EU offers vaccine hope as Trump slams China over coronavirus

Published May 15, 2020
WELLINGTON (New Zealand): A barber wearing a face mask cuts a customer’s hair on Thursday.—AFP
WELLINGTON (New Zealand): A barber wearing a face mask cuts a customer’s hair on Thursday.—AFP

THE HAGUE: The European Union’s medicines agency suggested on Thursday that a vaccine for the coronavirus could be ready in year, as US President Donald Trump once again lashed out at Beijing for its handling of the outbreak.

World leaders past and present have insisted that any eventual vaccines and treatments should be made available to everyone free of charge, as the World Health Organisation said the disease may never go away.

The dire warning came as the global death toll from the disease neared 300,000, with more than 4.2 million people infected, according to an AFP tally.

A long-simmering row between Washington and Beijing escalated again on Thursday when Trump said he was in no mood to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I have a very good relationship, but I just, right now I don’t want to speak to him,” he told US media. “I’m very disappointed in China. I will tell you that right now,” said Trump, referring to its handling of the virus.

When asked how the US might retaliate, Trump gave no specifics but struck a threatening tone, saying: “There are many things we could do. We could do things. We could cut off the whole relationship.”

Shared science

With the race to find a vaccine gathering pace, the European Medicines Agency said one could possibly be ready in a year based on data from trials underway.

Announcing the forecast at a video news conference, Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, stressed that it was a “best-case scenario”. “We know also that there may be delays,” he said, voicing scepticism over reports a vaccine could be ready as early as September.

And world leaders were among 140 signatories to a letter published on Thursday saying any vaccine should not be patented and that the science should be shared among nations.

“Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge,” it said.

But a row was brewing in France after drugmaker Sanofi said it would reserve first shipments of any vaccine it discovered to the United States.

The comments prompted a swift rebuke from the French government and President Emmanuel Macon’s top officials were due to meet with company officials early next week. “This vaccine must be a global public good, which is not submitted to market forces,” the presidency said in a statement.

A vaccine could allow countries to fully reopen from shutdowns that have battered economies and thrown millions of people out of work.

But the WHO cautioned on Wednesday that the virus may never be wiped out entirely. “This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away,” said Michael Ryan, the global health body’s emergencies director. “HIV has not gone away, but we have come to terms with the virus.”

Japan, NZ, Finland

Elsewhere, Japan, the world’s third largest economy, lifted a state of emergency across most of the country except for Tokyo and Osaka.

New Zealanders mingled with friends and hit the shopping malls for the first time in seven weeks as a national lockdown ended and businesses faced a “new normal” minimising the constant threat of coronavirus.

Children were back to school in Finland, while in France some beaches reopened, but only for fishing and swimming, and people in England were allowed to leave their homes more freely.

However, in Latin America the virus continued to surge, with a 60 per cent leap in cases in the Chilean capital of Santiago, prom­pting authorities to impose a total lockdown on the city.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2020

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