US backs plan to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents

US backs plan to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents
More than 1.2 billion doses have been administered globally, but fewer than one percent in the least developed countries. (AP)
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Updated 06 May 2021

US backs plan to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents

US backs plan to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday announced support for a global waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, offering hope to poor nations that have struggled to access the life-saving doses.
India, where the death toll hit a new daily record amid fears the peak is still to come, has been leading the fight within the World Trade Organization (WTO) to allow more drugmakers to manufacture the vaccines — a move pharma giants oppose.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that while intellectual property rights for businesses are important, Washington “supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines” in order to end the pandemic.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said in a statement.
Biden had been under intense pressure to waive protections for vaccine manufacturers, especially amid criticism that rich nations were hoarding shots.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), called the US decision “historic” and said it marked “a monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19.”
Tai cautioned however that negotiations “will take time given the consensus-based nature” of the WTO.
With supplies for Americans secured, the Biden administration will continue efforts “to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution,” and will work to “increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines.”
For months the WTO has been facing calls to temporarily remove the intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines, known as a TRIPS waiver in reference to the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.
But that notion has been fiercely opposed by pharmaceutical giants and their host countries, which insist the patents are not the main roadblocks to scaling up production, and warned the move could hamper innovation.
“A waiver is the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem,” the Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations lobby group said, describing the US move as “disappointing.”
Countries such as New Zealand, however, welcomed the US announcement, while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the move “tremendous news,” adding that it would help his country manufacture mRNA vaccines locally.
France, on the other hand, has said it is opposed to the waiver, stating it prefers instead a donation-based model to help poor countries overcome a lack of vaccines.
While the United States has reached the point of offering donuts and beer to entice vaccine holdouts to get their shots, India reported 3,780 new pandemic deaths and not enough doses to inoculate its people.
India has in recent weeks endured a devastating surge in coronavirus cases, with more than 380,000 infections reported on Wednesday.
K Vijay Raghavan, the Indian government’s principal scientific adviser, said the country of 1.3 billion people had to prepare for a new wave of infections even after beating down the current wave, which has taken the country’s caseload above 20 million.
In an effort to boost the country’s collapsing health system, India’s reserve bank announced $6.7 billion in cheap financing for vaccine makers, hospitals and health firms.
India’s crisis has been partly fueled by a lack of vaccines. This has in turn exacerbated the global shortage as India is the world’s biggest producer of COVID-19 shots.
In London, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy democracies committed to financially support the vaccine-sharing program, Covax.
But there was no immediate announcement on fresh funding.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Denmark, where the spread of the virus has been deemed under control, will open up cinemas and theaters plus gyms and fitness centers Thursday. And bars, cafes and restaurants, which have already reopened, will no longer require reservations.
All patrons, however, must present a “corona pass” certificate confirming they have either tested negative in the past 72 hours, been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19.
The pandemic has claimed more than 3.2 million lives worldwide since it first emerged in late 2019, but many wealthy nations have made progress in suppressing the virus as mass vaccination campaigns gather steam.
More than 1.2 billion doses have been administered globally, but fewer than one percent in the least developed countries.
Vaccine shortages are not an issue in the United States, which could soon be sitting on as many as 300 million extra doses — nearly equivalent to its entire population.
Biden on Tuesday said he wanted 70 percent of US adults to have received at least one shot by the July 4 Independence Day holiday.
He also said his administration was “ready to move immediately” if regulators authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.
But some experts question the wisdom of devoting limited vaccine supplies to a low-risk group instead of sharing them with high-risk groups abroad.
In the Middle East, Egypt announced a partial shutdown of malls and restaurants and called off festivities for the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr to curb rising coronavirus cases.
And on Wednesday Argentina broke its record for COVID-19 deaths with 633 recorded fatalities in 24 hours, despite stepped-up measures to reduce movement of people across the country.


Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
Updated 12 June 2021

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
  • The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion killed one and wounded four
  • The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group

KABUL: Separate bombs hit two minivans in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in the Afghan capital Saturday, killing at least seven people and wounding six others, the Interior Ministry said.
The attacks targeted minivans on the same road about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) apart in a neighborhood in western Kabul, Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Ahmad Zia Zia, said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what type of bombs were used and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Daesh has carried out similar bombings in the area, including four attacks on four minivans earlier this month that killed at least 18 people.
The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion in front of Muhammad Ali Jinnah hospital, where a majority of COVID-19 patients are admitted, killed one and wounded four.
The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group who are mostly Shiite Muslims. Shiites are a minority in mostly Sunni Afghanistan, and the local Daesh affiliate has declared war against them.
Hundreds of Afghans are killed or injured every month in violence connected to the country’s constant war. But Hazaras, who make up around 9 percent of the population of 36 million people, stand alone in being intentionally targeted because of their ethnicity and their religion.
Violence and chaos continue to escalate in Afghanistan as the US and NATO continue their withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and 7,000 allied forces. The last of the troops will be gone by Sept. 11 at the latest.


After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
Updated 12 June 2021

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
  • On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project
  • She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”

LONDON: Fresh from charming leaders at the Group of Seven summit, Queen Elizabeth II was back at her residence at Windsor Castle on Saturday to view a military parade to mark her official birthday.
The 95-year-old monarch sat on a dais to watch the ceremony that despite ongoing social distancing restrictions did not disappoint on the pomp and pageantry front. If she was tired after meeting G-7 leaders, including US President Joe Biden, on Friday evening, it didn’t show.
The ceremony is a gift from the Household Division of army regiments, which has a close affinity with the monarch. It featured soldiers who have played an integral role in the COVID-19 response, as well as those who have been serving on military operations. She was seen beaming from ear to ear as the nine planes of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows flew past in formation and let loose their red, white and blue smoke.
The traditional Trooping the Color ceremony is normally staged in London and features hundreds of servicemen and women and thousands of spectators. However, for the second year running, that was not possible and it was a slimmed-down affair in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which is around 27 miles (44 kilometers) west of the capital.


