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#Coronavirus global response: EU allocates additional €50 million in humanitarian aid

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On 20 May the European Commission announced an additional €50 million in humanitarian aid to help respond to the dramatic increase in humanitarian needs caused by the Coronavirus pandemic globally. The new funding follows increased appeals by humanitarian organizations, including the UN Global Appeal.

Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: “The coronavirus pandemic is creating a humanitarian crisis of an enormous scale in some of the most fragile countries in the world. The pandemic threatens food security in countries where public health systems were already weak before this new crisis. We must act now to leave no area of the world unprotected. This is in our common interest. And it is crucial that humanitarian actors continue to have the access to carry out their life-saving work.”

The new funding will help vulnerable people facing major humanitarian crises, notably in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Central African Republic, the Great Lakes region in Africa, Eastern Africa, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and Venezuela, as well as the Rohingya. It will provide access to health services, protective equipment, water and sanitation. It will be channelled through non-governmental organisations, international organisations, United Nations agencies, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Background

The €50m allocation comes in addition to significant humanitarian funding and actions already provided by the European Commission to respond to the most pressing needs created by the Coronavirus pandemic:

  • In February 2020, €30m was allocated to the World Health Organization. Since then, the Commission has, subject to the agreement of the EU budgetary authorities, planned around €76m to programmes included in the United Nations Global Humanitarian Response Plan. In addition, the Commission is providing direct funding for the work of humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, which are in the frontline of the humanitarian response to Coronavirus.
  • EU Humanitarian Air Bridge: On 8 May, the Commission also announced the establishment of an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to transport humanitarian workers and emergency supplies for the Coronavirus response to some of the most critically affected areas around the world. The first flight on 8 May, operated in cooperation with France, transported around 60 humanitarian workers from various NGOs and UN agencies and 13 tonnes of humanitarian cargo to Bangui in the Central African Republic. Two subsequent humanitarian cargo flights to Central African Republic will transport a further 27 tonnes of humanitarian supplies in total.On 15 May, on the second destination of the EU humanitarian air bridge 20 tons of supplies and humanitarian and health workers were flown to the West-African country of São Tomé and Principe. The flight was set-up in cooperation with the Portuguese government and several humanitarian partner organisations. On their return leg, the flight also brought back over 200 EU citizens and other passengers to Lisbon in a repatriation effort.

The additional humanitarian funding comes on top of some €20 billion in development and emergency funding from the Commission and member states for both short-term and long-term needs around the world as part of a 'Team Europe' approach.

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A global European Union response to the pandemic

Coronavirus Global Response: EU sets up a Humanitarian Air Bridge

 

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G7: Collaboration, not competition is key to COVID vaccinations drive

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The G7 summits of the world’s richest countries are not generally known for epochal decisions influencing global politics for years to come. In that sense, this year’s edition in the UK could be considered a rare exception to the rule, because of the united front the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Canada and the United States presented against China, increasingly viewed as their systemic rival, writes Colin Stevens.

Calling on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” as well as a “timely, transparent, expert-led and science-based” enquiry into the causes of the coronavirus pandemic, the G7 leaders affirmed a contrarian attitude towards China’s rising global influence. In its response, Beijing unsurprisingly decried the summit as “political manipulation” and “baseless accusations” against it.

While the anti-Chinese stance has profound geopolitical implications, the strong attention on blows traded between the G7 bloc and China largely drowned out – if not actively undermined – another equally important political decision of the summit: the issue of increasing global Covid-19 vaccination rates. Despite this being the main objective of the Summit, world leaders fell off the mark.

Falling short by 10 billion doses

At the summit, G7 leaders pledged to provide 1 billion doses of Covid vaccine to the world’s poorest countries through various sharing schemes, with French President Emmanuel Macron announcing that Germany and France would commit additional 30 million doses each. Highly outspoken about the need to vaccinate world if the pandemic is to be brought under control ahead of the event, Macron also demanded to waive vaccine patents to achieve the goal of vaccinating 60 percent of Africa by the end of March 2022.

Although these demands and the pledge for 1 billion doses seem impressive, the hard reality is that they will not be nearly enough to lead to a meaningful vaccination rate across Africa. According to estimates by campaigners, low-income countries need at least 11 billion doses to the tune of $50 billion. This means that at a time when infection rates across Africa are surging at unprecedented speeds, the doses promised by the G7 is but a drop in the ocean.

