Pope Francis on Saturday made a call to the political leaders to make sure that Covid-19 vaccines are available to the poorest nations.
In many parts of the world, there is a “pharmacological marginalization” of those without access to health care, reports AP.
Francis met Saturday with members of an Italian aid group that collects donated medicines from pharmaceutical companies and distributes them to clinics and centers helping the neediest.
Francis says far too many people die in parts of the world for lack of drugs widely available elsewhere, and political leaders must take their plight into account.
“I repeat, it would be sad if in distributing the vaccine, priority was given to the wealthiest, or if a vaccine becomes the property of this or that nation and not for everyone,” the pope said.
Francis has previously called for universal access to the vaccine.
Fresh restrictions on social gatherings in England appear to be on the cards as the British government seeks to suppress a sharp spike in new coronavirus infections.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Friday that the country has to “come together” over the coming weeks to get on top of the spike. He said the new transmissions are largely taking place in social settings and are already leading to a doubling in the number of people being hospitalised with the virus every seven to eight days.
“We want to avoid a national lockdown altogether, that is the last line of defense,” he told BBC radio. “It’s not the proposal that’s on the table.”
Following days of criticism over its testing strategy, there is mounting speculation that the government will announce fresh curbs on the hospitality sector, such as pubs and restaurants, potentially involving curfews — something that has already been put in place in areas under local lockdown restrictions, reports AP.
According to the BBC, the British government's chief scientific adviser and medical officer have warned of another serious coronavirus outbreak and many more deaths by the end of October if there were no further interventions soon.
Possible measures being considered under this so-called “circuit break” are asking some hospitality businesses to close, or limiting opening hours, for a period — potentially two weeks.
The testing that is being conducted has already seen a sharp increase in cases over the past couple of weeks that have raised fears that the country with Europe's deadliest coronavirus outbreak may be in for a second wave during the winter.
Critics say it has lost control of the virus and that’s why new measures are being introduced.
Already this week, a ban on social gatherings of more than six people, including children, has come into effect for England. The other nations of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have announced similar clampdowns on meetings. And there are several areas across the UK that are living under localised restrictions.
Tougher restrictions on people and businesses were also announced Friday for parts of the northwest of England, the West Midlands and west Yorkshire. And in a sign that the virus is here to stay through the winter, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, cancelled the annual fireworks display on the River Thames.
‘Doing everything possible’
The latest daily figures show that another 3,395 new confirmed cases were reported. That down on the previous day’s 3,991, the seven-day average is around double the level a couple of weeks back.
As the experience of the pandemic has shown, there's usually a lag of a week or two between a rise in cases and hospitalisations and then a subsequent lag for deaths.
It's clear that the increase in cases is leading to a higher number of people requiring acute care. The number of patients being treated for the disease in hospitals in England increased to 894 on Wednesday, up from 472 on Sept 1, according to the latest government statistics. The number of hospitalised patients on ventilators rose to 107 from 59 in the same period.
The worry is that deaths will start to increase markedly in the days and weeks ahead. Though the UK is recording far fewer deaths on a daily basis than it did earlier this year, it still registered another 21 on Thursday, taking the total of those having died 28 days after testing positive for COVID-10 to 41,705.
“This is a big moment for the country," Hancock said. “We are seeing an acceleration in the number of cases and we are also seeing that the number of people hospitalised with coronavirus is doubling every eight days.”
The government's strategy over the coming weeks, he said, is to contain the virus down as much as is possible whilst ensuring schools and workplaces remain open.
"And doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that’s on the horizon of the vaccine and mass testing, and the treatments that, frankly, this country has done more than any other around the world to develop,” he said.
Julian Tang, an honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said the various measures in place or being considered, such as limiting gatherings to six or imposing curfews, can act as a “firebreak" in stopping the spread of the virus to the more susceptible groups of the population.
“But these are all incremental and each on their own or in patchy combinations may not be enough, in which case a full local lockdown may be needed to stop the spread," he added.
Satellite images show smoke from wildfires in the western United States has reached as far as Europe.
Data collected by the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service found smoke from the fires had traveled 8,000 kilometers through the atmosphere to Britain and other parts of northern Europe, reports AP.
The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, which operates some of the Copernicus satellite monitoring systems, said the fires in California, Oregon and Washington state have emitted an estimated 30.3 million metric tonnes (33.4 million tons) of carbon.
“The scale and magnitude of these fires are at a level much higher than in any of the 18 years that our monitoring data covers, since 2003," Mark Parrington, a senior scientist and wildfire expert at Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, said.
Parrington said the smoke thickness from the fires, known as aerosol optical depth or AOD, was immense, according to satellite measurements.
“We have seen that AOD levels have reached very high values of seven or above, which has been confirmed by independent ground-based measurement,” he said.
“To put this into perspective, an AOD of one would already indicate a lot of aerosols in the atmosphere.”
Also read: 10 dead in California fire
Navalny, 44, was flown to Berlin for treatment at the Charite hospital two days after falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia on Aug. 20. Germany has demanded that Russia investigate the case.
He has “successfully been removed from mechanical ventilation” and is able to leave his bed “for short periods of time,” the hospital said.
Although noting the improvement in Navalny’s health, the statement didn’t address the long-term outlook for the anti-corruption campaigner and most prominent opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Doctors have previously cautioned that even though Navalny is recovering, long-term health problems from the poisoning cannot be ruled out.
The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for Russia to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement and accusing the West of trying to smear Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov canceled a visit to Germany scheduled for Tuesday, his ministry announced.
