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International News (171)

19
January

The head of the International Monetary Fund on Monday said the global lender needed more resources to help heavily indebted countries, citing a highly uncertain global economic outlook and a growing divergence between rich and poor countries.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, who has long advocated a new allocation of the IMF’s own currency, Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), said doing so now would give more funds to use address both the health and economic crisis, and accelerate moves to a digital and green economy.

Under outgoing President Donald Trump, the United States, the IMF’s largest shareholder, has blocked such a new SDR allocation, a move akin to a central bank printing money, since it would provide more resources to richer countries since the allocation would be proportionate to their shareholding.

Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, the new chair of the IMF’s steering committee speaking at an online news conference with Georgieva, said it was clear the need for liquidity remained great, and she would consult with member countries on options for expanding liquidity.

Andersson, the first European to head the International Monetary and Financial Committee in more than 12 years and the first women, started her three-year term here in the role on Monday.

Georgieva said the IMF had rapidly increased concessional financing to emerging market and developing economies, including through donations by member countries of some $20 billion in existing SDRs. That would continue to play an important role, but further steps were needed, she said.

“It will continue to be so important, even more important, for us to be able to expand our capacity to support countries that have fallen behind,” Georgieva said.

She said a new SDR allocation had never been taken off the table by IMF members, she said, adding that some members continued to discuss it as a possible move. A possible sale of gold from the IMF’s reserves would have “some opportunity costs” for the IMF, but would be up to members, she said.

She said she expected the Group of 20 major economies to extend the current moratorium in official debt service payments by the poorest countries, now slated to end in June, but much would depend on the pace of vaccinations in coming months. (reuters)

19
January

An independent panel said on Monday that Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully in January to curb the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and criticised the World Health Organization (WHO) for not declaring an international emergency until Jan. 30.

The experts reviewing the global handling of the pandemic, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called for reforms to the Geneva-based United Nations agency.Their interim report was published hours after the WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, said that global deaths from COVID-19 were expected to top 100,000 per week “very soon”.

“What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” the report said, referring to the initial outbreak of the new disease in the central city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

As evidence emerged of human-to-human transmission, “in far too many countries, this signal was ignored”, it added.

Specifically, it questioned why the WHO’s Emergency Committee did not meet until the third week of January and did not declare an international emergency until its second meeting on Jan. 30.

“Although the term pandemic is neither used nor defined in the International Health Regulations (2005), its use does serve to focus attention on the gravity of a health event. It was not until 11 March that WHO used the term,” the report said.

“The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose”, it said. “The World Health Organization has been underpowered to do the job.”

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has accused the WHO of being “China-centric”, which the agency denies. European countries led by France and Germany have pushed for addressing the WHO’s shortcomings on funding, governance and legal powers.

The panel called for a “global reset” and said that it would make recommendations in a final report to health ministers from the WHO’s 194 member states in May. (reuters)

18
January

The United Kingdom is vaccinating 140 people per minute against COVID-19 on average, Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Monday.

The United Kingdom, which has the world’s fifth worst official COVID-19 death toll, is racing to be among the first major countries to vaccinate its population - seen as the best way to exit the pandemic and get the economy going again.

Latest figures show the United Kingdom has vaccinated 3,857,266 people with a first dose and 449,736 with a second dose.

“It is going well, we’re vaccinating on average 140 people, that’s first jab, literally a minute. That’s the average so some areas are doing better,” Zahawi told Sky.

“You’ll see that improve as we open more of the large vaccination centres, 17 in total by this week and 50 by the end of the month.”

“Today, in some areas where they’ve done the majority of their over 80s, letters are going out to the over 70s and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable,” he said.

He said the 24-hour vaccine offering would begin to be piloted in London by the end of the month.
Key workers such as teachers, the police and shopworkers could move to the top of the list for a vaccine once all those over 50 have been offered a shot, Zahawi said.

“Teachers, police officers, shop workers, those who through no fault of their own other than the work that they do may come into contact with the virus in much greater volume, should be top of the list,” Zahawi told Times Radio.

Britain is currently rolling out the vaccine to the most vulnerable first, starting with those who are in care homes or over 80 years of age.

Zahawi said he would work with the Joint Committee on Vaccination to establish who gets the shot next in phase two of the roll out. (reuters)

18
January

China reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases for the sixth consecutive day, with rising infections in the northeast fuelling concerns of another national wave ahead of a major holiday season.

The National Health Commission said in a statement on Monday that a total of 109 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Jan. 17, unchanged from a day earlier.

Of the 93 local infections, 54 were reported in Hebei province that surround Beijing. Northeastern Jilin province reported a record 30 new cases, underscoring the risk of new clusters emerging.

Daily increases still remain a fraction of what the country saw at the height of the outbreak in early 2020, but authorities are implementing an aggressive package of measures including the lockdown of more than 28 million people in order to keep the disease from bringing the country to another painful standstill.

