Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Saturday that Canada will donate millions more COVID-19 vaccine doses to a global vaccine-sharing initiative as rich countries scramble to send more shots to the developing world to help curb stubbornly high case counts.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome, Freeland said Canada is boosting its existing commitment to COVAX, a vaccine distribution program co-ordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups, by some 73 million more shots to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are more readily available worldwide.
“We are standing up and doing our share — and that is absolutely the right thing to do,” Freeland said. “Canada’s commitment is very significant because of our size and given we don’t have domestic capacity.”
Saturday’s announcement is in addition to the 127 million doses previously promised by Canada to COVAX.
Of the 73 million committed on Saturday, Canada will immediately contribute 10 million doses of Moderna to the vaccine-sharing alliance — product previously allocated to Canada that will now be redistributed to other countries in need. Canada will then supply cash to COVAX so it can procure 63 million more doses by the end of 2022 — a total commitment of up to 200 million doses.
The timeline for when these 63 million doses would be purchased and delivered is unclear, but Freeland said Canada is committed to getting those shots into the arms of people who need them.
“This is a good-faith commitment; we are confident we can get them,” Freeland said when pressed for a delivery schedule.
Even with financial support from Western countries, COVAX has struggled to procure vaccines because so many of the factories producing the shots are fulfilling orders placed by rich countries that paid top dollar for their doses.
In the case of the Serum Institute of India, which produces a generic version of the AstraZeneca shot, the national government there has blocked exports to shore up local supply.
Dr. Zain Chagla is a professor of infectious diseases at McMaster University in Hamilton. He’s been following the global scramble to procure vaccines and its impact on developing countries.
“Obviously, more vaccines for the world is good, more vaccines back into COVAX is welcome. But the pressing global need is now — it’s not in 2022,” he said in an interview with CBC News.
“The reality is it’s 2021 and the next few months, with delta circulating, are going to be of much more consequence. There’s even more of a need for global doses today than there will be in a year.”
With Canada currently awash in shots, Chagla said the federal government should consider deferring any new deliveries, allowing companies to redistribute doses to other countries in need.
“There are going to be children five years old in Canada with both of their vaccines before health-care workers in some regions even have access to one. The inequity is showing up more and more,” he said, adding that leaving millions of people unvaccinated poses a risk for the world because a new vaccine-resistant variant could emerge.
The issue of vaccine equity is a top agenda item at this two-day gathering of the world’s largest economies.
The Italian summit, the first major in-person meeting since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, has also been convened to address climate issues and pandemic-fuelled economic troubles such as inflation and supply chain disruptions.
While wealthy countries have fared well in procuring effective, life-saving vaccines such as those offered by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, low- and middle-income countries have consistently struggled with access.
At the outset of the pandemic, COVAX was created to equitably distribute shots, but it has been hampered by supply constraints — rich countries have stockpiled vaccines — and delivery issues in countries on the African continent and elsewhere.
Vaccine gap ‘morally unacceptable’: Italian PM
Based on research compiled by former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who is leading a coalition of former world leaders advocating for the better distribution of shots, Canada, the United States, the European Union and Britain have a combined total of more than 240 million unused vaccines on hand.
At the same time, fewer than four per cent of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated.
In a letter to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi ahead of the G20 summit, Brown said this sort of lopsided vaccine access is “plaguing the planet.”
Draghi signalled on Saturday that he’s heard the calls for co-ordinated action out of the summit he’s hosting. An economist by training, the Italian leader said stalled vaccination rates are a human tragedy that leave the poorest more susceptible to a deadly disease, as well as being a drag on the economy.
“These differences are morally unacceptable and undermine the global recovery. We must do all we can to reach 70 per cent by mid-2022,” Draghi said at the opening ceremony, referring to a WHO goal to get everyone worldwide at least one shot by next year.
Freeland’s commitment isn’t the first time Canada has offered shots to those in need. Earlier this year, Canada promised 40 million doses to COVAX, including some of the product it agreed to buy from companies such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The government has also earmarked more than $500 million in cash to help COVAX buy 87 million doses and improve its delivery process.
However, according to government data, fewer than three million of the shots Canada has donated have actually made it into the arms of people in the world’s poorest countries.
Courts block two Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates
The Biden administration was blocked on Tuesday from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of American workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a key part of its strategy for controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges.
