WTO chief: Several vaccine production hubs eyed in Africa

This undated photo shows syringes containing doses of the Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE COVID-19 vaccine ready for administration at a vaccination center inside FC Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

LUSAKA / SANTIAGO / HAVANA / QUITO / TUNIS / WASHINGTON / LISBON / LONDON / MEXICO CITY / BRASILIA / BOGOTA / RIO DE JANEIRO / LA PAZ / ADDIS ABABA / BERLIN / CAPE TOWN / MOSCOW / PARIS – Africa is working with the European Union and other partners to help create regional vaccine manufacturing hubs in South Africa, Senegal and Rwanda, with Nigeria under consideration, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said.

“We have now seen that over-centralization of vaccine production capacity is incompatible with equitable access in a crisis situation,” Okonjo-Iweala said on Monday during a virtual meeting.

“Regional production hubs, in tandem with open supply chains, offer a more promising path to preparedness for future health crisis.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame in an interview at the Qatar Economic Forum on Monday, said that the continent is “trying to find partners, to start manufacturing vaccines on our continent.” 

“We have the International Finance Corporation, we have the European Union, we have other partners who are willing to come and do that with our continent.”

Africa has one of lowest COVID-19 inoculation rates in the world. Less than 1 percent of the continent’s 1.1 billion inhabitants have received two doses of a vaccine, compared with the UK and the US, which have fully inoculated about 45 percent of their people.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 5,208,206 as of Monday noon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the 55-member African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic stands at 137,600 while 4,620,442 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease. 

GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology

GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Vir Biotechnology said on Monday final results from a late-stage study of their monoclonal antibody confirmed it significantly reduced hospitalization and death among high-risk COVID-19 patients when given early in the disease.

The treatment, sotrovimab, received an emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration in May, while the European Union’s drug regulator has also backed it.

The drugmakers also said on Monday the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended sotrovimab to treat high-risk, non-hospitalized patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19.

The treatment appeared to “retain activity” against current variants of concern and interest, the agency said in its updated guidelines.

In a study of 1,057 patients, sotrovimab resulted in a 79 percent reduction in risk of hospitalization for more than 24 hours or death due to any cause, the companies said on Monday.

Sotrovimab belongs to a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies that mimic the natural antibodies the body generates to fight off infection.

Bolivia

Bolivia registered a 20-percent decrease in the positivity of COVID-19 cases over the last week, the Ministry of Health reported on Sunday.

"This de-escalation of cases is the necessary moment to be able to meet, to be able to generate the necessary logistics, to generate all the methodology, to be able to carry out massive diagnoses, follow up on cases, control isolation, medication and treatment," said Maria Renee Castro, vice health minister.

Castro said that, during the first wave of infections, the positivity rate reached 63 percent; and in the second wave, it hit 42 percent, before decreasing to 23 percent in the third.

Brazil

Brazil registered 1,025 more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the national death toll to 501,825, the health ministry said Sunday.

A total of 44,178 new infections were detected, raising the total caseload to 17,927,928, the ministry said.

Chile

A number of Chilean football players will be fined after inviting a hairdresser into their Copa America bubble, thereby breaking the strict protocols designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Chilean Football Federation (FFC) said on Sunday.

The FFC said no players or officials tested positive for COVID-19 after the incident but acknowledged the error and apologised in a short statement.

It did not name those involved, but Chilean press reports cited Inter Milan midfielder Arturo Vidal and captain Gary Medel as among the guilty parties.

The news came at the end of the first week of a Copa America that has been beset by COVID-19-related incidents.

Chile on Sunday reported 5,753 new cases and 121 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,517,018 infections and 31,513 fatalities.

According to the Ministry of Health, 38,630 patients are in the active stage of the virus, while 1,445,703 have recovered from the disease.

Minister of Health Enrique Paris said that infections have fallen by 17 percent in the last seven days, and that cases have decreased in 12 of the country's 16 regions.