In Novosibirsk, which Navalny visited days before falling ill, the head of his regional headquarters, Sergei Boiko, won a seat in the city council. The main Kremlin party, United Russia, which Navalny has dubbed a “party of crooks and thieves,” lost its majority on the council, according to the preliminary returns. Another Navalny representative, Ksenia Fadeyeva, won a city council seat in Tomsk, the city he left on the flight on which he fell ill.
The German government said tests by labs in France and Sweden had backed up earlier findings by a German military lab that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that British authorities said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018.
The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its designated laboratories, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
He said Germany had asked France and Sweden for an independent examination of the findings. German officials said labs in both countries, as well as the OPCW, took their own new samples from Navalny.
“In efforts separate from the OPCW examinations, which are still ongoing, three laboratories have meanwhile independently of one another presented proof that Mr. Navalny’s poisoning was caused by a nerve agent from the Novichok group,” Seibert said.
“We once again call on Russia to make a statement on the incident,” he added. “We are closely consulting with our European partners regarding possible next steps.”
Seibert wouldn’t identify the specialist French and Swedish labs. But the head of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, Asa Scott, told Swedish news agency TT: “We can confirm that we see the same results as the German laboratory, that is, that there is no doubt that it is about these substances.”
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “deep concern over the criminal act” that targeted Navalny during a phone call with Putin on Monday, Macron’s office said.
Macron confirmed that France reached the same conclusions as its European partners on the poisoning, according to the statement. “A clarification is needed from Russia within the framework of a credible and transparent investigation,” it added.
The Kremlin said Putin in the call “underlined the impropriety of unfounded accusations against the Russian side” and emphasized Russia’s demand for Germany to hand over Navalny’s analyses and samples to Russian experts. Putin also called for joint work on the case by German and Russian doctors.
With Germany’s findings corroborated by labs abroad, “we do not expect the bringer of the bad news -- namely us -- to be attacked further, but rather that they should deal with the news itself,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said of Russian authorities.
Russian officials have prodded Germany to share the evidence that led it to conclude “without doubt” that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels.
Asked why no samples from Navalny have been given to Russia, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr replied that “Mr. Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours.”
When he fell ill, Navalny was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk, where Russian doctors said no evidence of poisoning could be found and said he was too unstable to be transferred. A German charity sent a medical evacuation plane to bring him to Berlin, which it did after German doctors said he was stable enough to be moved.
“There are samples from Mr. Navalny on the Russian side,” Adebahr said. “The Russian side is called on, even after three independent labs have established the result, to explain itself, and Russia has ... all the information and all the samples it needs for an analysis.”
Navalny was kept in an induced coma for more than a week as he was treated with an antidote before hospital officials said a week ago that his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of it.
The morning bell Monday marked the first entrance to the classroom for the children of Codogno since Feb. 21, when panicked parents were sent to pick up their children after the northern Italian town gained notoriety as the first in the West to record local transmission of the coronavirus.
While all of Italy’s 8 million school students endured Italy’s strict 2½-month lockdown, few suffered the trauma of the children of Codogno, whose days were punctuated by the sirens of passing ambulances.
“Many lost grandparents,” said Cecilia Cugini, the principal of Codogno’s nursery, elementary and middle schools.
So while the reopening of Italian schools marks an important step in a return to pre-lockdown routine, the step bears more symbolic weight in the 11 towns in Lombardy and Veneto that were the first to be sealed off as coronavirus red zones.
Codogno Mayor Francesco Passerini said the town of 17,000 has had virtually no new cases for months now, but authorities are not being complacent. He said they have spared no effort in working with school administrators to provide maximum protection to the city’s 3,500 students.
“We hope it goes well, so that all we lived can be relegated to memory,” Passerini said.
In Codogno, nursery school children must have their temperatures taken at drop-off but are not required to wear masks. In elementary school and middle school, parents are asked to monitor temperatures at home and masks are required, though they may be lowered during lessons. In schools where distance cannot be maintained, older students will have to keep masks on all day.
Schools throughout the country struggled to identify new classroom spaces, for instance in church oratory buildings, and construct outside learning spaces. In a country where years of spending cuts have left many school buildings run down, administrators have jumped at the chance to take care of long-overdue repairs, in some places delaying school openings while work is finished.
School and local officials in Codogno worked tirelessly to ensure the smoothest return possible for students.
On Monday, masked elementary students waited in spaces designated by red tape to be called to class. Two classes were shifted from the more crowded of Codogno’s two elementary schools to ensure proper distancing. “Parents were not happy but we have dedicated a shuttle bus to bring the children back and forth, to address some of the discomfort,” Cugini said.
The middle school, meanwhile, receive 230 new desks commissioned by the government. Cugini said they will replace older, oversized desks to allow students to maintain enough distance to remove masks. Art and technology classes requiring more working room will rotate through the middle school’s auditorium.
The city also repaired the middle school roof and upgraded the bathrooms as part of preparations — both projects welcome and overdue.
“It is an emblematic moment for us,” Cugini said. “It is important to create an atmosphere so the students can experience the emotions of finding themselves back in school, with classmates and teachers, without being distracted by other things.”
For Maria Cristina Baggi’s daughters, ages 4 and 10, there was no back-to-school shopping for new backpacks: the old ones were fine as they had lain unused for the four months of distance learning last winter and spring. But there was the usual sense of anticipation to be reunited with classmates, the renewal that comes with every school year — tinged now by a not-so-distant concern that the COVID-19 back-to-school project will bring an uptick in contagion even here.
While there are many rules governing classroom behavior, some uncertainty remains.
“We have doubts about how to react to a cold or a coughing attack — that is an unknown for everyone,” Baggi said.