Africa’s COVID-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis

Not one vial has left a European factory for Africa, according to African Union special envoy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2021

Africa’s COVID-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis

  • The criticism revealed African leaders’ sheer exasperation at the world’s dramatic vaccine divide
  • Just one percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19

NAIROBI: The African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the continent is blasting Europe as Africa struggles amid a crushing third surge of infections, saying Thursday that “not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa.”

Strive Masiyiwa also took aim at the global effort meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information including that key donors hadn’t met funding pledges. He didn’t name which donors.

“The situation could be very different had we known back in December that ‘Listen, this help is not coming, do for yourselves,’” Masiyiwa told reporters, adding that “many countries were just sitting back saying, ‘the vaccines are coming.’ ... We as Africans are disappointed.”

The criticism revealed African leaders’ sheer exasperation at the world’s dramatic vaccine divide, with Masiyiwa describing vaccinated, unmasked Europeans attending football matches while just one percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

He stressed that Africa has purchased 400 million vaccine doses and can buy more, but he challenged donors: “Pay up your money ... We will no longer measure pledges, we will measure vaccines arriving at our airports.”

The African continent of 1.3 billion people is now in the grip of a third surge of infections that is “extremely aggressive,” the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters. Health officials have described overflowing COVID-19 wards, dangerous oxygen shortages and a growing spread of the virus to extremely vulnerable and unequipped rural areas.

Masiyiwa said COVAX had promised to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to Africa by December. But at mid-year, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.

“We are very far away from our target,” Nkengasong said. “We don’t want to be seen as the continent of COVID ... (In Europe) the stadiums are full of young people shouting and hugging. We can’t do that in Africa.”Spokespeople for COVAX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, Nkengasong and Masiyiwa announced that the first shipments of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines with US support will begin arriving next week. It was not clear how many doses would be in those first shipments.

Meanwhile, more African-purchased doses will arrive in August, Masiyiwa said.

The African continent has had 5.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and has seen a “remarkable” 23 percent increase in deaths over the past week, the Africa CDC director said.

He said the continent needs 1.6 billion doses in a double-dose regime, or 800 million for a single-dose regime, to meet the goal of vaccinating 60 percent of the population.

Masiyiwa gave a frank accounting of where global efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 had sputtered. “It became pretty clear by December that the hope that we would all as a global community buy vaccines together through COVAX was not being adhered to, particularly by the rich and powerful nations,” he said.

COVAX aimed to provide 20 percent of Africa’s vaccine needs, with African nations stepping up for the rest, he said. But “it really doesn’t matter how much money your country has, they couldn’t buy vaccines ... I never saw presidents try so hard, calling chief executives.”

The African continent has relied on vaccine manufacturing capabilities elsewhere in the world, but the COVID-19 vaccine crisis has jolted African leaders into pursuing their own production power.

Step by step, Masiyiwa laid out the challenges: Vaccine suppliers require advance purchases, and the World Bank could only lend to countries once vaccines are available. African nations scrambled via the Africa Export-Import

Bank, owned by member states, to come up with some $2 billion. African countries created a purchasing platform to improve their buying power.

But the vaccines have been hard to find as countries with manufacturing capabilities imposed controls on export sales in the interest of vaccinating their own citizens first. “It was the same whether we were talking to the East, to the West, whatever,” Masiyiwa said. “This has created a massive crisis.”

He took special aim at Europe: “When we go to talk to their manufacturers, they tell us they’re completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe, we’re referred to India.” But the European Union now imposes public health restrictions on people vaccinated with Covishield, the Indian-produced version of the EU-accepted AstraZeneca vaccine.

“So how do we get to the situation where they give money to COVAX, who go to India to purchase vaccines, and then they tell us those vaccines are not valid?” Masiyiwa said. “It’s self-evident where the problem is.”

Without mentioning the EU issue, COVAX in a statement on Thursday warned that “any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the re-opening of travel into and within that region would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide.”

Some countries engage in so-called vaccine diplomacy and those bilateral donations are welcome, Masiyiwa said, but they’re not enough to “move the needle.”

