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Over 400 civil society groups from across the world unite to demand world leaders act together to fight #COVID-19 and deliver a plan to build back better

EU Reporter Correspondent

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In response to the global crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, community volunteers, local civil society groups, and major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have joined forces to demand a 12-point plan from world leaders.

Ahead of the World Health Assembly and as governments consider key steps towards recovery, the group is calling for a joined up plan to fight the crisis and build a just recovery that tackles the interlinked challenges of providing universal healthcare, reducing inequalities and guaranteeing human rights; alongside the critical need to re-think our economies in response to the parallel crises of climate change and biodiversity.

An unprecedented coalition of over 400 organisations working on human rights and sustainable development in every continent have come together including Action for Sustainable Development, CIVICUS, Femnet, Forus, GCAP, Global Citizen, HelpAge International, Oxfam, Restless Development, Save The Children, Women Deliver and many more regional networks, voluntary groups and local activists.

It comes as the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable groups is becoming increasingly evident. Recent analysis shows that the COVID-19 crisis risks pushing half a billion people into poverty. The UN has estimated that the pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, pushing it to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020 and there are predictions of very high numbers of more cases of domestic violence around the world this year as a result of pandemic restrictions.

The statement comes ahead of a joint ‘Day of Solidarity’ to highlight community action around the world on Friday, 22 May 2020.

In a joint statement, the groups have said: “We are strongly committed to ensuring that civil society organisations and volunteers play a critical role in supporting community action and ensuring that those who are most often marginalised are not left behind through this challenging time… but we expect world leaders to ensure key measures are addressed to build a fairer future.”

GCAP Global Co-Chairwoman Rebecca Malay said: “Now is the best time to come together to change the system that created these multiple crises. Only with the people can governments achieve the change we need.”

GCAP Global Co-Chairman Riccardo Moro said: “This global pandemic shows how connected we are, but at the same time how weak we are in responding together. Competition among nations and irresponsible delegitimization of multilateral institutions, combined with neoliberal policies that have systematically shrunk resources and public roles, have harmed our capacity to respond to this crisis. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the most vulnerable are paying the highest price and inequalities, already unacceptable, are increasing. We need strong political initiatives to provide health care and social protection for all. We need robust policies to support a fair recovery in the framework of climate justice, focusing on social inclusion and reduction of inequalities. We call for debt cancellation and daring financial policies. We condemn all forms of discrimination, racism, and lack of human rights. We support the UN Secretary General’s call for immediate ceasefires globally. We call for a true and committed and effective global solidarity.”

HelpAge International CEO Justin Derbyshire said: “COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on older people and those with disabilities and underlying health conditions, who also face serious social and economic consequences from the pandemic. It highlights the importance of a whole-of-society approach to deliver well-resourced health and social protection systems that respond to all ages. This is an urgent healthcare emergency that shines a glaring light on the underlying fragility and inequalities of our societies and the critical need for stronger, more resilient and equitable systems, as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.”

CIVICUS Secretary General Lysa John said: “Inequalities have exacerbated the challenges facing many populations during this global pandemic, it is essential that any stimulus and rescue packages must include commitments and measures to ensure universal health and social care, gender equality and a global commitment to universal social protection. At the same time, it is critical that as part of the recovery, every country meets their obligations under the Paris Agreement; putting us firmly on the path to net zero, with global heating limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve the above, meaningful partnerships with Civil Society are vital. We urge decision makers to involve Civil Society in policy responses and create enabling conditions for our participation.”

African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) Executive Director Memory Kachambwa said: “Women play an outsized role in the COVID-19 response. They constitute 70% of the world’s health care workforce and recognizing that they are workers who are on the frontlines of responding to this health emergency, they must be adequately, appropriately and properly protected and supported to cope with the multiple impacts. At the same time, women’s traditional role as caregivers for sick family members is putting more women and girls at greater risk of infection and increasing the burden of care work. Women particularly from the Global South are engaged in informal work, with poor social security and are among the most affected during this pandemic.