Beijing, which reported two new local infections, will begin requiring travellers from abroad to undergo health monitoring for seven additional days following 21 days of medical observation, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

The city of Gongzhuling in Jilin province has also imposed strict new controls over its population, shutting down all but essential stores. It said in a notice that it is “strictly forbidden” for anyone to go out unless they are scheduled to get a COVID-19 test at a designated site.

The outbreak in Jilin is believed to have been caused by an infected salesman travelling to and from the neigbouring province of Heilongjiang, the site of a previous cluster of cases.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 115 from 119 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China is 89,336, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635. The data excludes cases from Macau and Hong Kong, which are Chinese cities but report new cases independently, and self-ruled Taiwan which China claims as its own.

The World Health Organization (WHO) team currently in China has already begun its investigations into the origins of the global pandemic.

WHO representatives said on Friday that they have begun discussions with their Chinese counterparts via videoconference as they remain in quarantine. (Reuters)

17
January

Indonesian Ambassador to Russia and Belarus Jose Tavares attached importance to the bilateral cooperation between Indonesia and Russia to address the current global strategic environmental changes.

Addressing lecturers and students of the Indonesian Christian University (UKI) during a webinar on Friday, Tavares highlighted the long-standing relations between both nations and their common vision to address global issues, including strengthening the UN system.

"The world is currently facing uncertainty and experiencing strategic environmental changes. Indonesia and Russia need to respond to them by intensifying bilateral partnership," he noted in a statement of the Indonesian Embassy in Moscow, a copy of which was available to ANTARA in Jakarta on Saturday.

In fact, Indonesia received support since its early days, including through diplomatic support, weaponry supplies, and military adviser in the 1960s when the country had attempted to regain West Irian, now Papua, he pointed out.

Tavares admitted to the highs and lows in the relations between both nations.

"The bilateral relations had witnessed downs from the late 1960s to the 1980s during the Cold War. The bilateral relations normalized when the then president Suharto met with then president Gorbachev in 1999. Since then, relations have continued to be good until now," he stated.

"Under the bilateral framework, there is vast potential to enhance cooperation, especially in the fields of trade, investment, and tourism as well as Russia serving as a place to study science and advanced technology," he remarked. (antaranews)

17
January

Joe Biden's top aide said Saturday the incoming president would sign about a dozen executive orders on his first day in office, as police fearing violence from Trump supporters staged a nationwide security operation ahead of the inauguration.

Authorities in Washington, where Wednesday's inauguration will take place, said they arrested a man with a loaded handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition at a security checkpoint, underscoring the tension in the US capital which is resembling a war zone.

However, the man said it was "an honest mistake," and that he was a private security guard who got lost on his way to work near the Capitol.

Incoming Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said in a memo to new White House senior staff that the executive orders would address the pandemic, the ailing US economy, climate change and racial injustice in America. "All of these crises demand urgent action," Klain said in the memo.

"In his first ten days in office, President-elect Biden will take decisive action to address these four crises, prevent other urgent and irreversible harms, and restore America's place in the world," Klain added.

As he inherits the White House from Donald Trump, Biden's plate is overflowing with acute challenges (jakarta post) 

17
January

Dr Richard Dang, assistant professor USC School of Pharmacy administers COVID-19 vaccine to Ashley Van Dyke (left) as mass-vaccination of healthcare workers takes place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, US, Jan 15, 2021. (Photo: Irfan Khan/Pool via REUTERS)

 

Scattered shortages of COVID-19 vaccines persisted on Saturday (Jan 16) under pressure from growing demand, as previously inoculated Americans returned for their required second shots and millions of newly eligible people scrambled to get their first. The supply gaps, coming as the US vaccination effort enters its second month, prompted some healthcare systems to suspend appointments for first-time vaccine seekers and one New York healthcare system to cancel a slew of existing ones.

"As eligibility increases, you just increase demand, but we're not able to increase supply," Northwell Health spokesman Joe Kemp told Reuters by telephone.

Northwell, New York's largest healthcare provider, offers appointments only as it gets more vaccines, and only after allocating doses to people scheduled for their second shots, Kemp said.

Although the supply flow has been sporadic, Northwell expects to offer appointments in the coming week, he added.

Both approved vaccines, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and the other from Moderna, require a booster three to four weeks after the first shot to maximise their effectiveness against the coronavirus.

While healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff got first priority, eligibility for the vaccines has since widened, with some states opening it to healthy people aged 65 and up and people of any age with pre-existing conditions.

Besides New York, signs of vaccine supply strains appeared in Vermont, Michigan, South Carolina, New Jersey and Oregon.

In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown said vaccinations for seniors and educators would be delayed, while Vermont Governor Phil Scott said the state would focus exclusively on its over-75 population because of "unpredictable” federal supplies//CNA

16
January

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during a meeting in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's swift embrace of US president-elect Joe Biden illustrates the degree to which Canada, one of America's closest allies, is looking forward to turning the page on the Donald Trump era.

