India and South Africa, last October, rightly sensed the future tragedy around Covid-19 vaccine supply and availability, thereby making a proposal at WTO to waive off vaccine patency. This would help more balanced distribution and availability of Covid vaccine in poorer and developing nations. Encouragingly over 100 countries supported the proposal, but the ‘club’ of wealthier nations rejected it outright. These nations included EU, Canada, UK, Australia, and also US, until now.
Recent change in US’s position around supporting Intellectual Property (IP) around Covid-19 vaccines is a big victory for vaccine campaigners. Biden administration’s recent support for waiving off vaccine patents at World Trade Organization (WTO) will mean a step towards equitable vaccine availability. But this doesn’t necessarily mean a direct positive impact on curbing off the global health crisis.
United States under President Joe Biden has openly supported push at WTO for waiving off Covid-19 vaccine patents. But this is not extended to technology and treatments around the coronavirus infection. If the next step of adopting the proposal is done by WTO, it would mean that companies developing vaccines against Covid-19 would be able to do so without any fear of raising objections or being sued by another entity that already has product’s patent.
While this ‘historic’ decision is being lauded by vaccine campaigners, it won’t be able to address global vaccine shortage on its own. One of the main reason is that WTO’s adoption of this proposal depends on a consensus. With major economies Canada, EU and UK still supporting holding on to vaccine patents, it might be a bumpy ride ahead. Second key reason is that although WTO can waive off vaccine patent, it has no regulation on scaling up vaccine production. As we have seen through the span of this pandemic, vaccine production is a complex process and just having the ‘right recipe’ isn’t going to solve the hurdles faced even by big pharma giants in massive vaccine production. This power however is possessed by governments. US, for instance, can push American pharma giants to share vaccine tech and production details with other firms to scale production.
Pharmaceutical companies are against waving off the vaccine patents, not to much surprise. Reason is obvious, the massive chunk of profits that is ensured through this whole process of vaccine production under its own patent and label. But industry experts say that opposing the proposal is more about practicality. “Waiving patents of Covid-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis,” the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations said in a statement. Companies argue that key details into vaccine have already been shared with partners which is enough to vaccinate the global population. The deep lying problem is wealthy nations hoarding Covid-19 vaccines, and only if they didn’t do it there would be a more equitable distribution of vaccines across nations, enough to end the global crisis.
New Zealand’s parliament, on Wednesday, accused the Chinese officials of severe human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
In somewhat a hurried response, the Chinese embassy decried the move as an interference in its domestic affairs.
China expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the passed motion. As per a statement released by its embassy in Wellington, the South Asian giant said: “Using Xinjiang to pressure China is futile and will undermine mutual trust between the two countries”.
The United States and Canada have termed China’s actions in Xinjiang as a genocide, but Australia’s parliament paused slightly ahead of a similar move this year.
The motion was moved forth by New Zealand’s smaller ACT Party and it was discussed and agreed upon by all parties. The initial text was revised to drop the word “genocide” from it.
ACT’s deputy leader Brooke van Velden said in the parliament that she had to put the phrase “severe human rights abuses” in to secure the approval of the ruling Labour Party that is led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“Our conscience, however, demands that if we believe there is a genocide going on, we should say so,” Van Velden added.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta backed the government’s decision to exempt the word “genocide” by saying that it had voiced its concerns to China many times but had not formally designated the situation as a genocide being carried out.
“This certainly is not due to a lack of concern on our part,” said Mahuta. “Genocide is the gravest of all international crimes and its formal legal determination could only be reached after a rigorous evaluation on the basis of international law.”
She said that New Zealand would keep up with its calls to China so that it provides meaningful and unfettered access to the United Nations and other observers to ascertain the situation.
As the Covid19 pandemic has redefined the way the world is going to function in the future, so has it found a way into the minds of the richer nations to negotiate favorable political deals, in return of life saving vaccine.
The less privileged nations are not producing their own vaccine. They are dependent on the fewer rich nations that have developed their own. This includes Russia, China, India, UAE, and US. Out of these, the ones that are arm twisting include Russia, China and Israel too.
It is strange that these nations can make that assertion even in the midst of the fact that there are some other western nations that are still holding on to their supplies in order their own population can be inoculated first.
Meanwhile, the US is the only country that has decided to share its supplies with India, which is seeing its worst second Covid-19 phase. Many nations that already have preexisting trade relations might find it easy to help each other, without any political gains over it.
