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Biden focused G-7 Summit disappoints

By Asad Mirza

The 3Cs: Covid, China and Climate Change dominated the 47th annual G-7 Summit in Cornwall, UK. But overall the leaders were not able to present a united stand on any major issue.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted the summit to showcase his brand of ‘Global Britain’, after Brexit. But there were terse exchanges between the French, EU and British leaders and officials on the issue. In effect, the summit turned out to be more Biden focused and expectations were raised high on some real agreement taking place on the 3C’s before the summit, though that was not the result ultimately.

Broadly, Biden sought to set a new tone after the unrestrained Trump years. Most G-7 leaders seemed relieved to have a return to a more predictable and traditional US administration. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed Biden back to the “club.” But the final Communique showed that even Biden’s expectations to ensure a consensus on many of his promises fell short.

On the issue of Covid-19, the leaders of the seven most affluent western nations seemed united, but there was a difference of opinion on the way forward. Earlier, they had shown commitment to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses over the next year to poorer countries. But in reality the bloc fell short of its own goal — 613 million new doses pledged, instead of a billion.

Even so, the vaccine effort gave Biden some help with his China push. Biden has criticised China for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy, where the shots are being doled out for geopolitical advantage. Biden called on democracies to counter China and Russia by donating vaccines equally and based on need, without seeking favours in return.

On the second day of the summit, US unveiled plans to counter China through infrastructure funding for poorer nations. Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.

G-7s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project was aimed directly at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) initiative.

However, several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed back over worries about turning the G-7 into an anti-China group, suggesting any infrastructure programme should be framed as a more positive, pro-environment effort.

French President Emmanuel Macron also pushed back publicly, saying that the “G-7 is not a group that is hostile to China.” Macron was one leader who sought the middle ground.

China hit back at these statements dismissively saying that the days when “global decisions” were dictated by a “small group of countries are long gone”.

The final version of the communique skirted B3W, instead creating a task force to study how to spur infrastructure development abroad. It made no mention of BRI, though Biden renewed his call at a press conference, and said that, “I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better.”

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that due to surging Covid cases in India, he’d not travel to the UK, he addressed the summit virtually. He conveyed India’s commitment to “collective” solution to global health challenges, and called for “one earth, one health” approach, which aims for unity and solidarity among the states of the world to deal with the pandemic. He also emphasised the need to keep raw materials for vaccines easily accessible.

The summit’s Communique, which was issued several hours after the end of the summit, promises many things but falls short of what was expected to be achieved before the summit.

(The Op-Ed appeared in IANS)

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India Latest News

Wuhan lab video of live bats in cages fuels Covid virus leak debate

New footage from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China has revealed that live bats were kept in cages despite the WHO’s claims that such a possibility was a “conspiracy”, reigniting a debate on the origins of the coronavirus.

The infamous lab is at the center of a theory that Covid-19 wasn’t, as many scientists believe, transmitted from bats to people via an unknown intermediary, but was instead leaked, intentionally or not, from the institute.

A joint investigation by the World Health Organization (WHO) and China into the origins of the disease had called the chance of a laboratory leak “extremely unlikely” and the idea that bats were held at the institute “an error”, the NZ Herald reported.

“No BATS were sent to Wuhan lab for genetic analysis of viruses collected in the field. That’s not how this science works. We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. We RELEASE bats where we catch them,” a member of the WHO team, zoologist Dr Peter Daszak, wrote in a December tweet.

“This is a widely circulated conspiracy theory. This piece describes work I’m the lead on and labs I’ve collaborated with for 15 years,” he wrote in another. “They DO NOT have live or dead bats in them. There is no evidence anywhere that this happened. It’s an error I hope will be corrected.”

Earlier this month, Daszak appeared to walk back his earlier denials, writing on Twitter that the WHO team had not asked the institute if they housed bats.

While the lab leak theory has recently gained traction – despite no new scientific evidence – the prospect that Covid-19 jumped from bats into humans via an intermediate animal, a process known as “zoonosis”, still remains the more likely scenario, experts have said.

On Tuesday, the Chinese scientist at the center of theories that the coronavirus pandemic originated with a leak from her specialized lab in the city of Wuhan has denied her institution was to blame for the health disaster.

“How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?” Dr Shi Zhengli told the New York Times in rare comments to the media. “I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,” she told the US daily.

The leak hypothesis had been floated earlier during the global outbreak, including by US President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, but was widely dismissed as a conspiracy theory.