"Past health emergencies have caused a disruption in routine health services such as access to sexual and reproductive health products and services, access to vaccines programmes, and the provision of quality maternal care—this disruption of services has grave consequences to millions of lives. We call on governments to safeguard the provision of essential health services through strong primary healthcare systems and universal healthcare systems that are inclusive of sexual and reproductive health services during and post this COVID-19 crisis. Governments must include service providers working on ending gender-based violence as essential services.”

"In summary as world leaders begin to map a way forward out of the crisis, the groups call on them to ensure the approach to recovery is guided by the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals. They insist that: “We need a major economic stimulus that underpins a new social contract between people, governments and the market, that radically reduces inequality, gender inequalities and lays the foundations for a just, equal and sustainable economy that works for all people at every stage of their lives.”

Full set of 12 points are as follows:

The UN to:

1. Connect immediate response and recovery funding directly with local groups which includes a ‘gender marker’ for women, marginalized people, community organisations and social enterprises to ensure we leave no one behind

2. Safeguard freedom of expression and support innovative approaches to digital freedom of assembly to ensure all voices are heard

3. Promote the global ceasefire and support governments to re-direct military spending to social protection

4. Call for a ban on the live wild animal trade and a halt to deforestation

In the short term ‘response’ phase, member state governments and donor agencies to:

5. Safeguard health-care workers and social care workers on the frontline by ensuring they have access to safe and decent working conditions and are resourced properly

6. Involve civil society organizations in policy and operational responses to COVID-19

7. Uphold financial and policy commitments to a human rights based approach, in particular the rights of older people, persons with disabilities and women, girls and gender diverse people

8. Implement clear social and environmental conditions on any emergency financial stimulus to companies, such as treating workers fairly and cutting carbon emissions

In the medium term ‘recovery’ phase, Member state governments and donor agencies to:

9. Drive a seismic shift towards universal healthcare, welfare payments and social protection that include essential services such as vaccine programs, sexual and reproductive health products and services for all

10. Cancel national debts to ensure sufficient finance is available to governments to ensure a just recovery

11. Adopt fairer taxation policies on those who hold the most resources in our society, alongside measures to tackle illicit financial flows to pay for these protections

12. Put in place incentives for a feminist, green industrial revolution to enable rapid scaling up of sustainable jobs

For more information, click here.

For more information, see also GCAP’s COVID-19 page.

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Coronavirus: Health Security Committee updates the common list of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Health Security Committee (HSC) has agreed to update the common list of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs), including those whose results are mutually recognised by EU member states for public health measures. Following the update, 83 RATs are now included in the common list, of which the results of 35 tests are being mutually recognised. Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said: “Rapid antigen tests play a crucial role to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Diagnostics are a central element for member states in their overall response to the pandemic. Having a wider list of recognised rapid antigen tests will also make it easier for citizens to benefit from Digital Green Certificates and to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU in the coming months.”

In addition, the Commission and the Joint Research Centre have agreed on a new procedure for updating the list of common and mutually recognised RATs in the future. From today onwards, RATs manufacturers will be able to submit data and information for certain tests that meet the criteria agreed by the Council on 21 January 2021. This includes only those rapid tests that are being carried out by a trained health professional or other trained operator and excludes rapid antigen self-tests.  Moreover, as part of the new procedure, the HSC is setting up a technical working group of national experts to review the data submitted by countries and manufacturers and to propose updates to the HSC.

They will also work with the JRC and the ECDC on a common procedure for carrying out independent validation studies to assess the clinical performance of RATs. The updated common list of COVID-19 RATs is available here. Manufacturers can submit data on rapid antigen tests available on the market here. The Council Recommendation on a common framework for the use and validation of RATs and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results in the EU can be found here.

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Europe dares to reopen as 200 millionth vaccine dose delivered

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FILE PHOTO: People drink at the terrace of a bar, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease, in London, Britain, April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo/File Photo
People gather in a "macrobotellon" (drinking and dancing session) on a street, as the state of emergency decreed by the Spanish government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is lifted in Barcelona. Spain, May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

As its vaccination drive reaches a third of adults and COVID-19 infections ease, Europe is starting to reopen cities and beaches, raising hopes that this summer’s holiday season can be saved before it is too late, write Michael Gore and Estelle Shirbon.