Israel has been the smartest to have quickly and efficiently vaccinated its lot, without having developed a vaccine on its own. It had surplus to distribute but it decided to use it as a political clout strategy over smaller nations. It did not offer the doses to Palestine.
Europe on its part sent a letter of warning and later a court order stopping export of the Pfizer developed vaccine, until its own domestic demand for the 27 bloc of nations was really met. Similarly, US and Canada have withheld any export.
But China and Russia are shamelessly entering into ‘vaccine diplomacy’. So, it’s no more gas or oil that is ruling the roost but Covid-19 vaccine doses. The availability of doses is now being linked to policy concessions and favorable geopolitical reconfigurations. The trend started in the beginning of the year itself. The thought of using the vaccine of this purpose, might have been the larger strategy to develop affordable vaccine in the first place. It is worth noting that the Chinese candidate Sinopharm, Sinovac and the Russian Sputnik V provides less than 70percent coverage against the virus and its variants.
In February itself, Russia brokered the release of an Israeli citizen held in Syria in exchange for Israel financing Sputnik V vaccines to be sent to Syria. Russia has similarly supplied vaccines to Central and Eastern European countries, drawing them closer to its orbit.
China, while declaring its vaccines ‘good for global use’ has been sending them for free in over 100 countries. But it has also set preconditions to Paraguay over its position with Taiwan and also brokered a deal with Brazil to open its 5G market to Huawei in return for the vaccine. In some cases, it has been undercutting the Pfizer shipments to countries, through bribing the locals too.
India has come to the rescue of some less fortunate nations. But it has not demanded anything in return. It came to the rescue of Taiwan too, pushing back China from exploiting the small island that has been trying to establish its sovereignty. As of now Europe, UK or the US are not looking at leveraging any geopolitical advantage of the vaccine. Humanity seems to be ruling the roost here.
The European Union (EU) has blamed Russia for seeking confrontation after the latter sanctioned senior officials in Brussels and European Parliament’s president in a retaliatory move.
In a joint statement released by Ursula von der Leyen, David Sassoli, and Charles Michel, the heads of the European Commission, parliament, and the council said Moscow’s action had been “groundless”.
The three leaders said the 27-member-state bloc was ready to take further action against Russia in the recent phase of the steady deterioration of relations.
“We, in the strongest possible words, condemn today’s decision of the Russian authorities to sanction eight EU nationals from entering the Russian territory,” said the EU leaders in a statement.
“This decision is a striking demonstration of how the Russian Federation chooses to confront with the EU instead of redressing the negative course of our bilateral relations. The EU possesses the right to take appropriate measures to respond to the Russian authorities’ decision.”
“This action is not acceptable as it lacks legal justifications, and is entirely groundless. It targets the EU directly, not the individuals concerned alone”.
The EU’s response to the imprisonment of leader Alexei Navalny has been widely criticized for its lack of bite.
Russia, on Friday, blacklisted eight officials from EU countries, barring them from entering its premises in retaliation for sanctions on Russian citizens by the bloc.
Russia’s external affairs ministry named those included in the ban were Vera Jourova, the president of the European Parliament; vice-president for values and transparency European Commission David Sassoli and Jacques Maire who is the French delegation’s member at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.
“The EU keeps on pursuing its policy of unilateral, illegitimate restrictive measures against Russian organizations and citizens,” the ministry said in a statement.
It alleged the bloc of “deliberately” undermining Russia’s independent domestic and foreign policy.
US President Joe Biden said he was not seeking conflict with Russia or China as he put a renewed focus on his diplomatic in his first address to Congress.
His speech focused on the selling of major investments at home and said that democracy will now be shown at work in its true spirit. “We´re in a competition with countries, especially China, to win the 21st century,” Biden said. He warned: “Autocrats think democracies cannot compete.”
Biden said that in a two-hour first phone conversation, he told President Xi Jinping that we welcome the competition and that we are not seeking for conflict. “I made absolutely clear that we have to defend America´s interests over and across,” he said.
“America will always stand up to unjust trade practices that undermine American workers and industries, like help for state-owned enterprises and the stealing of American technologies and intellectual property,” he said.
“I spoke to President Xi that we will keep a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific region just as we do with Nato in Europe, to prevent a conflict instead of starting one,” Biden said to applause from a small audience that due to corona restrictions.