But it has gained increasing traction recently, fueled by reports that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in 2019 after visiting a bat cave in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

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Latest News USA

Get re-vaccinated students from India told

Since March, over 400 US colleges and universities have announced students get Covid-19 vaccinations, ahead of the Autumn semester but those who have been inoculated with India’s indigenous Covaxin or the Russian-made Sputnik V are being asked to re-vaccinate as these vaccines have not yet been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Rukmini Callimachi reports in the The New York Times that Milloni Doshi, a 25-year-old student from India, who is due to start her master’s degree this fall at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, has been administered two doses of Covaxin. Now, Columbia has told her that she will need to be revaccinated with a different vaccine once she arrives on campus.

“I am just concerned about taking two different vaccines. They said the application process would be the toughest part of the cycle, but it’s really been all of this that has been uncertain and anxiety-inducing,” Doshi wrote via a messaging app.
Campuses are proposing different measures, out of which the more complicated scenario is if students received a vaccine that has not been approved by the WHO, like Sputnik or Covaxin. Many colleges are proposing that those students will need to be revaccinated, which presents both medical and logistical conundrums. (ANI)


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India Latest News

WHO: Vaccination only way to curb dangerous Delta variant spread

A top World Health Organization official estimated Monday that Covid-19 vaccination coverage of at least 80% is needed to significantly lower the risk that imported coronavirus cases like those linked to new variants could spawn a cluster or a wider outbreak.

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, told a news conference that ultimately, high levels of vaccination coverage are the way out of this pandemic.

Many rich countries have been moving to vaccinate teenagers and children who have lower risk of more dangerous cases of Covid-19 than the elderly or people with comorbidities even as those same countries face pressure to share vaccines with poorer ones that lack them.

Britain, which has vastly reduced case counts thanks to an aggressive vaccination campaign, has seen a recent uptick in cases attributed largely to the so-called delta variant that originally appeared in India.

Ryan acknowledged that data wasn’t fully clear about the what percentage of vaccination coverage was necessary to fully have an impact on transmission.

But … its certainly north of 80% coverage to be in a position where you could be significantly affecting the risk of an imported case potentially generating secondary cases or causing a cluster or an outbreak, he said.

So it does require quite high levels of vaccination, particularly in the context of more transmissible variants, to be on the safe side, Ryan added.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHOs technical lead on Covid-19, noted the delta variant is spreading in more than 60 countries, and is more transmissible than the alpha variant, which first emerged in Britain.

She cited worrying trends of increased transmissibility, increased social mixing, relaxing of public health and social measures, and uneven and inequitable vaccine distribution around the world.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, meanwhile, called on leaders of the developed Group of Seven countries to help the UN-backed vaccination program against Covid-19 to boost access to doses in the developing world.

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coronavirus India Latest News

Time has come for global pandemic treaty: WHO Chief

The head of the World Health Organization has called for launching negotiations on an international treaty on pandemic preparedness and response to better ready the world for the next disease outbreak.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysesus said Monday during the final day of the World Health Assembly in Geneva. “The safety of the world’s people cannot rely solely on the goodwill of governments.”

“At present, pathogens have greater power than [the] WHO. They are emerging more frequently on a planet out of balance. They exploit our interconnectedness and expose our inequities and divisions,” he added. “We need a generational commitment that outlives budgetary cycles, election cycles and media cycles, that creates an overarching framework for connecting the political, financial and technical mechanisms needed for strengthening global health security.”

The theme of the weeklong World Health Assembly was “Ending this pandemic, preventing the next one.” Earlier in the day, health ministers from the WHO’s 194 member states agreed to study recommendations for sweeping reforms pitched by an independent panel of experts, who found various loopholes and crucial failures in the global response to COVID-19 in early 2020. The ministers will meet again on Nov. 29 to decide whether to begin negotiations on the pandemic treaty.

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International Latest News

WHO approves Sinovac for emergency use

Geneva: The World Health Organization approved the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use — the second Chinese jab to receive the WHO’s green light.

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization reviewed the jab and published their advice on its usage.

“WHO recommends the vaccine for use in adults 18 years and older, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of two to four weeks,” the agency said.

The move gives countries, funders, procuring agencies and communities “assurance that it meets international standards for safety, efficacy, and manufacturing”.

Last month Sinopharm became the first Chinese vaccine to be approved by the WHO.

