Kazakhstan has proposed legislation that would see a 15% tax imposed on bitcoin mining firms. This is part of efforts to raise money to help with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Proposed by the country’s ministry of economy, the new tax plan requires bitcoin (BTC) miners to first file an application for registration with the authorities, according to a recent report by a local Russian publication.
After this, the taxpayer must then indicate the 15% tax on their annual tax calculations. The report notes that “the clause on registration makes the bill unique… the taxpayer working with cryptocurrencies stands apart from the very beginning of filing a tax return”.
Funds raised from the draft tax will be channeled toward building the infrastructure that is needed to combat COVID-19 while also giving the economy a boost. The disease has so far killed nearly 1,300 Kazakhs, with more than 100,000 infected, official data shows.
Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state in central Asia, accounts for about 8% of the global bitcoin hashrate total, says crypto research company Bitooda. Together with Iran and Russia, the country boasts the world’s third-largest BTC mining industry.
Miners are typically drawn to Kazakhstan’s cheap electricity, which averages 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.
In June, Kazakh Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry Minister Askar Zhumagaliyev revealed that a total of 14 bitcoin mining companies were operating in the country’s north.
Over the next three years, the country is targeting up to $738 million of investment from crypto-related activities, particularly mining, he said.
According to the Russian publication, the Kazakh government is also planning to introduce legislation to regulate the cryptocurrency industry. The new laws are expected to set new electricity tariffs for the crypto mining sector.
Emerging stronger from the pandemic: Acting on the early lessons learned
The European Commission has presented a Communication on the early lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months and building on them to improve action at EU and national level. This will help to better anticipate public health risks and enhance contingency planning leading to swifter and more effective joint responses at all levels.
Ten lessons focus on what has to be improved and what can be done better in the future. The ten lessons are not exhaustive, but provide a first snapshot of what needs to be acted upon now for the benefit of all Europeans:
- Faster detection and better responses require a robust global health surveillance and an improved European pandemic information gathering system. The EU should lead efforts to design a new robust global surveillance system based on comparable data. A new and improved European pandemic information gathering system will be launched in 2021.
- Clearer and more coordinated scientific advice would facilitate policy decisions and public communication. The EU should appoint a European Chief Epidemiologist and a corresponding governance structure by the end of 2021.
- Enhanced preparedness requires constant investments, scrutiny and reviews. The European Commission should prepare an annual State of Preparedness Report.
- Emergency tools need to be ready faster and easier to activate. The EU should establish a framework for the activation of an EU Pandemic State of Emergency and a toolbox for crisis situations.
- Coordinated measures should become a reflex for Europe. The European Health Union should be adopted swiftly, before the end of the year and coordination and working methods should be strengthened between institutions.
- Public-private partnerships and stronger supply chains are needed to ensure the flow of critical equipment and medicines. A Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) should be operational by early 2022 and a Health Important Project of Common European Interest should be set up as soon as possible to enable breakthrough innovation in pharmaceuticals. The EU FAB facility, should ensure that the EU has enough “ever-warm” capacity to produce 500–700 million vaccine doses per year, with half of these doses to be ready in the first 6 months of a pandemic.
- A pan-European approach is essential to making clinical research faster, broader and more effective. A large-scale EU platform for multi-centre clinical trials should be established.
- The capacity to cope in a pandemic depends on continuous and increased investment in health systems. Member States should be supported to strengthen the overall resilience of health care systems as part of their recovery and resilience investments.
- Pandemic prevention, preparedness and response is a global priority for Europe. The EU should continue leading the global response, notably through COVAX, and strengthening the global health security architecture by leading on strengthening the World Health Organization. Pandemic preparedness partnerships with key partners should also be developed.
- A more coordinated and sophisticated approach to tackling misinformation and disinformation should be developed.
This report on the early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic will feed the leaders' discussion at the June European Council. It will be presented to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and the Commission will follow up with concrete deliverables in the second half of 2021.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The EU's comprehensive response to the pandemic has been unprecedented in scale and delivered in record time, proving the importance of working jointly in Europe. Together, we have achieved what no EU Member State could have done alone. But we have also learned what worked well and where we could do better in future pandemics. We must now turn these lessons into changes.”
Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Despite the fact that health policy at European level is still in its nascent years, the EU's response to the pandemic was ample, and has included a wide range of unprecedented initiatives that were designed and delivered in record time. We acted with speed, ambition and coherence. This was achieved also thanks to the unprecedented solidarity demonstrated amongst EU institutions that ensured a united EU response. This is one great lesson we must continue to build on. But there is no time, nor room for complacency. Today, we are identifying specific areas where we already know more can and should be done to secure a more effective health response in the future. This crisis can be a catalyst for furthering European integration in the areas where it is most needed.”
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “An unprecedented public health crisis needs to be turned into an opportunity to build back stronger. The key lesson learnt from the COVID-19 crisis is the need to transform the ad hoc solutions that were used to deal with the crisis into permanent structures that will allow us to be better prepared in the future. We need to have a strong European Health Union in place as soon as possible. Time cannot be lost when faced with a public health threat or another pandemic. Emergency action must become structural capacity. Solidarity, responsibility, common effort at European level for the threats that touch all of us equally is what will sustain us through this crisis and the next.”
As the crisis started unfolding, the EU developed a wide range of health policy responses, exemplified by the common approach to vaccines through the EU Vaccines Strategy and initiatives across a range of other policies. The Green Lanes initiative kept food and medicines flowing throughout the Single Market. A common approach to assessing infection rates in different regions made testing and quarantining much more consistent. And more recently, EU Digital COVID Certificates were agreed on and implemented in record time, paving the way for the safe resumption of tourism and travel this summer, and beyond. At the same time, the EU took decisive action to tackle the economic fallout of the pandemic. This drew heavily on the experience and arrangements built to address previous challenges and crises in the economic and financial area.
However, these successes do not mask the difficulties that were encountered, notably on the scaling up of manufacturing and production capacities, partly due to a lack of a permanently integrated approach to research, development and production that slowed down the initial availability of vaccines. While this has since been addressed, longer term solutions are needed for mitigating future detrimental health events or crises.
EU set to add United States to safe travel list
European Union governments agreed on Wednesday (16 June) to add the United States to their list of countries from which they will allow non-essential travel, EU diplomats said, writes Philip Blenkinsop, Reuters.
Ambassadors from the EU's 27 countries approved the addition of the United States and five other countries at a meeting on Wednesday, with the change to take effect in the coming days.
Albania, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Serbia and Taiwan will be added, while Chinese administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau will be included with a requirement for reciprocity removed.
EU countries are recommended gradually to lift travel restrictions for the current eight countries on the list - Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.
Individual EU countries can still opt to demand a negative COVID-19 test or a period of quarantine.
G7: Collaboration, not competition is key to COVID vaccinations drive
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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