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August 26, 2021

International update: Global health security ‘dangerously underfunded’ says WHO

By Paul Dennis

26 August

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4 million, with a figure of 4,463,845 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 213.9 million world wide.

The World Health Organization has backed a proposal to set up a $10 billion fund to plug the financial gap in the global health-care system exposed by the pandemic. The annual Global Health Threats Fund is part of efforts by G20 finance ministers to double spending in health care and boost the financial capacity to respond to future pandemics, said Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam during a WHO press briefing on Wednesday. According to Tharman, global health security is “dangerously underfunded,” making it vulnerable to a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic and future ones, unless public funding is increased.

China criticised the US “politicisation” of efforts to trace the origin of the coronavirus and restated dubious demands for a US military laboratory to be investigated, amid the release of an “inconclusive” American intelligence community report on the virus’ origins.

The scientists dispatched to China by the WHO to discover Covid’s origins said that the window of opportunity for solving the mystery is “closing fast”. They appeared to be attempting to reframe their original finding, which said a lab leak was “extremely unlikely”, after details emerge on how terms were agreed with Chinese officials.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 38 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 632,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who took office Tuesday, reported nearly 12,000 more deaths in the state from Covid-19 than had been publicized by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo. The state database on pandemic deaths was updated to include both the official tally from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of nearly 55,400 and previously reported state numbers of 43,400.

Becton, Dickinson and Co. said the US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for its BD Veritor at-home test, which uses a nasal swab and a mobile app to provide a diagnosis in 15 minutes.

Just over half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students are now required to wear masks in classrooms as a courtroom battle continues over efforts by Governor Ron DeSantis to leave such decisions up to parents.

Deutsche Bank AG is allowing only those employees fully vaccinated onto its US trading floors, joining a growing number of financial firms restricting access for staff who don’t get the shots.

Delta Air Lines Inc. will impose a $200 monthly surcharge on employees who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19, becoming the first major US company to levy a penalty to encourage workers to get protected.

Australia: Sydney’s outbreak of delta variant cases is worsening, with Australia’s largest city responsible for the bulk of new daily Covid-19 infections as New South Wales state passed 1,000 for the first time. Stay-at-home orders for New South Wales will be extended until at least 10 September, Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney on Thursday. The state saw a record 1,029 daily infections since the outbreak began in the city in mid-June, she said, and three more people died.

Singapore: A jump in Covid cases to more than 100 a day poses a potential test of resolve for Singapore officials who are counting on one of the world’s best vaccination rates to allow them to stay the course and keep reopening. A cluster at Bugis Junction, a local shopping mall, added 38 new cases on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health. Most of them are linked to multi-story department store BHG, which was closed through 30 August for deep cleaning. The government is encouraging anyone who went to the mall since 17 August to get a free Covid test.

Vaccine news

Global: The World Health Organization director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterated that the data on the benefits and safety of a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot is inconclusive – yet richer states continue to move towards the policy. Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech said they have initiated submission for a full US approval of a booster dose of their vaccine.

Japan: Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd. said it would suspend use of 1.63 million doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in Japan after it received reports of foreign particles in the vials from several vaccination sites. Takeda is the vaccine’s local distributor. There have been no safety concerns tied to the affected vials, and vaccinations using other Moderna shots in Japan will progress as usual. A Moderna spokesperson confirmed the halt of some batches in Japan and said it is currently investigating. It believes a manufacturing issue arose at one line of its contract manufacturing site in Spain.

US: Military troops must immediately begin to get vaccinated against Covid after Pfizer’s jab received full approval, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said as more than 800,000 service members out of 2.1 million, including reserves, remain unvaccinated.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they’re seeking full approval from US regulators for a booster shot of their vaccine for people age 16 and older.

Italy: Italy will donate 801,600 AstraZeneca Covid vaccine doses to Vietnam via the Covax facility, with delivery expected in early September, according to a post on the Vietnam government’s website.

Brazil: Brazil announced it will give Covid booster shots to immunosuppressed or vulnerable people, and citizens over the age of 80, after it emerged yesterday it had leaked its supply contract with Pfizer – showing it provided the pharma giant with indemnity from possible citizen lawsuits over potential adverse events after it provided jabs at cheaper prices.

Indonesia: Political elites in Indonesia are admitting to getting a third dose of Covid-19 vaccines, defying calls from the health ministry as most of the country haven’t received even their first shot. Military Chief Hadi Tjahjanto and East Kalimantan Governor Isran Noor said during a meeting with President Joko Widodo they’ve received their third jabs, at a time when booster shots are only given to health care workers. In the livestreamed video of them casually chatting before a public event on Tuesday, the president said he hasn’t gotten a third dose and that he’s waiting for the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.

Lockdown updates

EU: The European Union will discuss on Thursday whether to reimpose curbs on visitors from the US as new coronavirus cases soar. The change was recommended by Slovenia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency and is responsible for triggering an assessment of countries allowed non-essential travel there, according to two officials familiar with the plans.

Papua New Guinea: Papua New Guinea has banned all repatriation flights from India, after accusing the country’s high commission of a deliberate “deception” that resulted in passengers infected with Covid-19 arriving in the country.

New Zealand: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a nationwide lockdown is working and she remains committed to stamping out a delta outbreak of coronavirus even as case numbers continue to grow. “Overall, lockdown is having an impact,” Ardern told a news conference Thursday in Wellington. “No one wants to use lockdowns forever and I can tell you now that is not our intention. But for now, while we vaccinate, elimination is the goal, and we can do it.” Health officials on Thursday reported 68 new cases in the current community outbreak of the highly infectious delta strain, taking the total to 277. The strict national lockdown has been in place for more than a week and Ardern is due to announce tomorrow whether it will be extended.

Economy updates

Australia: Qantas Airways Ltd. said its current target of resuming some overseas services in December “remains in reach,” with domestic travel demand expected to surge once Australia reaches vaccination targets and the likelihood of future lockdowns reduces. The airline posted a second consecutive annual loss, as did Air New Zealand, which suspended earnings guidance.

India: Indians have flocked to tourist spots across the country from the beaches of Goa on the west coast to the mountainous north on planes and in cars after the easing of restrictions. Air travel has climbed sharply, said Subhash Goyal, the chairman of STIC Travel – one of India’s biggest travel agents – estimating that domestic flights this month are around 75% of pre-virus levels. That’s translated into the biggest month-on-month increase in jet fuel sales in more than a year, according to preliminary data for the first half of August, although sales are still 45% below the same period in 2019.

US: Manhattan employers now see 41% of office workers returning by 30 September, down from an estimate of 62% in May, according to a survey by the Partnership for New York City. About 23% of workers have returned to the workplace, up from 12% in May. About 44% of employers have delayed return plans because of the rise in Covid-19 cases, though 54% have not made changes.

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