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Is Russia facing a third wave of COVID-19?

Alex Ivanov. Moscow Correspondent

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While Europe, especially France, Italy, Germany and Spain are increasingly being quarantined, taking into account the onset of the third and very serious wave of coronavirus disease, things in Russia, judging by official statistics, are not so bad, writes Alex Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

In Moscow and other major cities of the country almost all severe restrictions have been lifted. Shopping centers, restaurants and cafes, theaters and cinemas are open, the streets of the cities are full of people. The only thing that the Russian authorities have not yet decided to cancel is the mask regime in places of mass gathering of people. But even this restriction seems to be nothing more than symbolic.

On average 8-9 thousand new cases of the disease are recorded per day in Russia, and the mortality rate remains low. Although the authorities admit that the past 2020 was a record year for an increase in mortality among the population. Experts and analysts partly attribute this problem to the COVID pandemic.

New cases of the disease are recorded in almost all regions of Russia. The «leaders” in the number of cases traditionally remain Moscow, the Moscow region and St. Petersburg.

The total number of people infected with coronavirus in Russia since the beginning of the pandemic has reached 4,554,264, of which 99,233 have died, and 4,176,419 have been cured.

Recently Deputy Minister of Health of Russia Tatyana Semenova noted that "the third wave is inevitable if a quarter of Russians do not receive the vaccine by May 2021”.

Indicators of the incidence of coronavirus in Russia show the possibility of a third wave of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health of Russia reported.

"Unfortunately, the second wave of coronavirus infection captured the beginning of 2021, and now the incidence and course of diseases allow us to talk about the third wave of coronavirus infection," say officials of the Ministry

The peak of coronavirus incidence in Russia occurred in December 2020. Then the operational headquarters daily recorded from 26 thousand to 29 thousand new cases of infection. After the New Year, the incidence declined — by the end of January 2021 no more than 20 thousand cases per day were detected in the country. Since mid-March 8-9 thousand cases of infection have been recorded daily in Russia.

Virologist, professor of Moscow State University Alexey Agranovsky said that the next surge in the incidence may occur in the fall of 2021. He also said that he is not a supporter of the term "wave", since " the coronavirus behaves like a common acute respiratory viral disease."

The head of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, Veronika Skvortsova, said in early March 2021 that, according to modern mathematical models, "the third wave of COVID-19 is inevitable, if we do not take into account vaccination." According to calculations, the wave should begin in May of this year, its peak will be in October 2021, she said. To avoid the third wave of coronavirus infection in Russia, it is necessary to vaccinate a quarter of the country's population by May, Skvortsova said.

On February 20, the RBC news agency, based on the results of a survey of regional operational headquarters, reported that 3.23 million people — about 2.2% of the Russian population-were vaccinated against coronavirus in all Russian regions. The leaders in the share of vaccinated residents were Moscow, as well as the Sakhalin and Magadan regions. In Sakhalin, by February 18, more than 5.1% of residents (25 thousand people) received at least one dose of the vaccine, in Moscow — 4.73%, in the Magadan region-4.2%.

The authorities have adjusted their position on the development of the epidemic and vaccination several times. In December 2020, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that a new phase of coronavirus in the country "probably require consideration of certain restrictions on the movement of individuals, including between regions, as well as sometimes within regions”. But after that, his assistant Alexey Kuznetsov clarified that the phrase of the Minister was taken out of context and he did not propose to introduce new restrictions.

In March 2021 Russian epidemiologists stated that repeated vaccination with Sputnik V may be excessive, since "the components of the vaccine will already be destroyed by those antibodies that can be stored in our body."

Worldwide, according to WHO, there are 127.8 million cases of the disease. According to the calculations of Johns Hopkins University, the number exceeded 128.9 million. More than 2.8 million people have died.

The United States, Brazil, India and France were the most susceptible to infection. Russia is in the fifth place on the list. Next are the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, Spain and Germany.

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Germany wants to use Regeneron's COVID-19 antibody therapy more broadly

Reuters

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Germany would like to use Regeneron’s COVID-19 monoclonal antibody cocktail as a treatment for this disease more broadly but needs to finalize some details on reimbursement, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday (15 April), writes Caroline Copley.

“The drug is available in Germany, we need it much more and we want it much more and we are working on rolling it out across the nation,” he told a weekly news conference.