Doughty’s ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states where the CMS was already prevented from enforcing the rule due to a prior order from a federal judge in St. Louis.
Doughty said the CMS lacked the authority to issue a vaccine mandate that would require more than 2 million unvaccinated healthcare workers to get a coronavirus shot.
“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million healthcare workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.
Separately, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.
The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, one of at least 13 legal challenges nationwide against the regulation. It appears to be the first ruling against the contractor vaccine mandate.
The White House declined to comment.
The legal setbacks for President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy come as concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity across the globe.
Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.
Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations have sued to stop the regulations.
Tuesday’s rulings add to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.
The most sweeping regulation, a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.
In August, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the administration’s pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)
Putin hits back as NATO warns Moscow against attacking Ukraine
Russia would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine, NATO and the United States warned on Tuesday as the Western military alliance met to discuss Moscow’s possible motives for massing troops near the Ukrainian border.
President Vladimir Putin countered that Russia would be forced to act if U.S.-led NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that now aspires to join the European Union and NATO, has become the main flashpoint between Russia and the West as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended.
“There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Stoltenberg, saying: “Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States…, and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”
Tensions have been rising for weeks, with Russia, Ukraine and NATO all staging military exercises amid mutual recriminations over which side is the aggressor.
Putin went further than previously in spelling out Russia’s “red lines” on Ukraine, saying it would have to respond if NATO deployed advanced missile systems on its neighbour’s soil.
“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. Just imagine,” the Kremlin leader said.
“What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now,” he said, pointing to Russia’s recent testing of a hypersonic weapon he said could fly at nine times the speed of sound.
EU and other Western leaders are involved in a geopolitical tug-of-war with Russia for influence in Ukraine and two other ex-Soviet republics, Moldova and Georgia, through trade, cooperation and protection arrangements.
NATO foreign ministers began two days of talks in the Latvian capital Riga to debate what they say is the growing Russian threat, with Blinken due to brief his 29 alliance counterparts on Washington’s intelligence assessment.
Blinken, speaking at a news conference with his Latvian counterpart, said he will have more to say on Wednesday on how to respond to Russia after holding talks with NATO allies.
“We will be consulting closely with…allies and partners in the days ahead…about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defences, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity,” he said.
Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal accused Russia https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-pm-says-russia-absolutely-behind-coup-attempt-2021-11-30 of trying to topple the elected government in Kyiv, which the Kremlin denies, after Ukraine’s president last week unveiled what he said was a coup attempt.
Shmygal also said Ukraine would seek more weapons from the United States – precisely the course of action that Putin has warned against.
The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kyiv, and is still simmering.
In May, Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders numbered 100,000, the most since its Crimea takeover, Western officials say. Ukraine says there are more than 90,000 there now.
Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukrainian suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone and defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.
Britain and Germany echoed the NATO warnings.
“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken…Russia would have to pay a high price for any sort of aggression.”
(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Robin Emmott and Mark Trevelyan; editing by Mark Heinrich)
Jazz singer Josephine Baker first Black woman honoured at France’s Pantheon
Josephine Baker, the famed French American singer and dancer, was inducted on Tuesday into the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris – one of France’s highest honours – at a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Baker, who also served in the French Resistance during World War Two and was a prominent civic rights activist after the war, is the first Black woman and sixth woman to enter the Pantheon, a Paris landmark dominating the city’s Latin Quarter.
She was “a Black person who stood up for Black people, but foremost, she was a woman who defended humankind,” Macron said during a speech.
He spoke shortly after Baker’s most famous song, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”), was played at the ceremony.
Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906 but went on to find much of her fame after arriving in Paris in the 1920s, as many Black Americans stayed on in the French capital after World War One and brought over with them American jazz culture.
Baker, who became a French citizen in 1937, died in 1975 and is buried in Monaco.
In accordance with her family’s wishes, Baker’s remains have not been moved to the Pantheon. To represent her presence there, a symbolic coffin was carried into the mausoleum by six pallbearers containing handfuls of earth from four locations: St. Louis, Paris, Monaco and Milandes, in the Dordogne department of France, where Baker owned a castle.
Baker’s empty coffin will lie alongside other French national icons in the mausoleum such as authors Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, the philosopher Voltaire and politician Simone Veil.
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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