Tag Archives: Worldwide pandemic

Benicia Author Stephen Golub – Get the Whole World Vaccinated!

A Promised Land: Go Global

To fight Covid, there’s no alternative.

“Vaccine Nationalism”

Benicia Author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

As vaccinations bring the first flicker of light at the end of the Covid tunnel, the emergence of more transmissible and somewhat vaccine-resistant variants seem to stand in the way.

But there’s a path forward. In fact, as a matter of both principle and self-preservation, it’s the only path: Go global. Get the whole world vaccinated much more quickly than currently planned.

Going global is vital because, as explained in a recent Washington Post article, “A [coronavirus] mutation in any location [on the planet] will likely spread everywhere.” Inoculations in America will buy valuable time. But until we control Covid via worldwide vaccinations, we may have to keep striving to stay one step ahead of such mutations.

Drawing in part on a fine Foreign Affairs article decrying “vaccine nationalism,” a Fareed Zakaria  op-ed accordingly makes a case for a massive international effort to inoculate the entire world as soon as possible. Among his primary points:

“[O]ur current trajectory [which features a much faster vaccine roll-out for richer nations than the rest of the world] virtually guarantees that we will never really defeat the coronavirus. It will stay alive and keep mutating and surging across the globe.”

“The basic problem is in how the vaccine is being distributed around the world — not based on where there is the most need, but the most money…Rich countries make up 16 percent of the world’s population, yet they have locked up 60 percent of the world’s vaccine supply.”

“Duke University researchers say [that at the currently planned vaccination rate] many developing countries will not be fully vaccinated until 2024, which means the virus will have years to spread and mutate. In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates note that low- and middle-income countries will be able to vaccinate only 1 out of every 5 people by the end of 2021.”

“The International Chamber of Commerce has released a study showing that this lopsided vaccination of the world will cause global economic losses of $1.5 trillion to $9.2 trillion, of which half could be borne by the richest countries…Another study estimates that for every dollar rich countries invest in vaccines for the developing world, they would get back about $5 in economic output.”

“Bollyky and Bown lay out an excellent plan in Foreign Affairs. They argue that the United States should use the lessons from Operation Warp Speed to ramp up production and distribution of the vaccine worldwide…There is now a global vaccination effort to help developing countries, COVAX, which provides a powerful framework for action. President Donald Trump refused to join this effort [surprise, surprise] despite the participation of over 180 nations, but President Biden has reversed that decision.”

Ramping Up

Biden can and probably will do more. The question is whether he, other world leaders and pharmaceutical firms will commit to doing much, much more, by bolstering vaccine production and distribution to inoculate the entire planet well before 2024.

A key step would be to persuade or compel such firms to convert existing facilities into plants that manufacture Covid vaccines or other supplies crucial to the inoculation efforts. There’s already a precedent for this: A French firm, Sanofi, is making a Frankfurt pharmaceutical plant available to increase production of Pfizer’s vaccine.

Where persuasion or shared profit-making prove insufficient incentives for drug makers to boost production via factory conversion, Biden could invoke the Defense Production Act to force them to do so. His staff was reportedly considering that option during the transition period and is continuing those deliberations now.

Neither Gleeful Nor Glum

Word of the potentially more dangerous South African variant, and of other new strains, might make us wonder whether we can get a handle on the pandemic’s spread in America, much less the rest of the world. This is indeed cause for concern, putting us in a “race to vaccinate” in order to limit the spreads of such strains. The recent decisions of California and other states to start opening up again could prove premature, to put it mildly.

But there’s good news. With research findings indicating the Johnson & Johnson vaccine protects against Covid – albeit not quite as well as the Pfizer and Moderna drugs or as well against the South African variant as it does against other strains – the potential for ramped-up supplies to reach all of the world just became much more realizable.

For one thing, unlike those other two companies’ products, the J&J vaccine requires only one dose. It also differs in that it need not  be stored at ultra-low temperatures, a crucial consideration for much of the world. Finally, even at lesser overall efficacy, it still seems very effective at preventing severe illness and extremely effective at preventing death.

There are yet more reasons to be, if not gleeful, then not entirely glum regarding prospects for protecting both America and the world. More vaccines are already available to various degrees abroad, or are on the way. And the technology utilized for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is such that they can be adapted to fight virus variants in about six weeks (though regulatory and manufacturing hurdles can add time to their becoming widely available).

