World Bank pushing for standard vaccine contracts, more disclosure from makers

A UCHealth pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination event in the parking lot of Coors Field on February 20, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images/AFP)
A UCHealth pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination event in the parking lot of Coors Field on February 20, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

World Bank pushing for standard vaccine contracts, more disclosure from makers

World Bank pushing for standard vaccine contracts, more disclosure from makers
  • World Bank expected approve $1.6 billion in vaccine funding for 12 countries

WASHINGTON : The World Bank is working to standardize COVID-19 vaccine contracts that countries are signing with drug makers, and is pushing manufacturers to be more open about where doses are headed, as it races to get more vaccines to poor countries, the bank’s president said on Friday.
World Bank President David Malpass told Reuters he expected the bank’s board to have approved $1.6 billion in vaccine funding for 12 countries, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Tunisia and Ethiopia, by the end of March, with 30 more to follow shortly thereafter.
The bank is working with local governments to identify and fill gaps in distribution capacity, after they purchase vaccines under a $12 billion World Bank program, and also to standardize the contracts they are signing with manufacturers, he said.
The bank’s International Finance Corp, its private financing arm, has $4 billion to invest in expanding existing production plants or building new ones, including in developed countries, but needs more data on where current production is headed, he said.
“We are eager to be investing in new capacity, but it’s hard to do because you don’t know how much of the existing capacity is already committed to the various off-takers,” Malpass said in an interview with Reuters. New or expanded plants could be used to produce other types of vaccinations in the future, he said.
The bank’s funds could be used to expand plants in advanced economies, if the production was earmarked for developing nations, he said.
Malpass welcomed Friday’s pledge by the Group of Seven rich countries to intensify cooperation on the pandemic, saying it could help jump-start deliveries of vaccines to poorer countries, which are lagging far behind rich countries in getting shots in arms.
Data compiled by Our World In Data, a scientific online publication, showed Israel was leading the world in COVID-19 vaccinations, with nearly 82 of 100 people vaccinated, while India and Bangladesh reported less than one person per 100, Many African countries have not started at all.
Malpass said he was heartened by news about new vaccines coming down the road, and about Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE seeking permission to store their vaccine at higher temperatures, which would ease another obstacle to deliveries in lower-income countries.

 

 


Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city

Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city
Updated 17 min 34 sec ago

Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city

Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city
  • ‘There is no way to escape from the area because the fighting is ongoing’
  • The Taliban has taken control of vast swathes of the countryside and key border towns

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Families fled their homes as the Afghan army launched a major counterattack against the Taliban in the southern city of Lashkar Gah, residents said Wednesday.
Dozens of civilians have already died in the intense battle for Lashkar Gah, a city of 200,000 people that would be the Taliban’s biggest prize since they launched a nationwide offensive in May.
Resident Saleh Mohammad said hundreds of families had fled after the military asked people to leave on Tuesday, but many were stuck in the crossfire.
“There is no way to escape from the area because the fighting is ongoing. There is no guarantee that we will not be killed on the way,” Mohammad said.
“The government and the Taliban are destroying us.”
The insurgents have taken control of vast swathes of the countryside and key border towns, taking advantage of the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of US forces.
The Taliban are now targeting cities, with fierce fighting for a week around Herat near the western border with Iran, as well as Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.
The capital Kabul was also rocked by deadly bomb-and-gun attacks on Tuesday targeting Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi and other politicians.
Mohammadi was safe and Afghan forces repelled the attacks, but five people were killed.
No group has yet claimed the Kabul attack, but Washington pointed the finger at the Taliban.
The early morning fighting in Lashkar Gah followed another night of heavy clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in the city, just hours after the military gave an evacuation order for residents.
“Those families which had financial support or a car have left their homes. The families who can not afford to are obliged to stay in their own homes as we are,” resident Halim Karimi said.
“We don’t know where to go or how to leave. We are born to die.”
The loss of Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government.
With the Taliban taking control of some radio and TV stations in the city, and moving into people’s homes, the Afghan army on Tuesday flagged a major counter-offensive.
“Please leave as soon as possible so that we can start our operation,” General Sami Sadat, commander of the 215 Maiwand Afghan Army Corps, said in a message to the city’s population.
“I know it is very difficult for you to leave your houses — it is hard for us too — but if you are displaced for a few days, please forgive us.
The United Nations reported Tuesday that at least 40 civilians had been killed in Lashkar Gah in the previous 24 hours.
In Kabul on Tuesday night, the first bomb blew up in the center of the city late Tuesday, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky, AFP correspondents reported.
Defense Minister Mohammadi said it was a suicide car bomb attack targeting his house.
Less than two hours after the car bomb detonated, another loud blast followed by smaller explosions and rapid gunfire, also near the high-security Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission.
A security source said several attackers had stormed a lawmaker’s house after setting off the car bomb and shot at the residence of the defense minister from there.
“Several lawmakers were meeting at the house of this MP to make a plan to counter the Taliban offensive in the north,” the source said.


