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CORONA VIRUS

Naivety Ends With EU Vaccine Export Control- Macron

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French president Emmanuel Macron has declared the “end of naivety” as the European Union moved to prioritise unmet deliveries of vaccines over exports to the rest of the world.

“It’s the end of naivety,” Mr Macron told journalists after the 27 leaders met over video conference.

“I support the fact that we must block all exports for as long as some drug companies don’t respect their commitments with Europeans.”

In the meeting, European Union leaders expressed their support for tightening controls on Covid-19 vaccine exports to allow permits to be refused for batches to be sent to countries that have a higher vaccination rate in their population, or that are not exporting to the EU in turn.

Figures released on Thursday showed that 77 million vaccines had been exported from the EU, the lion’s share of 21 million of them to Britain, while the bloc received 88 million doses for its population of 447 million people.

Severe shortfalls in contracted deliveries from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca – which now aims to deliver just 100 million doses by June instead of a promised 300 million – have slowed vaccine rollouts in the bloc, and the company is the primary focus of the new controls as it has delivered only a fraction of promised doses so far.

Ireland was among the countries to express reservations about the step out of concerns that if export permits were refused it could trigger retaliatory action, and ultimately affect companies that are meeting their deliveries such as Pfizer and Moderna.

But speaking afterwards, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the export system was “important” tool to ensure companies deliver.

“In the context of companies that fail to fulfil their contracts with the EU, the leverage has to be there to ensure their contracts are fulfilled but also that the EU can have certain safety nets in respect of making sure it has sufficient vaccines for its own population,” Mr Martin said.

The Dutch and Belgian leaders expressed hopes that the tool would be effective in increasing deliveries to the EU without ever having to be used.

“If it needs to be used, and hopefully it will not be used, then also the broader consequences should be taken into account,” Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said.

“Global production and supply chains need to be taken into account . . . Not hampering the global supply chains which are also in our interest.”

Talks are ongoing between British and EU officials over their interconnected vaccine supply chains and whether a deal is possible over AstraZeneca doses, as a supply squeeze on the vaccine hits with India set to tighten controls on exports in response to rising domestic infections. In focus is the output of a factory in the Netherlands in Leiden.

EU officials say that AstraZeneca has not explained why it waited until this week to apply for European Medicines Agency authorisation for the output of the Leiden factory, but there are suspicions that this was a tactic to juggle competing international orders, as its production could not be delivered to the EU without the permit.

Britain and the European Commission issued a joint statement on the eve of the summit declaring they would seek to work together to keep supply chains open, and Mr Rutte said he was optimistic of a deal as officials are expected to meet on Saturday.

“I think a landing spot is possible here in the spirit of win-win,” Mr Rutte told journalists.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the issue between the EU the UK and AstraZeneca can be solved.” Within the EU, there is a debate over the fate of 10 million extra Pfizer vaccines that are set for delivery.

Some member states have argued that these should not be divided on a pro-rata basis as is usual, but that a greater share should go to countries that have a lower vaccination rate because they initially turned down Pfizer and Moderna doses and are worse affected by AstraZeneca shortfalls.

Bulgaria, Latvia, and Croatia are the worst affected and have given out just 5.4, 5.4 and 9.4 doses per 100 people respectively compared with an EU average of 13.6, according to figures circulated to leaders on Thursday.

An agreement could not be reached on the issue however and it has been referred back to diplomats for discussion, with the insistence of Austrian prime minister Sebastian Kurz that his country should be among those to get extra cited as an obstacle to agreement.

Austria has given out 14.6 jabs per 100 according to the figures – above the EU average.

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CORONA VIRUS

Italy Reopen Bars, Restaurants, Concert Halls

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Reports from Italy indicate that Bars, restaurants, cinemas and concert halls have partially reopened across Italy on Monday.

This major shift comes at a time the country has registered a total of 3.96M covid-19 cases since last year. Of these cases, 3.38M have recovered and 119000 deaths recorded.

The vaccination programme is gaining pace with more than 17.5 million jabs administered so far in a population of around 60 million, but there are disparities between regions.

Therefore in a boost for covid-19-hit businesses these bars and other crowding businesses have reopened, as parliament debates the government’s U$266 billion) EU-funded recovery plan.

