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President Tokayev addresses #Kazakhstan people on #COVID-19 measures

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Since 16 March, our country has been living in a state of emergency. This has been a difficult time for many citizens. Some have lost their income, some have lost their job, others had to change their life plans. I sympathize with everyone from the bottom of my heart. I had to make such a difficult but necessary decision in order to prevent the spread of a dangerous virus in Kazakhstan.

This has largely been successful. A pandemic is not growing exponentially.

Kazakhstan’s actions received positive reviews from the World Health Organization and international experts.

Tough quarantine measures have been put in place in the country, public transport has been suspended, most organizations and institutions switched to a remote mode of operation, disinfection of streets and residential facilities is being carried out, and all infected citizens are receiving medical care. Of course, the situation in different parts of the country is not the same.

In some regions, a surge in incidence has likely passed.

In other regions, the dynamics of the spread of the virus are still alarming.

Our actions are based on the specific situation on the ground.

Our main task is to preserve the life and health of our citizens. We are also taking measures to preserve the incomes of the population and ensure social and economic stability.

Once again, I want to assure you - in these difficult conditions, no one will be left alone with their problems, the state will not leave anyone in trouble.

During the state of emergency, I announced two packages of support measures. Their active implementation is under way, although this has not gone on without administrative blunders that led to fair criticism from our society.

4 million 250 thousand people have received financial assistance.

More than 570 thousand people have received food packages. We plan to provide products to more than 1.1 millionpeople of Kazakhstan. Funds are allocated from the Birgemiz Foundation, created on the initiative of the First President –Leader of the Nation. The “Nur Otan” party is carrying out active work.

In April-May, more than 1.6 million people will receive state assistance to pay for utilities.

The availability and quality of food products are monitored on an ongoing basis.

There are enough necessary products in the country.

Local authorities are controlling the prices of socially significant products.

We are trying to financially support our medical staff, who are on the front line of the fight against the pandemic. The Ministry of Health and governors are taking measures to support other categories of medical workers.

More than 1.6 million citizens and 11.5 thousand small and medium-sized businesses have received a deferral of payments of loans, as well as loans totaling more than 360 billion tenge.

SMEs are in a difficult position today. If we do not help them survive, there can be no discussion about restoring the country’s economy.

Tax incentive measures have covered more than 700 thousand companies and individual entrepreneurs, which will allow them to save around 1 trillion tenge.

Funds have been allocated for lending to small and medium-sized businesses at affordable rates.

In order to avoid job losses and reductions in people’s wages, a register of relevant companies is being formed, which will receive appropriate support. It should include genuinely important companies for our economy.

Despite all the difficulties, farmers continue to work. Their work deserves sincere respect.

The issues of conducting spring sowing work are largely resolved. There should be no obstacles here. This is the task of the Ministry of Agriculture and the governors.

200 billion tenge has been allocated for financing spring sowing work and forward purchase, including 70 billion allocated for the development of seed production, the purchase of fertilizers and pesticides.

Overall, the amount of funds aimed at supporting citizens and business amounts to almost 6 trillion tenge.

This, as you know, is a huge amount. The task of the Government and regulatory bodies is to ensure the absolute effectiveness of the funds spent, and the transparency of the entire financing process.

Having achieved these results, we cannot stop now. The situation is still extremely serious.

Coronavirus continues to attack the whole world. The number of cases is approaching 3 million people, and this figure will increase. A second wave of the pandemic is expected.

The peak of the disease in Kazakhstan has not fully passed. There is still the threat of the situation getting out of control.

Unfortunately, in some regions, primarily in Almaty, a large number of doctors and medical workers have been infected with the coronavirus. Measures are being taken to ensure the safety of medical personnel.

It is necessary to carefully analyze the reasons, determine the responsibility of officials, and prevent a recurrence of such a situation.

Without further precautions, other epicenters of infection may occur. If simultaneous removal of lockdown measures is implemented, we will face a new wave of incidence.

