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February 18, 2022

Covid-19 update: Yellen calls for new fund to tackle future health crises

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.8 million, with a figure of 5,862,740 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have raced past 419 million to a world wide figure of 419,693,180.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged her counterparts from leading industrialized countries to support the establishment of a new World Bank fund intended to prevent and prepare for future global health crises. A new “financial intermediary fund” under the auspices of the World Bank would help address gaps in preparedness, particularly among low-income countries, Yellen said, according to prepared remarks she’s scheduled to deliver virtually on Thursday to a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from Group of 20 countries.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 78 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 931,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

All members of Congress will be allowed to attend President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address, but they must follow Covid-19 health guidelines, including masking, or risk being tossed from the event and fined.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged local governments and school districts to drop mask mandates. “It’s time to focus on getting our children a good education and improving our schools, no matter how you feel about masks,” the Democratic governor tweeted. North Carolina has not had a statewide mask mandate since mid-2021, though local governments and schools are permitted to impose their own rules. Cooper called lifting masking rules “a positive step” toward “a more normal day-to-day life.

The White House is warning lawmakers that the US doesn’t have enough money on hand to respond to future Covid-19 variants, stockpile vaccines or develop new technologies. Biden administration funds for pandemic response – including testing, vaccine distribution and other medical supplies – have been either spent or set aside already for purchases, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. All funds provided so far have been spent or earmarked for use.

Almost three-quarters of people in the US are now estimated to have some level of immunity to the Omicron Covid variant that created havoc after it emerged late last year just as people hoped the pandemic was finally waning.

California will rely on wastewater testing and the ability to quickly ramp up vaccinations to deal with future waves of the coronavirus, under a plan officials unveiled Thursday. With the Omicron variant rapidly fading in the state, Governor Gavin Newsom is trying to lay the groundwork for a return to something like normal life after two years of lockdowns and mask mandates. The plan – given the acronym SMARTER – says the state will negotiate with manufacturers to maintain a supply of tests that can be quickly deployed in case wastewater scans detect new outbreaks. California, which lost more than 82,500 people to the virus, will also maintain a stockpile of 75 million high-quality masks for rapid distribution and wants to maintain the ability to administer 200,000 vaccine doses per day.

Canada: Police in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, have warned truck drivers blockading the city’s downtown to leave or face arrest in a crackdown seeking to end a three-week-long protest over Covid restrictions. Police in Canada’s capital city have begun blocking off the downtown core with barriers and fences, in a move against protesters who have occupied the streets for nearly three weeks.

Dominican Republic: The Dominican Republic will drop all domestic restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic after a successful vaccination campaign helped contain infection and death rates on the Caribbean island. President Luis Abinader said that the required use of a face mask, social distancing measures and Covid passports to enter public places will all be dropped immediately.

Europe

EU: European Union drug regulators said they will discuss Merck & Co.’s antiviral pill next week amid a report that the drug faces potential rejection. A panel of the European Medicines Agency will consider the drug’s effectiveness at the meeting, Marco Cavaleri, the regulator’s head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, said at a briefing on Thursday. He declined to comment on the robustness of the evidence to back the pill.

Germany: Most of Germany’s coronavirus restrictions are to be lifted by March 20, a day some commentators have already dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ in a nod to similar moves elsewhere.

Portugal: Portugal has announced that it will lift its coronavirus restrictions as the number of registered new daily Covid cases dropped to around 16,500, compared with more than 50,000 last month.

The government will no longer recommend that people work from home and the need to show a negative Covid-19 test to access sports venues, bars and nightclubs will be dropped, Presidency Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said after a cabinet meeting on Thursday. The government plans to lift more restrictions as the number of deaths from Covid-19 declines, she said.

UK: In the UK, cabinet splits have emerged over the government’s “living with Covid” strategy, with the health secretary, Sajid Javid, expected to push to retain some free testing and community surveillance of the virus in the face of a Treasury demand to slash the budget.

Asia pacific

India: Government ministers in India have dismissed a recent study that suggests the country’s pandemic death toll could be six to eight times higher than the official count as “fallacious and completely inaccurate”.

Hong Kong: Authorities in Hong Kong said the city’s hospitals have reached 90% capacity and quarantine facilities are at their limit. To ease the strain on the city’s healthcare system, officials said they would allow some patients to be discharged sooner.

Hong Kong is planning a testing blitz of the entire city, deploying a tactic used to root out Covid-19 cases on the mainland as the financial hub struggles to get control over its most challenging outbreak of the pandemic.

Solomon Islands: The Solomon Islands is experiencing its first major community outbreak of coronavirus and its fragile healthcare system is at risk of becoming overwhelmed, the Red Cross warned today.

Indonesia: Indonesia’s confirmed Covid cases since the pandemic began crossed 5 million on Thursday, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Japan: Japan is to ease its strict border controls from next month, media reports said, after criticism from students, workers and family members who have been in effect “locked out” of the country for up to two years.

Australia: Most Covid deaths in Australia have affected migrants, with people born in the Middle East suffering the highest death rate, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.

Africa and Middle East

Israel: Israel’s prime minister says the country’s coronavirus vaccination “green pass” system will be suspended as new daily cases of Covid continue to decline.

South Africa: Moderna has applied for patents in South Africa relating to its Covid vaccine, prompting fears the company could eventually seek to prevent a new African vaccine manufacturing hub from making its own version of the mRNA shot.

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