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‘Far more deadly’ virus in Year 2

WHO: Rich-poor COVID vaccine inequality leading to ‘moral catastrophe’

Geneva—The World Health Organization has issued a grim warning that the second year of COVID-19 was set to be “far more deadly.”

“We’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In the Philippines, the death toll from the pandemic that entered its second year in March breached 19,000, the Department of Health reported, as the country logged on Saturday 6,739 new cases of coronavirus disease 2019, bringing the total to 1,138,187.

The DOH reported 93 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 19,051, which is 1.67 percent of the total. The tally includes 36 cases that were previously tagged as recoveries were reclassified as deaths after final validation.

The DOH also reported 8,952 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 1,062,427, which is 93.3 percent of the total.

However, the average daily new COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila decreased by 30 percent over the past week, OCTA Research reported Saturday.

From May 9 to May 14, the research group said the average number of new cases per day was 1,644.

The reproduction number or the average number of secondary infections from a single case in the National Capital Region also dropped to 0.57 while the positivity rate is down at 12 percent.

In the previous OCTA Research report dated May 9, Metro Manila had a 0.67 reproduction number and 14 percent positivity rate.

The average daily attack rate (ADAR) in the entire NCR also decreased to 11.91 per 100,000.

The lowest ADAR was recorded in Navotas, Malabon, Manila, and Caloocan with below 10 per 100,000, now placing the areas under “moderate risk.”

Ghebreyesus voiced outrage that a number of rich countries were now vaccinating children and teenagers, while poorer states had barely begun vaccinating health workers and the most vulnerable groups.

Instead of offering jabs to young and healthy people, he called on countries to give their doses to the Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme and thereby ensure that those most in need in all countries receive protection.

“In January, I spoke about the potential unfolding of a moral catastrophe,” he told a press conference.

“Unfortunately, we’re now witnessing this play out. In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the supply, lower-risk groups are now being vaccinated.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to Covax,” said Tedros, referring to the global vaccine-sharing scheme.

“Because in low and lower-middle income countries, Covid-19 vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunize healthcare workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently.”

The WHO also said Friday that even the vaccinated should keep wearing masks in areas where the virus is spreading.

“Vaccination alone is not a guarantee against infection or against being able to transmit that infection to others,” WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.

The mood also darkened in Japan where the coronavirus state of emergency took in another three regions just 10 weeks before the Olympics, while campaigners submitted a petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Games to be cancelled.

With Tokyo and other areas already under emergency orders until the end of May, Hiroshima, Okayama, and northern Hokkaido, which will host the Olympic marathon, will now join them.

Japanese public opinion is firmly opposed to holding the Games this summer.

Swiss tennis great Roger Federer said Friday that “what the athletes need is a decision: is it happening or isn’t it?”

“I would love to play in the Olympics... But if that doesn’t happen due to the situation, I would be the first to understand,” he added.

The pandemic has killed at least 3,346,813 people worldwide since the virus first emerged in late 2019, according to an AFP tally of official data.

Sputnik vaccines reach India

India meanwhile started deploying Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the first foreign-made shot to be used in the country that has been reeling from an explosion in cases and deaths.

The first token batch of Sputnik vaccines—reportedly 150,000 doses—arrived on May 1 and a second delivery is expected in the next few days.

A number of leading India-based drugmakers have agreements for local production of Sputnik V with the aim to produce over 850 million doses of the jab per year.

India has been adding roughly as many new Covid cases daily as the rest of the world put together.

More than 260,000 Indians have died, according to official figures.

In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the arrival of the B1.617.2 variant, one of those believed to be driving the Indian surge, could delay reopening of society and the economy.

“This new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.

Britain’s health ministry has tracked the variant in northwest England and in London.

Germany has already added the UK back onto its list of “risk areas” requiring extra checks -- but not necessarily quarantine – for incoming travelers.

Elsewhere around the continent, tourist hotspots are opening up.

Greece kickstarted its tourism season on Friday, hoping to reverse last year’s miserable summer.

“I hope to forget this damn Covid,” said Jil Wirries, a 28-year-old student from Hanover, Germany, collecting luggage on the island of Crete.

“Everything is terrible in Germany... people are depressed... I’m so happy to be here.”

France and Spain launched tourism campaigns this week too.

But in the United States many were confused a day after the top health agency lifted all mask-wearing requirements for fully vaccinated people.

‘Milestone’

The move has raised questions about how to implement it – the foremost being, how do you tell if a person is fully vaccinated?

It has led to a patchwork of regulations around the country. Some states never had mask mandates in the first place. Others lifted them well before the new advice. Some were reviewing the idea, but others such as Maryland and Virginia rushed to implement it. 

Major companies are also weighing their options. Retail giant Walmart was among those who said Friday it would lift its mask mandate for fully vaccinated staff and customers.

But United Food and Commercial Workers, a union which represents 1.3 million people, came out unequivocally against.

“Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures.

Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?” it said.

“My initial reaction was supportive, but the more I think about it, I wish they had said, ‘Let’s do this on July 1. If you aren’t vaccinated yet, this is your chance to go do it,’” said airborne disease specialist Linsey Marr.

More than 580,000 people have died in the US of COVID-19. But almost 60 percent of US adults have now received one or more doses, while cases are falling fast, and children are also now being vaccinated. With Willie Casas

Topics: World Health Organization , COVID-19 , Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
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