US set to buy 500M doses for world: Biden

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Elephants at a reserve in southern India have been tested for Covid-19 after a lion died of the virus. AFP

The US is set to buy 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to distribute around the world, media reported on June 9, as France and Belgium relaxed virus restrictions to allow restaurants and cafes to serve indoors.

The Washington Post and The New York Times, citing people familiar with the matter, said President Joe Biden was due to formally announce the huge donation of Pfizer-BioNTech doses at a Group of Seven (G7) meeting in Britain this week.

The move comes as the US faces pressure to do more about the global vaccine shortage, with rich countries having bought up the lion’s share of early supplies.

With the global death toll at more than 3.7 million, many nations are still struggling to contain outbreaks.

Rapid vaccine rollouts in wealthier parts of the world, however, including the US and Europe, are allowing the return of activities unthinkable just a few months ago.

In France, that included sipping a drink inside a cafe, allowed on June 9 for the first time in months. With the easing of the curfew in the country, venues are not only opening up inside, they’re open later outdoors too – an extra two hours to 11:00 pm.

Belgium also relaxed restrictions, allowing cafes and restaurants to serve indoors, while mask-wearing rules were eased in Brussels.

Europe is continuing to see infection spikes in some places – Portugal, for instance, delayed Lisbon’s post-lockdown reopening on June 9.

But the bloc’s accelerating vaccination campaign has fuelled hopes of a return to normality. Almost half of all adults in the EU have received at least one shot, with almost 26 per cent fully vaccinated.

Optimism in Europe and the US, however, are still tempered by the outlook for billions of the world’s poor still with no sign of a vaccine in sight.

In what is believed to be the first known death of an animal in India from the coronavirus, a nine-year-old lioness at Vandalur Zoo in Chennai in Tamil Nadu state passed away early this month, local media reported.

The feline was among nine lions that had tested positive for the virus, including two who were in critical condition, Chennai’s The New Indian Express newspaper reported last week.

This prompted forest rangers at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the south of Tamil Nadu to test 28 elephants, including two calves, for the virus on June 8 as a precautionary measure. The nasal and anal samples from the pachyderms were sent to Indian Veterinary Research Institute in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, with results expected to arrive in a week.

And while India is showing some signs of turning the tide against its brutal epidemic, that’s come at a cost to the neighbours it was previously supplying with vaccines. They’re now turning to Russia and Beijing for help with supplies.

Nepal, where barely two per cent of the population are fully vaccinated, resumed shots on June 8 after a million more Sinopharm doses arrived from China, the only country so far to respond to its appeals for help.

Sri Lanka has also been aggressively rolling out China’s Sinopharm jab after receiving two million doses in the past week, opening its programme to pregnant women on June 9.

In a further sign that the fight against the pandemic is far from over, Russia on June 9 warned of a spike in new cases that would force it to reopen mothballed field hospitals.