WTO vaccine talks: Chances of patent waiver seen as remote

A logo stands on the wall outside the World Trade Organisation (WTO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, March 2, 2020. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

CARACAS / SAO PAULO / LONDON / LISBON / MEXICO CITY / JOHANNESBURG / CAIRO / PARIS / ROME / NAIROBI / BERLIN / BUENOS AIRES / BOGOTA / SANTIAGO / TUNIS / MONTEVIDEO / HAVANA / QUITO / ADDIS ABABA / WINDHOEK / OUAGADOUGOU / MOSCOW – A deal on an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization may be further off than ever despite Washington’s backing, due to expected scepticism about a new draft, sources close to the talks told Reuters.

Negotiations will reopen at the WTO on Monday and will focus on a highly anticipated revised draft submitted by India, South Africa and dozens of other proponents last week.

Following a surprise US shift earlier this month to support a waiver, a move which heaped pressure on remaining opponents like the European Union and Switzerland that are home to numerous drugmakers, many people were expecting to be encouraged to follow suit.

But three sources close to the talks say that is likely to have the opposite effect.

“There is an ocean between this waiver proposal and what was suggested by the US,” said a source involved in the talks who declined to be named. “There’s definitely no quick resolution for this.”

The waiver’s main backers are due to present the new draft in Monday’s private WTO meeting, where other key players such as the United States and the European Union are set to give their first official feedback on its contents.

The meeting is critical because it will determine if the talks, ongoing since October, will advance to “text-based negotiations” as sought by director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Hungary

Hungary's planned vaccine plant will be fitted out for production of Chinese COVID-19 shots as well as a local dose, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in China on Monday, according to state news agency MTI.

Szijjarto made the announcement after talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and added that the agreement would mean a "great strategic advantage" for Hungary.

Hungary has been the only EU country to inoculate people with China's Sinopharm vaccine, after rolling out Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, although neither shot has been granted approval for emergency use by the bloc.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government announced in December that it was planning to build a vaccine factory to help combat the pandemic.

Hungary has earmarked 55 billion forints (US$193.04 million)for the construction of the plant that is expected to make Hungary self-sufficient in vaccine production from the end of 2022, MTI reported.

EU

The European Commission proposed on Monday that vaccinated people should be exempt from testing or quarantines when travelling from one EU country to another, and urged a gradual easing of travel measures as COVID-19 inoculations accelerate.

The EU reached a deal earlier this month on COVID-19 certificates that will show, via a QR code, whether a person isvaccinated, immune based on recovery from infectionor has had a recent negative test. The scheme should be ready by July 1.

The European Union executive, which is seeking to end a current patchwork of travel measures across the bloc, said on Monday that testing or quarantines should not apply to people who have been fully vaccinated 14 days prior to travel.

About half of EU adults have received a first vaccine dose.

People who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection should be exempt from restrictions for 180 days. The Commission also proposed that more reliable, but more expensive PCR tests should be valid for 72 hours and rapid antigen tests for 48 hours.

Children, who are not yet in line for vaccinations, should not have to undergo a quarantine if travelling with parents who are exempt. Those aged six and older can be subject to tests.

The Commission has also included an "emergency brake" to re-impose measures for travellers from areas where there is a surge of infections or many cases of a particular virus variant.

Travel from "dark red" areas, with more than 150 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, would be "strongly discouraged", while for green areas, with fewer than 25 cases, no restrictions would apply, the Commission proposal said.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s biggest city imposed a new coronavirus law that carries strict penalties, including fines and imprisonment for violations.

Under the new law, the Lagos state governor can “quarantine anyone he deems fit and for any period of time, sanction erring individuals with fines of up to 500,000 naira or imprisonment of up to five years,” the state health commissioner, Akin Abayomi, said in an emailed statement. A 500,000 naira fine is the equivalent of about US$1,220.

International passengers who provide misleading information or break protocols may be jailed for a year or pay fines, the commissioner said. People traveling from India, Brazil and Turkey who refuse to isolate will have their passports deactivated for at least a year. Foreign citizens may be deported.