To be clear, ongoing vigilance and extra precautions against the new variants are well warranted. More people, perhaps many more, may die because of those mutations. My main point here is that we should not give up on helping the rest of the world, regardless of what happens here in coming months. In fact, a turn for the worse here is all the more reason to go global.

Principle and Self-preservation

A  case for aiding the entire human race does not only boil down to humanitarian principle – though saving millions of lives sounds pretty persuasive to me. Since Covid could remain a looming threat here as long as it surges elsewhere, self-interest and self-preservation might be the better selling points for those Americans (and other nationalities) who insist that “charity begins at home.” (That’s why, regarding another global challenge, Biden often frames fighting climate change in terms of jobs.)

Regardless, the battle against Covid demonstrates that we can’t hide behind the “America First” wall that fortunately lost out in November but still haunts this land. It’s not just Covid and our health, as crucial as they are. To a good degree, our economy, environment and security hinge on how the rest of the world is doing.

As Bill and Melinda Gates put it, “[L]ike it or not, we’re all in this together.”


Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.


Benicia resident Stephen Golub
 offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.
To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

World looks on in horror as Trump flails over pandemic despite claims US leads way

Donald Trump participates in a tour of Owens & Minor Inc, a medical supply company, on Thursday in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

The president’s outlandish behavior as Americans suffer has inspired horror and confusion while alienating allies

The Guardian, Julian Borger in Washington, Helen Davidson in Sydney, Leyland Cecco in Toronto, Daniel Boffey in Brussels, Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Angela Giuffrida in Rome, Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro and Emmanuel Akinwotu in London; 15 May 2020

The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that the US is “leading the world” with its response to the pandemic, but it does not seem to be going in any direction the world wants to follow.

Across Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, views of the US handling of the coronavirus crisis are uniformly negative and range from horror through derision to sympathy. Donald Trump’s musings from the White House briefing room, particularly his thoughts on injecting disinfectant, have drawn the attention of the planet.

“Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger,” the columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote in the Irish Times. “But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.”

The US has emerged as a global hotspot for the pandemic, a giant petri dish for the Sars-CoV-2 virus. As the death toll rises, Trump’s claims to global leadership have became more far-fetched. He told Republicans last week that he had had a round of phone calls with Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe and other unnamed world leaders and insisted “so many of them, almost all of them, I would say all of them” believe the US is leading the way.

None of the leaders he mentioned has said anything to suggest that was true. At each milestone of the crisis, European leaders have been taken aback by Trump’s lack of consultation with them – when he suspended travel to the US from Europe on 12 March without warning Brussels, for example. A week later, politicians in Berlin accused Trump of an “unfriendly act” for offering “large sums of money” to get a German company developing a vaccine to move its research wing to the US.

The president’s abrupt decision to cut funding to the World Health Organization last month also came as a shock. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, a former Spanish foreign minister, wrote on Twitter: “There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.”

A poll in France last week found Merkel to be far and away the most trusted world leader. Just 2% had confidence Trump was leading the world in the right direction. Only Boris Johnson and Xi Jinping inspired less faith.

survey this week by the British Foreign Policy Group found 28% of Britons trusted the US to act responsibly on the world stage, a drop of 13 percentage points since January, with the biggest drop in confidence coming among Conservative voters.

Dacian Cioloș, a former prime minister of Romania who now leads the Renew Europe group in the European parliament, captured a general European view this week as the latest statistics on deaths in the US were reported.

“Post-truth communication techniques used by rightwing populism movements simply do not work to beat Covid-19,” he told the Guardian. “And we see that populism cost lives.”

Around the globe, the “America first” response pursued by the Trump administration has alienated close allies. In Canada, it was the White House order in April to halt shipments of critical N95 protective masks to Canadian hospitals that was the breaking point.

The Ontario premier, Doug Ford, who had previously spoken out in support of Trump on several occasions, said the decision was like letting a family member “starve” during a crisis.

“When the cards are down, you see who your friends are,” said Ford. “And I think it’s been very clear over the last couple of days who our friends are.”

In countries known for chronic problems of governance, there has been a sense of wonder that the US appears to have joined their ranks.