The danger of the disease can not be minimized. Coronavirus is highly contagious and carries a serious threat to human health. This is recognized by almost the whole world.

To say otherwise is to go against common sense or to pursue malice. Given the current situation in our country and on the basis of a proposal by the State Commission and experts, I have decided to sign a Decree on the extension of the state of emergency until May 11 of this year.

This decision is dictated by the current complex reality.

In accordance with the law, the state of emergency will be completed on May 11, unless, of course, a new massive outbreak of the epidemic occurs. I hope this will not happen.

Our common task is to prevent a negative scenario in Kazakhstan. For me there is nothing more important than the life of every compatriot.

At the same time, the State Commission for ensuring the emergency regime is ready to soften the quarantine regime, primarily in areas and cities where the spread of the virus is under control.

The State Commission is entrusted with determining the list of organizations that will begin their work in all regions of the country, following the example of the capital.

First of all, these are industrial enterprises, construction and road construction companies, transport companies, banks, and public service centers.

But at the same time, it is necessary to ensure compliance with all sanitary standards, and conduct regular disinfection of workplaces. In everyday life you need to adhere to the rules of social distancing.

Company managers and local executive bodies are personally responsible for this. The role of the governors’ offices of all levels is growing significantly.

The Government will provide assistance in the amount of 42,500 tenge to citizens who have lost income for the second month. You do not need to apply again. Payments will be made based on previously submitted documents.

Families who are in need will continue to receive food packages. During the isolation period, it is not easy for parents with young children, who find it especially difficult to sit inside four walls.

The State Commission, together with the governors’ offices, should work out the issue of opening access to playgrounds and courtyards.

Naturally, this should be done with strict adherence to all sanitary standards and requirements.

Those with a summer residence are very worried, as we are in the midst of the most important spring period. The State Commission has considered this issue, and the decision will be announced publically.

All passenger flights were suspended in the country. This was completely justified. But taking into account the relative stabilization of the situation, the Government will open flights from May 1 between the capital and Almaty.

This is necessary both for citizens and for the work of many specialists, including those involved in the fight against the virus.

At the same time, it is important to carefully consider all safety precautions, to develop regulations for the interaction of aviation and sanitary-epidemiological services.

Partial relaxation of quarantine measures cannot be seen as a return to the normal way of life.

Shopping and entertainment centres, cinemas, restaurants, parks and other crowded places will be closed for visiting. Distance learning will continue in universities, colleges, and schools.

I urge the people of Kazakhstan to treat these measures with understanding, it is necessary to be patient.

Warm weather and quarantine fatigue should not lead to irresponsibility. Violations of the lockdown regime can increase the number of coronavirus victims.

The main risk groups are people with chronic diseases and the older generation.

But there are examples of children becoming infected, and we have no right to risk their health.

There are no vaccines yet for coronavirus. Only strict observance of quarantine measures saves thousands of people from a dangerous virus. I ask you not to leave your homes without a specific need.

This is especially important during the holy month of Ramadan. This year, on the recommendation of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan, we will have to abandon some traditions, including gathering guests for iftar during fasting.

Ahead are also the May holidays, which will also have to be celebrated at home.

But none of the veterans of World War II will be left without attention.Governors will provide material assistance to war and home front veterans. The Ministry of Health is faced with the task of increasing the volume of testing to at least 20-25 thousand tests per day, which corresponds to leading international standards.

The Government is instructed to bring the production of domestic test systems to the industrial level as soon as possible.

We need to take measures to use the available capacities for the production of immunobiological supplies.

When the vaccine formula is available, Kazakhstan should not depend on its supply from abroad.

In the post-crisis period, we will give priority to the development of medicine. This area will receive massive government support.

The Government should make practical proposals for improving the public health system in the draft new Code on Public Health and the Health Care System. I hope Parliament will adopt the Code before the end of the session.

Overall, we must now prepare for the post-crisis period. This was convincingly stated by the Leader of the Nation at a meeting of the Security Council on April 24.