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President von der Leyen on developments in the Vaccines Strategy

EU Reporter Correspondent

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In a press statement on 14 April, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer to accelerate the delivery of 50 million vaccine doses to the second quarter of this year, starting this month: “We are in a race against time. The faster we reach our target of having 70% of adults in the European Union vaccinated, the better chances we have of containing the virus. And the good news is: Vaccination is picking up speed across Europe! Member states have received over 126 million doses of vaccines as of yesterday (13 April). And I am happy to say that today we have reached 100 million vaccinations in the EU. This is a milestone that we can be proud of. Of these 100 million vaccinations, more than a quarter are second doses – which means that we have now more than 27 million people fully vaccinated I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer to, once again, speed up the delivery of vaccines. 50 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines will be delivered in quarter 2 of this year, starting in April. This will bring the total doses delivered by BioNTech-Pfizer to 250 million doses in the second quarter. These doses will be distributed pro-rata to the population, among all the member states. This will substantially help consolidate the roll-out of our vaccination campaigns.” As part of preparations for the medium term, the Commission is also entering into a negotiation with BioNTech-Pfizer for a third contract, to foresee the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccine over the period of 2021 to 2023. This contract will entail that not only the production of the vaccines, but also all essential components, will be based in the EU. The President's full statement is available online in English, and French and shortly in German. You can watch it here.

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Coronavirus response: Commission proposes to exempt vital goods and services distributed by the EU from VAT in times of crisis

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission has proposed to exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT) goods and services made available by the European Commission, EU bodies and agencies to Member States and citizens during times of crisis. This responds to the experience gained  during the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, it has shown that the VAT charged on some transactions ends up being a cost factor in procurement operations that strains limited budgets. Therefore, today'sinitiative will maximise the efficiency of EU funds used in the public interest to respond to crises, such as natural disasters and public health emergencies. It will also strengthen EU-level disaster and crisis management bodies, such as those falling under the EU's Health Union and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Once in place, the new measures will allow the Commission and other EU agencies and bodies to import and purchase goods and services VAT-free when those purchases are being distributed during an emergency response in the EU. The recipients might be Member States or third parties, such as national authorities or institutions (for example, a hospital, a national health or disaster response authority). Goods and services covered under the proposed exemption include, for instance:

  • Diagnostic tests and testing materials, and laboratory equipment;
  • personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, respirators, masks, gowns, disinfection products and equipment;
  • tents, camp beds, clothing and food;
  • search and rescue equipment, sandbags, life jackets and inflatable boats;
  • antimicrobials and antibiotics, chemical threat antidotes, treatments for radiation injury, antitoxins, iodine tablets;
  • blood products or antibodies;
  • radiation measuring devices, and;
  • development, production and procurement of necessary products, research and innovation activities, strategic stockpiling of products; pharmaceutical licences, quarantine facilities, clinical trials, disinfection of premises, etc.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that these kinds of crises are multifaceted  and have a wide-ranging impact on our societies. A rapid and efficient response is essential, and we need to provide the best response now in order to prepare for the future. Today's proposal supports the EU's goal to react to crises and emergencies in the EU. It will also ensure that the financial impact of EU-level relief efforts to fight the pandemic and support the recovery is maximized.”

Next steps

The legislative proposal, which will amend the VAT directive, will now be submitted to the European Parliament for its opinion, and to the Council for adoption.

Member States shall adopt and publish, by 30 April 2021 the laws regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive. They shall apply those measures from 1 January 2021.

Background

The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown into sharp light the importance of coherent, decisive and centralised EU-level preparation and response in times of crisis. In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, the von der Leyen Commission has already outlined plans to strengthen EU preparedness and management for cross-border health threats, and presented the building blocks of a stronger European Health Union. At the same time, the Commission has proposed to strengthen cooperation between EU Member States through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism with the aim of improving responses to future natural or man-made disasters. For instance, in the context of the new European Health Union, the Commission announced the creation of the Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA) to deploy rapidly the most advanced medical and other measures in the event of a health emergency, by covering the whole value chain from conception to distribution and use.

The EU has already taken action in the field of taxation and customs to support the fight against and the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In April 2020, the EU agreed to waive customs and VAT charges for imports of masks and other protective equipment needed to fight the pandemic. This waiver remains in place and plans are underway for its extension. In December 2020, EU member states agreed on new measures proposed by the Commission to allow a temporary VAT exemption for vaccines and testing kits being sold to hospitals, doctors and individuals, as well as closely related services. Under the amended Directive, member states can apply either reduced or zero rates to both vaccines and testing kits if they so choose. 

More information

Commission proposes to exempt vital goods and services distributed by the EU in times of crisis

Council directive amending Council Directive 2006/112/EC as regards exemptions on importations and on certain supplies, in respect of Union measures in the public interest

COVID-19 response in the field of taxation and customs

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