The Iraqi Oil Minister, Thamer al-Ghadhban, has asked OPEC’s head, Mohammed Barkindo to call an extraordinary meeting of OPEC+ to “discuss all possible ways” to reverse the oil price slide that began after Saudi Arabia announced it was going to start raising production and cutting prices. In a letter seen by Reuters, al-Ghadhban told Barkindo an extraordinary meeting could help “to avoid adverse impacts on (the) short, medium and long term.”
Iraq is among the oil-producing countries most dependent on their oil revenues, so it is natural for al-Ghadhban to be the first to voice concern after Brent slipped closer to $30 yesterday. The OPEC basket of crude grades is also trading at a little over $30.
Oil prices, already depressed by the slump in oil demand caused by the coronavirus outbreak, fell sharply after earlier this month Saudi Arabia announced it would be raising its production from below 10 million bpd to over 12 million bpd. The Kingdom’s announcement came in response to Russia’s decision to not take part in a deeper round of production cuts proposed by OPEC, aimed at stymieing the oil price slide.
This is the same tactic that Saudi Arabia used in 2014 to stifle the growth of the U.S. shale oil industry. Then, the attempt failed when prices tanked so low that Saudi Arabia too began to feel the pain. Things have not changed since then. The Kingdom is still one of the lowest-cost producers of oil in the world but to balance its budget, it needs Brent at more than $80 a barrel. If it doesn’t balance its budget, there will be no money for all the ambitious economic reform projects Riyadh was planning in a bid to reduce its dependence on oil.
Russia, meanwhile, will also be pumping more. Energy Minister Alexander Novak said at the Vienna meeting in early March that Russian producers could add between 300,000 bpd and 500,000 bpd to daily production starting next month, adding to an already sizeable global supply glut.
Two of Canada’s closest allies have laid out plans to distribute new vaccines against the deadly novel coronavirus, with the first shots expected to be delivered in December.
Canada, meanwhile, has been largely silent on how promising vaccine candidates will be distributed here after Health Canada regulators give them the green light — providing few, if any, details beyond a promise to work with the provinces and territories and buy cold storage.
The federal government has procured some 358 million doses from seven companies — an insurance policy against the possibility that some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective in clinical trials. Little is known about how and when the vaccines will be made available, however.
“Our government has worked hard to secure tens of millions of doses, so we’re prepared once a safe, effective vaccine is ready for Canadians,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today, adding that it’s “premature” to say when communities will have access to the vaccines.
Trudeau said Canada — unlike the U.S., the United Kingdom and Germany — doesn’t have any domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity, which means it could be a while yet before Canadians get a dose. “We’re looking forward to being able to vaccinate Canadians in the coming months,” he said.
WATCH: Trudeau says lack of Canadian manufacturing capacity to blame for vaccine challenges
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters outside his home in Ottawa on Tuesday 1:59
Dr. Moncef Slaoui is the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed — the U.S. mission to develop a vaccine, manufacture it in large quantities and push it out into communities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to meet on Dec. 10 to make a final decision on Pfizer’s highly-effective vaccine and Slaoui said inoculations will begin immediately.
“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours from the approval,” Slaoui said in an interview with CNN.
“I would expect maybe on day two after approval, on Dec. 11 or Dec 12, hopefully, the first people will be immunized across the U.S., across all states, in all areas where the state departments of health have told us to deliver the vaccine.”
20 million Americans to be vaccinated in December
Slaoui said as many as 20 million Americans will be vaccinated in December, and 30 million more Americans will be vaccinated in every subsequent month.
Since October, Pfizer has been manufacturing hundreds of thousands of doses each week — even though it hasn’t yet received regulatory approval. The company hopes to make 100 million doses available this year and another 1.3 billion in 2021. Each patient will need two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.
The National Health Service (NHS) in England has designated 1,250 local health clinics as vaccine sites where, starting as early as Dec. 1, staff will be on hand to administer the vaccine over 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Each clinic site is expected to inoculate at least 975 people per week.
The NHS already has started booking vaccine appointments, designating blocks to priority groups. Vaccinations in the U.K. will start with older adult residents in long-term care homes and care home workers, all those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers, before being offered to those aged 75 years or younger.
“I have tasked the NHS with being ready from any date from Dec. 1. The logistics are complex, the uncertainties are real and the scale of the job is vast, but I know that the NHS, brilliantly assisted by the armed services, will be up to the task,” Matt Hancock, the U.K.’s health secretary, told Parliament last week.
In May, the U.S. tapped a retired four-star army general, Gen. Gustave Perna, to coordinate the distribution efforts — a massive task that will see millions of doses of the vaccine deployed to every state starting next month, through a partnership with U.S. drug distribution giant McKesson.
Perna is a former commanding general for the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which manages the Army’s global supply chain, making him uniquely qualified to run such a complicated distribution network.
“The country’s existing public health infrastructure is well tested — we see evidence every fall when Americans receive the flu vaccine in large numbers. But these are not normal times,” Perna said in a media statement. “Leveraging our military planning and logistics capability and combining that with proven methods will allow existing systems to scale quickly to get the vaccine to the American people.”
The military and McKesson will distribute vaccines along with ancillary kits with all the required supplies to administer them, such as needles, syringes, alcohol pads and limited personal protective equipment.
Pfizer has an assembly centre in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the drug manufacturer plans to use private shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx to deliver vaccines to hospitals and vaccination sites within hours.
