Bank of Canada: Vaccine Could Trigger Swift Economic Rebound

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Canada’s economy could rebound faster than expected if consumer spending jumps in the wake of a successful coronavirus vaccination effort, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem said Thursday.On the other hand, if the economy weakens amid a second wave of infections, Macklem indicated the central bank could, if necessary, cut already record-low interest rates.In late October, the bank said it assumed a vaccine would not be widely available until mid-2022. Since then, several manufacturers have announced potential vaccines that could be distributed starting early next year.”It is possible, especially when there is a vaccine, that households will decide to spend more than we have forecast, and if that happens the economy will rebound more quickly,” Macklem said in response to questions from the House of Commons finance committee. He described the news about vaccines as promising.In late October, the bank forecast the economy would not fully recover until sometime in 2023, a forecast Macklem repeated in his opening remarks.The path to recovery still faces risks, he said. Earlier this year, the bank slashed its key interest rate to 0.25%.”We could potentially lower the effective lower bound, even without going negative. It’s at 25 basis points. It could be a little bit lower,” Macklem said, repeating that negative interest rates would not be helpful.The U.S. Federal Reserve has a target for its key rate of 0 to 0.25%. The Reserve Bank of Australia this month cut its policy rate to 0.1%.Some other central banks also have benchmark rates that are less than 0.25%, such as the European Central Bank and the Bank of England.”We want to be very clear – Canadians can be confident that borrowing costs are going to remain very low for a long time,” Macklem said.

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Africa Braces for Second Coronavirus Wave  

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As a second wave of coronavirus approaches, Africa has a plan, says the continent’s top health official.     In recent weeks, the continent has started to distribute 2.7 million rapid antigen tests. By mid-2021, health officials hope to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population with one of the several promising new vaccines.     Now, says Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s up to the continent’s leaders to try to make that happen.    “That will also require that we mobilize up to about $10 to $12 billion  including the cost of buying the vaccines and the cost of delivering the vaccines,” he told journalists on Thursday by teleconference. “So that is the 60 percent mark that we really want to achieve. And I just really want everyone on this platform and our partners to understand that as a continent that is aspiration and our goal.”    Dr. Nkengasong added that experts are working to bring more clinical trials to the continent. But, he stressed, as COVID-19 numbers rise in some countries — notably, South Africa, Kenya and Algeria — the continent’s health facilities appear to be weathering the onslaught.  FILE – John Nkengasong, Africa’s Director of the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 11, 2020.“We are not seeing hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID patients,” he said. “That is clearly what the situation is. We were very encouraged that during the first wave we didn’t see that kind of overwhelming, which we were very worried and concerned with. “That doesn’t tell us that the second wave will not happen. It only tells us that we have to prepare, and prepare using the three T’s — which is the tests, the tracing and the treatment.”     As the continent approaches end-of-year holidays, Nkengasong underscored one piece of advice:    “Do not relent in wearing masks,” he said. “One message that is emerging across the visits we are conducting across the continent is that people are not masking enough. And in some settings, absolutely it seems like they are not masking at all. And that is extremely dangerous. “My worry and fear is that the sacrifices and gains that were made since the beginning of this year … those gains that were made in terms of bringing the pandemic down to where we were in October could be completely wiped out if we relent at this point.”  

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Stigma, Discrimination Seen Driving HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 

