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AFP
June 19, 2021

Many countries forced to suspend vaccine programme: WHO

AFP
June 19, 2021

Many countries forced to suspend vaccine programme: WHO

GENEVA: A "huge number" of poorer countries have had to suspend their coronavirus vaccination programmes due to a lack of doses, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.The shortages often mean people who have received one dose of Covid-19 vaccine have to wait too long before they can get their second jab.

"We have a huge number of countries that have had to suspend their rollout of their second doses of vaccine," said Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s frontman for the international Covax scheme which provides vaccine doses to poorer countries.

"If I remember correctly, it’s over 30 or 40 countries that could have been targeted for second doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, for example, who will not be able to do that," Aylward added. The countries affected by this problem are spread throughout the Indian subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, the WHO expert said.

Countries around India, like Nepal and Sri Lanka, have been "particularly hit hard" and face "a severe wave of disease", he added. The Serum Institute of India (SII), producing AstraZeneca doses, was supposed to be the backbone of Covax’s supply chain -- but India restricted exports to combat its own devastating coronavirus surge.

"We are now urgently trying to work with AstraZeneca itself, as well as SII, the government in India to restart those shipments so that we can get those second doses into those populations because we are running to a longer interval than we would have liked in that regard," said Aylward.

He bemoaned that "only countries right now that have got the financial resources, who are producing the products, actually have access to vaccines". On Monday, the WHO warned that coronavirus is moving faster than the vaccines, and that the G7 nations’ vow to provide a billion doses for poorer nations is simply not enough.

In Africa only about one percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to WHO figures. As of Thursday, the Covax scheme had provided just 88 million vaccine doses, spread out over 131 countries, far less than originally planned.Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his priority is keeping the "country safe from Covid", as a source confirmed to AFP that UEFA is keeping the option open of moving the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final from Wembley to Budapest.With the closing stages of the European Championship scheduled to take place in London, The Times reported that Johnson was considering exempting around 2,500 UEFA and FIFA officials, sponsors and broadcasters from quarantine measures in place in Britain due to coronavirus protocols.

This would free them up to attend training sessions, matches, meet with British government ministers and move around freely. Some fear this would spark discontent among Britons whose ability to travel on holiday has been restricted by rules enforcing a strict period of self-isolation or quarantine on their return.

According to The Times, Johnson is keen to allow the officials in as he sees it as an ideal moment to lobby for a mooted joint bid, along with the Republic of Ireland, for the 2030 World Cup.

However, he struck a more cautious tone on Friday. "We will do what we have to do to keep the country safe from Covid," he said. "That’s obviously going to be our priority. We will be talking to UEFA about what they want and see if we can make some sensible accommodations, but the priority has to be public health."

However, Professor John Edmunds, a member of SAGE, the government’s scientific advisory body, told Times Radio that allowing the officials in would not pose a threat. He said the Delta variant had barely taken hold in mainland Europe and their rates of infection were "much, much lower than they are here".

"I don’t think it’s really going to be the major problem for us," he added. "I don’t think it’s going to change the course of the epidemic in the UK." Several reports said government ministers were nervous that if rules were not relaxed then UEFA could move the semi-finals and final to Budapest, where there will be no border restrictions for travel within the Schengen zone from next week.

Hungary is also prepared to host the games with full stadiums while Wembley will only be half full. A source close to the organisers, who asked not to be identified, told AFP the option of moving the semi-finals and final to Budapest "was one that is being considered".Italy will reintroduce a five-day quarantine on arrivals from Britain while easing rules for other countries, Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on Friday.Britain on Thursday recorded 11,007 new daily coronavirus cases, with the emergence of the Delta variant pushing the figure above 10,000 for the first time since late February.

"I have signed a new order that... introduces a five day quarantine with a requirement to take a test for those coming from Britain," Speranza wrote on Facebook. A health ministry spokesman said the order would come into force on Monday.

It also extends an existing ban on arrivals from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Speranza said it would also allow entry for those arriving from the European Union, the United States, Canada and Japan who meet the requirements of the so-called Green Certificate issued by the EU.

That digital Covid certificate, which comes into force on July 1, will demonstrate whether a bearer has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has been recently tested or has acquired immunity from previously contracting the disease and recovering.

Currently those arriving from the United States, Japan and Canada must show a negative coronavirus test and quarantine for 10 days on arrival unless they come on one of a limited number of "Covid-free" flights.