By May 11, the Government and the National Bank will prepare a Comprehensive Plan for Restoring Economic Growth, including support for the most affected sectors.

Our country is entering a new phase of its development. In fact, we will live in a new reality.

Therefore, it is necessary to carry out a large-scale, in-depth transformation of the economy and public administration.

Today I again appeal to citizens who are on the front line of the fight against the pandemic.

Once again I express my gratitude to our doctors and all medical personnel, law enforcement officers and the military, who steadfastly and selflessly ensure the safety of our people.

I also thank the volunteers. Despite the risks, they are helping citizens in need on a daily basis.

I want to express my gratitude to journalists and media workers who continue to provide citizens with timely and reliable information.

The employees of the state apparatus deserve support too, as they are ensuring the vital activity of the state and the implementation of the package of anti-crisis measures in the most difficult conditions.

Kazakhstan is absolutely transparent in front of the international community, we are publishing all the data, no matter how sad it may be. In this regard, I ask some citizens to refrain from conspiracy gossip.

Yes, there are lapses in the work of state bodies, including systemic ones. We see them, we are learning lessons, and in the post-quarantine period we will take the necessary measures. But most government workers are working honestly and even selflessly.

The crisis has shown that Kazakh citizens are a nation of true patriots. With your interested participation, we will be able to achieve all the goals. There is no doubt about that.

Together we will cope with all the difficulties and problems!

We are together!

~Head of State President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

coronavirus

Papua New Guinea: EU allocates €1 million to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable during COVID-19

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The EU has mobilized €1 million in emergency aid from the Epidemics Tool to assist those affected by COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea. The number of cases has skyrocketed in the last month, pushing the country's already stretched health system to the limit. The funding will support the International Committee of the Red Cross to implement a six-month intervention focused on the most urgent needs such as increasing treatment capacity of public health care system, supporting local health authorities to scale up the response and providing assistance to vaccination campaigns. This emergency Epidemics Tool allows the EU to provide rapid funding in case of an epidemic outbreak in a humanitarian context.

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How a WHO push for global vaccines needled Europe

Reuters

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A nurse prepares to administer the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Eka Kotebe General Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 13, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
A man displays a vial AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine as the country receives its first batch of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines under COVAX scheme, in Accra, Ghana February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a statement on EU's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine strategy, following a college meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium April 14, 2021. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

Last April, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added Europe to a global effort to ensure equitable access to a vaccine, which she said would be deployed "to every single corner of the world", write Francesco Guarascio and John Chalmers.

But despite pledging billions of dollars for the scheme set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and publicly endorsing it, European Union officials and member states repeatedly made choices that undermined the campaign, internal documents seen by Reuters and interviews with EU officials and diplomats show.

A year after its launch, Europe and the rest of the world have yet to donate a single dose through the vaccine scheme, which is part of an unprecedented effort to distribute vaccines, tests and drugs to fight the pandemic. Diplomats say Europe's ambivalence stemmed partly from short supplies and a slack start to the global campaign, but also from concerns that the EU's efforts would go unnoticed in a vaccine diplomacy war where highly publicised promises from China and Russia were winning ground, even in its own backyard.

The programme, co-led by international agencies and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), is a bulk-buying platform to share doses worldwide. But with the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump having turned its back on the WHO, the plan, called COVAX, was slow to win support and focused on using funds from rich countries to buy doses for less-developed ones.

Von der Leyen presented Europe's support for the COVAX campaign as a gesture of international unity. EU officials privately cast the bloc's vaccine aims in a less altruistic light.

"It's also about visibility," that is, public relations, Ilze Juhansone, Secretary-General of the EU Commission and the Commission's top civil servant, told ambassadors at a meeting in Brussels in February, according to a diplomatic note seen by Reuters. Juhansone declined to comment.

A senior diplomat said many of those at that meeting felt Europe, which is by far the largest exporter of vaccines in the West, had goals that would be better served by plastering "more blue flags with yellow stars" on vaccine parcels and sending them out itself, rather than through COVAX.

