Europe boosts aid to virus-hit economies as UN seeks ‘people’s vaccine’

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AFP / MICHAEL DANTAS Corinavirus deaths and infections are surging in Brazil

Europe ramped up efforts to help its coronavirus-hit economies on Thursday as the UN’s chief called for a “people’s vaccine” to battle the pandemic.

With Brazil and Mexico seeing record deaths after Latin America became the new COVID-19 hotspot, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a new vaccine had to be available to everyone across the world.

“A vaccine must be seen as a global public good — a people’s vaccine, which a growing number of world leaders are calling for,” he said in a message to a virtual summit hosted by Britain that aims to raise funds for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance.

AFP / Simon MALFATTO Spread of the coronavirus

Since emerging in China late last year, the new coronavirus has infected at least 6.5 million people, killed more than 385,000 and wreaked havoc on the global economy by forcing millions to stay inside their homes.

In Europe where countries are emerging from lockdowns, the European Central Bank on Thursday dramatically boosted aid for eurozone economies, adding 600 billion euros ($674 billion) to its emergency bond-buying scheme.

The Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP), which will maintain access to much-needed credit for companies, households and governments, now totals some 1.35 trillion euros.

ECB chief Christine Lagarde said the eurozone economy would see a sharp contraction of 8.7 percent this year, but predicted a rebound in 2021 and 2022.

Hoping the worst of the health crisis has passed, Europe is struggling to restart its stalled economies without sparking a second wave of infections.

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– Lockdowns, curfews in LatAm –

Governments are especially keen to save what they can of the summer tourism season and, after easing national lockdowns, were reopening borders this week.

Italy welcomed back travellers from elsewhere in Europe on Wednesday, while Austria on Thursday was set to scrap entry checks at its frontiers except for the one with Italy.

Spain announced it would reopen land borders with France and Portugal on June 22, but then said it was maintaining an original date of July 1 after Portugal expressed surprise.

ANP/AFP / Koen Van WEEL The UN called for global access to a “people’s vaccine”

As Europeans enjoyed going back to cafes and dreamt of Mediterranean holidays, the virus was hitting South and Central America with its full force.

Mexico on Wednesday announced more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths in a day for the first time, while Brazil, the region’s worst-hit country, reported a record 1,349 daily deaths.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has staunchly opposed lockdowns but many local authorities have defied him and, with the crisis deepening, a vast section of Bahia state was placed under curfew.

In Chile, the government said it was extending a three-week shutdown of the capital Santiago after a new record for daily deaths.

And in Peru, the second worst-hit country in Latin America, desperate residents were lining up to buy oxygen tanks for their loved ones.

AFP / Ernesto BENAVIDES Peru is the second worst-hit country in Latin America, a new virus epicentre

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“I’m worried about my mom more than anything else, because she’s going to need a lot of oxygen and the hospital doesn’t have enough,” said Lady Savalla in the capital Lima.

The virus was also on the rise again in Iran, which reported 3,574 new infections on Thursday, its highest daily toll since the outbreak began in February and the fourth straight day of a caseload over 3,000.

The new and resurgent outbreaks showed how dangerous the coronavirus remains until a vaccine is found — a message highlighted at the British-hosted talks that brought together more than 50 countries, and individuals such as billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.

Speaking at the meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a “new era of global health cooperation” to “unite humanity in the fight against disease”, particularly in the poorest countries.

The Gavi alliance and its partners will launch a financing drive to purchase potential COVID-19 vaccines, scale-up their production and support delivery to developing nations.

– Risk of spread at US protests –

The United States remains the hardest-hit nation in the world, with 1.85 million infections and more than 107,000 deaths, as well as huge economic losses.

AFP / Miguel MEDINA Italy reopened borders this week as it seeks to revive its battered tourism industry

With new jobless claims filed last week, the number of US workers laid off by the pandemic now exceeds 42 million, the Labor Department said Thursday.

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The Commerce Department reported that US trade dropped by record amounts in April, with exports down 20 percent and imports down 13.7 percent, compared with March.

And there are fears that the ongoing wave of protests in the country over racism and police brutality could fuel the spread of the virus.

Many have said that while they were aware of the danger of infection at the big rallies, the cause was important enough to take the risk.

Cav Manning, a 52-year-old New Yorker, was among the tens of thousands across America willing to risk infection as he joined a protest in Brooklyn earlier this week.

“What we saw is so disturbing that we’ve got to be out here right now,” he told AFP.

“Despite COVID, despite the fact that you might get infected.”

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