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Thursday, September 10, 2020, 22:26
UN's Guterres calls for US$35b more for WHO vaccine program
By Agencies
Thursday, September 10, 2020, 22:26 By Agencies

In this photo taken from a pre-recorded video streamed online and provided by Ministry of Environment Government of Japan, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during the Online Platform Ministerial Meeting, Sept 3, 2020. (MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT GOVERNMENT OF JAPAN VIA AP)

WASHINGTON / MEXICO CITY / LONDON / BRASILIA / PARIS / BERLIN / PRAGUE / MOSCOW / VIENNA / ZURICH / MADRID / KYIV / OSLO / BUDAPEST / HARARE  - United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for US$35 billion more, including US$15 billion in the next three months, for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “ACT Accelerator” program to back vaccines, treatments and diagnostics against COVID-19.

Some US$3 billion has been contributed so far, Guterres told an online event on Thursday, calling it “seed funding” that was less than 10 percent of what the WHO wants for the program, formally called Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

Financial support has, so far, lagged goals, as nations or governments including the European Union, Britain, Japan and the United States reach bilateral deals for vaccines, prompting Guterres and WHO General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to plead to nations to contribute.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged backing, having in August already promised 400 million euros (US$474 million) to the COVAX vaccine portion of the program.

AstraZeneca vaccine trial

AstraZeneca's CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday that it should know before the end of the year whether its experimental vaccine would protect people from COVID-19, if the British drugmaker is allowed to resume trials which were paused this week.

It suspended the late-stage trials after an illness in a study subject in Britain. The patient was reportedly suffering from neurological symptoms associated with a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis.

Soriot said AstraZeneca did not know the diagnosis for the volunteer in the trial, adding that it was not clear if they had transverse myelitis and more tests were needed.

Soriot said the diagnosis would be submitted to an independent safety committee and this would usually then tell the company whether trials can be resumed.

WHO

International donors have raised US$700 million - less than half the target - to purchase future coronavirus vaccines for poor countries in a global initiative to ensure eventual vaccines do not go only to rich countries, a World Health Organization official said on Thursday.

The COVAX Advanced Market Commitment has an initial target of US$2 billion to buy the vaccines.

“Up to today, what has been mobilised so far is US$700 million ... So there is a great deal of work to be done to diversify the possible sources of funding,” Matshidiso Moeti, Africa regional director for the WHO, told an online press briefing.

COVAX is co-led by the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, the WHO and the CEPI Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Its aim is to deliver 2 billion doses of effective, approved COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.

At least eight African countries, including South Africa, Gabon, Namibia and Equatorial Guinea had agreed to self-finance access to the vaccine, Moeti said.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said last month the continent had started to slowly “bend the curve” of COVID-19 infections as measures like mask-wearing and social distancing slow the spread of the pandemic.

The head of the World Health Organization urged countries on Thursday to contribute resources that can expedite products which may help stem the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO’s ACT-Accelerator programme already supports research into potential vaccines, drugs and diagnostics, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online event.

“But we need to rapidly scale up our clinical trials, manufacturing, licensing and regulation capacity so that these products can get to people and start saving lives,” he said.

Global toll

Global COVID-19 deaths surpassed 900,000 on Wednesday while the number of coronavirus cases worldwide topped 27.6 million, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: Pope warns against seeking political gain from pandemic

Africa tally

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded across the African continent reached 1,313,219 on Wednesday while the death toll rose to 31,701, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

EU

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE reached a preliminary agreement to supply 200 million doses of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union (EU) -- the biggest initial order yet for the US-German partners.

The European Commission has concluded exploratory talks and will now begin contract negotiations, according to a statement Wednesday. The deal would include an option for another 100 million doses.

The vaccines for the EU would be produced at BioNTech's facilities in Germany as well as Pfizer's production site in Belgium, according to the companies. Deliveries of the potential COVID-19 vaccine are planned to start by the end of 2020.

BioNTech and Pfizer are aiming to file for regulatory approval for the BNT162b2 vaccine in October if the current clinical study proved successful.

UNICEF

The COVID-19 pandemic could reverse decades of progress toward eliminating preventable child deaths, said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday.

The number of global deaths for children under the age of five dropped to its lowest point in 2019, down to 5.2 million from 12.5 million in 1990, according to new mortality estimates released by an inter-agency group made up of UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank Group.