Colombia

Colombia reported 599 new deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the national death toll to 99,934, the country's health ministry said Sunday.

The ministry said that 27,818 new infections were reported, bringing the national tally to 3,945,166.

Cuba

Cuba reported 1,436 new cases and 11 deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total infections to 167,804 and deaths to 1,159, the Ministry of Public Health said Sunday.

A total of 8,101 Cubans are in the active stage of the virus, the highest number so far, said the ministry.

The western province of Mayabeque, which has reported an incidence rate of 273.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, has displaced Havana as the epicenter of the disease in the country.

Ecuador

Ecuador on Sunday reported 855 new cases and eight more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total cases to 446,441 and deaths to 15,703, the Ministry of Public Health said.

In its daily report, the ministry also reported another 5,590 deaths considered to be COVID-19 related, but not verified.

The province of Pichincha led in new infections in the last day with 318 cases, including 290 in the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

As the country is facing a new wave of the disease, the government continues to enforce several restriction measures to stop the spread of the virus, including closing the country's land borders, though face-to-face classes have returned on a voluntary bases with strict biosafety protocols.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 158 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 275,194 as of Sunday evening, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The ministry said three new deaths and 652 more recoveries were reported, bringing the national counts to 4,283 and 254,948 respectively.

France

French nightclubs will be allowed to re-open from July 9 onwards, said government minister Alain Griset, allowing the industry to operate again for the first time since it was shut during the France’s COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

France eased its third nationwide lockdown – meant to rein in the coronavirus outbreak – last month with the reopening of terraces on May 19. Earlier in June, restaurants, bars and cafes were allowed to reopen for indoor service for the first time in seven months.

More than 100 nightclubs out of 1,600 in France have closed permanently due to the COVID pandemic crisis, according to hospitality trade union UMIH.

Germany

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Germany within one day fell below 500 for the first time in more than ten months, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Monday.

The RKI registered 346 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, down from 549 a week ago. The nationwide incidence rate of reported COVID-19 cases in the past seven days continued to decline and stood at 8.6 per 100,000 citizens.

On Friday, the RKI warned that although the COVID-19 Delta variant in Germany only amounted to six percent of the new cases, the strain was spreading at a fast pace.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 178.51 million while the global death toll topped 3.86 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: WHO: Urgent action needed as third virus wave sweeps Africa

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Sunday reported 1,578 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 36 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,477,283 infections and 231,187 deaths.

The government has said the real number of cases is likely significantly higher, and separate data published in March suggested the actual death toll is at least 60 percent above the confirmed figure.

Portugal

As the Delta coronavirus variant continues to spread, Portuguese authorities are scrambling to bring a worrying spike in cases under control and said they would accelerate vaccinations and increase testing.

Just over 25 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Portugal, a country of 10 million that faced its toughest battle against the virus in January.

Most of those fully vaccinated are older or more vulnerable but a recent rise in cases around the populous Lisbon area led authorities to speed up the vaccination campaign, especially among younger people.

The number of people testing newly positive every 24 hours is back to late February levels, when Portugal was still under lockdown. Most restrictions have since been lifted and Portugal opened its doors to some tourists last month.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, represents over 60 percent of cases in the Lisbon area though still less than 15% in the northern half of Portugal, the country's health institute said on Sunday.

Russia

The Kremlin on Monday described the coronavirus situation in Russia as difficult and said it was still deteriorating, rather than getting better.

Russia reported 17,378 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 7,584 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,334,204.

The government coronavirus task force said 440 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the previous 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 129,801.

The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 270,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to April 2021.

A man receives a jab containing Pfizer vaccine from a healthcare worker at the Karl Bremer Hospital in Cape Town, on May 17, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

South Africa

South Africa, France and the World Health Organization are set to announce plans for Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine facility using messenger RNA, the breakthrough technology of the global inoculation effort.