UN needs $46.4 billion for aid in ‘bleak’ 2024

Updated 5 sec ago

UN needs $46.4 billion for aid in ‘bleak’ 2024

  • UN: Wider Middle East, Sudan and Afghanistan among the hotspots that also need major international aid operations
GENEV: The United Nations said Monday that it needed $46.4 billion next year to bring life-saving help to around 180 million people in desperate circumstances around the world.
The UN said the global humanitarian outlook for 2024 was “bleak,” with conflicts, climate emergencies and collapsing economies “wreaking havoc” on the most vulnerable.
While global attention focuses on the conflict raging in the Gaza Strip, the UN said the wider Middle East, Sudan and Afghanistan were among the hotspots that also needed major international aid operations.
But the size of the annual appeal and the number of people it aims to reach were scaled back compared to 2023, following a decrease in donations.
“Humanitarians are saving lives, fighting hunger, protecting children, pushing back epidemics, and providing shelter and sanitation in many of the world’s most inhumane contexts,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement.
“But the necessary support from the international community is not keeping pace with the needs,” he said.
The 2023 appeal was for $56.7 billion but received just 35 percent of that amount, one of the worst funding shortfall in years. It allowed UN agencies to deliver assistance and protection to 128 million people.
With a few weeks left to go, 2023 is likely to be the first year since 2010 when humanitarian donations declined compared to the previous year.
The UN therefore scaled down its appeal to $46.4 billion this time around, and will focus on those in the gravest need.
Launching the 2024 Global Humanitarian Overview, Griffiths said the sum was nonetheless a “massive ask” and would be tough to raise, with many donor countries facing their own cost of living crises.
“Without adequate funding, we cannot provide life-saving assistance. And if we cannot provide that assistance, people will pay with their lives,” he said.
The appeal covers aid for 72 countries: 26 states in crisis and 46 neighboring nations dealing with the knock-on effects, such as an influx of refugees.
The five largest single-country appeals are for Syria ($4.4 billion), Ukraine ($3.1 billion), Afghanistan ($3 billion), Ethiopia ($2.9 billion) and Yemen ($2.8 billion).
Griffiths said there would be 300 million people in need around the world next year — a figure down from 363 million last year.
But the UN aims to reach only 180.5 million of those, with NGOs and aid agencies targeting the remainder — not to mention front-line countries and communities themselves who provide the first help.
The Middle East and North Africa require $13.9 billion, the largest total for any region in 2024.
Beyond Syria, the Palestinian territories and Yemen, Griffiths also pointed to Sudan and its neighbors, and to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Myanmar as hotspots that needed sustained global attention.
Ukraine is going through a “desperate winter” with the prospect of more warfare on the other side, he said.
With the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, plus Russia’s war in Ukraine, Griffiths said it was hard for the Sudan crisis to get the attention it deserved in foreign capitals.
More broadly, Griffiths said climate change would increasingly impact the work of humanitarian aid workers, who would have to learn how to better use climate data to focus aid resources.
“There is no doubt about the climate confronting and competing with conflict as the driver of need,” he said.
“Climate displaces more children now than conflict. It was never thus before,” he said.

Philippines summons Chinese envoy over sea confrontations: foreign ministry

Updated 40 min 29 sec ago

Philippines summons Chinese envoy over sea confrontations: foreign ministry

  • Confrontations at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal were the most intense between Philippine and Chinese vessels in years

MANILA: The Philippines has summoned China’s envoy, the foreign ministry said Monday, following two days of confrontations between the countries’ vessels in the disputed South China Sea.
Diplomatic protests had been filed and “the Chinese ambassador has also been summoned,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Teresita Daza told reporters.
Videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard showed Chinese ships blasting water cannon at Philippine boats during two separate resupply missions to flashpoint reefs on Saturday and Sunday.
There was also a collision between Philippine and Chinese boats, with both countries trading blame for the incident.
The confrontations at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal were the most intense between Philippine and Chinese vessels in years, as the countries seek to assert their maritime territorial claims.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and islands near the shores of its neighbors, and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.
It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarized to reinforce its claims.

US says China’s actions in South China Sea undermine regional stability

Updated 11 December 2023

US says China’s actions in South China Sea undermine regional stability

  • “We remain undeterred,” Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. says in a post on X

MANILA: The United States has called out China for interfering in the Philippines’ maritime operations and undermining regional stability, urging Beijing to stop “its dangerous and destabilizing conduct” in the South China Sea.
The Philippines and China have traded accusations over a ramming incident at the weekend involving their vessels while Manila’s vessels were on a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal where its soldiers are stationed in a deliberately grounded navy vessel.
“Obstructing supply lines to this longstanding outpost and interfering with lawful Philippines maritime operations undermines regional stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a December 10 statement shared by the US embassy in Manila on Monday.
The United States has called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
At the weekend, the Chinese coast guard called on the Philippines to stop its “provocative acts,” saying China would continue to carry out “law-enforcement activities” in its waters.
The United States also reiterated its support for treaty ally, the Philippines, and reaffirmed its commitment to the mutual defense pact between the two countries.
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. separately said the presence of Chinese coast guard vessels and maritime militia in his country’s waters is illegal and their actions against Filipinos is an outright violation of international law.
The Philippines has further steeled its determination to defend and protect its nation’s sovereign rights in the South China Sea amid “aggression and provocations” by China, Marcos posted on the X social media site late on Sunday.
“We remain undeterred,” the president said.