Since then, however, surveys by UNICEF and the WHO showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress, UNICEF said in a press release.

A UNICEF survey carried out over the last several months across 77 countries found that almost 68 percent of countries reported at least some disruption in health checks for children and immunization services. In addition, 63 percent of countries reported disruptions in antenatal checkups and 59 percent in post-natal care checkups.

A recent WHO survey in 105 countries revealed that 52 percent of countries reported disruptions in health services for sick children and 51 percent reported disruptions in services for the management of malnutrition, according the press release.

Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen are among the hardest-hit countries, the surveys showed.

Algeria

Algeria on Wednesday reported 278 new COVID-19 cases and 10 additional fatalities, bringing the total infections to 47,216 and the death toll to 1,581, said the Ministry of Health in a statement. 

It was the lowest daily increase in infections since June 29, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, 196 more patients were discharged from hospitals, taking the total number of recoveries to 33,379.

Argentina

Argentina reported a record of 12,259 new COVID-19 cases for a national tally of 512,293, according to the government’s evening report.

Austria

Austria reported 664 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the biggest daily increase since late March, when an initial spike in infections was rapidly fading due to a strict lockdown.

Of those new cases, 387 were in Vienna, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Infections have been increasing since late June, and more recently the government has mainly blamed the rise on people returning from tourism hotspots such as Spain and Croatia.

Belarus

Belarus reported 194 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, taking its tally to 73,402, according to the Health Ministry.

Recoveries rose by 83 to 71,999 while the death toll climbed by five to 726, according to the ministry.

Brazil

Brazil recorded 35,816 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, as well as 1,075 deaths from the disease, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Brazil has registered nearly 4.2 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 128,539, according to ministry data.

The governor of São Paulo state said that Phase 3 clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd have shown promising results and it may be available to Brazilians as early as December. He added that Phase 2 trials of the potential vaccine had shown an immune response of 98 percent in the elderly.

Separately, Brazilian lab and hospital group DASA S.A. said it has agreed to conduct clinical Phase 2 and 3 trials in Brazil for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by COVAXX, a unit of privately-owned United Biomedical Inc.

COVAXX co-founder Peter Diamandis said in a remote press conference that with the partnership DASA would secure the first 10 million doses of the potential vaccine for the private market in Brazil and COVAXX will make available an additional 60 million doses for the Brazilian public health market.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria's COVID-19 death toll has risen to 702 after 10 more patients died in the past 24 hours, official figures showed on Thursday morning.

According to the health ministry, the number of confirmed infections has reached 17,435, up 122 from Wednesday.

Meanwhile, another 177 people recovered from the diseaseover the past 24 hours, raising the total number of recoveries to 12,474, the ministry said.

Canada

With COVID-19 cases in Canada on the rise again and children returning to schools across the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday urged people to be careful in order to avoid new major outbreaks.

Canada reported 1,606 new cases on Tuesday, taking the nation's tally to 133,748. The coronavirus reproduction number has risen to just above one, an indication that the virus is spreading.

Chile

Chile is working to acquire a COVID-19 vaccine by the first quarter of 2021, Health Minister Enrique Paris said on Wednesday.

"The vaccine will be free and will be initially applied to vulnerable groups," he added.

"There are many companies that are testing vaccines, several that are already in phase 3 clinical trials. In fact, in Chile, there are three vaccines that are in phase 3 clinical trials or that are going to carry out their clinical trials here," Paris said, in response to questions concerning the government's target date.

Chile registered 1,482 fresh infections in the previous 24 hours, bringing the nationwide caseload to 427,027, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Twenty more deaths were also reported, raising the death toll to 11,702. 

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases for a second day in a row on Thursday, as it widened compulsory wearing of face masks in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

As of the end of Wednesday, the country had 31,036 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 1,161 new cases identified by labs on that day alone.

On Tuesday, it reported 1,163 new cases, matching neighbouring Germany which has eight times the Czech population.

Ecuador

Ecuador's Ministry of Public Health (MSP) announced on Wednesday that the country registered 1,409 new cases of COVID-19 and 55 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 112,166 and the death toll to 6,924.

The ministry said there were 3,777 deaths that were likely caused by COVID-19, but have yet to be confirmed.

The spread of the coronavirus is on the rise in the city of Quito, the capital of the country and the current epicenter of the virus in Ecuador, which has so far reported 23,217 cases.

