WHO chief urges joint efforts to prevent COVID-like pandemics

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a bilateral meeting with Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset (not in frame) before signing a BioHub Initiative with a global COVID-19 Pathogen repository in the Spiez laboratory, on the sideline of the opening of the 74th World Health Assembly, WHA, at the WHO headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 24, 2021. (LAURENT GILLIERON / KEYSTONE VIA AP)

WASHINGTON / ADDIS ABABA / DAR ES SALAAM / RABAT / NEW YORK / HAVANA / MOSCOW / COPENHAGEN – World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday called for countries to work together to ensure that a pandemic at the magnitude of COVID-19 shall not occur again in the near future.

"The pandemic's impact differs from country to country," Ghebreyesus said at the inaugural ceremony of the 74th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Southeast Asia. "We must ensure that a pandemic of this magnitude does not occur in the near future."

He urged the entire world to work together to make it a reality.

Addressing the virtual session hosted by Nepal, top health executives emphasized the need for greater commitment to global healthcare delivery and a risk-averse health system, as well as the importance of providing vaccines, medicines, equipment and technology to the region.

Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for Southeast Asia, spoke of the significance of increasing the health sector's capability.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 7,910,086 as of Monday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll from the pandemic stood at 199,500 whiles ome 7,143,322 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease, the Africa CDC said.

A girl gets a dose of the Cuban made Soberana-02 vaccine for COVID-19 in Havana, Cuba, Aug 24, 2021. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP)

Cuba

The Cuban government is speeding up the pace of the COVID-19 immunization campaign to slow the spread of the virus across the country.

The Caribbean nation has seen a new increase in infections after the Delta variant of COVID-19 reversed the trend of declining cases this week.

According to data shown by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, the island recorded 9,221 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, up by 1,367 from a day earlier.

On Sunday, the majority of cases in Cuba were reported in the easternmost province of Pinar del Rio (1,531), followed by Holguin (1,172) and Sancti Spiritus (905).

Francisco Duran, national director of hygiene and epidemiology at the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, said that the COVID-19 transmission rates remain elevated nationwide, except the Isle of Youth special municipality.

"I have no doubt that we will tackle the sanitary emergency but more discipline and self-responsibility is required to reduce the risk of contagion with the virus," he told local media.

So far, 5.7 million people, or about 51 percent of people aged 19 and above in Cuba, have received the first dose of vaccines.

Cuba's health authorities said that another 5 million people will be vaccinated with locally made vaccines through September.

The government is projected to have vaccinated 92.6 percent of the country's 11 million population by November this year.

Denmark

Denmark has canceled its previously announced plans for a public tender to establish a national COVID-19 vaccine production facility as it bets on a vaccine already under development by a Danish firm, the Business Ministry said on Monday.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced in April that Denmark aimed to produce COVID-19 mRNA-vaccines by 2022, and that a tendering process would be initiated within a few weeks.

The government has since then initiated a market survey to clarify whether there was basis to start a tender, the Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs said in an emailed statement.     

"Overall the assessment is that the best way to support future vaccine production in Denmark is by supporting the development of Bavarian Nordic's vaccine candidate," the ministry said.

It added that on this basis, there were no "current plans" for a tender.

The government announced last month it would support Danish pharmaceutical company Bavarian Nordic with 800 million Danish crowns (US$127.63 million) to develop its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which is heading in to Phase 2 trial.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,516 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 314,984 as of Sunday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.

The ministry reported 14 new COVID-19 induced deaths and 840 more recoveries during the same period, bringing the national death toll to 4,763 and total recoveries to 283,991.

EU

Europe's medicines regulator said on Monday it was evaluating data on a booster dose for Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, to be given six months after the second dose in people 16 years of age and older.

The drugmakers filed an application with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which said it would carry out a speedy evaluation of the data, with an outcome expected "within the next few weeks".

TThe EMA on Monday also said it was assessing data on the use of an additional dose of mRNA vaccines in people with weak immune systems. The outcome of that review would be given in due course, it said.

Last week, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said there was no urgent need for booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the fully vaccinated.

France

A French high court is fielding “thousands” of complaints against ministers for allegedly mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic, Le Parisien reported, citing comments by magistrate Francois Molins to LCI channel.

The surge in complaints is affecting the functioning of the court that handles government cases, according to the report. 

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 220.73 million while the global death toll topped 4.56 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In this May 8, 2021 photo, workers load boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, part of the the COVAX program, which aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations, into a truck after they arrived by plane at the Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo, Madagascar. (Mamyrael / AFP)

G20

Group of 20 health ministers agreed to work towards more equity in the distribution of vaccines, DPA reported, citing Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza. 

A key commitment of a deal reached in talks in Rome is a fairer distribution of vaccines beyond wealthy nations, with vaccination being a right for all. 

Germany

Germany has now recorded more than four million cases since the pandemic began, according to the RKI public health institute. Health officials registered more than 10,400 infections in the 24 hours to Sunday.

Separately, the country is seeking to provide 100 million vaccine doses to global inoculation efforts by the end of this year, DPA reported Sunday, citing Health Minister Jens Spahn.

“That’s as much as we’ve used in our country so far,” Spahn said on the sidelines of a G20 meeting of health ministers in Rome.