FacebookTwitterPinterest  Trump’s press briefings have captured the world’s attention. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Esmir Milavić, an editor at Bosnia’s N1 TV channel, told viewers this week: “The White House is in utter dysfunction and doesn’t speak with one voice.”

Milavić said: “The vice-president is wearing a mask, while the president doesn’t; some staffers wear them, some don’t. Everybody acts as they please. As time passes, White House begins to look more and more like the Balkans.”

After Trump’s disinfectant comments, Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera, said in a TV interview: “Trying to get into Donald Trump’s head is more difficult than finding a vaccine for coronavirus. First he decided on a lockdown and then he encouraged protests against the lockdown that he promoted. It’s like a Mel Brooks film.”

In several countries, the local health authorities have felt obliged to put out statements to counter “health advice” coming from the White House, concerning the ingestion of disinfectant and taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug found to be ineffective against Covid-19 and potentially lethal.

The Nigerian government put out a warning that there is no “hard evidence that chloroquine is effective in prevention or management of coronavirus infection” after three people were hospitalised from overdosing on the drug in Lagos. It was not enough to prevent a fivefold increase in the price of the drug, which is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Trump’s decision not to take part in a global effort to find a vaccine, and his abrupt severance of financial support to the WHO at the height of the pandemic, added outrage and prompted complaints that the US was surrendering its role of global leadership.

FacebookTwitterPinterest  There is a sense of relief among Chinese state commentators that Trump’s antics have diverted some of the anger that could have been aimed at Beijing. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

“If there is any world leader who can be accused of handling the current crisis badly, it is Donald Trump, whose initial disdain for Covid-19 may have cost thousands of Americans their lives,” an editorial in the conservative Estado de São Paulo newspaper said last month.

The newspaper said Trump had only decided to take Covid seriously after finding himself “cornered by the facts” – and expressed shock at his decision to halt WHO funding.

“Even by the standards of his behaviour, the level of impudence is astonishing for the holder of an office that, until just a few years ago, was a considered reference in leadership for the democratic world,” it said.

Nowhere in the world is the US response to the pandemic more routinely castigated than in China. It is hardly surprising. Trump has consistently pointed to Chinese culpability in failing to contain the outbreak in its early stages, and the pandemic has become the central battleground for global leadership between the established superpower and the emerging challenger.

There is a palpable sense of relief among Chinese state commentators that the US president’s antics have diverted some of the anger that would otherwise have been aimed at Beijing.

“Only by making Americans hate China can they make sure that the public might overlook the fact that Trump’s team is stained with the blood of Americans,” said an English-language Global Times editorial late last month.

Its editor, Hu Xijin, tweeted: “US system used to be appealing to many Chinese people. But through the pandemic, Chinese saw US government’s incompetence in outbreak control, disregard for life and its overt lies. Washington’s political halo has little left.”

China’s failure to cooperate fully with the WHO and its heavy-handed diplomacy has won Beijing few friends, despite its dispatch of medical assistance around the world. But the German news weekly Der Spiegel argued that Trump had single-handedly managed to spare Beijing the worst of the global consequences for its failings.

“For a while, it looked like the outbreak of the coronavirus would throw China back by light years,” the magazine argued in an editorial. “But now it is US president Donald Trump who has to spend day after day in a stuffy White House press room explaining to the world why his country can’t get a grip on the pandemic.”

COVID-19 more deadly than previously reported, far more deadly than flu

Is COVID-19 deadlier than we thought?

Case fatality rate now twice what WHO reported in March
Graves of people who died in the past 30 days fill a new section of the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery, amid the new coronavirus pandemic in Manaus, Brazil, Monday, 5/11/20. The new section was opened last month to cope with a sudden surge in deaths. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Vallejo Times-Herald, By John Woolfolk, May 14, 2020
Among the key questions shaping debate around restrictive health measures to combat COVID-19 is how dangerous is the new coronavirus. Is it more like a bad strain of influenza, or is it deadlier?

Health experts say it’s too early in the pandemic for a definitive answer because the basic information to make that calculation — how many people contracted COVID-19 and how many died of it — isn’t fully known due to testing limitations.

But on March 3, before the rapid spread of cases prompted lockdowns around the U.S., the World Health Organization’s director- general reported that “globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” and “by comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.”