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The U.N. Program on HIV and AIDS warns that stigma and discrimination against marginalized populations are driving both the AIDS crisis and COVID-19 and must be tackled and eliminated to end what officials call the dual, colliding pandemics. In a report released in advance of World AIDS Day on December 1, the U.N. agency called on governments to put the most vulnerable at the center of their pandemic responses.HIV/AIDS emerged nearly 40 years ago. While progress in the treatment of the disease has been made, AIDS remains a public health menace. Last year, UNAIDS reported 1.7 million people were infected with HIV and 690,000 died.Health officials said the global response to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 was off track even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The rapid spread of coronavirus, they said, is creating additional setbacks.Part of UNAIDS’ new strategy for tackling AIDS is to direct money to the people most at risk. Yet, Sigrid Kaag, minister for foreign trade and development cooperation in the Netherlands,  said that is not happening.She noted a study commissioned by the Netherlands found only 2 percent of AIDS funding worldwide targets those who are most at risk.“Sixty-two percent of new HIV infections are among gay men, sex workers, drug users and transgender people,” Kaag said. “How can we end the HIV pandemic, or any pandemic for that matter, if we ignore those most at risk? Stigma and criminalization impede access to medical services, and this is exactly how pandemics continue to spread.”FILE – Sibongile Zulu is seen in her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 28, 2020. Zulu is HIV-positive and has had trouble getting medication. Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the supply of antiretroviral drugs.Eastern and southern Africa is the region most heavily affected by HIV. The region is home to nearly 21 million out of the 38 million people living with HIV worldwide. The study said 12 million were not receiving treatment for their illness.Yet even under these circumstances, countries such as Eswatini and Botswana in sub-Saharan Africa and Cambodia and Thailand in Asia have made remarkable progress in tackling the deadly disease by implementing people-centered policies.UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said governments must focus on helping the most vulnerable, marginalized people. She said they must target preventive measures and reproductive and other health services toward them and not just implement policies that are politically palatable.“We are going to have to be more focused, focusing on the hot spots, not choosing what we want to address because that is what we are comfortable with,” Byanyima said. Efforts must be “evidence based, targeting closely where the risk is, not where we do not want to see.”Byanyima said governments also must focus on reducing the inequalities that are the drivers of HIV and COVID-19. She said more investment must be made in strengthening health systems and providing treatment and care to all in need. She said respecting the human rights of people most at risk is crucial in beating back the twin pandemics.

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Indian Company Says it Has Made Millions of Doses of AstraZeneca Vaccine Candidate for COVID-19

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There is rising optimism in India about getting access to a COVID-19 vaccine after Britain-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced clinical trials of its vaccine candidate have shown it prevented infections. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, an Indian vaccine manufacturing company is already making the vaccine, even though final approvals have still to come. Experts say this could give India a head start in rolling out vaccines.  Producer:  Marcus Harton

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Cameroon’s HIV/AIDS Patients Shirk Hospitals for Fear of COVID-19

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Cameroon’s Ministry of Health says tens of thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS are refusing to enter hospitals for fear of catching the coronavirus.  Health workers say if those patients do not get the antiretroviral drugs the need, they put themselves at risk.  Ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, Cameroon’s medics are urging HIV-positive patients to take their medicine.At Yaoundé’s Baptist Hospital Etugebe, about 30 people with AIDS listen to speakers and health workers talk about HIV.19-year-old Nyako Cinthia Njiti, who for five years has been living with AIDS, said it has been nine months since they last held a meeting.”We always have monthly meetings, we sit together, share ideas, encourage others, people share their success stories.  And due to the fact that people cannot meet, it disturbs children from coming together and having the fun they always have.  And also, when they come for drugs, we always have counseling sessions with them. They play with toys. Those things are not more happening,” said Njiti. More disturbingly, Cameroon’s health ministry reports that of the 300,000 HIV-positive people in the country who need antiretrovirals, about 60 percent refuse to visit hospitals because of COVID-19.Sintieh Ngek is with the Cameroon Baptist Convention health services. He said failure to take anti-retroviral drugs can weaken the immune systems of people with AIDS.“When the immune system is that weak, every disease that comes to the body is going to infect the body, so you have frequent diarrheas, weight loss, diseases like cryptococcal meningitis and tuberculosis. These are very common opportunistic infections,” said Ngek.Gilbert Tene of the Cameroon Medical Council said to fill the gap, medics are going to AIDS patients in their homes and giving them a one-month supply of anti-retrovirals.”We need those patients at the hospitals to keep on counseling, to provide them with drugs and provide them with any other support.  That is why we have come up with what is called differentiated service delivery which has made us to go out to the community to assist those who cannot come to the hospital,” said Tene.Health worker Awa Fany said some hospitals in Cameroon are running short on funds for AIDS patients because of the pandemic.”Funding has become limited. Funders are now paying more attention to COVID-19 and so we are asking ourselves how can we ensure that we distribute resources in an even manner such that we still care for children who are HIV positive while taking care of those who are COVID-19 positive,” said Fany.Even before the pandemic, Cameroon health officials struggled to get AIDS patients to hospitals for treatment.Cameroon’s Ministry of Health says in 2019, 75% of AIDS-infected children died in their first five years.The government blames parents who fail to follow up on treatment for their children while many parents cannot afford transport fees to get them to city hospitals. 