The “technology transfer hub” will be located in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement on Monday. The announcement is scheduled for 5 pm local time.

South Africa, along with India, has been at the forefront of a campaign at the World Trade Organization to push pharmaceutical companies to waive their intellectual property rights and share their technology for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to help end the pandemic. A lack of manufacturing capacity in Africa is seen as one of the barriers to inoculating the continent.

Messenger RNA, or mRNA, has been used for the first time to make vaccines during the coronavirus health crisis. Moderna Inc of the US and a combination of Pfizer Inc and Germany’s BioNTech SE have used the technology to make doses, which some trials have shown to be more effective than more traditionally made versions.

Tunisia

The Tunisian government added on Sunday another three governorates to the list of general lockdown as the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in the North African country.

The government had already put the north-central governorate of Kairouan under general lockdown on Saturday.

Also on Sunday, Tunisian Health Ministry reported 1,775 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the North African country to 382,950.

The death toll from the virus rose by 78 to 14,038, according to a ministry statement.

UK

Britain’s surging coronavirus infection rate is widening a rift between airlines and health authorities over the government’s decision to maintain some of the tightest rules on travel in Europe.

Travel industry officials plan to hold events on Wednesday in London, Edinburgh and Belfast to draw attention to some 195,000 jobs they say are at risk from restrictions on overseas trips. An adviser from Public Health England meanwhile warned that a fourth national lockdown may be needed this year to control the virus.

Those conflicting priorities are fraying the political consensus Boris Johnson has enjoyed on handling the pandemic, sharpening the focus on an industry that employs 860,000 people and has been brought to a halt by government rules. It has put the prime minister on a collision course with members of Parliament increasingly concerned about damage to the economy.

“The UK aviation industry is the hardest hit in Europe,” said Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, said Sunday. “Hapless ministers give all the appearance of deliberately attacking aviation and tormenting the public with their mixed messages over summer holidays.”

Under current rules, travelers who arrive in the UK must quarantine unless they’re coming from 11 green-listed jurisdictions, none of which are mainstream tourist destinations.

Also, Britain is piloting a plan to ditch the self-isolation requirement for people who have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine if they are exposed to someone with the virus, health minister Matt Hancock said on Monday.

“We are piloting that approach that if you’ve had two jabs, instead of having to isolate if you’re a contact, then you have a testing regime,” Hancock told BBC News.

“We’re piloting that now to check that that will be effective. It is something that we’re working on, we’re not ready to be able to take that step yet.”

Britain recorded 9,284 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday and six new deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test.

Although lower than recent days, the number of new cases reflects an upward trend in recent weeks driven by the spread of the more infectious Delta variant first detected in India.

ALSO READ: Virus: EU lifts entry restrictions for US travelers and others

United States

US land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least July 21, the US Homeland Security Department said on Sunday.

The 30-day extension came after Canada announced its own extension on Friday of the requirements that were set to expire on Monday and have been in place since March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The US government held working-group meetings with Canada and Mexico on the travel restrictions last week and plans to hold meetings about every two weeks, US officials told Reuters.

Homeland Security said in a statement it noted "positive developments in recent weeks and is participating with other US agencies in the White House’s expert working groups with Canada and Mexico to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably."

Some US lawmakers and border communities that have been hit hard by the restrictions have pushed to relax them ahead of the busy summer travel season.

The US border is unlikely to be completely reopened until 75 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, Canada’s border chief said on Sunday in comments likely to fuel mounting impatience in both countries at the restrictions.

“We haven’t reached the finish line, and the finish line is when a significant majority of Canadians, approximately 75 percent, are fully vaccinated,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told national broadcaster CBC on Sunday. At present, less than a fifth of Canadians have received two shots, according to data compiled by CTV News.

Zambia

Zambia recorded 49 COVID-19 deaths, the highest daily figure since the outbreak of the pandemic over a year ago, its health ministry said on Sunday.

The deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the total deaths to 1,644, according to health ministry figures.