The International Olympic Committee has pledged to source as many doctors and nurses as needed from around the globe to ensure the Tokyo Olympics is safe – and to help Japan fight a fourth wave of Covid infections.
The IOC’s offer comes amid mounting concern in Japan that having 70,000 athletes, officials, journalists and support staff arriving into the country could act as super-spreaders for new variants and put huge pressure on medical services.
Mastercard Inc and drinks company Ambev, major sponsors of South American football, have backed away from the Copa America as players criticised organisers for moving the tournament to Brazil despite one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks.
Last week, the South American Football Confederation unexpectedly relocated the tournament, which kicks off on Sunday, after co-hosts Colombia were dropped because of civil unrest and Argentina withdrew after a surge in coronavirus infections. More than 475,000 Brazilians have died from coronavirus, Reuters reports. The Brazil football team cited “humanitarian” concerns in a statement criticising the organization of the Copa America on Wednesday, but they committed to participating in the tournament after rumors of a potential boycott. Mastercard Inc said it decided not to “activate” its sponsorship of Copa America in Brazil after a thorough analysis, meaning it will temporarily remove its branding from the event it has sponsored since 1992. Ambev SA, a unit of brewer AB InBev sponsoring both the tournament and the Brazilian national team, said “its brands will not be present at the Copa America.”
In South Africa just 0.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to a worldwide tracker kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Associated Press reports:
And hundreds of thousands of the country’s health workers, many of whom come face-to-face with the virus every day, are still waiting for their shots.
In Nigeria only 0.1% are fully protected. Kenya is even lower. Uganda has recalled doses from rural areas because it does not have nearly enough to fight outbreaks in big cities. Chad did not administer its first vaccine shots until this past weekend. And there are at least five other countries in Africa where not one dose has been put into an arm, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It is extremely concerning and at times frustrating,” said Africa CDC director Dr. John Nkengasong, a Cameroonian virologist said. “I’d like to believe that the G-7 countries, most of them having kept excess doses of vaccines, want to be on the right side of history,” he added. “Distribute those vaccines. We need to actually see these vaccines, not just … promises and goodwill.”
Canada is prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July, Reuters reports.
Canada’s air and land borders have allowed for only essential travel since March of last year, and Canadians coming home are currently required to quarantine for 14 days. If they arrive by air, they also must stay in a designated hotel until they receive a negative Covid-19 test. “The first step … is to allow fully vaccinated individuals currently permitted to enter Canada to do so without the requirement to stay in government-authorized accommodation,” health minister Patty Hajdu told reporters. Asked about calls from businesses to lift restrictions starting on June 22, Hajdu said: “We do want to be cautious and careful on these next steps to be sure that we are not putting that recovery in jeopardy.”
The US will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to share through the global COVAX alliance for donation to 92 lower income countries and the African Union over the next year, a source told AP.
President Joe Biden was set to make the announcement Thursday in a speech before the start of Group of Seven summit.
According to the source, 200 million doses — enough to fully protect 100 million people — would be shared this year, with the balance to be donated in the first half of 2022.
The announcement comes days after the White House unveiled its plans to begin sharing the existing U.S. vaccine surplus with the world.
Covid-19 could remain a problem in the Americas for years to come unless the rate of spread is slowed, the regional wing of the World Health Organization said.
There were 1.2 million new cases and 34,000 deaths in the region over the past week said Carissa Etienne, head of the Pan American Health Organization, during their weekly briefing.
She said infections are at the highest point since the pandemic began and more needed to be done to deliver vaccines, praising donations from the US, Spain and Canada.
“We hope other countries, particularly those with excess doses, and global financial institutions will follow in their footsteps to provide the support we need,” Etienne said. “Vaccine donations are essential in the short-term.”
PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies, Ciro Ugarte, also said countries suffering from uncontrolled outbreaks should consider postponing mass events.
The Copa America football tournament starts in Brazil on Sunday, despite being an epicentre for coronavirus cases with around 17 million cases and 474,000 deaths, according to the WHO.
The tournament was originally planned for Colombia and Argentina but was relocated because of political unrest and Argentina’s own coronavirus outbreak.
World Trade Organization members have agreed to negotiate ways to boost global supplies of Covid-19 vaccines but are still at odds of waiving patents to speed production, Reuters reports.
South Africa and India have been arguing since last year that a temporary waiver would enable much faster production by tapping into unused manufacturing capacity around the world but the EU have argued against their proposal.
Backed by the UK, Switzerland and South Korea, the EU are instead producing their own plan and negotiations will begin on June 17, a Geneva trade official said.
Opponents, many of them home to major pharmaceutical companies, have argued that WTO rules already allow countries to give manufacturers licensing outside of patents but the South Africa and India have argued the nature of the pandemic requires a comprehensive strategy.
Campaign group Global Justice Now said governments must now reach clear the “artificial barriers” to vaccine access.
“After eight months of stalling and delaying by a handful of rich countries, world leaders have finally given the green light for negotiations to start. But the UK and EU are still opposing the proposal and pushing for business-as-usual,” said Heidi Chow, Global Justice Now’s Senior Policy and Campaigns Manager.