WHO’s listing paves the way for countries worldwide to quickly approve and import a vaccine for distribution, especially those states without an international-standard regulator of their own.

The Sinovac jab is already in use in 22 territories around the world, according to an AFP count.

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e-paper-stories Latest News

Biden order to intel brings focus back on Wuhan lab theory

WashingtonPresident Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a ramped-up effort to determine the origins of COVID-19, reflecting a new acceptance in U.S. political and public health circles that the virus might have emerged naturally or from a Chinese lab in the city of Wuhan.

Biden asked the U.S. intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” to come to a definitive conclusion on the disease’s origins, calling on them to report back to him within 90 days.

“As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China,” Biden said in a statement. “I have also asked that this effort include work by our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts. And I have asked the Intelligence Community to keep Congress fully apprised of its work.”

“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” Biden added.

Top intelligence officials including Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines acknowledged at a hearing in April that a laboratory accident was a plausible scenario that the intelligence community was investigating.

Biden’s statement followed calls from other administration officials for a more thorough, independent investigation of the origins of the virus amid new questions about the possibility that the virus may have come out of a lab in Wuhan. While the White House has previously called for WHO to spearhead further investigation, Biden’s statement focused on U.S. efforts to investigate the origins of the virus.

While the lab leak theory was initially dismissed as unlikely, it’s received new traction as some scientists have expressed openness to the theory.

Scientists haven’t discovered definitive proof the virus leaked from a lab. But they also have not found hard evidence that shows the virus started in animals before naturally infecting humans, which is why some argue an investigation is needed.

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became so ill that they sought hospital care in November 2019, fueling questions about whether the pandemic may indeed have started in a lab leak incident.

A WHO-led report issued earlier this year, which was prepared in conjunction with Chinese scientists, found that the coronavirus most likely jumped from animals to humans while labeling the lab leak theory “extremely unlikely.” At the time, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus indicated the need for further investigation and said all theories remained on the table.

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International Latest News

India-dominant variant found in at least 53 territories: WHO

Geneva: The India-dominant coronavirus variant has now been officially recorded in 53 territories, a World Health Organization report showed on May 26.

Additionally, the WHO has received information from unofficial sources that the B.1.617 variant has been found in seven other territories, figures in the UN health agency’s weekly epidemiological update showed, taking the total to 60.

The report said B.1.617 had shown increased transmissibility, while disease severity and risk of infection were under investigation.

Globally over the past week, the number of new cases and deaths continued to decrease, with around 4.1 million new cases and 84,000 new deaths reported — a 14 percent and two percent decrease respectively compared to the previous week.

The highest numbers of new cases in the past seven days were reported from India (1,846,055 — down 23 percent); Brazil (451,424 — up three percent); Argentina (213,046 — up 41 percent), the United States (188,410 — down 20 percent), and Colombia (107,590 — down seven percent).

The update gave information on the four mutations classed as variants of concern: those first reported in Britain (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1) and India (B.1.617).

The WHO split up figures for the B.1.617 variant into three lineages (B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, and B.1.617.3).

The first has been reported in a total of 41 territories, the second in 54 and the third in six: Britain, Canada, Germany, India, Russia and the United States.

Together, lineages of the B.1.617 variant were officially recorded in 53 territories and unofficially in another seven.

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India Latest News

Delay in vaccine export by India to deal blow to poorer nations

New Delhi: Covid-19 vaccination programmes across Africa and much of the developing world will suffer big delays after India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, said that it would not be exporting the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine until the end of the year, The Guardian reported.

The decision is likely to leave the Covax global vaccine-sharing facility, which helps poor countries, facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of doses, the report said.

“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritise India … We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year,” Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII), said.

SII had paused deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, diverting for domestic use doses that were to be distributed across the developing world. It had been widely hoped that supplies of the AstraZeneca shot, which is suitable for use in countries with weak infrastructure and many poorer countries, would begin again in June or October, the report said.

However, India is battling a wave of infections that has killed more than 283,000 people, according to official figures that many experts believe are substantial underestimates, the report said.

Bangladesh said it urgently needed 1.6 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine to provide second doses.

Nepal, which started its vaccination drive in January with 2.35 million AstraZeneca doses provided by India and Covax, also said it had no stocks and more than 1.55 million people were awaiting second doses.

US President Joe Biden said that the US would export at least 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca doses he had already planned to give to other countries.

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