Biden warned that China´s very powerful leader had firm plans for the future.
India is witnessing horrific second wave of Covid-19 pandemic with harrowing scenes from country shocking the entire world. But the crisis in India is not just a regional problem but a global one. We all should be worried, for virus doesn’t respect geographic boundaries or races.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said, “The virus doesn’t respect borders, or nationalities, or age, or sex or religion. And what’s playing out in India now unfortunately has been played out in other countries.”
Ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has bared open various global vulnerabilities and how interconnected the world is. If a nation is going through a high infectious disease state, it is high probability that the disease would soon be spreading to other regions as well, and pretty soon. Even with strictest of travel restrictions during first wave of Covid-19, infections from one country traveled to others through even few travelers that acted as active vector.
But there is another tier to India’s problem of current surge. The rapidity with which variants are surfacing with unknown details and behavior around them, the concerns of future impact and efficacy of available vaccines are inevitable. The current variant in India is B.1.617, dubbed as “double mutant” due to two mutations on viral spike protein. Studies around the variant shows it to be slightly more transmissible than original strain and that the antibodies present in body to original strain may not be able to effectively block the new strain. Dr Jeff Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute says, “I don’t think there’s any evidence that it’s an escape mutation [which would mean] it fundamentally can’t be stopped by the vaccines.”
The basic thing about virus behavior that needs to be understood is condition around its mutation. More the number of active cases in a country, more are the chances of new variants to emerge. This is possible because virus gets more chance to mutate with every single infection. This is a real time problem with exceeding cases of new cases emerging every day across nations.
“The way to limit viral variants emerging in the first place is to prevent the virus replicating in us… so the best way to control variants is actually to control the global amount of disease that we have at the moment,” explains Prof Sharon Peacock, Director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium.
It is crucial that apart from wearing masks and practicing social distancing, getting Covid-19 vaccine is equally important. Unfortunately, India despite getting an overwhelming initial response during first phase of its vaccination drive, has less than 10% of population vaccinated with first dose and less than 2% fully vaccinated. This slow vaccination is despite India being home to biggest vaccine manufacturer in world, Serum Institute of India.
Tackling the COVID crisis globally and together is the only solution, and the first step towards that is following all guidelines and getting vaccinated against the virus.
The climate summit concluded on Friday. The meeting highlighted the super growth of giants, such as China and India, the Russian aims and the demands of Brazil. Numbers and contradictions that leaders will have to face. The United States has pledged to cut emissions by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels within this decade. And it is with this announcement that Biden welcomed the numerous heads of state invited to the summit organized to celebrate Earth Day. The first of these event, April 22, 1970, was celebrated by Richard Nixon by planting a tree on the White House lawn. Fifty years later, during which the world fell apart, it was necessary to organize something more incisive. Despite a brief pause due to lockdowns, emissions rose aggressively in 2021. The guests, present online, were over 40 and among them also Angela Merkel, Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, Prime Ministers of Australia, France, Italy, and of course Chinese President Xi Jinping.
An agreement on this issue that includes China would be a turning point because it could result in a commitment from the nations that have so far contributed most to climate change. The goal is ambitious: on the part of the US, it is a way to demonstrate a decisive break with Trump’s previous denial policy and to communicate a return to an issue that had been abandoned. From an international perspective, Biden, who has been focusing on climate since he took office, hopes to encourage other countries to do the same, ensuring that the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, which will take place in November, is not a failure but a turning point.
The summit was organized in five sessions. The first, of a general nature, was related to the need to confirm the limits of Paris at COP 26. The second was dedicated to the financial efforts needed to help countries in difficulty and the opportunity to move existing proven funds to finance the transition. The third, divided into two rounds, in the first dealt with the problem of adaptation to climate change already underway, in the second with the problems of energy, economic and social security. The fourth analysed the critical role of technology and private investment. The fifth sessionfocused on the economic benefits of action against climate change and the creation of new jobs.The event has been opened and closed by videos of suggestive images regarding the need to fight the climate crisis and to act immediately.
Among the interventions, XI Jinping made a speech very in tune with the style of the introductions, underlining the importance of harmony between man and nature and the need to protect the planet, “as we would protect our eyes”. Unlike the US, it is committed to achieving zero emissions only in 2060. But if the commitment of the two worst polluters were also followed by India and Russia, it would be a turning point.
