.

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The package — announced by Trump on Saturday after talks between Republican and Democrat lawmakers hit a wall — was “absurdly unconstitutional,” senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).

But with the world’s largest economy still struggling to dig itself out of an enormous hole, Democrats appeared skittish about any legal challenge to a relief package they see as seriously inadequate.

After the US, Brazil has the most cases, and over the weekend it became the second country to pass 100,000 fatalities.

President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the coronavirus threat, and after Brazil’s latest milestone, the country’s most widely viewed TV network Globo asked: “Has the president of the republic done his duty?”


#Newsworthy…