Recent surges of COVID-19 in India, S America left people gasping for breath before our eyes: UN chief

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United Nations, May 23 (PTI) Recent surges of COVID-19 in India, South America and other regions have left people “literally gasping for breath before our eyes”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, warning that the pandemic is still “very much with us, thriving and mutating'.

'From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I warned that no one is safe until everyone is safe….Grossly unequal access to vaccines, tests, medicines and supplies, including oxygen, have left poorer countries at the mercy of the virus,” Guterres said in his statement to the Global Health Summit on Friday.

He said “recent surges of COVID-19 in India, South America and other regions have left people literally gasping for breath before our eyes. The pandemic is still very much with us, thriving and mutating.” “Let’s be clear, we are at war with the virus. And if you are at war with the virus, we need to deal with our weapons with rules of a war economy, and we are not yet there. And this is true for vaccines, and it is true for other components in the fight against the virus,” he said.

While the COVAX should have delivered 170 million doses around the world by now, vaccine nationalism, limited production capacity and lack of funding have led to that figure being just 65 million.

“I call on G20 countries to lead by example and contribute their full share of funding. An investment of billions could end up saving trillions – and saving lives,” he said.

Guterres stressed that vaccinating quickly and thoroughly around the world, together with continued public health measures, are the only way to end the pandemic and prevent more dangerous variants from gaining a foothold.

He, however, noted with concern that so far, more than 82 per cent of the world’s vaccine doses have gone to affluent countries while just 0.3 per cent have gone to low-income countries.

Guterres repeated his call for the G20 to set up a Task Force that brings together all countries with vaccine production capacities, the World Health Organization, the ACT-Accelerator partners and international financial institutions, able to deal with the pharmaceutical companies and other key stakeholders.

“The Task Force should address equitable global distribution by using the COVAX facility. It should aim to at least double manufacturing capacity by exploring all options, from voluntary licenses and technology transfers to patent pooling and flexibility on intellectual property rights,” he said.

The UN chief noted that the G20 Task Force should be co-convened at the highest levels by the major powers who hold most of the global supply and production capacity, together with the multilateral system.

The European Commission and Italy, as chair of the G20, co-hosted the Global Health Summit on May 21 in Rome. Leaders of the G20 committed to a series of actions to accelerate the end of the COVID-19 crisis everywhere and better prepare for future pandemics, according to information on the summit’s website.

“The Summit was an opportunity for G20 and invited leaders, heads of international and regional organisations, and representatives of global health bodies, to share lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders adopted a ‘Rome Declaration’, committing to common principles to overcome COVID-19 and to prevent and prepare for future pandemics,” it said.

G20 stressed the need to ensure equitable access to vaccines and to support low and middle-income countries.

BioNTech/Pfizer (1 billion), Johnson & Johnson (200 million) and Moderna (around 100 million) pledged 1.3 billion doses of vaccines, to be delivered to low-income countries at no profit, and to middle-income countries at lower prices by the end of 2021, many of which will go via COVAX. They committed more than 1 billion doses for 2022, it added.

Team Europe aims at donating 100 million doses of vaccines to low and middle-income countries until the end of the year, in particular through COVAX, it said. PTI YAS NSA

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