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#COVID-19 recovery must ensure resilience for workers and the planet

EU Reporter Correspondent

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We are witnessing a convergence of crises. The world is facing an unprecedented scale of human devastation from COVID-19 and communities are at risk of widespread destitution. The loss of lives is heart-breaking. The economic crisis has caused widespread hardship and uncertainty as swaths of the global workforce face unemployment, loss of income and mass workplace closures. This can only multiply global inequality, writes International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary and Global Commission on the Economy and Climate member Sharan Burrow. 

Meanwhile, the global climate crisis has not gone away. The immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic only increase the urgency for climate action. Be it climate or COVID, the pandemic has laid bare how ill prepared we are to manage major risks, and how existing vulnerabilities and inequalities can be exacerbated by a crisis.

In our efforts to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot afford to ignore the major threat posed by climate change. We must integrate recovery strategies that generate infrastructure, invest in care and jobs that are also part of the climate solution. Bailing out high carbon industries or investing in fossil fuel production risks the very survival of the human race. We can and must tackle both together, in order to save lives and protect workers.

The first wave of government action is necessarily focused on addressing the immediate impacts of COVID-19, stopping its spread and helping those affected by the virus or  unemployment. This alone is a huge task. Many countries are struggling to support impacted workers and communities. One of the missing pieces is a global social protection fund for the poorest of countries. It would take just $37 billion for five years to build resilience for all people in the Least Developed Countries.

The next waves of government response are focused on how to boost growth. In doing so, we must ensure that as the UN Secretary General says we ‘build back better’. Governments and multilateral development institutions will be investing trillions of dollars to address the crisis and reflate economies.

This is a once in a generation moment to accelerate the transition to a more resilient growth model.

The way through this crisis begins first with committing to a new social contract, and second with ensuring that the development pathways we set for our futures are more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.

First, the new world must be defined by a new social contract. The old social contract is unsustainable, unjust, and has drastically exacerbated impacts of the pandemic. Support for workers and businesses who are committed to rights and sustainability is imperative.

According to International Trade Union Confederation, many countries including Canada and New Zealand have shown commendable leadership in centering people in their crisis response. Now these gains must be maintained, and where there were exclusions, they must be resolved.

It’s time for many more governments to step up. The COVID-19 crisis is expected to wipe out up 300 million jobs in the second quarter of 2020. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook projects a 3% decline in global output, the worst since the 1930’s Great Depression.

The world needs to come together to establish universal social protection for all, to help vulnerable communities overcome this devastation and emerge stronger. We are all in this together.

Second, recovery efforts must mainstream twenty-first century approaches to how we produce, consume and live. These approaches must be more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient, and we must seek and prioritize them in economic recovery packages.

Low carbon investments make more sense than ever. Given rising global unemployment, such investments could boost jobs and generate strong economic returns. Bold climate action could deliver immediate social and economic benefits, including 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030.

Recent research shows that green COVID-19 recovery packages, which cut greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate economic growth, deliver higher returns than conventional stimulus spending.

Only one-sixth of countries prioritized green measures in stimulus packages during the global 2008 financial crisis. Those that did provide ample examples of positive results. The United States invested a record amount in clean energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which supported 900,000 clean energy job years from 2009 to 2015. Findings suggest US investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and public transportation double jobs per dollar compared to traditional alternatives.  In its recovery from the financial crisis, the Republic of Korea spent the highest proportion of its stimulus on green measures globally (about 69%), and rebounded faster than most OECD countries.

More recently, despite their government’s lamentable attack on labour laws and the minimum wage, Indonesia’s Low Carbon Development Initiative (LCDI) established clear evidence of the immediate benefits of a sustainable growth path through ambitious climate action. These benefits include higher employment, faster poverty alleviation, higher GDP growth, and better air quality.

The European Council has also moved swiftly to ensure that a green transition is central to the European Union’s economic response to COVID-19, building on the EU Green Deal announced in December 2019.

This is the sort of action we hope G20 finance ministers meant when they called for a recovery that achieves “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth” at their meeting last month. But it will take global coherence to ensure we see climate and employment ambition realised.

Instead of propping up already declining industries, we need to ensure a just transition and measures to reset our economic trajectory to help us build back better. Now more than ever, the path to a strong and inclusive recovery runs through uplifting the voices of workers, trade unions, and affected communities, and ensuring their protection.

This is the time to lay the foundation for a new social contract built on just working conditions and sustainable economic growth. With urgent, collaborative action, we can emerge from this crisis more resilient than ever.

COVID-19

US supports WTO waiver of Intellectual Property on COVID-19 vaccines

Catherine Feore

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In a surprise announcement by the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has announced that the US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and will “actively participate in WTO negotiations to make this happen”.

The USTR said that extraordinary times and circumstances called for extraordinary measures. 