The state has vaccinated 318,916 people with a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with a goal to inoculate 14 million in total. Nigeria’s commercial capital carried out about half a million COVID-19 tests and has recorded 356 deaths and 274 active cases as of Friday.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide have surpassed 170.37 million while the global death toll topped 3.54 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 4,823,795 as of Sunday noon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll stood at 130,286 while a total of 4,360,778 people across the continent have recovered from the disease, the Africa CDC said.

Argentina

Argentina reported 21,346 new COVID-19 cases, taking the national tally to 3,753,609, the Ministry of Health said Sunday.

The ministry said that 348 more deaths were logged, bringing the death toll to 77,456.

Currently, 7,206 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, which have a bed occupancy of 77.5 percent nationwide, the ministry said.

According to the Public Vaccination Monitor, more than 12.2 million doses of vaccines have been administered in the country since late last year.

Brazil

Brazil registered 43,520 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, reaching a total of 16.5 million cases.

The country also saw 874 newly reported deaths, raising the toll to 461,931.

Serrana, a city in southeastern Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, has seen a 95 percent drop in COVID-19 deaths after it concluded vaccination of almost all adults, TV Globo reported on Sunday.

With 45,000 inhabitants, Serrana is a healthy oasis in Brazil.

When vaccination was starting, the city had an increase in COVID cases, but the spread of the virus was contained once 75 percent of the population was immunized, scientists found.

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso, one of several countries in Africa that has yet to launch a COVID-19 vaccination campaign, received its first shipment under the global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX on Sunday, the health ministry said.

The 115,200 AstraZeneca doses were flown into the airport of the capital Ouagadougou and were welcomed by a local delegation led by health minister Charlemagne Ouedraogo.

"In a few weeks other vaccines will probably arrive to supplement what we have," Ouedraogo said.

The vaccination campaign, which will first target health workers, aims to eventually inoculate over 15 million of the West African nation's 21.5 million citizens, the ministry said.

Chile

Chile on Sunday reported a 21 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days, and the government has urged Chileans to get vaccinated and continue to maintain personal protection measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chile has been facing an increase in infections for the last few weeks despite the progress of the vaccination campaign, with 52 percent of the target population fully immunized.

Health Minister Enrique Paris stated that 80 percent of new cases "are people who have not received their full immunization."

According to the Ministry of Health, Chile registered 7,772 new cases Sunday, bringing the tally to 1,377,507.

Another 121 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 29,168.

Colombia

Colombia reported 535 more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the nationwide death toll to 88,282, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection said Sunday.

The ministry said 20,218 new infections were reported, bringing the national tally to 3,383,279.

A total of 9,661,266 doses of vaccines have been administered in the South American country, with 3,262,037 people fully inoculated as of Saturday night.

People wait to be vaccinated as a nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Cuban Abdala COVID-19 vaccine at the Gustavo Aldereguia hospital in Cienfuegos, Cuba, May 30, 2021. (ISMAEL FRANCISCO / AP)

Cuba

Cuba registered 1,079 new cases and seven more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 141,166 and the death toll to 950, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Sunday.

"A kind of plateau has been created in the number of cases and deaths as a result of non-compliance with established sanitary measures and perhaps due to the presence of new strains of the virus," said the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology, Francisco Duran.

Duran said that of the cases reported on Sunday, 1,047 were community transmissions.

Havana 434 new cases reported in its 15 municipalities, a slight decrease in infection compared to previous days.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported on Sunday 1,100 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the caseload to 425,841, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Meanwhile, 46 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, taking the toll  to 15,070, the ministry said.

The province of Pichincha saw 311 cases, including 263 in the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

The new government, which took office on Monday, plans to launch a vaccination plan on May 31 that aims to vaccinate 9 million Ecuadorians in the first 100 days of the administration and to normalize economic and educational activities as soon as possible.

Egypt

Egypt will lift restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, including easing the early closure of shops and restaurants, from Tuesday, the cabinet said.

Since May 6, stores, malls and restaurants had to close by 9 pm after a rise in infections.

Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to save the tourism sector, it completed vaccinating workers in all hotels in Southern Sinai and Red Sea provinces and plans to vaccinate all residents of the two resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheik, the cabinet said.