Egypt

Egypt reported on Wednesday 175 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the tally to 100,403, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

According to the statement, the death toll rose by 17 to 5,577 while recoveries increased by 803 to 80,689.

People wearing protective face masks as precaution against the conoravirus walk in Paris, France, Sept 9, 2020. (MICHEL EULER / AP)

France

The French government will discuss on Friday whether to impose new, local lockdowns to try to tackle rising COVID-19 while keeping economic and social activities going.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Thursday that nothing would be ruled out at Friday’s cabinet meeting, while President Emmanuel Macron said he hoped any new measures would not be too restrictive.

Macron said that while he would not want to pre-empt any decisions, he hoped current rules would allow France to tackle the virus and let people live as normally as possible.

He was referring to measures such as social distancing and the compulsory wearing of face-masks in much of France.

France has the seventh-highest COVID death toll in the world. 

The country reported 8,577 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the second-highest number of daily additional infections since the disease started to spread in the country at the end of the winter.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,892 to 255,366, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

The reported death toll rose by three to 9,341, the tally showed.

The German federal government on Wednesday extended its travel warning for more than 160 non-European Union (EU) countries until the end of September.

From October onwards, the travel warnings would be replaced with "differentiated travel and security warnings" applying to individual countries, the German Federal Foreign Office said in a statement.

An early lifting of travel warning in country-specific individual cases would be announced separately, according to the Foreign Office.

Hungary

Hungary is banning visits at hospitals to curb the rapid spread of the virus. Authorities are also vowing to more strictly enforce the obligation to wear masks on trains and intercity buses. Those without masks can be taken off the vehicles. Similar measures have also been announced for city transport in Budapest.

Hungary added 476 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 10,191, according to the government's coronavirus information website.

There are 234 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospital at present, 11 of whom are on ventilators. To date, there have been 3,990 recoveries and 630 fatalities.

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Wednesday warned that the lack of mask wearing and poor social distancing is likely to trigger a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Rashid Aman, chief administrative secretary in the Ministry of Health, said a recent survey revealed that the mandatory requirement of mask wearing in public places was not being adhered to in many parts of the country. He said the survey also found overloading in public transport vehicles in urban and rural areas in disregard of social and physical distancing requirements.

Kenya reported 104 new infections and eight more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 35,460 and the death toll to 607, according to Aman.

Mexico

Mexico reported 4,647 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 611 additional fatalities on Wednesday, bringing its totals to 647,507 infections and 69,095 deaths, according to updated health ministry data.

Morocco

Morocco reported 2,157 new COVID-19 cases and another 26 deaths on Wednesday, raising the tally of infections to 77,878 and the death toll to 1,453.

The total number of recoveries from COVID-19 in Morocco increased by 2,484 to 59,723, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Norway

Norway is going to stop easing coronavirus curbs for the moment and could be forced to bring back tougher measures following a recent rise in the number of cases, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Thursday.

Norway went into lockdown in mid-March and quickly saw a sharp fall in new cases, then began a gradual easing of restrictions in May.

The number of people allowed at public gatherings could be cut to 50 from the current 200, and the maximum permitted at private events to 5-10 people from 20 currently, Solberg said.

Universities, which reopened with in-person classes in August, could be told to return to all-online teaching, she added.

Earlier plans to allow adults outside of the professional leagues to take part in contact sports such as football, remain on hold for the time being, she added.

Norway, with a population of 5.4 million, reported 738 coronavirus cases last week, the highest number of any single week since early April, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI). Overall, it has had 11,746 cases, with 265 deaths.

North Macedonia

Kindergartens throughout North Macedonia reopened their doors for children on Wednesday under strict health protocols imposed by authorities after being closed since March 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kindergartens across North Macedonia have been disinfected and supplied with protective equipment such as face masks, hand sanitizers and thermometers.

They have the capacity to care for 19,000 children, according to Minister of Labor and Social Policy Jagoda Shahpaska.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported 72 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed to 15,293, with 12,754 recoveries and 634 fatalities.  

Peru

Peru reported 6,586 new cases for total of 702,776, though said confirmed fatalities from COVID-19 have declined since the first week of August.

Peruvian opposition lawmakers filed a censure motion to oust the government's economy minister on Wednesday, underscoring political tensions as the Andean country rides out its deepest economic plunge in decades due to the pandemic.