’Nothing more to say’: Trump cancels plan to testify in NY fraud trial

Updated 11 December 2023

’Nothing more to say’: Trump cancels plan to testify in NY fraud trial

  • The trial concerns several other crimes, including insurance fraud, and the financial penalty sought by the Attorney General’s office of $250 million

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump changed his mind about testifying in his own defense in his New York fraud case on Monday, he said, announcing that he will not take the stand as expected because he has “nothing more to say.”
The 77-year-old posted the surprise statement on Truth Social on Sunday, adding that he has “already testified to everything” in the ongoing trial against him, his eldest sons Don Jr and Eric, and other Trump Organization executives.
Trump was questioned last month by the prosecution, which has accused him and the other defendants of exaggerating the value of their real estate assets by billions of dollars to obtain more favorable bank loans and insurance terms.
For four hours on November 6, Trump sparred with prosecutors — with his acrimonious answers at times earning rebukes from Judge Arthur Engoron, who warned the current Republican front-runner that “this is not a political rally.”
On Sunday, Trump said that he had already testified “very successfully & conclusively” in the case.
The Trump real estate empire has been put in jeopardy by the civil suit, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James and one of a slew of serious legal actions facing Trump ahead of next year’s presidential vote.
Even before opening arguments, Engoron ruled that James’s office had already shown “conclusive evidence” that Trump had overstated his net worth on financial documents by between $812 million and $2.2 billion between 2014 and 2021.
As a result, the judge ordered the liquidation of the companies managing the assets in question, such as the Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street skyscrapers in Manhattan — a decision currently under appeal.
The trial concerns several other crimes, including insurance fraud, and the financial penalty sought by the Attorney General’s office of $250 million.
Unlike some of Trump’s legal battles — including the criminal case against him accusing him of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election — the suit brought by James, a Democrat, carries no risk of jail time.
Since the start of the trial, which opened October 2, the billionaire Republican has denounced the proceedings as a partisan “witch hunt.”
At one point during his previous testimony, a visibly angry Engoron told Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, to “control your client.”
Engoron has also slapped Trump with $15,000 in fines for violating a partial gag order, imposed after he insulted the judge’s law clerk on social media.
For their part, Trump’s lawyers have argued that the banks the Trump Organization sent its financial statements did their own proper due diligence and were not financially harmed by the Trump team’s estimates — even bringing out current and former employees of Deutsche Bank, one the banks he’s accused of defrauding, to testify to that effect.
The trial is set to continue without Trump’s testimony, with a ruling expected by the end of January.


UK creates unit to clamp down on companies evading Russian sanctions

Updated 11 December 2023

UK creates unit to clamp down on companies evading Russian sanctions

  • Britain warned last week that Russia was trying to circumvent sanctions
  • It announced 46 new measures against individuals and groups from other countries it said were involved in Russia’s military supply chains

LONDON: The British government said on Monday it was creating an enforcement unit to increase its power to crack down on companies evading Russian sanctions.

The Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation (OTSI) will be responsible for the civil enforcement of trade sanctions, investigating potential breaches, issuing penalties and referring cases for criminal enforcement.
It will also help businesses comply with sanctions, the government’s Department for Business and Trade said, and its remit will include activity by any UK national or UK-registered company that may be avoiding sanctions by sending products through other countries.
The unit will launch early next year and work alongside the existing Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.
“We are leaving no stone unturned in our commitment to stopping (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war machine. That means clamping down on sanctions evaders and starving Russia of the technologies and revenues it needs to continue its illegal invasion,” Britain’s Industry and Economic Security Minister Nusrat Ghani said.
“Today’s announcement will help us do that, and send a clear message to those breaking the rules that there is nowhere to hide.”
Britain warned last week that Russia was trying to circumvent sanctions and announced 46 new measures against individuals and groups from other countries it said were involved in Russia’s military supply chains.
This included businesses operating in China, Turkiye, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.
Britain said 20 billion pounds ($25.07 billion) of UK-Russia goods trade has now been sanctioned, with imports from Russia down 94 percent in the year to February 2023, compared to the previous year.