China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high

China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high
Updated 46 min 38 sec ago

China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high

China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high
  • Health authorities reported 71 domestic cases on Wednesday, the highest since January
  • Long lines of residents waited at outdoor testing stations in the summer heat

BEIJING: China on Wednesday reported its highest daily number of local coronavirus cases in months as mass testing and contact tracing campaigns uncovered a trail of Delta variant infections.
Health authorities reported 71 domestic cases on Wednesday, the highest since January, as China battles its largest outbreak in months by testing entire cities and locking down millions.
The official results of those tests have revealed a low caseload despite the outbreak spreading to dozens of major cities.
Beijing had previously boasted of its success in crushing COVID-19, allowing the economy to rebound and normal life to return while swathes of the globe struggled to douse a pandemic that has killed more than four million people worldwide.
But the latest outbreak is threatening that record with nearly 500 domestic cases reported since mid-July, when a cluster among airport cleaners in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, was found.
Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in 2019, reported its first local infections in over a year this week and said Tuesday it was “swiftly launching” testing of all 11 million residents.
Long lines of residents waited at outdoor testing stations in the summer heat Tuesday, fanning themselves with paper forms while workers in hazmat suits took throat samples.
Meanwhile, Nanjing has tested its 9.2 million residents three times after shutting down gyms and cinemas and closing off residential compounds.
And the tourist destination of Zhangjiajie in central Hunan province, where infected travelers who had been in Nanjing attended a theater performance, abruptly announced Tuesday that no one would be allowed to exit the city after it emerged as an infection hotspot.


Australia records one of its youngest COVID-19 deaths as Sydney outbreak grows

Australia records one of its youngest COVID-19 deaths as Sydney outbreak grows
Updated 48 min 3 sec ago

Australia records one of its youngest COVID-19 deaths as Sydney outbreak grows

Australia records one of its youngest COVID-19 deaths as Sydney outbreak grows
  • Unnamed man in his 20s, who had no underlying health issues and was unvaccinated, died at his home in the city
  • A total of 17 people have died in Sydney during the current outbreak that began on June 16

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales reported one of the country’s youngest deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, as daily infections lingered near a 16-month high despite the lockdown of 5 million people in state capital Sydney entering its sixth week.
The unnamed man in his 20s, who had no underlying health issues and was unvaccinated, died at his home in the city, authorities said. He deteriorated rapidly after earlier complaining of just mild symptoms, they added.
The death highlights the risk facing Australia’s largest city, which is struggling to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant when fewer than 20 percent of Sydney’s residents are vaccinated.
Last year, the neighboring state of Victoria said an unnamed man also in his 20s had died from COVID-19, though a coroner is still investigating the exact cause of death.
The young man was one of two COVID-19 deaths reported in New South Wales (NSW) in the past 24 hours. NSW also recorded 233 new cases, near a 16-month high reported last week, and State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said case numbers would likely grow.
“I’m not going to rule out case numbers won’t get worse, I actually think they will get worse,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
“If you look at the number of people infectious in the community, it indicates that perhaps we haven’t reached our peak.”
Berejiklian is under intense pressure to ease the movement restrictions that threaten to drive Australia into its second recession in as many years. However, she has said at least 50 percent of the state’s population would need to be vaccinated for the curbs to ease at the end of August.
Still, many remain wary of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine, the most plentiful of two vaccines approved in the country, because of a rare blood clotting issue.
Additionally, government modelling released on Tuesday showed at least 70 percent of the state’s population would need to be inoculated to slow the spread.
Authorities have warned people not to wait for an increase in Pfizer supplies expected next month as case numbers prove difficult to curtail and sewage tests are indicating the coronavirus may have spread north.
New South Wales has taken aggressive countermeasures to stop the coronavirus’s spread, including sealing off high-risk suburbs and asking the military to help police enforce lockdown rules.
A total of 17 people have died in Sydney during the current outbreak that began on June 16. During that time, the surge has pushed the total cases in NSW to more than 4,000.
Nationally, Australia has recorded 927 deaths since the pandemic’s start, with just over 35,000 cases out of 22 million people.
Queensland on Wednesday reported 16 locally acquired cases, the same as the day earlier, prompting authorities to declare it the state’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic and warn that a lockdown in the capital Brisbane might be extended beyond Sunday.
“If we don’t do something really, really, really special in Queensland, we’ll be extending the lockdown,” Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young told reporters in Brisbane.


Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections
Updated 04 August 2021

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections
  • Ramped-up vaccination drive crucial to curbing the outbreak, officials say

DHAKA: More than 50 percent of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections and nearly 44 percent of virus-related deaths across Bangladesh have been traced to the highly transmissible delta variant of the disease, health authorities confirmed on Tuesday.

The government’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on Monday said over 15,000 infections and 246 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 1,280,317 and death toll to 21,500 since the pandemic began in March last year.

“Some of our organisations, including the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), conducted genome sequencing on small-sized samples. It shows that more than 50 percent of recent infections are caused by the delta (variant),” Dr. Mushtuq Hussain, an adviser to the IEDCR, told Arab News, adding: “Of the recent deaths, around 44 percent were infected with the delta variant.”

The worrying trend comes amid several warnings by health experts that the outbreak might worsen after authorities relaxed the COVID-19 curbs ahead of the Eid Al-Adha festival in late July.

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis traveled from various cities, including the capital Dhaka, to their home villages before lockdown was reimposed for two more weeks until Aug. 5.

Speaking to reporters at the time, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the crisis was “most difficult,” citing a nearly 90 percent occupancy rate at hospitals, before calling upon the public to follow health restrictions to curb the outbreak.

“We failed to follow the health safety protocols and the lockdown initiative also failed miserably since factories and banks were in operation during those days,” Prof. Robed Amin, a DGHS spokesperson, told Arab News.

“Most people were reluctant to comply with health safety measures, especially wearing masks while going outside. We should have engaged people more in building awareness in this regard,” he said, adding that a strict lockdown was necessary to “reap good results.”

Bangladesh, which shares a long border with India, began experiencing an upward trend in delta variant cases in mid-May, which peaked two months later as the country started recording more than 200 daily deaths in the first week of July.

Dr. Hussain said that while the variant has impacted eight bordering districts, Dhaka remains the “worst affected.”

“If the current trend continues, it may take a couple of weeks to reduce the infection rate,” he said.

However, despite a surge in delta variant cases rattling several parts of the country, Hussain said Bangladesh was “still doing better than other regional countries” grappling with the pandemic.

“Compared to neighboring India, Nepal, and some other regional countries, Bangladesh is not lagging in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. In India, it took three months to contain the surge caused by delta,” he said.

In April, the South Asian nation of nearly 170 million was forced to suspend its nationwide inoculation drive after a halt in exports of the AstraZeneca jabs from India. Bangladesh resumed the vaccination campaign with China’s Sinopharm and the Pfizer vaccine supplied by the Covax facility, a global vaccine sharing initiative.

However, less than 3 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 1.

Prof. Amin said it was imperative to achieve herd immunity against the deadly virus with a “massive vaccination drive.”

“If we can inoculate around 10 million people per month according to the plan which will begin from next Saturday, the infection rate will reduce soon,” he said.

“In the next two months, we will be able to inoculate around 20 million people with the vaccines sourced from the Covax initiative and purchased by the Bangladesh government.”


US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts

US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts
Updated 04 August 2021

US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts

US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts
  • Washington had proposed expanding engagement with ASEAN to include five new ‘multi-ministerial’-level dialogues, which it hoped the bloc would agree to soon

WASHINGTON: The plan by Myanmar’s ruling generals to hold elections in two years shows they are stalling for time and the need for Southeast Asian countries to step up pressure on them, a senior State Department official said on Monday.

“It’s clear that the Burmese junta is just stalling for time and wants to keep prolonging the calendar to its own advantage,” the official told reporters ahead of a ministerial meeting this week between the United States and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar.

“So, all the more reason why ASEAN has to engage on this and ... uphold the terms of the five point consensus that Myanmar also signed up to,” he said referring to a plan by ASEAN leaders to tackle the turmoil.

The official briefing reporters ahead of a week of virtual meetings involving US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and regional counterparts said Washington had proposed expanding engagement with ASEAN to include five new “multi-ministerial”-level dialogues, which it hoped the bloc would agree to soon.

The official said one of the areas was climate, but did not list the others.

He said he expected Blinken to provide details to ASEAN ministers of continued US support for Southeast Asia in the fight against COVID-19, which has hit the region hard.

Blinken would also raise what Washington sees as China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, he said.

Asked about China’s warnings that if Washington expected cooperation on issues such as climate, it would need to de-escalate tensions, the official replied:

“Look, if we can’t force China to cooperate, we can continue to point out the advantages, and hopefully they’ll see that this is also in their advantage to work with us on climate issues.”

Washington is seeking to show through Blinken’s participation in five consecutive days of regional meetings that the Biden administration is serious about engaging with allies and partners in its bid to push back against China’s growing influence.

As well as the US-ASEAN ministerial talks, Blinken will also participate virtually this week in ministerial meetings of the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Mekong-US Partnership and the Friends of the Mekong initiative.