Donations, IP wavers and expanding production

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The G7 did add an unexpected twist in the final communiqué: a call for increasing the production of vaccines, “on all continents”. The underlying idea is that the world will be more resilient if it is more nimble and can quickly scale up production in case of need – for example, for booster shots or for the next pandemic.

This model of distributed production will not be able to rely solely on India’s Serum Institute. Luckily, other countries have gotten involved, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) becoming earlier this year the first Arab country that manufactures a vaccine – the Hayat-Vax’, the indigenously produced version of the Sinopharm vaccine.

The UAE began manufacturing Hayat-Vax at the end of March this year, and following the inoculation of the majority of its population, is positioning itself as a main exporter of the vaccine to lower-income countries as part of the global COVAX initiative. Several African countries have already received doses from the UAE, as have several Latin American countries, as the Emirates and China are planning to deepen their cooperation to increase regional vaccine production. There is little doubt that other countries will take part in this historic effort.

The G7’s warped priorities

When Macron talked about expanding the production of vaccines worldwide, he was likely referring to the steps taken by regional vaccine producers like the UAE. Yet considering the urgency of the situation, this year’s G7 is a costly missed opportunity in moving global vaccine diplomacy forward in a meaningful way.

It’s already evident that the EU, the US and Japan cannot alone produce enough vaccine doses for export while their own national vaccination programmes are still under way. This has been particularly evident in Europe, where internal political tensions have emerged as the debate on whether EU adolescents should be prioritized over the countless millions in the Global South has risen in prominence, indicating that Europe is currently unable to see the bigger picture in the fight against the virus – namely that every dose counts.

Moreover, export restrictions on certain ingredients vital in the production of vaccines needs to be addressed without delay. The same goes for the (difficult) question of patents and intellectual property.

If G7 nations fail on both these counts, the world’s largest economies will have undermined their own credibility at a time when vaccinating the world should be at the very top of the agenda. Besides engaging with non-Western producers, this must necessarily include sharing American and European vaccine technology with third countries as well, something Germany in particular has stonewalled.

If this year’s G7 shows the world one thing, then it is that the needy cannot buy anything with the underwhelming promises made. Good intentions are simply not enough: now is the time for action.

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French Muslims pay heavy price in COVID pandemic

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Volunteers of the Tahara association pray for 38-year-old Abukar Abdulahi Cabi, a Muslim refugee who died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during a burial ceremony in a cemetery in La Courneuve, near Paris, France, May 17, 2021. Picture taken May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Volunteers of the Tahara association bury the casket of 38-year-old Abukar Abdulahi Cabi, a Muslim refugee who died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during a burial ceremony in a cemetery in La Courneuve, near Paris, France, May 17, 2021. Picture taken May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Every week, Mamadou Diagouraga comes to the Muslim section of a cemetery near Paris to stand vigil at the grave of his father, one of the many French Muslims to have died from COVID-19, writes Caroline Pailliez.

Diagouraga looks up from his father's plot at the freshly-dug graves alongside. "My father was the first one in this row, and in a year, it's filled up," he said. "It's unbelievable."

While France is estimated to have the European Union's largest Muslim population, it does not know how hard that group has been hit: French law forbids the gathering of data based on ethnic or religious affiliations.

But evidence collated by Reuters - including statistical data that indirectly captures the impact and testimony from community leaders - indicates the COVID death rate among French Muslims is much higher than in the overall population.

According to one study based on official data, excess deaths in 2020 among French residents born in mainly Muslim North Africa were twice as high as among people born in France.

The reason, community leaders and researchers say, is that Muslims tend to have a lower-than-average socio-economic status.

They are more likely to do jobs such as bus drivers or cashiers that bring them into closer contact with the public and to live in cramped multi-generational households.

"They were ... the first to pay a heavy price," said M'Hammed Henniche, head of the union of Muslim associations in Seine-Saint-Denis, a region near Paris with a large immigrant population.

The unequal impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities, often for similar reasons, has been documented in other countries, including the United States.

But in France, the pandemic throws into sharp relief the inequalities that help fuel tensions between French Muslims and their neighbours - and which look set to become a battleground in next year's presidential election.

President Emmanuel Macron's main opponent, polls indicate, will be far-right politician Marine Le Pen, who is campaigning on issues of Islam, terrorism, immigration, and crime.