Dubbed a mini Trooping the Color, it featured soldiers in ceremonial scarlet coats and bearskin hats. The servicemen and women on parade numbered almost 275, with 70 horses, compared with the 85 soldiers who took part in the ceremony last summer. A small handful of seated guests lined part of the quadrangle — a change from last year when only the military were present.
The ceremony originated from traditional preparations for battle. The colors — or flags — were “trooped,” or carried down the lines of soldiers, so they could be seen and recognized in battle.
Lt. Col. Guy Stone, who planned the queen’s official birthday celebrations in Windsor Castle’s quadrangle, said he wanted to create a “memorable and uplifting day” for the monarch.
The ceremony took place a couple of months after the death of her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, whose funeral also took place at Windsor Castle.
Though she has been mourning the loss of her husband of 73 years, the queen has carried on performing her duties, including delivering a government-scripted speech to mark the new session of parliament.
On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project, a futuristic botanical garden housed inside domes that features the world’s largest indoor rainforest.
She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”
Though the queen’s actual birthday is on April 26, she celebrates another one in June when the British weather — it is hoped — is more conducive to outdoor celebrations. It’s a royal tradition that goes back to 1748 and the reign of King George II, whose actual birthday was in November.
One of the major parts of the queen’s official birthday is her award of honors to those deemed to have made a positive contribution to society.
This year’s honors list has celebrated those at the forefront of the UK’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines over the past few months, which has been credited with turning around the country’s pandemic response.
Sarah Gilbert, the professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford who was instrumental in the development of the vaccine being manufactured by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and Kate Bingham, the former head of the UK Vaccines Taskforce credited for the country’s successful procurement program, have both been recognized with damehoods.
Though the UK has seen Europe’s highest virus-related death toll, with nearly 128,000 people having lost their lives, its vaccination program has been deemed one of the world’s speediest and most coherent rollouts.


At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas
Updated 12 June 2021

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS: Officials in Texas say at least nine people have been injured following a shooting Saturday morning in downtown Austin.
Police said in a tweet that multiple victims had injuries. The Austin-Travis County EMS said in a series of tweets that at least 12 patients had received treatment or been transported to local hospitals.
It was unknown how many of the injuries may have been gunshot wounds.
It was unclear what sparked the shooting. Police have not announced any suspects or arrests.


France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word

France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word
Updated 12 June 2021

France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word

France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word
  • Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured

CARBIS BAY, England: French President Emmanuel Macron offered on Saturday to reset relations with Britain as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood by the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the European Union.
Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured, with Macron becoming the most vocal critic of London’s refusal to honor the terms of part of its Brexit deal.
At a meeting at the Group of Seven world’s most advanced economies in southwestern England, Macron told Johnson the two countries had common interests, but that ties could only improve if Johnson kept his word on Brexit.
“The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationship,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
“This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans,” the source said, adding that Macron spoke in English to Johnson.
Johnson will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Saturday, where she could also raise the row over part of the EU divorce deal, called the Northern Ireland protocol.
The British leader, who is hosting the G7 meeting, wants the summit to focus on global issues, but has stood his ground on trade with Northern Ireland, calling on the EU to be more flexible in its approach to easing trade to the province from Britain.


Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
Updated 12 June 2021

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
  • Russian leader describes Biden as a ‘career man’ who has spent his life in politics
  • Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as ‘a killer’

WASHINGTON: Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope Friday that US President Joe Biden will be less impulsive than his predecessor Donald Trump, ahead of his first summit with the new US leader.
In an interview with NBC News, Putin described Biden as a “career man” who has spent his life in politics.
Though he described relations with the United States as having “deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years,” Putin said he expects he can work with Biden.
“It is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements on behalf of the sitting US president,” he said, according to a translation by NBC News.
“I believe that former US president Trump is an extraordinary individual, talented individual... He is a colorful individual. You may like him or not. But he didn’t come from the US establishment,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Biden plans to raise a range of US complaints, including over purported Russian election interference and hacking, in the summit with Putin on Wednesday in Geneva at the end of the new president’s first foreign trip.
Putin has openly admitted that in the 2016 vote he supported Trump, who had voiced admiration for the Russian leader. At their first summit, Trump infamously appeared to accept Putin’s denials of election interference.
Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as “a killer” in light of a series of high-profile deaths including of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.
Asked directly if he is “a killer,” Putin chuckled but did not give a yes or no answer.
“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons and of different caliber and fierceness, and none of it surprises me,” he said, adding that the term “killer” was a “macho” term common in Hollywood.
Such discourse “is part of US political culture where it’s considered normal. By the way, not here, it is not considered normal here,” he said.
Putin also dismissed as “fake news” a report in the Washington Post that Russia is planning to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that would allow it to track potential military targets.
“At the very least, I don’t know anything about this kind of thing,” the Russian leader said, speaking from the Kremlin. “It’s just nonsense garbage.”
According to interviewer Keir Simmons, Putin also denied any knowledge of cyberattacks on the United States, and called on Biden to strike a deal with Russia on cyberspace.