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New Zealand’s Ardern says lockdowns can end with high vaccine uptake

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90%-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict coronavirus lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.

With its biggest city Auckland still in lockdown and new cases being reported every day, Ardern said vaccinations will replace lockdowns as the main tool against the virus, allowing authorities to isolate only those who are infected.

“If that rate (of vaccinations) is high enough then we will be able to move away from lockdowns as a tool,” she said.

The highest possible vaccine rates will give the most freedoms, Ardern said, adding that the country should be aiming for a 90% plus rate of vaccination.

After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, some 40% of adult New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and about 75% have had at least one dose.

Authorities reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all in Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,123.

The Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield warned earlier this week that New Zealand may not get to zero COVID cases again.

 

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

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India celebrates 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses with song and dance

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 India celebrated the milestone of administering one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses on Thursday, with the government promoting the achievement in song and video even as a recent drop in inoculations worries healthcare providers.

After a slow beginning in the middle of January, India’s immunisation campaign has covered three-quarters of its 944 million adults with at least one dose but only 31% with two. The government wants all adults to get vaccinated this year.

“India scripts history,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter. “We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of (1.3 billion) Indians.”

Modi marked the occasion with a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi. The health ministry announced musical and other programmes across the country, and special illuminations of national monuments including a colonial-era jail.

Nearly 90% of the vaccines administered in India have come from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which produces a licensed version of the AstraZeneca drug. SII has more than tripled its capacity since April and can now produce 220 million vaccine doses a month.

SII has also slowly resumed exports for the first time since April, when the government stopped all overseas sales to meet domestic demand as infections rose dramatically.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which relies heavily on India for supplies to its global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX, congratulated the country for reaching the landmark.

“India’s progress must be viewed in the context of the country’s commendable commitment and efforts to ensure that these life-saving vaccines are accessible globally,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director WHO South-East Asia.

India has so far reported 34.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 452,000 deaths, most during a second wave of infections of the Delta variant that surged through the country between April and May.

A “sizeable number https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-india/many-indians-skipping-second-covid-shot-despite-record-vaccine-stocks-idUSL4N2RF2G3” of people in India have not taken their second dose by the due date despite adequate supplies, the health ministry said on Tuesday, as new infections fell to their lowest since early March.

Daily shots have averaged 5 million this month, a fifth of September’s peak, though states are sitting on record stocks of more than 100 million as domestic output of the AstraZeneca vaccine soars.

Despite the current low number of infections, ministry officials have been urging people to get vaccinated fast, especially as the ongoing festival season means family gatherings and mass shopping, raising the risk of a new wave of infections.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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U.S. coronavirus vaccine donations reach 200 million doses

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The United States, under pressure to share its  coronavirus vaccine supply with the rest of the world, has now donated 200 million doses to more than 100 countries, the White House announced on Thursday.

President Joe Biden has faced some criticism from other world leaders for offering vaccine booster shots in the United States at a time when many people around the world have not received their first shot.

In recent weeks, the United States has stepped up its donations. Biden told Kenya PresidentUhuru Kenyatta last week https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/us-donates-17-million-jj-doses-african-union-2021-10-14 that the United States will make a one-time donation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union.

“As of today, the United States has successfully donated and delivered 200 million COVID-19 vaccines to more than 100 countries around the world,” the White House said in a statement to mark the milestone.

The statement said the United States and the international COVAX vaccine-sharing programme would follow through over the next year on commitments to donate more than 1 billion doses to needy countries.

“These vaccines will help save lives, protect livelihoods, and heal economies currently battered by this pandemic,” the White House said.

 

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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More needed to prevent deaths from climate-change driven heat waves, fires: report – The Reminder

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OTTAWA — A new report examining the health impacts of climate change says more Canadians than ever are facing serious health risks from heat waves and wildfires, prompting warnings from doctors that we need to do more to adapt to the reality of a warmer planet.

The annual Lancet Countdown study looks at more than three dozen markers for human health impacts of climate change globally.

“This year we saw people suffering intense heat waves, deadly floods and wildfires,” said lead author Marina Romanello, a biochemist at London’s Institute for Global Health.

“These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change, the situation gets more critical.”

In Canada, the authors note, the heat dome that descended on British Columbia and parts of the Prairies in June and July “would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.”

That heat wave lasted several weeks and saw the town of Lytton, B.C., destroyed by a fire a day after it recorded a temperature of 49.6 C, the highest temperature ever seen in Canada.

The Lancet study says that heat wave was responsible for at least 570 deaths in Canada, and hundreds more in the United States.

Across Canada, the risk of death from extreme heat for Canada’s seniors rose more than 50 per cent in the last four years, compared with the years 2000 to 2004. Exposures to wildfires grew almost 20 per cent in that time, but not uniformly, with Indigenous Peoples at much higher risk.

First Nations people living on a reserve are 33 times more likely to be forced to evacuate due to a forest fire than people living off reserve, the Lancet report said.

The authors also said that in 2020, heat caused the loss of more than 22 million hours of potential labour in Canada, harming human health and productivity at the same time.

Globally, climate change left almost one-fifth of the world’s land surface in extreme drought in 2020. Between 1950 and 1999, that value never exceeded 13 per cent. The resulting impact on crops saw a decrease in production of rice, soybeans, wheat and maize of between two and six per cent.

Dr. Courtney Howard, an emergency room physician in Yellowknife and past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, helped write the Canadian briefing note out of the Lancet Countdown’s global findings.

She said this year the focus was more heavily on the need for adapting to the fact that climate change isn’t just real, it’s already hurting us.

“So how are we going to get each other through these heat waves and these wildfire episodes in a way that’s as healthy as possible?”

The Canadian briefing note lays out several policy requests, including more green space in urban areas to offset the impact of heat waves, and a national strategy for adaptation to climate change that takes into account the serious harm to human health.

The authors are also highly critical of the federal government for allowing itself to be heavily influenced by lobbying from the oil and gas industry. They said in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, fossil fuel industries and associations met with federal officials 1,224 times, an average of 4.5 meetings every day.

Comparatively, they say environment groups met with federal officials 303 times.

“Energy transition policy must be developed without such excessive industry pressure,” the report said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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