Egypt had officially confirmed 260,659 coronavirus cases including 15,001 deaths as of Saturday. 

France

France reported the number of people in intensive care units with COVID-19 fell by 35 to 2,993 on Sunday, while the overall number of people in hospital with the disease fell by 72 to 16,775.

Both numbers have been on a downward trend in recent weeks.

The number of people in intensive care units was below 3,000 for the first time since Jan 24.

While reporting 8,541 new cases, the health ministry also announced 44 additional coronavirus deaths in hospitals and said there had been 150,026 COVID-19 vaccine injections over the past 24 hours.

France is ready to start reducing financial support to businesses and workers hit by coronavirus restrictions as its vaccination program offers a route out of the crisis, Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Sunday.

Germany

German Health Minister Jens Spahn and his counterparts in the 16 federal states will on Monday morning discuss control mechanisms for coronavirus test centers following fraud accusations, a ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

Spahn wants to involve local health departments and tax authorities in the controls.

Germany offers its citizens at least one free coronavirus test per week, with several federal states providing one free test a day. The state pays 18 euros ($22) per test. As a result, private test centres have been set up en masse in recent weeks.

Some coronavirus test centers have been charging for more tests than they have carried out, daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and ARD reported this week.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,978 to 3,681,126, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 36 to 88,442.

Around 42 percent of its population have been given at least a first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 17 percent have had their second dose.

Italy

Italy reported 44 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, down from 83 the day before and the lowest figure since mid-October, while the daily tally of new infections also dropped to 2,949 from 3,351, the health ministry said.

In total, Italy has registered 126,046 deaths and 4.216 million cases to date.

The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – totalled 6,591 on Sunday, down from 6,800 a day earlier.

There were 27 new admissions to intensive care units, bringing the total number of intensive care patients stood at 1,061 from 1,095.

Separately on Sunday, the health ministry said it had extended to June 21 the current ban on travelers arriving from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

ALSO READ: Canada's virus cases seen falling if restrictions maintained

Kenya

Kenya has extended its nightly curfew by 60 days to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday.

The move followed a decision by President Uhuru Kenyatta in late March to extend the 10 pm to 4 am curfew.

A ban on political gatherings and processions that could turn into super spreader events was also extended for 60 days, as was a prohibition on overnight events and vigils, the ministry said.

Kenya has recorded 170,485 cases and 3,141 deaths, Ministry of Health data showed on Saturday, with a positivity rate of 8.9 percent.

COVID-19 vaccinations began on March 5 and so far 968,733 people have received their first dose.

Mexico

Mexico recorded 1,307 coronavirus cases and 52 more deaths on Sunday, according to health ministry data, bringing the overall number of cases to 2,412,810 and the death toll to 223,507.

Namibia

Namibian President Hage Geingob and first lady Monica Geingos are on course for a speedy recovery after both of them tested positive for COVID-19 last Wednesday, an official said Sunday.

In a statement, Alfredo Hengari, spokesperson for the Presidency, said the two were in stable condition and in good spirits.

"All precautionary measures are taken, and neither the president nor the first lady have been admitted to hospital. The president and the first lady have responded well to treatment and on course to a full recovery," Hengari said.

He said the two are self isolating and receiving treatment at home.

Namibia has so far recorded 54,659 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 818 deaths.

Portugal

All those who got up close to Champions League celebrations in the city of Porto should monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and avoid close contact with others over the next 14 days, Portugal's northern region health authority said on Sunday.

In a statement, the regional health authority (ARS Norte) said those who were in fan zones or around areas where celebrations took place should monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough and loss of taste or smell.

It also said people should try to "reduce contacts over the next 14 days" and strictly follow preventive measures, such as maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask.

Russia

Russia on Monday reported 8,475 COVID-19 cases, including 2,614 in Moscow, pushing the national infection tally to 5,071,917 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus task force said that 339 people had died of coronavirus-related causes in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 121,501.

South Africa

South Africa has extended its nightly curfew and limited the number of people at gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19 as positive cases surge, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday.