Watch: Bains and Anand explain how Ottawa is developing Canadian vaccine production.:
Federal Industry Minister Navdeep Bains and Procurement Minister Anita Anand spoke with reporters on Tuesday. 1:48
While Operation Warp Speed will deliver vaccine shipments, it will be up to the states, territories and major metropolitan areas to further define where the doses ultimately go. All 50 states have submitted COVID-19 distribution plans to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC has flowed more than $300 million to the states to fine-tune the deployment process and, last month, the agency publicly released a 75-page playbook detailing everything from vaccine provider recruitment and enrolment guidelines, vaccine storage and handling tips to information on which groups should be first in line for a shot.
Spahn said he has asked Germany’s federal states to have their vaccination centres ready by mid-December. “I’d rather have a ready-to-go immunization centre that remains inactive for several days than a licensed vaccine that cannot be administered,” the minister said, adding that vulnerable persons, such as the elderly, would be treated first.
Canadian officials working ‘around the clock’: health minister
The Canadian federal government, by comparison, has said little publicly about what it has planned for vaccine distribution.
The scientists at the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recently issued preliminary guidance on who should get priority for a vaccine.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced last week the government has plans to purchase more than 100 new freezers to help store incoming COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer but also Moderna.
When asked Tuesday why Canada seems to be further behind in the race to distribute vaccines, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the whole process is complicated and Health Canada hasn’t yet approved a vaccine candidate.
“I can’t speak to allied countries’ regulatory processes. I can just speak to mine,” she said.
Hajdu said the health department is “working hand in glove” with procurement officials to distribute a vaccine, once Canada gets one.
“All of our departments are working right now, around the clock actually, on making sure we have a concrete plan with the provinces and territories, that we are ready to deploy the vaccines as soon as they arrive on Canadian soil,” she said.
The Ontario government has started to deploy rapid COVID-19 tests to hospitals, long-term care homes and regions of high-transmission as the province continues to combat a second wave of the novel coronavirus.
Premier Doug Ford along with his health minister and minister of long-term care made the announcement in Toronto Tuesday afternoon.
So far, the government has received roughly 98,000 ID NOW rapid tests and 1.2 million Panbio rapid antigen tests with another 1.5 million more Panbio tests expected by the end of November.
“The new rapid tests are game changers,” Ford said during an announcement at Humber River Hospital in Toronto on Tuesday. “These new tests can turnaround test results in minutes instead of days.”
Ford said both tests can provide results in under twenty minutes.
The ID NOW test detects the novel coronavirus using a nasal, nasopharyngeal or throat swab, while the Panbio test uses a nasopharyngeal swab only.
“I want to thank Health Canada for getting these in and then once it gets in, put them in the distribution center and we allocate it to the most vulnerable areas throughout Ontario, no matter if it’s northern rural areas, or the long-term care homes,” Ford said.
“We got the logistics down pat, they’re out there as we speak right now people are using them as we speak right now and the more that come in the more we’re going to get throughout the system,” he added.
The ID NOW tests are initially being used in hospitals and assessment centres in rural and remote communities, and to test people as part of early outbreak investigations in hot spot regions.
Two hospitals, Ottawa Hospital and Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in Orillia, Ont., are also using ID NOW tests, with 20 more hospitals preparing to launch rapid testing, according to the government.
“We have moved these tests out as quickly as possible, making sure that we do the necessary examination of the ones that have been received making sure that they’re ready to go, then making sure that we have the right allocations going to the right places,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said at the press conference.
Ford commented on the significance of these rapid tests in the health-care system as infections are on the rise across the province, particularly in the hot spots of Toronto and Peel Region, which both entered the “lockdown” zone of the government’s COVID-19 response framework on Monday.
“Over the next few weeks dozens of our long-term care homes will use these tests to test staff and visitors to keep our long-term care residents safe while ensuring essential caregivers can continue to visit and worry less about endangering their loved ones,” Ford said.
ID NOW tests are currently being distributed in Simcoe Muskoka, Southewestern Ontario and Eastern Ontario. The government says the program will be expanded to other areas of the province next month.
Plans are in the works to roll out the rapid tests to Toronto and Peel and the government said it’s collaborating with Ontario Health and local public health units to eventually deploy the tests across the province. The government did not say how long it will take for the rapid tests to be deployed across the whole province.
Meanwhile, the Panbio rapid tests will support a screening program for long-term care homes and other workplaces.
The government says the Panbio tests have already been deployed to six long-term care operators for potential roll out to more than 30 long-term care homes, 27 retirement homes, eight hospitals and 11 industry partners, including Ontario Power Generation, Air Canada and Magna.
The Panbio rapid tests will also be used in an eight-week pilot for participating employers in the private, public and non-profit sectors.
“This pilot program is an important opportunity to learn about the value of antigen screening for asymptomatic workers in a range of workplace settings, and will inform future decisions about safely and fully reopening the economy,” Elliott said.
The deployment of rapid tests comes as the province reported 1,009 new COVID-19 tests on Tuesday. But the Ministry of Health says the new infections reported today are an underestimate and the 1,589 cases reported on Monday are an overestimate due to technical issues with data collection.
When averaging out new infections reported over the last two days, Ontario saw 1,299 cases on both Monday and Tuesday. The rolling seven-day average of new cases is now 1,395, down from 1,421 a week ago.
The government did not say if it has plans to roll out rapid tests to schools across the province even though cases continue to climb in school and child care settings.
On Tuesday, public health officials reported 270 new cases of the virus in Ontario schools. However, a spokesperson for the minister of education said the latest data is “a reflection of over three days of data and includes any cases identified in schools on Friday from 2 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and Monday until 2 p.m.” It also includes cases from some boards that did not report to the ministry on Friday due to a P.D. day.
On Monday, more than 37,400 tests were completed by provincial health officials, with an average of 32,285 tests processed on both Monday and Tuesday, well below the province’s goal of 50,000 tests per day.
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