“The global intellectual property system is not fit for purpose. Countless numbers of people have needlessly died while waiting for a breakthrough in these discussions.”
Health experts in Haiti have said that low official pandemic figures are hiding a large increase in cases on the impoverished Caribbean island in recent weeks.
Just 2,271 cases and 62 deaths have been recorded over the past month, according to government data collected by Johns Hopkins University. A total of 15,700 cases and more than 330 deaths have been reported since early last year.
The lack of cases early this year had led authorities to reduce the number of beds available for Covid patients to about 200 — more than half of those at the nonprofit St. Luke Foundation for Haiti in the capital of Port-au-Prince, according to the Associated Press. But by early this month, that clinic was at capacity and announced it was turning away patients.
Haiti’s Health Ministry had planned to have another 150 beds elsewhere for COVID-19 patients, but that effort was delayed.
“Many people are dying on arrival in ambulances,” the foundation said. “We have received many nuns as patients, a sure sign (COVID-19) is in the poorest areas.”
Marc Edson Augustin, medical director of the St. Luke hospital, told AP that he was especially worried about deaths he has seen among those aged 17 to 22. Groups of up to seven people are showing up at the same time seeking treatment for Covid, he said.
“The situation is real, and we want to tell people that the situation is getting worse,” he said. “We’re working to keep people alive as much as possible.”
Lisbon lockdown easing delayed
In Portugal, the post-lockdown reopening of Lisbon and three other municipalities is being slowed after an increase in coronavirus infections, according to the French news agency AFP.
Along with the capital, Braga and Vale de Cambra in the north and Odemira in the south will remain under current lockdown measures in place until at least 27 June.
“The situation of these municipalities does not allow us to continue deconfinement,” said government spokeswoman Mariana Vieira da Silva after ministers met and made the decisions, stressing that the number of Covid-19 cases had increased in Lisbon, especially among younger people.
In the affected areas working from home will remain obligatory where possible whereas in the rest of the country it will only be recommended after 14 June, the date of the next phase of lockdown.
Also in Lisbon and the other higher infection areas, restaurants will have to close at 10:30 pm, while in the rest of the country they will be able to stay open until 1 am.
Portugal introduced strict lockdown measures from mid-January to mid-March after a new wave of coronavirus infections. Measures have been gradually eased since then, however bars and nightclubs will remain closed until late August.
On Wednesday, a total of 890 new coronavirus infections were registered – the biggest daily figure since 15 March. No new Covid-linked deaths were reported.
Scientists are concerned that measures to combat Covid-19 have weakened the immune systems of young children who have not been able to build up resistance to common bugs, leaving them vulnerable when mask-wearing and social distancing eventually end, writes Guardian science reporter Natalie Grover.
Contact with viral pathogens happens on a fairly regular basis and although it does not always lead to sickness, the exposure helps shore the immune system against the threat should the bugs be encountered again.
Over the past 14 months or so, protracted restrictions on mixing and travel, alongside mask-wearing and social distancing, have not only reduced the risk of Covid but other respiratory bugs such as the flu – cases of which were basically nonexistent last winter, according to surveillance data largely encompassing England compiled by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).
However, virologists are concerned about RSV, a virus that can cause serious lung infections requiring hospital admission, and sometimes even death, in children under the age of one – and for which there are no approved vaccines.
Drug dealers in Europe have responded to the Covid pandemic by moving from the streets and on to social media, taking orders through encrypted messaging apps and delivering drugs directly to customers’ doors, Europe’s drugs agency said in its latest report.
“The pandemic is pushing drug criminals online, reinforcing a trend,” said Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for home affairs, at the online launch of the 2021 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
In a news release accompanying the report, Johansson added:
I am particularly concerned by the highly pure and potent substances available on our streets and online and by the 46 new drugs detected in the EU in 2020 alone.
The pandemic has forced changes to every level of the drugs trade, from wholesale traffickers and smugglers to neighbourhood dealers, according to Reuters. With international travel disrupted and borders shut, smugglers have been relying more on shipping containers and less on human couriers, the report said. But the trade proved resilient, with data showing no decline in the amount of cocaine available, while more people were growing cannabis at home.
The report said:
Although street-based retail drug markets were disrupted during the early lockdowns, and some localised shortages reported, drug sellers and buyers adapted by increasing their use of encrypted messaging services, social media apps, online sources and mail and home delivery services.
Alexis Goosdeel, EMCDDA’s director, said there would be new risks from what the report called “the further digitalisation of drug markets”. The shift to online transactions made it easier for drug dealers to recruit young people, and to make the push out of big cities into rural areas.
In a statement, Goodeel said:
We are witnessing a dynamic and adaptive drug market, resilient to Covid-19 restrictions. We are also seeing patterns of drug use that are increasingly complex, as consumers are exposed to a wider range of highly potent natural and synthetic substances. We need urgently to recognise that, not only is a wider variety of people now personally experiencing drug problems, but these problems are impacting on our communities in a wider variety of ways. This is why I believe it is crucial, across the areas of social, health and security policy, to develop the evidence-based and integrated responses envisioned by the new EU drugs strategy’.