Putin, however, has focused more on carbon sequestration projects. Macron argued that 2030 should become the new 2050. Sebastián Piñera, President of Chile, stressed that thanks to the sun in the Atacama Desert and the winds that blow in Patagonia, he can offer hydrogen production to the whole world green. Draghi, who was unable to illustrate any commitment, argued that Covid is an opportunity to create a green economy, probably referring to the Recovery plan, in which, however, so far there are no decisive changes of course, but rather financing for major works.
Interesting was also the speech by Lotay Tshering, prime minister of Bhutan, a state that has replaced the value of the gross domestic product with that of gross domestic happiness. They are also zero-emission. And that of Iván Duque Márquez, president of Colombia, who, boasting just 0.37 of global emissions, encouraged leaders to follow their example.In what seemed to be a climate of great cooperation, the partnership between private and public sectors was repeatedly recalled as the emergencycannot be solved by government initiatives only.
Among the powerful, XiyeBastida, an activist of Fridays for future of Mexican origins, who did not mince words: “we cannot continue to only have summits and discussions”, he said adding that “we must reach zero by 2030, not 2050 and use this possibility to change the world, not just reduce emissions.” Meanwhile, Greta Thunberg spoke in the US Chamber with even more decisive words. “You stated that we are not treating this crisis as a crisis and that there are no magic numbers about reducing emissions. The declarations are still too vague and far from real objectives”. The young activist stressed.
However, some results have already arrived, and they far exceed American efforts. England last week promised to cut emissions by 78 percent compared to 1990 by 2035, the European Parliament confirmed that Europe will become climate neutral by 2050, to reduce emissions by at least 55 percent, compared to 1990, by 2030.Going into reality, however, could prove complicated. Major lifestyle changes are to be expected. Coal must disappear entirely, while all means of transport must become electric.Many countries in the southern hemisphere have received the initiative with perplexity. They wonder if there will be the same commitment to helping those who are most suffering from the effects of global warming. It is no coincidence that Tuntiak Katan, the coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, reiterated the need for the recognition of land ownership rights of indigenous cultures.
United Nations Secretary Antonio Gutiérrez took the opportunity to reiterate that the planet is on red alert, “we are on the verge of an abyss, and thanked Biden for having emphasized the issue,” he warned. The proposal that comes out from the Summit is above all to relaunch the economy, entrusting hopes to technology, the only one capable of creating a market capable of driving the new vision with solid financial support. In 2020, investments in clean technologies have already reached the value of 500 billion dollars. Forty-five percent of the targets will come from new technologies that are still in development, said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo introducing Ana Borg CEO of Vattenfall, the company that produces energy in Sweden and built the first steel mill that does not use fossil fuels in the city of Lulea. The cost of inaction – Biden pointed out – is showing its effects. “We don’t have to wait any longer and the next decade will be decisive”. The US president explained. The transition, according to Joe Biden, is above all an opportunity to create new jobs, concluding with the vision of a new peace in the world: one that leads all countries to work for the same goal, a goal that serves all.
The ones that had been forerunners in the race for space exploration are now looking like they are not no more interested in running the race. Russia has decided to withdraw from the International Space Station mission to be completed in 2025.
Strangely, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov has stated at the Russian local television station that the ISS has outlived its lifespan, and that Russia plans to contact its partners in outer space cooperation in advance to “honestly inform (them) on withdrawing from the ISS in 2025.”
According to the Russian sources, the space station has outlived its span of 20 years and the number of malfunction incidents increasing could pose a threat to the lives of astronauts and have catastrophic impact on the space atmosphere as well. But the real story seems to be different.
Russia is now planning to build its own space station. The head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency Dmitry Rogozin has confirmed that Kremlin is planning to set up a space station by 2030, without any mismatch or conflict of interest in the US.
Mr. Rogozin has been quoting speaking on local television that, “The will is there to take a new step in world manned space exploration.” Russia has decided to withdraw over growing differences with the US. Since 1998, Russia had been working alongside the US and 16 other nations over the development of a space station. This mission has been one of the closest fields of cooperation between Moscow and Washington, whose relations are otherwise in crisis over human rights, cyberattacks and other issues. Russia is expected to invest $6billion into the launch of the new station. According to Rogozin, the Russian station, unlike the ISS, would most likely not be permanently crewed because its orbit path would expose it to higher radiation. But cosmonauts would visit, and it would also use artificial intelligence and robots. Further, Russia was ready to consider allowing foreign crews to visit, “but the station must be national … If you want to do well, do it yourself”
The toll of contagions and deaths related to coronavirus continues to increase across the globe. Cases worldwide exceed 142 million according to the latest figures of Worldometer, while confirmed deaths are over 3 million since the beginning of the pandemic. Countries like India and Brazil are now collapsing.