Brussels, which is coordinating vaccine deals with its members, has reserved a huge surplus - 2.6 billion doses for a population of 450 million so far. It has promised nearly €2.5 billion ($3bn) in support to COVAX. That made the EU the biggest funder until the administration of US President Joe Biden pledged $4n this year to the plan, which aims to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of the year.

But supplies for Europe's own population are behind schedule, and despite giving funds, the EU and its 27 governments have also hampered COVAX in several ways. Like other rich countries, EU nations decided not to buy their own vaccines through COVAX, and competed with it to buy shots when supplies were tight. All except Germany offered the overall programme less cash than requested.

More than this, Europe promoted a parallel vaccine donation system that it would run itself, to raise the EU's profile.

"There is huge frustration because there is a feeling that right now the race is on but we're not really out of the starting blocks," a senior diplomat told Reuters.

"We're spending money on COVAX and the return in terms of political visibility is nil."

Russia says it wants to supply vaccines to countries directly. China has pledged support to COVAX. But both Moscow and Beijing have separate deals to deliver more than 1 billion doses to Africa, Latin America, and to EU partners such as Turkey, Egypt, Morocco and Balkan states that are candidates to join the bloc.

Most doses will take time to be delivered, but Russia and China have already exported about twice COVAX's deliveries of around 40 million doses.

COVAX was also hit in March by export restrictions on vaccines from India, which slowed supplies from its main provider of shots.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly urged rich countries to set aside nationalistic impulses and share vaccines, calling the current situation "a shocking imbalance." Non-EU member Britain, for instance, has already injected about as many shots as COVAX has delivered to more than 100 countries.

COVAX officials told Reuters they received sufficient funds by the end of last year, but these came later than expected.

A spokeswoman for GAVI, the vaccine alliance that runs the scheme and speaks for COVAX on such issues, said EU support had been "unequivocal" and it expects doses to be donated soon. The WHO added that von der Leyen's personal support had been "invaluable."

An EU Commission spokesman told Reuters COVAX had been very successful in structuring global collaboration and securing millions of doses. He called the programme "our best vehicle to deliver on international vaccines solidarity" and the EU's "key channel for sharing vaccines."

Part of COVAX's difficulty is structural. Soon after it was set up, the wealthiest countries were sealing advance orders with drug companies to secure doses as they became available. The vaccination scheme has always relied on rich states for cash, which they have been slow to give.

COVAX aimed to be a platform for countries to buy vaccines, which would give it bargaining power and allow it to dispense doses among those most in need worldwide. Recognising supplies would be tight, its initial aim was to distribute doses for at least 20% of each country's populations to cover the people most at risk.

At an internal meeting last July, an EU Commission official told ambassadors that member states should not buy their shots through COVAX as they would come too slowly, diplomatic notes show. The Commission later set the target to vaccinate 70% of adults in the EU by the end of September.

COVAX changed some of its terms the next month to try to convince wealthy nations to join in, but no EU nations signed up to use the platform for their vaccination drives. The EU gave COVAX financial guarantees to pay for vaccines, but also made it harder for COVAX to do this, by arranging to buy far more doses than the bloc needed.

In November, the EU pledged more money to COVAX, but only after it had signed contracts with vaccine makers for nearly 1.5 billion doses - more than half Brussels' estimate then of global production capacity for this year, internal documents show.

Even though Europe had reserved such a large share, the Commission told diplomats in a meeting that month that COVAX was too slow in procuring doses.

That was when the Commission raised the possibility of setting up a mechanism of its own to send shots to poor countries outside the EU.

Within a month, France started to flesh out that plan. Shots would be sent directly from manufacturers - possibly before deliveries started through COVAX - and labelled as "Team Europe" donations, a draft plan said.