In March, European Commission trade spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer told journalists that the current view of the European Union was that the problem of access to vaccines would not be resolved by waiving patent rights. 

Garcia Ferrer said that the real problem lay in insufficient manufacturing capacity to produce the required quantities. The European Commission very much welcomed the statement of WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who has said there should be a third way to broaden access to vaccines through facilitating technology transfer within the multilateral rules, to encourage research and innovation while at the same time allowing licensing agreements that helped to scale up manufacturing capacities. 

South African/Indian proposal

WTO members recently debated the proposal submitted by South Africa and India calling for a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement in relation to the “prevention, containment or treatment” of COVID-19. Since its submission, the proposal has received further support from Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt and the African Group within the WTO. 

The proponents argue that the waiving of certain obligations under the agreement would facilitate access to affordable medical products and the scaling-up of manufacturing and supply of essential medical products, until widespread vaccination is in place and the majority of the world’s population is immune. 

However, there is a lack of consensus and divergence on what role intellectual property plays in achieving the goal of providing timely and secure access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines to all. Proponents argue that existing vaccine manufacturing capacities in the developing world remained unutilized because of IP barriers. Other delegations asked for concrete examples of where IP would pose a barrier that could not be addressed by existing TRIPS flexibilities.

The outgoing chair of the TRIPS Council, Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter of South Africa, said swift action is urgently required to help scale up COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution. She called on members to shift gears and move towards a solution-oriented discussion.

The next regular TRIPS Council meeting is scheduled for 8-9 June, but members agreed to consider additional meetings in April in order to assess potential progress on the IP waiver discussion.

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EMA starts rolling review of COVID-19 Vaccine (Vero Cell) Inactivated

EU Reporter Correspondent

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EMA’s human medicines committee (CHMP) has started a rolling review of COVID-19 Vaccine (Vero Cell) Inactivated, developed by Sinovac Life Sciences Co., Ltd. The EU applicant for this medicine is Life'On S.r.l.

The CHMP’s decision to start the rolling review is based on preliminary results from laboratory studies (non-clinical data) and clinical studies. These studies suggest that the vaccine triggers the production of antibodies that target SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and may help protect against the disease.

EMA will evaluate data as they become available to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. The rolling review will continue until enough evidence is available for a formal marketing authorisation application.

EMA will assess the compliance of COVID-19 Vaccine (Vero Cell) Inactivated with the usual EU standards for effectiveness, safety and quality. While EMA cannot predict the overall timelines, it should take less time than normal to evaluate an eventual application because of the work done during the rolling review.

EMA will communicate further when the marketing authorization application for the vaccine has been submitted.

How is the vaccine expected to work?

COVID-19 Vaccine (Vero Cell) Inactivated is expected to prepare the body to defend itself against infection with SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine contains SARS-CoV-2 that has been inactivated (killed) and cannot cause the disease. COVID-19 Vaccine (Vero Cell) Inactivated also contains an ‘adjuvant’, a substance that helps strengthen the immune response to the vaccine. 

When a person is given the vaccine, their immune system identifies the inactivated virus as foreign and makes antibodies against it. If, later, the vaccinated person comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2, the immune system will recognise the virus and be ready to defend the body against it.

What is a rolling review?A rolling review is a regulatory tool that EMA uses to speed up the assessment of a promising medicine during a public health emergency. Normally, all data on a medicine or vaccine’s effectiveness, safety and quality and all required documents must be ready at the start of the evaluation in a formal application for marketing authorization. In the case of a rolling review, EMA’s human medicines committee (CHMP) reviews data as they become available from ongoing studies. Once the CHMP decides that sufficient data are available, the company can submit a formal application. By reviewing the data as they become available, the CHMP can come to an opinion on the medicine’s authorisation sooner.During the rolling review, and throughout the pandemic, EMA and its scientific committees are supported by the COVID-19 EMA pandemic task force (COVID-ETF). This group brings together experts from across the European medicines regulatory network to advise on the development, authorization and safety monitoring of medicines and vaccines for COVID-19 and facilitate quick and coordinated regulatory action.

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Ukraine's capital Kyiv eases coronavirus restrictions

Reuters

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Ukraine's capital Kyiv on Saturday (1 May) eased tough restrictions imposed last month to prevent the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.

In early April, Kyiv limited its public transport services, closed schools and kindergartens, theatres and shopping centres, and banned spectators from sporting events.

Starting from Saturday, the capital will allow the operation of transport, cafes and restaurants, although passenger and customer numbers will be restricted. Wearing masks is still mandatory in transport and public places.

Shopping malls and sports clubs were able to reopen on Saturday, while schools and kindergartens will open from 5 May, local authorities said.

Last month, Kyiv recorded some of highest numbers of new infections among Ukrainian regions, but new cases dropped significantly last week.

Ukraine has registered more than 2 million infections and 44,436 deaths since the pandemic started last year.

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