Lawmakers have squabbled over the government's handling of Peru's mining-driven economy during the pandemic, which has hit the South American country particularly hard despite a huge rescue package spearheaded by María Antonieta Alva.

A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus walks along an embankment of the Moskva river in Moscow, Russia, Sept 9, 2020. (YURI KADOBNOV / AFP)

Russia

Russia's tally of COVID-19 infections surpassed 1 million on Thursday, while AstraZeneca Plc's chief executive officer said the coronavirus vaccine the company is developing with the University of Oxford could still be ready before the end of the year. 

Russia reported 5,363 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national tally to 1,046,370, the fourth largest in the world.

Authorities said 128 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 18,263.

Spain

Authorities in Spain’s Basque Country region said on Thursday they had shut down a primary school after several teachers tested positive for COVID-19, the first to be closed entirely in the week classrooms reopened across the country.

Students have begun to return to school after a six-month shutdown, prompting feelings of relief but also concerns of further infection in the country that already has the most cases in Western Europe.

Downplaying criticism that health and safety plans were left to the last minute, Education Minister Isabel Celaa said the reopening had gone very well, with cases detected only in a few dozen places.

A handful of individual classes had been sent home and small groups of teachers quarantined earlier this week, but the Zaldibar primary school in the Basque Country was closed entirely.

A spokeswoman for the regional government could not confirm how many teachers had tested positive or for how long they expected the school to remain closed. All staff will be tested.

The latest official data show Spain has reported 543,379 cases since the onset of the pandemic, with 50,952 in the past seven days. Twelve deaths were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total up to 29,628.

UK

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions on social gatherings in England on Wednesday, in which groups of more than six people would be banned from meeting. 

Johnson stressed that police and other agencies would be enforcing the rules more actively.

"I will be absolutely clear. This is not, these measures are not, another national lockdown. The whole point is to avoid a second national lockdown," he said.

He also announced an ambitious "moonshot" plan, which he said was not guaranteed to succeed, in which mass testing that delivers fast results could be used to grant more freedom to those confirmed not to have the virus. "We're hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring," he said.

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the measures were likely to remain in place for more than a few weeks, and warned that difficult times lay ahead as winter conditions made it easier for the virus to spread.

British start-up company iAbra said it had developed a 20-second saliva COVID-19 test which had 99.8 percent sensitivity and 96.7 percent specificity.

Trials of the “Virolens” test have taken place at Heathrow Airport, the company, which was founded in 2010, said.

The United Kingdom reported 2,659 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 earlier on Wednesday, up from 2,460 on Tuesday. The new cases pushed the tally to 355,219, according to government data.

US President Donald Trump speaks during an event on judicial appointments, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, Sept 9, 2020. (EVAN VUCCI / AP)

US

US President Donald Trump defended telling journalist Bob Woodward that he intentionally downplayed the severity of the coronavirus in public, saying he didn’t want to cause panic or price spikes.

“I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward, the author and associate editor for the Washington Post, on March 19 in one of a series of interviews for his book Rage, due for publication this month.

“We don’t want to instill panic, we don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody,” Trump told reporters at the White House. He insisted he was right to keep his concerns about the virus private.

The US is the worst-hit nation in this pandemic, with over 6.3 million cases and more than 190,000 deaths, making up more than 20 percent of the global death toll, according to data from Johns Hopkins University

The US is the worst-hit nation in this pandemic, with over 6.3 million cases and more than 190,000 deaths, making up more than 20 percent of the global death toll, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: US to redirect WHO funding to other UN assessments

Over a half million children in the US have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, according to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. In Florida, as many as 10,513 children under age 18 have been infected since schools started reopening in early August, a hike of 34 percent, the Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said restaurants will be able to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity at the end of the month. He said capacity could be lifted to 50 percent by Nov 1.

In another development, the US government is set to end enhanced screening of some international passengers for COVID-19 and drop requirements that travelers coming from the targeted countries arrive at 15 designated US airports, according to US and airline officials and a government document seen by Reuters.

The changes are set to take effect as early as Monday, according to the draft rollout plan seen by Reuters, but the move could still be delayed, US officials said.

Ukraine

The commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, Colonel-General Ruslan Homchak, has tested positive for COVID-19 and will spend 14 days in isolation, the country’s military said on Thursday.

Ukraine has reported high COVID infection levels in recent weeks. The total number of cases since the start of the pandemic now exceeds 145,000, including more than 3,000 deaths.

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