Today, by the WHO’s global case and fatality tally, the world’s COVID-19 death rate is twice what it reported in March — 7%. Other organizations tracking figures, such as Johns Hopkins University, show a similarly high global case fatality rate. Regionally, the figures vary more. WHO and Johns Hopkins figures for the U.S. show a rate around 6%, while the WHO’s figures for Europe indicate a rate of 9%.

“COVID19 is a pretty severe disease,” said Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Dr. Heng Duong, who rattled off similar case fatality rates to the Santa Clara County board of supervisors this week. “It is true most people do OK. But when folks get sick, they get really sick.”

By comparison, SARS — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — caused by a cousin of the new coronavirus killed 774 — 10% — of the 8,098 people it infected in a 2003 outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that virus proved not nearly as infectious, so it didn’t spread far.

The 1918-19 influenza pandemic, one of the most severe in history, which killed an estimated 50 million globally and 675,000 in the U.S., is generally estimated to have had a case fatality rate of more than 2.5%.

Duong and other experts said the true case fatality rate for COVID-19 may be much lower because there likely are a large number of people who have been infected with mild symptoms and were not confirmed through testing, which has largely been focused on those seeking hospital treatment or in highrisk settings.

But Duong added that “even if the case fatality rate is closer to 1%, that’s actually very high,” noting that seasonal influenza’s fatality rate is about a tenth of that.

In the U.S., 80% of COVID- 19 deaths have been among those age 65 and older, according to the CDC.

What does all this mean for us? Dr. Robert Siegel, a Stanford University professor of microbiology and immunology, said the relative danger of the disease has been part of a tug-ofwar between advocates and critics of public health lockdowns aimed at checking the virus’ spread. But the specific case rate ultimately doesn’t matter much — the public health response will be the same.

“There is a political component in how these things are being estimated,” Siegel said. “The fact is, we know this is a serious disease. We already know this is more serious than the flu. If you get the disease and the case fatality rate is 1% or the case fatality rate is 5%, I think you’d treat those the same. That would be an alarmingly high rate — you wouldn’t play Russian Roulette with those odds. If it’s 1 in a million that’s something else.”

The debate comes amid recent reports acknowledging a wider array of symptoms and complications in many COVID-19 cases — from “COVID-toe” skin lesions and loss of smell to kidney, heart and neurological damage, blood clots and strokes. Duong noted that influenza can cause some of those symptoms in some cases too, though the frequency has been higher with COVID-19. Still, he said about eight in 10 infected with the disease are able to ride it out at home.

Dr. Stephen Luby, an epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Stanford University, believes broader testing will eventually increase the number of people who have been infected and pull down the case fatality rate. “Some people do become very ill from this virus, but I do not see any evidence that this is substantially worse than the cases reported out of China early in the epidemic,” Luby said. “I still expect the infection fatality ratio to remain less than 1%. I expect that it will be worse than a typical influenza year, but not as bad as the influenza pandemic in 1919.”

Reopenings risk more virus outbreaks in the U.S. and around the world

Reopenings bring new cases in S. Korea, virus fears in Italy

A street that is normally swarming with vacationers as the tourism season kicks off stands empty in Cyprus’ popular seaside resort village of Ayia Napa, Saturday, May 9, 2020. With coronavirus restrictions gradually lifting, Cyprus authorities are mulling ways to get holidaymakers back to the tourism-reliant island nation that officials say is conservatively estimated to lose at least 60% of its annual tourist arrivals. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Associated Press, by Nicole Winfield, Vanessa Gera, Amy Forliti, 5/1020

ROME (AP) — South Korea’s capital closed down more than 2,100 bars and other nightspots Saturday because of a new cluster of coronavirus infections, Germany scrambled to contain fresh outbreaks at slaughterhouses, and Italian authorities worried that people were getting too friendly at cocktail hour during the country’s first weekend of eased restrictions.

The new flareups — and fears of a second wave of contagion — underscored the dilemma authorities face as they try to reopen their economies.

Around the world, the U.S. and other hard-hit countries are wrestling with how to ease curbs on business and public activity without causing the virus to come surging back.

In New York, the deadliest hot spot in the U.S., Gov. Andrew Cuomo said three children died from a possible complication of the coronavirus involving swollen blood vessels and heart problems. At least 73 children statewide have been diagnosed with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition — and toxic shock syndrome. But there is no proof the mysterious syndrome is caused by the virus.