ALSO READ: UK lawmakers: Pandemic may fade but high costs will linger

A police officer checks for a Green Pass on a passenger's phone at Porta Garibaldi train station in Milan, Italy, Sept 2, 2021. (LUCA BRUNO / AP)

Italy

Italy will decide by the end of September whether COVID-19 vaccines will become mandatory for all people aged 12 and over, according to a minister in Mario Draghi’s coalition.

“If we will not have reached a vaccination level between 80 percent and 90 percent we will pass a law to impose the COVID-19 vaccine to all people against it,” Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta said Sunday in an interview at the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, Italy. “We will decide by the end of the month.”

That target may be ambitious, as about 71.5 percent of Italians over that age level have currently completed the vaccine cycle, data on the government’s website show. 

Prime Minister Mario Draghi earlier this week said vaccination will eventually become compulsory, adding that he’s confident that a target to inoculate 80 percent of the population by the end September would be reached. 

Italy is among the leading countries for inoculation rates, but the government’s vaccination push has created political and social tensions, with some parties including Matteo Salvini’s League opposing the introduction of COVID-19 passports.

A green pass proving vaccination or a negative test is now needed to dine indoors at restaurants, to visit museums and cinemas, as well as to board planes and long distance trains.

Morocco

Morocco reported on Sunday 3,043 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total infections in the country to 884,085.

The death toll rose by 80 to 13,073, while 2,171 people are in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

Russia

Russia confirmed 17,856 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 7,030,455, the official monitoring and response center said Monday.

The nationwide death toll grew by 790 to 187,990 while the number of recoveries increased by 14,276 to 6,285,007.

Moscow reported 1,463 new cases, taking its total to 1,576,818

Slovakia

Slovakia has widened registration for public events planned during a visit by Pope Francis that begins on Sunday to allow some people not vaccinated against COVID-19 also to attend.

Pope Francis is due to arrive in mainly Roman Catholic Slovakia on Sept 12 for a visit culminating in an open-air Mass at the Sastin pilgrimage site in western Slovakia on Sept 15.

Some 43 percent of people in the country of 5.5 million have so far been fully vaccinated or have received their first shot against COVID-19.

The Conference of Slovak Bishops said non-vaccinated people who have tested negative or who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 180 days would also be allowed to register for the papal events.

Around 30,000 people have so far registered for the Mass to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows at Sastin, a site dedicated to the main patron saint of Slovakia.

Several tens of thousands of people usually attend events during a papal visit. A Mass in the neighbouring Czech Republic attracted 120,000 in 2009 when Pope Benedict visited.

Francis will be the first pope to visit Slovakia since John Paul II in 2003.

Tanzania

Tanzanian health authorities said on Sunday they have started to install 25 oxygen generating plants across the country in efforts to help COVID-19 patients with respiratory complications.

Leonard Subi, the director of preventive services in the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, said each of the oxygen generating plant will have capacity to fill 200 oxygen cylinders.

"The installation of the oxygen generating plants will help solve shortage of oxygen when there is a surge of COVID-19 patients who develop respiratory complications," said the official.

Subi told Members of Parliament in a seminar on COVID-19 held in the capital Dodoma that the installation of the oxygen generating plants was being financed in partnership with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

ALSO READ: EU economies rebound strongly, but pandemic remains a concern

Children wait to get tested for COVID-19 in North Miami, Florida, Aug 31, 2021. (MARTA LAVANDIER / AP)

United States

With more than 160,000 new cases a day and about 100,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the United States, this Labor Day holiday appears gloomy amid wide-ranging, bitter realization that the coronavirus is going to remain a fact of American life for the foreseeable future.

The seven-day average of confirmed cases of the pandemic stood at 160,901 nationwide on Saturday, with its 14-day change recording a 7-percent rise. COVID-19-related deaths were 1,544 on Saturday, with the 14-day change realizing a 53-percent hike, according to The New York Times (NYT).

"The irony is that things got so good in May and most of June that all of us, including me, were talking about the end game," John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Berkeley, was quoted as saying. "We started to enjoy life again. Within a very few weeks, it all came crashing down."

The resurgence of the pandemic has left the country "exhausted, nervous and less certain than ever about when normalcy might return," said NYT on Sunday.

The recent spread of the highly contagious Delta variant has thrown back-to-school plans into disarray, temporarily driving tens of thousands of students back to virtual learning or pausing instruction altogether, reported The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

Since the school year kicked off in late July, at least 1,000 schools across 31 states have closed because of COVID-19, according to Burbio, a Pelham, NY, data service that is monitoring school closures at 1,200 districts nationwide, including the 200 largest.

The Delta variant's two-month surge has generated a sharp rise in public fears about contracting the coronavirus, undermined confidence in US President Joe Biden's leadership and renewed divisions over vaccine and mask mandates, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nearly half of Americans, 47 percent, rate their risk of getting sick from the coronavirus as moderate or high, up 18 percentage points from late June. This follows a more than tenfold increase in daily infections. 

Concerns over catching the virus among partially or fully vaccinated adults have risen from 32 percent to 52 percent, while concern among unvaccinated adults has grown from 22 percent to 35 percent over the same period.

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that officials were likely to soon get the regulatory go-ahead to administer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots made by Pfizer, although Moderna booster could take a little longer.