Trudeau was the first world leader to congratulate Biden when he was declared the winner of the November election, and now hopes to be the first - or one of the first - to meet with the new president after he takes office on Wednesday (Jan 20).

"It's very much a tradition that the Canadian prime minister and the US president meet very quickly to be able to talk about all the tremendous things that we can do together," Trudeau said in a Reuters interview on Thursday.

Mired in a long-running diplomatic dispute with China and weighing a possible snap election this year, Trudeau has much riding on his relationship with Biden.

Canada shares a land border only with the United States, which is by far its top export market, and it has often been the first foreign trip for a new US president.Canada's relationship with the United States "went from the very best it probably ever was to near the worst it ever was," said Bruce Heyman, Obama's last ambassador to Canada.Now Trudeau and other allies are counting on Biden to re-engage on the world stage, in part to contain a "more assertive and sometimes problematic China", Trudeau said in Thursday's interview.

Domestic politics is also in play in Trudeau's eagerness to renew US ties with a potential election in 2021.

Trudeau will want "to create a sense among Canadians (that) you've got to keep Trudeau because these guys click, and this is the opportunity to really be engaged with the Americans and kick this to the next level," said Chris Sands, head of the Canada Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center//CNA

15
January

China is stealing a march on Western drugmakers in the COVID-19 vaccine race in developing nations, with Indonesia and Turkey rolling out huge campaigns with a Chinese shot this week, Brazil due to follow soon, and even EU member Hungary signing up.

Scientists in some Western countries say China has been too slow to publish trial data. Public reports so far about how well its vaccines work have been inconsistent, which the Chinese firms attribute to variations in methodology.

Still, countries with hundreds of millions of people desperate for a vaccine think China’s shots are good enough.

As Western drugmakers struggle to meet demand at home, Beijing has sent millions of doses round the world of CoronaVac, made by Sinovac Biotech, and is also marketing a separate vaccine made by another company, Sinopharm.

The exports come even as China battles its own flare-up in infections, which has put more than 28 million people in lockdown. China has administered 10 million vaccine doses at home.

Though some studies on the Sinovac shot have reported lower effectiveness rates than some Western products, the countries buying them say they appear effective at preventing the most serious, deadly form of COVID-19.

Perhaps most importantly, they are also easy to administer, allowing the quick launch of large-scale programs to save lives and prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.

Turkey launched its program on Thursday with the Sinovac shot, and by late afternoon said it had already vaccinated more than 200,000 people - more in a few hours than France has managed in three weeks. Health workers went first.

“We spent around 10 months in white overalls, supporting people as they struggle for life. Health workers know very well that this situation cannot be taken lightly and that the vaccine is needed,” Surgeon General Nurettin Yiyit said.

Hungary, which has complained about the “scandalously” slow rollout of vaccines bought by the European Union on behalf of its 27 member states, reached a deal on Thursday to buy the Sinopharm vaccine. If approved, it would become the first EU country to authorize a Chinese vaccine. (reuters)

15
January

On this day in 2011, WHO South-East Asia Region reported its last case of wild poliovirus from West Bengal in India. A decade later, countries in the Region are gearing up for massive vaccination campaigns, taking lessons from polio program, but surpassing its scale and size in a bid to end COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are witnessing unprecedented efforts by Member countries to protect their vulnerable population against COVID-19 with vaccines,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.

Indonesia rolled out COVID-19 vaccination today, while preparations are in full swing in India for one of the world’s biggest vaccination programme beginning 16 January, and in other countries for their campaign in the coming months.

Safe and effective vaccines can be a gamechanger if accessible across the world and to all vulnerable population within the countries.

Vaccines will help to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they won't solve everything by themselves as initially they are bound to be in limited supplies. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we still need to continue to take all necessary measures - COVID appropriate behavior by one and all  - masks, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, physical distancing -   and core public health measures by the authorities – detect, test, trace, isolate and treat - to prevent the virus from spreading and causing more disease and deaths.

Community engagement and participation – both for continued COVID-19 appropriate behavior and vaccination – will be critical to curtail the virus transmission.

WHO continues to work with all countries for COVID-19 vaccination planning and roll out, to have a robust National Deployment and Vaccination Plan covering all elements of planning and management needed to deliver a vaccine.

The network of surveillance officers in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal, which was the backbone of polio eradication programme, is now also in the forefront supporting coordination, preparedness and roll out of COVID-19 vaccination down to the district level.

Bringing in best practices from polio eradication, WHO has supported countries in the Region with development of operational guidelines and plans for COVID-19 vaccination; training of vaccinators; planning vaccine and logistics management; and monitoring key preparatory activities.

At the global level, the ACT-Accelerator partnership launched by WHO and partners, has supported the fastest, most coordinated, and successful global effort in history to develop tools to fight COVID-19. The vaccine pillar - COVAX - co-led by WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access. (WHO)

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