For the sixth consecutive day, the Ministry of Health of New Delhi registered a record of infections. There are 133,890 new cases of Covid-19 and 2,104 deaths in the last 24 hours. The total number of infections thus rises to 2291428, for a total of 184,657 deaths. After the US, India is currently the second most affected country by the pandemic.
In third place, there is Brazil. With 3,157 victims in the last 24 hours, the total number of deaths from diseases attributable to the contagion from Covid in the South American country reaches 381,687. As for the infections, according to the data provided by the health departments of the 27 states, the budget rose to at least 14,122,795 cases, 30,624 more than those recorded in the previous 24 hours.
The gruesome fact that should alarm everyone is that in Brazil not only the elderly are dying as is usually thought. According to Bloomberg, in March, 3,405 Brazilians aged 30 to 39 died from Covid, almost four times the number in January. Among those in their 40s, there were about 7,170 fatalities, up from 1,840, and for those 20-29, deaths jumped to 880 from 245. Those under 59 now account for more than a third of Covid deaths in Brazil, according to research firm Lagom Data. As the elderly get vaccinated, their deaths have fallen by half.
In the last few days, the Indian government has been forced to impose confinement in the capital New Delhi until next Monday to avoid the collapse of hospitals, where intensive care and oxygen places are scarce. In an attempt to put a stop to the second wave, the authorities announced that from 1 May the vaccination campaign will be extended to the entire adult population. Since last January in India, a country where 65% of the world production of vaccines occurs, 127 million doses have been administered against a population of 1.36 billion people.
But in the meantime, many hospitals and crematoriums in the country are already beyond the limit of their capacity. In a crematorium in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the ovens in recent weeks have worked for so long and without interruptions that the metal parts have begun to melt. In another crematorium in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the number of cremations has increased fivefold in the past few weeks. “We are working around the clock at 100% capacity to cremate the bodies on time,” told CNN Kamlesh Sailor, the president of the trust that operates the Gujarat crematorium in the city of Surat.
Meanwhile, there is controversy over the decision to suspend the Khumbu Mela, the holy festival that sees thousands of devotees’ flock to and immerse themselves in the Ganges. Security officials in the sacred city of Haridwar, where the pilgrimage takes place, have raised the alert: after the bath last week, more than 1,000 new contagions a day were diagnosed and at least three priests would die.
Disputes also for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in recent days has held a series of electoral demonstrations despite the violent wave of coronavirus cases that is hitting the country. He was not wearing a mask on Saturday at a rally in West Bengal. “I have never seen such a large crowd”, was his comment at the sight of the many participants. The premier added that he was certain that “India defeated Covid last year and can do it again”.
The same images arrive from Brazil. In the Latin American country, deaths continue to rise and cemeteries are continuously digging day and night to bury the dead. The soaring deaths in São Paulo forced the mayor of the richest and most populous city in the country to review funeral planning. Now, in addition to hiring more staff and employing more vehicles, night shifts have been added to four of the 22 municipal cemeteries, where 600 graves are excavated every day.
Across the country, there are about four thousand deaths a day and hospitals are full of serious patients, even young ones. There is a lack of sedatives in hospitals in Rio de Janeiro, where some health workers have reported having had to intubate Covid-19 patients while awake. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading like wildfire and South America risks becoming the global hotbed of new variants.
Washington and Beijing clash over a range of issues but agree that the world must be made carbon-free in order to protect the environment.
China, one of the major emitter in the world, plans to cut off all their carbon emissions by the year 2060.
The meeting between the two leaders comes at a time when spiked tensions can be felt between their countries on issues of alleged human rights abuses to China’s financial clout over other nations.
Last month, in Alaska, U.S. and Chinese officials held high-level in-person talks that were marked with bitterness thus yielded no diplomatic breakthroughs.
A few days back, the US climate envoy, John Kerry visited to Shanghai to meet with his Chinese counterpart where both agreed upon a concrete set of actions “in the 2020s” to curb emissions.
Global experts agree that no major solution on climate change is possible without both China and the U.S. onboard, since the top two economies account for about half of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions together.