The level two lockdown restrictions will start on Monday, forcing non-essential establishments like restaurants, bars and fitness centers to close by 2000 local time (2000 GMT) as the curfew will start at 2300 from midnight and end at 0400, Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.

All gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 100 people indoors from 250 and 250 people outdoors from 500. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers, no more than 50 percent of the capacity of the venue may be used.

Ramaphosa said according to the country's health experts, the recent surge in new infections is due to the increasing number of social gatherings where people are not observing essential health protocols.

Funerals and so-called "after tears" parties, as well as camps and sporting activities at schools have also been identified as other sites of increased transmission.

Over the last seven days, the country has seen an average of 3,745 daily new infections, with cases rising by 4,515 over the past 24 hours to over 1.659 million cases. Over 960,000 people have been vaccinated in the country.

The provinces of Free State, Northern Cape, North West and Gauteng, which houses Johannesburg, have reached the threshold of a third wave of infections and "it may only be a matter of time before the country as a whole will have entered a third wave," Ramaphosa said.

Tunisia

The Tunisian health ministry on Sunday reported 1,314 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 344,688.

The death toll rose by 49 to 12,623, the ministry said in a statement.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reached 2,005, including 404 in intensive care units, while the total number of recoveries stood at 301,869.

So far, 922,838 people have been vaccinated, of whom 633,524 have received their first doses and 289,314 have gotten both jabs.  

A worker takes the temperature of a member of the public arriving for a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at an inoculation clinic in Bolton, northwest England, on May 28, 2021. (OLI SCARFF / AFP)

UK

Britain plans to drop COVID-19 passports as a legal requirement for large events, The Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday. 

The UK officials working on the review into COVID-19 status certificates believe there is no chance the law will be changed to mandate their use within the UK, according to the report.    

A government spokesman said in an emailed statement to Reuters that the COVID-19 vaccine certification review is still in process and no decision has yet been made.

Britain on Sunday reported 3,398 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,480,945, according to official figures released Sunday.       

The country also reported six more coronavirus-related deaths, taking the toll to 127,781. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

ALSO READ: UK mulls compulsory COVID-19 shots for health workers

More than 39.2 million people, about three-quarters of adults in Britain, have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.

Uruguay

COVID-19-related deaths among Uruguayan adults aged 18-70 who have been fully vaccinated with Chinese company Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine for 14 days fell by 97 percent, according to a preliminary report.

Hospitalizations in intensive care units following vaccination with the CoronaVac vaccine also decreased by over 95 percent and infection cases decreased by 57 percent, according to the report released Thursday by Uruguay's Ministry of Public Health.

The report analyzed 712,716 people who had passed the 14-day mark from March 1 to May 25 after having received the final dose of the CoronaVac vaccine.

As of Tuesday, 28 percent of Uruguay's population had been fully vaccinated, according to the report.

As of Sunday, Uruguay has reported a total of 291,488 COVID-19 cases and 4,213 deaths.

US

The US added slightly more than 12,000 new cases, the fewest since the early days of the pandemic last year, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. While reporting typically slows on weekends, the number was the lowest since March 23, 2020.

US daily deaths fell to 362, the fewest on a Saturday in 11 months. Deaths from COVID-19 have declined almost continually since late February as a nationwide vaccination campaign took hold.

People wait to be inoculated with the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign for seniors at the Alba Caracas's hotel in Caracas, Venezuela, May 29, 2021. (MATIAS DELACROIX / AP)

Venezuela

Venezuela will receive 5 million coronavirus vaccines via the COVAX program as of July and will seek to receive doses of the Johnson & Johnson inoculation, President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday.

The South American nation this weekend announced the launch of a vaccination campaign following delays in obtaining inoculations due to payment problems, leaving it will behind most vaccination efforts in the region.

The government said it plans to distribute around 1.3 million doses in some 27 vaccination site throughout the country, without providing details on the location of those sites.

Venezuela has reported around 230,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 3,000 deaths. Doctors say the actual figures are likely higher due to underreporting and limited testing.

The government is currently investigating whether the Indian variant has entered the country the country via Colombia, Maduro said.