Travel industry, airlines urge end to virus testing to enter US

An aircraft approaches the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on Feb 24, 2021. (DANIEL SLIM / AFP)

ADDIS ABABA / WASHINGTON / ADDIS ABABA – Major US airlines, business and travel groups and other companies urged the White House on Thursday to abandon COVID-19 pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated international passengers traveling to the United States.

The letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said "the economic costs associated with maintaining the measure are significant," saying international travel spending is down 78 percent compared with 2019 levels

"Given the slow economic recovery of the business and international travel sectors, and in light of medical advancements and the improved public health metrics in the US, we encourage you to immediately remove the inbound testing requirement for vaccinated air travelers," said the letter signed by American Airlines, Carnival Corp, Marriott International, Walt Disney Co's Disney Parks, the US Chamber of Commerce, US Travel Association and others.

Airline executives say many Americans are not traveling internationally because of concerns they will test positive and be stranded abroad.

The letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said "the economic costs associated with maintaining the measure are significant," saying international travel spending is down 78 percent compared with 2019 levels.

The letter noted many foreign governments "with similar infection, vaccination and hospitalization rates—including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada—have eliminated pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated travelers."

The letter noted that the Biden administration does not require negative tests for entry at land-border ports of entry with Canada and Mexico but only for air travelers.

In this file photo taken on Dec 8, 2021, a woman is vaccinated by a member of the Western Cape Metro EMS in an ambulance which has been converted to facilitate vaccinations at a COVID-19 vaccination event in Cape Town. (RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

Africa

Creating efficient market linkage is crucial to boosting the local production capacity of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa, a senior Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) official has said.

Ahmed Ogwell, deputy director of the Africa CDC, while addressing a press briefing on Thursday, said that African COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers should be given priority among purchasing African countries and institutions so as to promote the local production of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.

"As far as the local production (of COVID-19 vaccines) is concerned, market is the key to ensuring that we have thriving local production manufacturing enterprises," the deputy director said.

All those who are purchasing vaccines at the global level for African countries need to purchase those from African producers first and then they can be able to go to non-African producers after, he said.

"This is our ambition, this is our commitment, and this is the principle that we are pushing very hard so that manufacturers (in Africa) do not get to a situation where they would have to close (their manufacturing plant). We hope it doesn't come to that," Ogwell added.

Meanwhile, African countries have conducted 105,579,387 COVID-19 tests so far, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

This file photo taken on June 11, 2021 shows the entrance of the European Medicines Agency headquarters in Amsterdam. (FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

EU

Vaccines adapted to address COVID-19 variants such as Omicron could be approved by the European Union by September, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Thursday.

These adapted vaccines will "match more closely Omicron and other variants that have emerged recently," said Marco Cavaleri, the EMA's head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy.

These vaccines could be administered to people both vaccinated or unvaccinated, he told a press conference.

Cavaleri said the adaptive vaccines could be "approved by September at the latest to be ready for the roll-out of new immunization campaigns in the EU in the autumn."

The EMA official said that although the COVID-19 situation has stabilized in the EU, infections are still in the millions worldwide.

"The pandemic is far from over. COVID-19 will continue to affect our lives," he said.

"We must remain vigilant and should be prepared for the appearance of a new variant and for a possible surge of COVID-19 cases in the coming winter," he said. 

An illustration picture shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson on Nov 17, 2020. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Johnson & Johnson's

The US health regulator said on Thursday it was limiting the use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine for adults due to the risk of a rare blood clotting syndrome, the latest setback to the shot that has been eclipsed by rivals.

The J&J shot, which received US clearance in February 2021 for adults, can be administered in cases where authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or if an individual is less keen on using the other two shots, the Food and Drug Administration said.

J&J is one of the three vaccines in use in the United States. The other two are from Moderna and Pfizer.

The vaccine maker said it has updated the US COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet to warn about the risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition.

A picture taken on May 8, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organization at the entrance of their headquarters in Geneva amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

WHO

Almost three times as many people have died as a result of COVID-19 as official data show, according to a new World Health Organization report, the most comprehensive look at the true global toll of the pandemic so far.

There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the UN body said on Thursday

There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the UN body said on Thursday.

The official count of deaths directly attributable to COVID-19 and reported to WHO in that period, from January 2020 to the end of December 2021, is slightly more than 5.4 million.

The WHO's excess mortality figures reflect people who died of COVID-19 as well as those who died as an indirect result of the outbreak, including people who could not access healthcare for other conditions when systems were overwhelmed during huge waves of infection.

It also accounts for deaths averted during the pandemic, for example because of the lower risk of traffic accidents during lockdowns.


But the numbers are also far higher than the official tally because of deaths that were missed in countries without adequate reporting. Even pre-pandemic, around six in 10 deaths around the world were not registered, WHO said.

The WHO report said that almost half of the deaths that until now had not been counted were in India. The report suggests that 4.7 million people died there as a result of the pandemic, mainly during a huge surge in May and June 2021.

The Indian government, however, puts its death toll for the January 2020-December 2021 period far lower: about 480,000.