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Indian Company Says it Made Millions of Doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate

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There is rising optimism in India about getting access to a prospective Covid 19 vaccine after Britain-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced this week that clinical trials of its vaccine candidate have shown that it is highly effective in preventing infections.     An Indian vaccine manufacturing company, the Serum Institute of India, that has a licensing agreement with AstraZeneca to make the vaccine, has said it already has 40 million doses ready.     WATCH: Anjana Pasricha’s video reportSorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 11 MB480p | 15 MB540p | 20 MB720p | 40 MB1080p | 80 MBOriginal | 708 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioThe Indian company, which is the world’s largest vaccine producer by volume, has been in the news for months after its chief executive, Adar Poonawalla, said that the company is manufacturing the vaccine even before final approvals on the chance that it will pass trials.      Following AstraZeneca’s announcement that clinical trials show its candidate can be up to 90% effective, Poonawalla said that it will first focus on supplying the potential vaccine to Indians if it gets approval.      To the world’s second worst affected country by the pandemic, this holds out hope of swift access to the vaccine, according to health experts.      “They would be making roughly 850 million doses annually of this vaccine. About 50% of that would be available to India,” says virologist Shahid Jameel.    There are no COVID-19 vaccines approved yet, but three companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, have recently reported success in preventing infections with shots they have tested.    AstraZeneca has said its vaccine has been found to be 70% effective on average, with potential to rise to 90% depending on how the doses are given. 
 
Health experts say AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been developed with Oxford University, is more suitable for developing countries like India — it is more affordable, easy to transport and can be stored in a refrigerator. The ones developed by Pfizer and Moderna on the other hand need deep freezers.      “They also need to be easy to administer in terms of the logistics. Particularly when it comes to a large population like India, the cold chain and the ease of administration matter and the cost matters,” according to K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India.     Poonawalla has told reporters that the vaccine in India would be priced at about $13.50 per dose, but that governments signing large supply deals would likely buy it at a much lower price.     As the focus turns on vaccines to fight the pandemic, Indian companies like the Serum Institute are increasing production capacities — India makes more than half the world’s vaccines and is expected to play a key role in supplying Covid 19 vaccines specially to low- and middle-income countries.        For India, the priority also is to get access to a locally developed vaccine — trials by two domestic companies, Zydus Cadila and Bharat Biotech are in the final stages. “If the Indian vaccines also come through and demonstrate efficacy and safety in completed trials that would make it easier to have a much larger volume at lower price,” according to Reddy.   India’s health minister has said that the country plans to vaccinate 250 million people by next July — the priority will be health workers.      But vaccinating a country of 1.3 billion people will pose unprecedented challenges because of the scale it will involve. Although India runs a massive and successful immunization program for children and pregnant women, health experts point out that a Covid 19 vaccine will for the first time also have to target adults.       “Here we are talking about millions of doses. So that capacity has to be built up,” points out virologist Jameel. “And it is not just the vaccine, it is going to be vials in which vaccine has to be packaged, it is syringes and needles, it is people who can administer the injections, it is the cold chain requirement.”     Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week asked state governments to make plans for administering the vaccine even as he stressed that safety and not speed will be the parameters on deciding any rollout.    “After the vaccines come, our effort will be to ensure that they reach every citizen. This is like a national commitment to us,” Modi told chief ministers on Tuesday as he discussed steps to mitigate the pandemic. “The process must be smooth and systematic, but it will take long.”      But experts caution that there are many unanswered questions about the prospective vaccines — how long they will afford protection and the possible side effects they may have. “The fact that there are multiple vaccines vying to be the candidates is good news though the caution is we do require review of interim results and completion of trials,” points out Reddy.     But as infections pass the nine million mark in India, the news that they could be available has brought a ray of hope.   

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Pandemic Postpones National Math, Reading Tests Until 2022

