US says unlikely to use China, Russia virus vaccine as race heats up

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WASHINGTON, Aug 1, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – America’s top infectious
diseases official has raised concerns over the safety of COVID-19
vaccines being developed by China and Russia as the world scrambles
for answers to a pandemic the WHO warned will be felt for decades.

Six months after the World Health Organization declared a global
emergency, the novel coronavirus has killed at least 679,000 people
and infected at least 17.9 million, according to an AFP tally.

As countries across Western Europe announced new lockdowns and
reported historic economic slumps, the UN health body said the
pandemic was a “once-in-a-century” crisis and its fallout would be
felt for decades.

Several Chinese companies are at the forefront of the race to
develop an immunity to the disease and Russia has set a target date of
September to roll out its own vaccine.

But US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said it was unlikely
his country would use any vaccine developed in either country, where
regulatory systems are far more opaque than they are in the West.

“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing
the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone,” he
told a US Congressional hearing on Friday.

“Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do
testing, I think, are problematic, at best.”

As part of its own “Operation Warp Speed,” the US government will
pay pharma giants Sanofi and GSK up to $2.1 billion for the
development of a COVID-19 vaccine, the companies said.

In east Asia, territories which saw success in tackling the early
wave of the coronavirus are now confronting worrying new spikes.

Japan’s Okinawa declared a state of emergency Saturday after a
record jump in cases on the island — many linked to US military
forces stationed there — while Hong Kong opened a new makeshift
hospital to house COVID-19 patients.

The finance hub had been a poster child for tackling the
coronavirus, with local transmissions all but ended by early summer.

But since July daily cases have risen to record highs, partly
brought in by the tens of thousands of people who were exempted from a
mandatory quarantine imposed on most arrivals.

– Fresh lockdowns –

France, Spain, Portugal and Italy all reported huge contractions in
their economies for the April-June quarter, while Europe as a whole
saw gross domestic product fall by 12.1 percent.

In a sign of the trade-offs being forced on European governments,
Britain imposed new lockdowns Friday on millions of households in
northern England.

With large Muslim populations in those areas, the ban was painfully
timed, on the eve of the Eid-al-Adha festival.

Meanwhile, in the United States — the world’s biggest economy and
hardest-hit nation — jobless Americans were bracing for an end to
extra unemployment payments after Congress failed to reach a deal on
extending benefits.

It came just a day after the US posted a second-quarter GDP drop of
9.5 percent from the same period a year ago, the worst it had ever
recorded.

– Sect leader arrested –

Fresh off a bout of COVID-19, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro
said Friday nearly everyone will probably end up catching the new
coronavirus, urging Brazilians to “face up to it” and saying there was
nothing to fear.

His comments came as Brazil’s death toll closes on 100,000 and as
Latin America’s biggest airline LATAM said it was laying off at least
2,700 crew over the coronavirus.

In South Korea the elderly leader of a secretive sect at the center
of the country’s early coronavirus outbreak was arrested Saturday for
allegedly hindering the government’s effort to contain the epidemic.

People linked to Lee Man-hee’s Shincheonji Church of Jesus
accounted for more than half of the South’s coronavirus cases in
February and March, when the country was enduring one of the worst
early outbreaks in the world.

The South has since been returning largely to normal, appearing to
have brought the outbreak under control with an extensive “trace, test
and treat” program.

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