Two members of the White House coronavirus task force — the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration — placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, a stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus.

Elsewhere, Belarus, which has not locked down despite sharply rising infections, saw tens of thousands turn out to mark Victory Day, the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed concerns about the virus as a “psychosis.”

That was in contrast to Russia, which skipped the usual grand military parade in Moscow’s Red Square. This year’s observance had been expected to be especially large because it is the 75th anniversary, but instead, President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier and a show of military might was limited to a flyover of 75 warplanes and helicopters.

Worldwide, 4 million people have been confirmed infected by the virus, and more than 279,000 have died, including over 78,000 in the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Spain, France, Italy and Britain have reported around 26,000 to 32,000 deaths each.

Germany and South Korea have both carried out extensive testing and contact tracing and have been hailed for avoiding the mass deaths that overwhelmed other countries. But even there, authorities have struggled to find the balance between saving lives and salvaging jobs.

Seoul shut down nightclubs, hostess bars and discos after dozens of infections were linked to people who went out last weekend as the country relaxed social distancing. Many of the infections were connected to a 29-year-old man who visited three nightclubs before testing positive.

Mayor Park Won-soon said health workers were trying to contact some 1,940 people who had been at the three clubs and other places nearby. The mayor said gains made against the virus are now threatened “because of a few careless people.”

Germany faced outbreaks at three slaughterhouses in what was seen as a test of its strategy for dealing with any resurgence as restrictions ease. At one slaughterhouse, in Coesfeld, 180 workers tested positive.

Businesses in the U.S. continue to struggle as more employers reluctantly conclude that their laid-off employees might not return to work anytime soon. Health officials are watching for a second wave of infections, roughly two weeks after states began gradually reopening with Georgia largely leading the way.

Some malls have opened up in Georgia and Texas, while Nevada restaurants, hair salons and other businesses were able to have limited reopenings Saturday or once again allow customers inside after nearly two months of restrictions.

The reopening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee-North Carolina border was a bit too tempting a draw as scores of nature lovers crowded parking lots and trails and even trekked into closed areas, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said. Many did not wear masks.

In Los Angeles, hikes to the iconic hillside Hollywood sign and hitting the golf links were allowed as the California county hit hardest reopened some sites to recreation-starved stay-at-homers.

Mayor Eric Garcetti urged “good judgment” and said the city would rely on education and encouragement rather than heavy-handed enforcement: “Not our vision to make this like a junior high school dance with people standing too close to each other,” he said.

In New York, a Cuomo spokesman said the governor was extending stay-at-home restrictions to June 7, but another top aide later clarified that that was not so; the May 15 expiration date for the restrictions remains in place “until further notice,” Melissa DeRosa said in an evening statement.

The federal government said it was delivering supplies of remdesivir, the first drug shown to speed recovery for COVID-19 patients, to six more states, after seven others were sent cases of the medicine earlier this week.

Italy saw people return to the streets and revel in fine weather.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala warned that “a handful of crazy people” were putting his city’s recovery at risk and threatened to shut down the trendy Navigli district after crowds of young people were seen out at the traditional aperitivo hour ignoring social-distancing rules.

The Campo dei Fiori flower and vegetable market was also bustling in Rome. But confusion created frustrations for the city’s shopkeepers.

Carlo Alberto, owner of TabaCafe, an Argentine empanada bar that was selling cocktails to a few customers, said that since reopening this week, police had threatened to fine him over crowds outside.

“Am I supposed to send them home? They need a guard here to do that,” he said. “The laws aren’t clear, the decree isn’t clear. You don’t know what you can do.”

Elsewhere, Pakistan allowed shops, factories, construction sites and other businesses to reopen, even as more than 1,600 new cases and 24 deaths were reported. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government was rolling back curbs because it can’t support millions who depend on daily wages. But controls could be reimposed if people fail to practice social distancing.

In Spain certain regions can scale back lockdowns starting Monday, with limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places. But Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down.

“The pandemic is evolving favorably, but there is a risk of another outbreak that could generate a serious catastrophe,” Spanish health official Fernando Simón said. “Personal responsibility is vital.”


Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland, and Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.