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National reading and math tests long used to track what U.S. students know in those subjects are being postponed from next year to 2022 over concerns about whether testing would be feasible or produce valid results during the coronavirus pandemic, the National Center for Education Statistics announced Wednesday.The biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress evaluations used for the Nation’s Report Card were slated for early next year for hundreds of thousands of the country’s fourth- and eighth-graders. But widespread remote learning and health protocols would have added big complications and costs because the model uses shared equipment and sends outside proctors to conduct the testing in schools.Pushing ahead with testing in 2021 runs the risk of spending tens of millions of dollars and still not getting the data necessary to produce a reliable, comparable picture of state and national student performance, NCES Commissioner James Woodworth said in a statement. By law, they would have to wait another two years for the next chance at testing.Testing in 2022 instead “would be more likely to provide valuable — and valid — data about student achievement in the wake of COVID-19 to support effective policy, research, and resource allocation,” the leaders of the National Assessment Governing Board said in a separate statement supporting the move.The nonpartisan Council of Chief State School Officers also supported the NAEP postponement.Ohio Department of Education spokesperson Mandy Minick called it “entirely understandable” given the extensive disruptions schools are facing.”I think we’re all on the same page about trying to stress health and safety,” she said.However, the decision also delays data that could help show how the pandemic is impacting learning.Woodworth suggested that results from states’ annual tests — generally conducted using schools’ own equipment and staff, and perhaps therefore more feasible than the national tests — could help bridge the gap and provide a state-level look at the impact. But the NAEP postponement might have ripple effects in the debate about whether those state tests even happen in spring 2021.State tests, which are federally mandated and are used more for accountability purposes, were canceled last spring under federal waivers as the pandemic surged. The current presidential administration had indicated states shouldn’t expect to be granted another round of waivers if they request them, but it’s an issue likely to come up again after President-elect Joe Biden’s administration takes office.”If the national assessment can’t be done in ’21, states are legitimately going to say, ‘Well, why are we expected to test in ’21?'” said Chester Finn, a former chair of the National Assessment Governing Board and president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute who advocates results-based accountability.If states get to skip the tests again this spring, that could create a multiyear gap in data that helps inform other decisions and identify concerns, and that’s problematic, Finn said.”If you’re not held accountable for your results, or there’s no way to do it because there’s no information about your results, then all sorts of bad things happen to the education system and to the kids in the education system,” he said. “We sort of go back to the pre-accountability days, when, you know, the only thing you knew about a kid’s learning was the teachers’ grades, and the only thing you knew about a school’s performance was what the principal said it was, and nobody had data on gaps between different groups of kids.”

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China Stepping Up Virus Testing on Imported Food Packaging

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China is stepping up virus inspections on imported food packaging as cooler weather brings new waves of coronavirus infections in several overseas countries, Chinese officials said Wednesday.
Packaging is “not exempt” from carrying the virus, deputy director of the National Food Safety Risk Assessment Center Li Ning told reporters.
While the coronavirus positivity rate for tests on packages was just 0.48 per 10,000, that proportion is increasing along with the number of tests being conducted, Li said.
She said the virus could “to some extent” be passed to humans from packaging, although neither Li or any other official at Wednesday’s news conference mentioned any such confirmed cases.
Chinese testing of packaging has stirred some controversy, with exporters of frozen food items questioning the science behind it and whether it amounts to an unfair trade barrier. China has defended the practice as an additional measure to prevent the virus’s spread.
Through mask mandates, mass testing, lockdowns and case tracing, China has largely eliminated cases of local transmission, causing it to place extra attention on infection threats from outside the country. China’s National Health Administration on Wednesday reported five new cases, all imported, bringing China’s total to 86,469, including 4,634 deaths.
Stopping the virus’s spread is “like fighting a war,” demanding fast, decisive action, CDC Chief Epidemiologist Wu Zunyou said.
“Victory only comes after the entire country is united in its efforts. On this front, technical strategy, strong leadership and coordinated action all play important roles,” Wu said.
The coronavirus is known to be more stable in colder, dryer conditions, and disinfecting packaging at freezing temperatures creates “special challenges,” said Zhang Liubo, chief disinfection officer for the Center for Disease Control.
Even when disinfection works and the virus is no longer infectious, remnants can remain on the packaging, leading to a positive test, Zhang said.
However, “as of present, we have yet to discover any infection caused by direct consumption of products from this cold chain,” Zhang said.

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Scotland First in the World to Make Sanitary Products Free

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Scotland on Tuesday made sanitary products free to all women, becoming the first nation in the world to take such a step against “period poverty.”   The measure makes tampons and sanitary pads available at designated public places such as community centers, youth clubs and pharmacies, at an estimated annual cost to taxpayers of $32 million U.S. The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill passed unanimously, and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon called it “an important policy for women and girls.”   “Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them,” Sturgeon posted on Twitter. During the debate, the bill’s proposer, Scottish Labour MP Monica Lennon, said: “No one should have to worry about where their next tampon, pad or reusable is coming from.   “Scotland will not be the last country to consign period poverty to history, but we have the chance to be the first,” she said.   In 2018, Scotland became the first country to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities. Some 10% of girls in Britain have been unable to afford sanitary products, according to a survey by the children’s charity Plan International in 2017, with campaigners warning many skip classes as a consequence.   Sanitary products in the United Kingdom are taxed at 5%, a levy that officials have blamed on European Union (EU) rules that set tax rates on certain products.   Now that Britain has left the EU, British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has said he would abolish the “tampon tax” in January 2021. 

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