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AFP
June 9, 2021

Celebrities urge G7 to share vaccines with poor nations; Coronavirus cases spike in Saint Petersburg

AFP
June 9, 2021

Saint Petersburg: Russian health authorities said on Tuesday that coronavirus cases in Saint Petersburg were on the rise with days to go before the city co-hosts the postponed Euro 2020 football championship.

Authorities in Russia’s second city have set up additional hospital beds while assuring the spike in cases was due to a "cyclical" phenomenon. For the past month, the city recorded an average of 700 cases a day, but the number of daily infections has exceeded 800 for the last two weeks, according to a government tally.

The Health Committee of Russia’s second city said Tuesday that coronavirus cases were "on the rise". "The past week has shown that we recorded an increase in Covid-19 infections," the city’s governor Alexander Beglov said in a radio interview on Monday.

"It is connected to the cyclical nature of the activity of the virus," he said, adding that his team was taking "all the necessary measures". Also on Tuesday, local authorities said that a hospital for veterans with some 876 beds will be converted to a coronavirus ward. It will open its doors to patients by the end of the week.

In late May, another temporary hospital for coronavirus patients was reopened in Saint Petersburg after being shut since February. The former imperial capital will host seven Euro matches -- including a quarter-final -- in June and July after the tournament was postponed for a year due to the pandemic. Earlier in June, the city hosted the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, which despite being smaller than in previous years brought together thousands of participants.

By number of virus cases, Saint Petersburg is the second-most affected city in Russia, surpassed only by the capital Moscow. Russia imposed a strict lockdown when the pandemic first swept across the country last spring, but authorities lifted most virus measures within several months, opting to protect the struggling economy.

They also pinned hopes on Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, which was registered in August. But while Russia’s domestic vaccination campaign started in early December ahead of most countries, the country has struggled to innoculate its citizens.

Meanwhile, the Mastercard Foundation announced Tuesday a $1.3 billion initiative to galvanise Africa’s coronavirus vaccine campaign through a partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

The program will acquire vaccines for at least 50 million people and invest in vaccine production capacity on the continent, a joint press statement from the foundation and the Africa CDC said.

The campaign aims to help the African Union meet its goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the continent’s population by the end of 2022. So far, less than two percent of Africans have received at least one dose.

The United Nations warned last week that the continent was poorly prepared for a third wave of the virus, owing to the sluggishness of the vaccine rollout and the lack of overall health care infrastructure compared with rich countries. The initiative will help African countries accelerate the rollout of vaccines and "go a long way to begin to enable us and arm us to fight this pandemic," John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, said at a briefing.

Tuesday’s announcement "will be remembered when the history of this pandemic is written as the turning point and defining moment in our fight against Covid-19 on the continent," Nkengasong said.

In a related development, nearly 30 celebrities, from singer Katy Perry to footballer David Beckham, called on the G7 on Tuesday to share Covid-19 vaccines with poorer countries ahead of a summit in Britain this weekend.

The entertainment and sports figures urged the seven countries -- France, Italy, the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany and the United States -- to pledge at least 20 percent of their supply between June and August, amounting to 150 million doses.

"The world has spent a year and a half battling the Covid-19 pandemic, but the virus is still spreading in many countries and producing new variants with the potential to put us all back where we started," the missive warned.

"This means more school closures, more healthcare disruptions, and greater economic fallout -- threating the futures of families and children everywhere," it said.