Exhilarated Spaniards chanting “freedom” danced in the streets as a COVID-19 curfew ended in most of the country at the weekend, while Greece reopened public beaches - with deckchairs safely spaced.

With 200 million vaccine doses delivered, the European Union is on track to achieve its goal of inoculating 70% of its adult population by summer, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Sunday.

And, in Germany, a first weekend of summer sun lifted spirits after Health Minister Jens Spahn declared the third wave of the pandemic finally broken.

Yet, Spahn warned: "The mood is better than the reality."

The national seven-day incidence of COVID-19 cases remains high at 119 per 100,000 people, he said. "That makes it all the more important to keep up the speed of the vaccination campaign."

Across the EU, the seven-day incidence of COVID-19 is 185, according to Our World in Data. That is far higher than in countries such as Israel with 6, Britain (31), or the United States (123), all of which made quicker early progress in their vaccination drives.

In Britain, early orders and approval of vaccines and a decision to give first doses to as many people as possible have driven down infections and fatalities far more quickly.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to set out the next phase of lockdown easing in England, giving the green light to “cautious hugging” and allowing pubs to serve customers pints inside after months of strict measures.

"The data reflects what we already knew - we are not going to let this virus beat us," Johnson said ahead of an official announcement later on Monday.

Vaccine deliveries were slower initially in the EU under its centralised procurement strategy.

Now, with shots from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna relatively plentiful, vaccinations as a share of the population in Europe are growing while countries that made early advances see slowdowns as they encounter hesitancy among the unvaccinated.

Some 31.6% of adults in 30 European countries have received a first dose and 12% a full two-shot regime, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker showed.

France expects to give 20 million first injections by mid-May, and hit 30 million by mid-June.

With infection rates falling and occupancy in hospital intensive care units declining, France plans to start relaxing its curfew and allow cafes, bars and restaurants to offer outdoor service from 19 May.

Improving supply has given countries greater freedom to adapt their strategies following reports of very rare, but sometimes fatal, blood clotting in people who received shots from AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N).

Germany has decided to make the two vaccines available to anyone who wants them, as long as they have been advised by a doctor - an offer aimed at younger adults who would have to wait their turn otherwise.

Norway’s vaccine commission made a similar call on Monday (10 May), saying the AstraZeneca and J&J shots should be made available to volunteers. Some Italian regions are also offering both shots to people under 60.

With some governments shortening the gaps between doses, and plans for an EU digital “green pass” scheme in June for travellers to provide proof of vaccination or immunity, people cooped up for months are finally daring to make holiday plans.

"We're pinning our hopes on tourism," said Nikos Venieris, who manages a beach in Alimos, an Athens suburb.

Tourism accounts for about a fifth of Greece’s economy and jobs, and the country can ill afford another lost summer. Greece is lifting restrictions on vaccinated foreigners from 15 May.

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EU says willing to give AstraZeneca more time for vaccine deliveries

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A medical worker prepares a dose of Oxford/AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Antwerp, Belgium March 18, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

The European Union is willing to see its COVID-19 vaccine contract with AstraZeneca fulfilled three months later than agreed, providing the company delivers 120 million doses by the end of June, a lawyer representing the bloc said on Tuesday (11 May), writes Francesco Guarascio.

The lawyer was speaking in a Belgian court as proceedings in a second legal case brought by the European Commission against AstraZeneca over its delayed delivery of vaccines got underway.

Officials familiar with the case said the lawsuit is mostly procedural - pertaining to the merits of the issue - after a first case was launched in April, and would allow the European Union to seek possible financial penalties.

However, the EU asked in court on Tuesday for a symbolic compensation of 1 euro for what it deems a breach of contract by AstraZeneca.

A lawyer for AstraZeneca complained in court that the EU's executive had launched a second case given that one had already been opened.

AstraZeneca had originally agreed with the EU to deliver 300 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, but has so far delivered only 50 million.

The EU's lawyer told the court that the bloc could accept the full contract of 300 million to be delivered only by the end of September, but the company should deliver 120 million doses by the end of June.

AstraZeneca's lawyer told the judge that it "hopes" to deliver 100 million by the end of June.

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