The move, revealed at the time by Reuters, caused an outcry among officials at COVAX. Read more

One told Reuters in April the plan was driven by France's desire to get shots to Africa, where France formerly had colonies, and smacked of colonialism. French diplomats said they never showed a preference for any country, and Africa was most in need.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in mid-January the EU's own plan would go ahead - because COVAX was not yet fully operational. Countries to focus on would include the Western Balkans, the EU's southern and eastern neighbours and Africa.

The next month, having reserved more than 2 billion doses but with actual deliveries hit by production problems, the EU doubled COVAX funding to €1bn. Russia and China had already delivered millions of doses across the world. COVAX had yet to deliver any. And France's President Emmanuel Macron was publicly losing patience.

Europe and the United States should quickly send enough vaccines to Africa to inoculate the continent's healthcare workers or risk losing influence to Russia and China, Macron said in a speech at a security conference, without specifying how these donations should be made.

Unless rich countries speeded up deliveries, "our friends in Africa will, under justified pressure from their people, buy doses from the Chinese and the Russians," Macron told the conference. "And the strength of the West will be a concept, and not a reality." Read more

Despite Macron's urgency, France's cash support for the overall WHO programme - to cover tests and treatments as well as vaccines - was limited.

The WHO asked countries for contributions in proportion to their economic power. France has committed $190 million - about 13% of the $1.2 billion requested, a WHO document dated March 26 shows.

Other EU countries are also far below expected contributions; some have given zero. But Germany has helped offset this by publicly pledging $2.6bn, well above the $2bn requested.

French diplomats said the country's contributions are expected to increase soon.

On 24 February, COVAX shipped its first vaccines. The EU softened its criticisms.

At a meeting on 9 March, at the height of the European Union's own problems in procuring shots for its own citizens, a Commission official told diplomats COVAX was the main tool for donating vaccines to other countries.

But the official said Europe still needed its own mechanism, because COVAX had money, but only a tiny portion of the shots it needed. And the EU scheme would have "the advantage of giving us visibility," the official said.

At that same meeting, EU ambassadors were shown data compiled by the EU's foreign affairs service which those present said revealed how far the bloc's vaccine diplomacy was lagging behind its competitors.

They learned that Russia had orders for 645 million doses of its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine with dozens of countries, and that China was shipping millions of doses to EU neighbours, the data showed.

"We are completely out of this game," one of the diplomats who was there told Reuters.

Reuters could not confirm the data exactly. But figures assembled by the United Nations agency UNICEF, which works with COVAX on vaccine deliveries, show Russia has deals to deliver nearly 600 million doses, including to EU states. China has deals to sell about 800 million doses, including agreements with European countries such as Serbia, Ukraine and Albania.

Later that month the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, made the point candidly: "The EU is the major driver behind COVAX," he wrote in a blog on 26 March. "But we do not get the recognition that the countries using bilateral vaccine diplomacy do."

On Tuesday, the EU Commission said the EU would share over half a million doses with Balkan countries from May through the EU scheme. That was two weeks after COVAX had delivered its first shots to the region. Read more

($1 = €0.8282)

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EMA finds a possible - very rare - link to blood clots for Janssen vaccine

Catherine Feore

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The European Medicines Agency (EMA)  safety committee has concluded (20 April) that a warning about unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be added to the product information for the COVID-19 Vaccine developed by Dutch company Janssen, also known as the Johnston and Johnson vaccine. 

The new advice comes after eight reports of serious cases of unusual blood clots in the United States, which has already used this product to vaccinate more than seven million people. One of these cases resulted in a fatality. All cases occurred in people under 60 years of age within three weeks of vaccination, the majority in women. The cases reviewed were very similar to the cases that occurred with the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, Vaxzevria.

It will be up to individual EU countries to decide whether they want to use this vaccine. The Janssen vaccine has the notable advantage of only requiring a single-shot, rather than a two-dose process.

The EMA are clear that the use of the vaccine continues to outweigh the risks for people who receive it. The vaccine is effective at preventing COVID-19 and reducing hospitalisations and deaths.

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