Asked to comment on the impact of COVID-19 on France's Muslims, a government representative said: "We don't have data that is tied to people's religion."

While official data is silent on the impact of COVID-19 on Muslims, one place it becomes apparent is in France's cemeteries.

People buried according to Muslim religious rites are typically placed in specially-designated sections of the cemetery, where graves are aligned so the dead person faces Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The cemetery at Valenton where Diagouraga's father, Boubou, was buried, is in the Val-de-Marne region, outside Paris.

According to figures Reuters compiled from all 14 cemeteries in Val-de-Marne, in 2020 there were 1,411 Muslim burials, up from 626 the previous year, before the pandemic. That represents a 125% increase, compared to a 34% increase for burials of all confessions in that region.

Increased mortality from COVID only partially explains the rise in Muslim burials.

Pandemic border restrictions prevented many families from sending deceased relatives back to their country of origin for burial. There is no official data, but undertakers said around three quarters of French Muslims were buried abroad pre-COVID.

Undertakers, imams and non-government groups involved in burying Muslims said there were not enough plots to meet demand at the start of the pandemic, forcing many families to call around desperately to find somewhere to bury their relatives.

On the morning of May 17 this year, Samad Akrach arrived at a mortuary in Paris to collect the body of Abdulahi Cabi Abukar, a Somali who died in March 2020 from COVID-19, with no family who could be traced.

Akrach, president of the Tahara charity that gives Muslim burials to the destitute, performed the ritual of washing the body and applying musk, lavender, rose petals and henna. Then, in the presence of 38 volunteers invited by Akrach's group, the Somali was buried according to Muslim ritual at Courneuve cemetery on the outskirts of Paris.

Akrach's group conducted 764 burials in 2020, up from 382 in 2019, he said. Around half had died from COVID-19. "The Muslim community has been affected enormously in this period," he said.

Statisticians also use data on foreign-born residents to build a picture of the impact of COVID on ethnic minorities. This shows excess deaths among French residents born outside France were up 17% in 2020, versus 8% for French-born residents.

Seine-Saint-Denis, the region of mainland France with the highest number of residents not born in France, had a 21.8% rise in excess mortality from 2019 to 2020, official statistics show, more than twice the increase for France as a whole.

Excess deaths among French residents born in majority Muslim North Africa were 2.6 times higher, and among those from sub-Saharan Africa 4.5 times higher, than among French-born people.

"We can deduce that... immigrants of the Muslim faith have been much harder hit by the COVID epidemic," said Michel Guillot, research director at the state-funded French Institute for Demographic Studies.

In Seine-Saint-Denis, the high mortality is especially striking because in normal times, with its younger than average population, it has a lower death rate than France overall.

But the region performs worse than average on socio-economic indicators. Twenty percent of homes are over-crowded, versus 4.9% nationally. The average hourly wage is 13.93 euros, nearly 1.5 euros less than the national figure.

Henniche, head of the region's union of Muslim associations, said he first felt the impact of COVID-19 on his community when he began receiving multiple phone calls from families seeking help burying their dead.

"It's not because they're Muslims," he said of the COVID death rate. "It's because they belong to the least privileged social classes."

White collar professionals could protect themselves by working from home. "But if someone is a refuse collector, or a cleaning lady, or a cashier, they cannot work from home. These people have to go out, use public transport," he said.

"There is a kind of bitter taste, of injustice. There is this feeling: 'Why me?' and 'Why always us?'"

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Joint statement by EU institutions: EU clears way for the EU Digital COVID Certificate

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On 14 June, the presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process.

On this occasion Presidents David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister António Costa said: “The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a symbol of what Europe stands for. Of a Europe that does not falter when put to the test. A Europe that unites and grows when faced with challenges. Our Union showed again that we work best when we work together. The EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation was agreed between our institutions in the record time of 62 days. While we worked through the legislative process, we also built the technical backbone of the system, the EU gateway, which is live since 1 June.

"We can be proud of this great achievement. The Europe that we all know and that we all want back is a Europe without barriers. The EU Certificate will again enable citizens to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights – the right to free movement. Signed into law today, it will enable us to travel more safely this summer. Today we reaffirm together that an open Europe prevails.”

The full statement is available online and you can watch the signing ceremony on EbS.

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