After months of stop-start restrictions imposed to manage its second and third waves of COVID-19, Italy hopes this latest easing will mark the start of something like a normal summer.

Three-quarters of regions will drop into the low-risk “yellow” categories from Monday, with bars and restaurants permitted to restart table service outside – including, for the first time in six months, in the evening, although a 10pm curfew remains in place.

Cinemas and concert halls can also open at 50 per cent capacity, followed by the staggered opening of swimming pools, gyms, sporting events and theme parks by Jul 1.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been under intense pressure from regional governments and increasingly regular street protests to ease restrictions, as Italy battles its deepest recession since World War II.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic in early 2020 and remains one of the worst affected, with the EU’s highest reported death toll and one of the deepest recessions.

The economy contracted by a staggering 8.9 per cent last year and a million jobs have been lost.

Italy is pinning its hopes on a €220 billion investment and reform plan funded largely by the EU. Italy is the biggest recipient of the bloc’s €750 billion post-pandemic recovery fund. In parliament today, Draghi is scheduled to formally present the programme he hopes will boost growth by 3.6% points by 2026, ahead of a Friday deadline to submit the package to Brussels.

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CORONA VIRUS

WHO Supports Tanzania’s About-turn On Covid-19

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Tanzanian leadership’s about-turn on the coronavirus received support from the World Health Organization and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which could help the country obtain vaccines and start to catch-up with other nations on the continent.

The east African country’s new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, announced plans earlier this week to appoint a panel of experts to advise her on how best to curb the spread of the virus.

The move is a complete shift from her predecessor’s stance, which was to initially deny the existence of the disease and stop the publication of Covid-19 infection data just months after the pandemic broke out.

The response to the virus by President John Magufuli, who died last month, raised concerns that not only was the local severity of the disease being downplayed, but that there was increased risk of the spread of significant variants that could affect vaccine efficacy across the continent.

“We welcome very sincerely this initiative by the new president of Tanzania, as well as the statements she’s made to the population to ensure people accept the virus is circulating in Tanzania and that she is seeking to understand better the situation,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said in a briefing Thursday.

The WHO has been in talks with Tanzania and offered expertise and discussed ways to access Covid-19 vaccines, she said.

In a separate online briefing, Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong said he’s “extremely encouraged with the signals” from Tanzania and that the body has offered clinical assistance.

“They have not officially requested anything from us, but we look forward to engaging with them further as they move forward with this task force,” he said.

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CORONA VIRUS

Professor Niyongabo Warns of Covid-19 Second Wave in Burundi

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For most part of 2020, Burundi government had chosen to ignore existence of covid-19 pandemic and only confided in God as the only shield against the fast spreading virus across the world.

As of Friday, Burundi has officially reported 3,027Total cases, 773 Recovered, and 6 Deaths.

In an exclusive interview with  Burundian Professor Théodore Niyongabo, he opens up slightly on Covid-19 situation in East Africa’s most isolated country and hints that “The vaccine is the only way to control Covid-19”.

Professor Théodore Niyongabo is a specialist in internal medicine and infectious diseases. He looks back on all the current questions related to the pandemic. Here are some excerpts as adapted from local outlet Iwacu.

Faced with the surge of positive cases, can we speak of a second wave in Burundi?

Given the number of cases tested positive for covid-19 on a daily basis, those hospitalized. It is obvious that this is a second wave of contamination.

What do you think is the cause?

Hard to say ! Because the determinants of a wave vary from country to country. Are we in the presence of a new variant, has there been a relaxation somewhere in the population with regard to barrier gestures … The hypotheses are legion.

Once cured, can we be recontaminated? Can we be recontaminated a week after healing?

No, I do not think so. From experience, recontamination is often late. In this regard, the figures are clear.

So far, during the month of February, we have recorded less than 10 cases. Usually, recontamination will take place a year or more later. Granted, this is not yet fully verified, but the facts are there.

If not, can a mother continue to breastfeed her child once she has Covid-19?

Absolutely. In fact, this is what we recommend to them. She should continue to breastfeed. Because breast milk does not transmit Covid-19. But, if the mom has tested positive for the disease, she should wear a mask.

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