G7 leaders gather to pledge 1bn coronavirus vaccine shots for world

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday. (AP)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday. (AP)
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Updated 11 June 2021

G7 leaders gather to pledge 1bn coronavirus vaccine shots for world

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday. (AP)
  • The leaders hope the meeting in the resort of Carbis Bay will also energize the global economy

CORNWALL: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday, offering elbow bumps to dignitaries gathering for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus was set to dominate their discussions, with leaders of the wealthy democracies club expected to commit to sharing at least 1 billion vaccine shots with struggling countries.
A commitment from US President Joe Biden to share 500 million doses and one from Johnson for another 100 million shots set the stage for the G-7 meeting under gray skies in southwest England, where leaders will pivot Friday from their “family photo” by the seaside directly into a session on “Building Back Better From COVID-19.”
“We’re going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners,” Biden said. The G-7 also includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
The leaders hope the meeting in the resort of Carbis Bay will also energize the global economy. Despite the moody skies, the group walked away their photo as cheerful as children who had just built a sand castle. Led by Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron threw his arm around Biden’s shoulder. Talks were animated, but inaudible.
On Friday, they are set to formally embrace a global minimum tax of at least 15% on multinational corporations, following an agreement reached a week ago by their finance ministers. The minimum is meant to stop companies from using tax havens to shift profits and to avoid taxes.
It represents a potential win for the Biden administration, which has proposed a global minimum tax as a way to pay for infrastructure projects, in addition to creating an alternative that could remove some European countries’ digital services taxes that largely hit US tech firms. But the endorsement from the G-7 is just one step in the process; the hope is to get many more countries to sign on — a fraught proposal in nations whose economies are based on attracting business with low corporate taxes.
For Johnson, the first G-7 summit in two years — last year’s was scuttled by the pandemic — is a chance to set out his vision of a post-Brexit “Global Britain” as a midsized country with an outsized role in international problem-solving.
It’s also an opportunity to underscore the UK-US bond, an alliance often called the “special relationship” — but that Johnson said he prefers to call the “indestructible relationship.”
Climate change is also a top issue on the agenda, and hundreds of protesters gathered in Cornwall to urge the leaders to take action. Demonstrators deployed a barge off the coast with two large inflatable figures depicting Biden and Johnson on board. At another protest, demonstrators carried flags that read “G7 drowning in promises” and “Action not words.”
The official summit business kicked off Friday, with the customary formal greeting and a socially distanced group photo. Later the leaders will meet Queen Elizabeth II and other senior royals at the Eden Project, a lush, domed eco-tourism site built in a former quarry.
The G-7 leaders have faced mounting pressure to outline their global vaccine-sharing plans, especially as inequities in supply around the world have become more pronounced. In the US, there is a large vaccine stockpile and the demand for shots has dropped precipitously in recent weeks.
Biden said the US will donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and previewed a coordinated effort by the advanced economies to make vaccination widely and speedily available everywhere. The commitment was on top of 80 million doses Biden has already pledged to donate by the end of June.
Johnson, for his part, said the first 5 million UK doses would be shared in the coming weeks, with the remainder coming over the next year. He said he expected the G-7 to commit to 1 billion doses in all.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped the summit would show the world “we’re not just thinking of ourselves," while Macron welcomed the US commitment and said Europe should do the same. He said France would share at least 30 million doses globally by year's end; Germany is also planning on donating that amount.
The US commitment is to buy and donate 500 million Pfizer doses for distribution through the global COVAX alliance to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union, bringing the first steady supply of mRNA vaccine to the countries that need it most.
Biden said the US-manufactured doses will be shipped starting in August, with the goal of distributing 200 million by the end of the year. The remaining 300 million doses would be shipped in the first half of 2022. A price tag for the doses was not released, but the U.S. is now set to be COVAX's largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion commitment.
Humanitarian workers welcomed the donation — but said the world needs more doses and they were hoping they would arrive sooner. Grand statements and promises need to be met with detailed plans backed by timelines for delivery, starting immediately.
“If we have a stop-start supply or if we store all the supply up for the end of the year, it’s very hard for low-income countries with quite fragile health care systems to then really be able to get those vaccines off the tarmac and into the arms of health care workers," said Lily Caprani, the head of COVID-19 vaccine advocacy at UNICEF. “We want a coordinated, time-bound, ambitious commitment starting from June and charting the course for the rest of the year.”
The global COVAX alliance has faced a slow start to its vaccination campaign, as richer nations have locked up billions of doses through contracts directly with drug manufacturers. The alliance has distributed just 81 million doses globally and parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts.
So far, among the G-7 countries, only France has begun shipping vaccines through COVAX, according one of the initiative's leaders, vaccine alliance Gavi. France has delivered a total of 628,800 doses to seven African countries — with Senegal, a former French colony, receiving about 30% of that total.
Biden said Thursday that some of the 80 million doses the US had previously committed to donating — some of them outside of COVAX — were already shipping. The US has also given a few million vaccines to neighbors Mexico and Canada.
White House officials said the ramped-up distribution program fits a theme Biden plans to hit frequently during his week in Europe: that Western democracies, and not authoritarian states, can deliver the most good for the world.
China and Russia have shared their domestically produced vaccines with some needy countries, often with hidden strings attached. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden “does want to show — rallying the rest of the world’s democracies — that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere.”


Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic

Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic
Updated 22 min 51 sec ago

Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic

Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic
  • About 1.12 percent people have been fully vaccinated on a continent that has recorded 5.2 million infections

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Africa is not winning its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as a third virus wave sweeps the continent and countries struggle to access enough vaccines for their populations, Africa CDC director John Nkenkasong said on Thursday.
The COVAX program co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) for fair distribution of vaccines is now planning a shake-up as it has been shunned by rich countries and failing to meet the needs of the poorest, internal documents seen by Reuters show.
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director Nkenkasong said he was more worried about getting vaccines in time regardless of where the doses came from.
“The third wave has come with severity that most countries were not prepared for. So the third wave is extremely brutal,” Nenkasong said during a weekly online briefing.
“Let me put it bluntly, we are not winning in Africa this battle against the virus so it does not really matter to me whether the vaccines are from COVAX or anywhere. All we need is rapid access to vaccines.”
Nkenkasong said at least 20 countries were in the middle of the third wave, with Zambia, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo among those whose health facilities were being overwhelmed.
The COVAX program’s initial lofty ambitions to act as a clearing house for the world’s vaccines, collecting from the manufacturers in the most developed countries and quickly distributing to those in the most urgent need, have fallen flat.
About 1.12 percent people have been fully vaccinated on a continent that has recorded 5.2 million infections, Nkenkasong said.
More than half of poorer countries receiving doses via COVAX do not have enough supplies to continue, an official from the WHO said on Monday.


Thai pro-democracy activists march against government

Thai pro-democracy activists march against government
Updated 24 June 2021

Thai pro-democracy activists march against government

Thai pro-democracy activists march against government
  • The protesters defied a ban on large gatherings instituted to fight a coronavirus surge that shows little sign of abating
  • Several hundred marched to Parliament, which is due to vote on several amendments to the constitution

BANGKOK: Pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Thailand’s capital on Thursday, marking the anniversary of the overthrow of the country’s absolute monarchy by renewing their demands that the government step down, the constitution be amended and the monarchy become more accountable.
The protesters defied a ban on large gatherings instituted to fight a coronavirus surge that shows little sign of abating. It was their first large protest after a hiatus of about three months caused by the pandemic and the jailing of protest leaders, who have since been released on bail.
The government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is facing widespread criticism that it botched pandemic recovery plans by failing to secure adequate vaccine supplies.
On June 24, 1932, a group of progressive army officers and civil servants proclaimed constitutional rule and the transition to parliamentary democracy, ending Thailand’s absolute monarchy. The anniversary in recent years has become an occasion for pro-democracy rallies.
Protesters gathered early Thursday by Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, a traditional demonstration venue, to light candles and read out the 1932 proclamation of the end of the absolute monarchy.
Several hundred then marched to Parliament, which is due to vote on several amendments to the constitution. The proposed changes, however, fall far short of those sought by the protesters, which include restoring more power to political parties and elected office holders.
“We come out today to insist on the principle that the constitution must come from the people,” said Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a protest leader also known as Pai Dao Din.
The student-led pro-democracy movement sprung up last year, largely in reaction to the continuing influence of the military in government and hyper-royalist sentiment. The army in 2014 overthrew an elected government, and Prayuth, the coup leader, was named prime minister after a 2019 general election put in power a military-backed political party. Critics say the constitution enacted during military rule skewed election rules to favor the army’s proxy party.
The movement was able to attract crowds of as many as 20,000-30,000 people in Bangkok in 2020 and had followings in major cities and universities. However, a coronavirus surge late last year caused it to temporarily suspend activities and lose momentum.
The movement became controversial as its leaders focused on the monarchy in their speeches and activities. They charged that the king holds power and influence beyond that allowed under the constitution.
Since becoming king in 2016, Maha Vajiralongkorn has gained more direct control over the vast fortune of the royal palace — estimated to exceed $30 billion — as well as command of some key military units in the capital.
During the same time, memorials, statues and other symbols associated with the 1932 revolution have been removed.
The monarchy is widely considered to be an untouchable bedrock element of Thai nationalism. Defaming key royals is punishable under a lese majeste law by up to 15 years in prison per count. Many people still revere the monarchy, and the military, a major power in Thai society, considers its defense a key priority.
The government responded to the protesters’ criticism of the monarchy by charging leaders under the lese majeste law.
Parit Chiwarak, among those jailed, said Thursday the protesters are standing by their original demands but perhaps shifting their focus.
“We still demand the monarchy’s reform. But this year Prayuth must be ousted,” said Parit, who is better known by the nickname Penguin.


Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike

Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike
Updated 24 June 2021

Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike

Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike
  • An air strike killed at least 43 people in the town on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters

ADDIS ABABA: Only combatants, not civilians, were struck in an air strike this week in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the country’s military spokesman said on Thursday.
Col. Getnet Adane told Reuters in an interview in Addis Ababa that the combatants in the town of Togoga were dressed in civilian clothes.
An air strike killed at least 43 people in the town on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters. The strike took place after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of the regional capital Mekelle.
A resident of the town told Reuters on Wednesday that the air strike a day earlier had hit a market in the town west of Mekelle at around 1 p.m. That resident also said that her 2-year-old daughter had been injured in the attack.
The military spokesman said the combatants were not inside the market, but had gathered in the town to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of another town in Tigray, Hawzen, in 1988. That attack, by Ethiopia’s then-ruling Communist leaders, killed hundreds of people and is widely commemorated in Tigray.
The spokesman said he did not have the death toll from the strike but that it would come soon.
The military has been battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, since November. Fighting has displaced 2 million people, and the United Nations has warned of a possible famine.
Asked about children injured in Tuesday’s attack, the spokesman said the TPLF uses propaganda and is known for faking injuries. He also said that doctors quoted by the media are not “real doctors.”
The remarks were the first acknowledgement by the military of the air strike, which came after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle.
Previously, Getnet, the military spokesman, had declined to confirm or deny the incident, saying air strikes were a common military tactic and that government forces do not target civilians.
The air strike took place as Ethiopian officials counted ballots from national and regional parliamentary elections held this week in seven of the nation’s 10 regions.
No voting was held in Tigray, and security concerns and problems with ballot papers also delayed voting in two other regions.


EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel

EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel
Updated 24 June 2021

EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel

EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel
  • A series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions have led to tensions

BERLIN: The European Union should seek direct talks with President Vladimir Putin even as it stands together against “provocations” from Russia, said Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday.
“In my opinion, we as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president,” she told parliament.
“It is not enough for the American president to talk to the Russian president,” she said, stressing that the European Union too “must also create different formats for talks.”
Putin and US President Joe Biden held face-to-face talks last week, in a meeting that both said could lead to a more predictable, albeit still tense, relationship.
Merkel said recent events had shown that it was not enough “if we react to the multitude of Russian provocations in an uncoordinated manner.”
Rather, the 27-member bloc should put up “a united front against the provocations.”
Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.
In a latest case adding to tensions, Germany arrested a Russian scientist working at a German university, accusing him of spying for Moscow.
The ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning, has also sparked outrage in the EU.


Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
Updated 24 June 2021

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
  • The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the accident
  • The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations

DUBAI: Canada’s final report on the downing of the Ukrainian plane said the decision was made by a senior Iranian official, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the fatal accident on Jan. 8, 2020.
The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations for the downing of the plane, which killed all 176 people on board.
Earlier in June, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said they refused Iran’s proposal to pay $150,000 as compensation for each victim of the PS752 plane victims.
Oleg Nikolenko said compensation to families was an important step to justice, but first the full truth behind the circumstances of the plane crash were needed.
“Only then can we talk about the compensation. The specific amount should be set with the agreement of all the governments of the states whose citizens died in the plane crash, and [should] not [be] a unilateral decision,” one of the country’s biggest TV news channels TSN quoted him.