The COVID-19 pandemic is being perpetuated by a “scandalous inequity” in vaccine distribution, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday as he set new targets for protecting people in the poorest countries.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that no country should assume that it’s “out of the woods,” no matter its vaccination rate, as long as the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants spread elsewhere.
“The world remains in a very dangerous situation,” Tedros told the opening of the annual assembly of health ministers from its 194 member states.
“As of today, more cases have been reported so far this year than in the whole of 2020. On current trends, the number of deaths will overtake last year’s total within the next three weeks. This is very tragic,” he said.
He said more than 75 per cent of all vaccines had been administered in just 10 countries.
“There is no diplomatic way to say it: A small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world.”
Call for vaccine donations to COVAX
The COVAX global vaccine-sharing initiative, run by WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance, has delivered 72 million vaccine doses to 125 countries and economies since February — barely sufficient for one per cent of their populations, Tedros said.
He urged countries to donate vaccine doses to COVAX to enable 10 per cent of the populations of all countries to be inoculated by September and 30 per cent by year’s end. This meant vaccinating 250 million more people in just four months, he said.
“This is crucial to stop disease and death, keep our health-care workers safe, reopen our societies and economies,” Tedros said.
Tedros also called on vaccine manufacturers to give COVAX the first right of refusal on new volumes of vaccines, or to commit 50 per cent of their volumes to COVAX this year.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for the WHO to be empowered to visit countries rapidly in case of outbreaks with potential to spark a pandemic, and to access data.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in separate pre-recorded remarks to the assembly, called for the UN agency’s funding to be improved and backed the idea of a new international treaty to prevent pandemics.
What’s happening in Canada
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As of 12:45 p.m. ET on Monday, Canada had reported 1,359,633 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 53,500 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 25,242. More than 21 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country.
The federal government is expecting about 600,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines this week as many provinces expand eligibility to anyone over 12 years old.
Ontario on Sunday became one of the latest provinces to open vaccine appointments to that age group through the province’s booking system, as well as through pharmacies offering the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
The move came on the same day the province registered 1,691 new COVID-19 cases, along with 15 new deaths. Ontario will not be posting updated numbers on Monday due to the Victoria Day holiday.
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Quebec, meanwhile, saw long lineups outside a walk-in vaccine centre in Montreal that opened its doors to the 12-to-17 age group over the weekend.
The province will formally open its booking system to youths 12 and up on Tuesday, but a spokesperson for the local health authority said officials at the clinic west of downtown decided not to turn away teens that showed up for walk-ins.
Several other provinces have already expanded vaccine eligibility to those 12 and over, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.
Quebec on Monday reported 433 new cases and 11 new deaths. It is the lowest number of new cases the province has reported since Sept 19, when it recorded 427.
In the North, Nunavut is reporting one new case. Yukon and the Northwest Territories have yet to provide updated figures for Monday.
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In the Atlantic provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador expanded public health restrictions in central Newfoundland on Monday, as an outbreak that now involves community spread threatens a wider area.
Effective immediately, communities along the Trans-Canada Highway from Gambo to Badger, as well as communities along some other nearby provincial highways, will be under Alert Level 4. Essential businesses can remain open, but restaurants cannot offer indoor dining. Bars, gyms, pools and arenas must remain closed, while funerals, weddings and other services are restricted to 10 people.
The province is reporting four new cases, three of which are associated with a growing cluster in the Lewisporte area. The update comes a day after N.L. reported 23 new cases, its highest single-day caseload in over three months.
New Brunswick reported 15 new cases on Monday, while Nova Scotia and P.E.I. have yet to provide updated figures.
In the Prairies, Manitoba‘s per-capita infection rate was the highest in the country and continued to rise after the province reported 461 new COVID-19 cases and an additional death on Sunday.
The province’s hospitals — which are under increasing strain and sending some ICU patients to neighbouring Ontario — saw 18 more people hospitalized due to the coronavirus, bringing the total to 316.
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British Columbia last provided an update on its COVID-19 figures on Friday, when it reported 420 new cases and six new deaths.
RCMP said they’ve turned back 103 drivers at highway road checks put in place across the province this weekend to prevent non-essential travel. A spokesperson said two drivers were charged for allegedly failing to stop for police, which carries a $230 fine.
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday afternoon, more than 167.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, a tracking dashboard from U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University said. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.4 million.
In Europe, British scientists say sniffer dogs trained using smelly socks worn by people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus could soon be used at airports or mass gathering venues to pick up the “corona odour” of people infected with the coronavirus.
WATCH | Bio-detection dogs sniff out COVID-19:
Working in teams of two, the COVID-trained dogs could screen a line of several hundred people coming off a plane within half an hour, for example, and detect with up to 94.3 per cent sensitivity those infected, the scientists said.
Presenting results of an early stage study — which involved some 3,500 odour samples donated in the form of unwashed socks or T-shirts worn by members of the public and health workers — the researchers said the dogs were even able to sniff out asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases, as well as cases caused by a variant that emerged in the U.K. late last year.
In the Americas, the ride hailing companies Uber and Lyft have started providing free transportation to and from COVID-19 vaccination sites in the United States. Uber said Monday that it will provide four rides valued at up to $25 each through July 4 while Lyft has said it’s offering two rides of up to $15 each.
The federal government said earlier this month that it would partner with the ride-hailing companies to encourage more Americans to get vaccinated as the pace of the shots nationally started to decline.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India has crossed another grim milestone of more than 300,000 people lost to the coronavirus, while a devastating surge of infections appeared to be easing in big cities but was swamping the poorer countryside.
The Health Ministry on Monday reported 4,454 new deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing India’s total fatalities to 303,720. It also reported 222,315 new infections, which raised the overall total to nearly 27 million since the pandemic began. Both are almost certainly undercounts.
Japan opened mass inoculation centres on Monday as it races to vaccinate most of its elderly population before the start of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23. The centres in Tokyo and Osaka will vaccinate thousands of people every day, giving a boost to Japan’s sluggish inoculation drive as officials battle a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
In the Middle East, Israel will end local COVID-19 restrictions from the start of June following a successful vaccine rollout that has nearly stamped out new infections, the country’s Health Ministry said on Sunday. The country reported just 12 new virus cases on Saturday, down from a daily peak of more than 10,000 in January.
Israel will still keep its borders closed to most incoming travel, though it has started to let in small groups of vaccinated tourists.
In Africa, South Africa continues to lead the continent in COVID-19 case counts, with more than 1.6 million cases and more than 55,000 deaths reported in total.
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