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Zambia expects to agree debt restructuring with creditors by mid-2022: Minister
23 December 2021, 12:39 PM

Zambia expects to agree on a debt restructuring plan with creditors around the middle of next year after reaching a preliminary understanding for a programme with the International Monetary Fund, Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said on Thursday.

Zambia endured Africa’s first COVID-era sovereign default in November 2020 after years of chronic government over-borrowing drove its debt burden above 120% of annual economic output.

The International Monetary Fund and Zambia this month reached a staff level agreement on a $1.4 billion, three-year extended credit facility, bringing the heavily indebted copper producer one step closer to a comprehensive debt overhaul.

“We expect that if all goes well, we should have agreement with creditors in the middle of next year,” Musokotwane said in parliament ahead of the approval of the 2022 national budget.

Musokotwane said Zambia’s economy was in debt distress and the relative stability that it had experienced in the past few months was because most creditors had allowed it to default.

The government of President Hakainde Hichilema, who was elected in August, started talks with the IMF in early November.

Zambia’s external debt includes around $3 billion in international bonds, $2.1 billion to multilateral lending agencies such as the IMF and another $3 billion to China and Chinese entities.

SAPHRA approves J&J COVID-19 boosters
23 December 2021, 11:29 AM

South Africa’s health regulator on Thursday approved the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a second dose or booster, paving the way for the shot widely used in South Africa to shore up protection against the Omicron variant.

The country already announced in December that it was preparing to offer people booster doses of both the Pfizer and J&J shots, but it did not specify when J&J boosters would be available.

The South African Health Products Authority (SAPHRA) said in a statement on Thursday that it had approved J&J shots for use as a second dose or booster at least two months after the completion of the person’s primary vaccination, with either J&J’s single-shot course or another approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

J&J boosters have so far only been available for health workers, while Pfizer boosters are set to be introduced from January for people who had their second dose six months ago or more.

South Africa has relied heavily on the two companies’ shots in its vaccination campaign, which had given 44% of its adult population at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month.

That is more than many African countries, but well short of the government’s year-end target.

Belgian government reaches deal on nuclear exit: Media
23 December 2021, 10:44 AM

The Belgian government has reached a deal confirming that its existing nuclear power plants will close in 2025, while keeping up investment in nuclear power technology, public broadcasters RTBF and VRT said on Thursday.

The seven-party coalition has wrestled for weeks on the topic, with the Greens adamant that a 2003 law setting out a nuclear exit be respected, while the French-speaking liberals favoured keeping the two newest reactors open.

Belgium’s two nuclear plants, with seven reactors in total, are operated by French utility Engie.

After talks through the night, a core group of ministers have settled on a compromise whereby the last existing nuclear power plant will close in 2025, the broadcasters said.

However, Belgium will invest 100 million euros ($113.4 million) in research into future nuclear power, with emphasis on smaller modular reactors.

The government is due to hold a news conference at 11 a.m.

Carmat completes probe into heart implant issues
23 December 2021, 10:30 AM

French artificial heartmaker Carmat said on Thursday it had completed an internal investigation into quality issues that affected some of its prostheses, sending its shares up almost 10 percent in early trade.

“This investigation, which is now complete, has enabled the root causes of the quality issue to be identified, and the changes required to prevent its reoccurrence to be determined,” Carmat said, adding it would pass on the findings to regulators, especially in France and the United States, and provide a further update in January.

Carmat said earlier this month it had suspended implants of its Aeson artificial hearts following a quality issue affecting some of its prostheses, prompting its shares to plunge.

Given recurring shortages of donors, Carmat’s device aims to give patients with end-stage biventricular heart failure – a deadly condition where the heart is no longer able to pump blood adequately around the body – an alternative to hospital stays.

Earlier this year, it launched commercially in the European Union after receiving European Commission approval and launched a feasibility study in the United States.

Shares in the Paris-listed heartmaker were last 9.73 % higher at 0804 GMT.

AstraZeneca vaccine booster shot effective against Omicron: Oxford lab study
23 December 2021, 10:12 AM

A three-dose course of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the Omicron coronavirus variant, the pharmaceutical company said on Thursday, citing data from an Oxford University lab study.

The study, yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, showed antibody levels against Omicron after the booster shot were higher than antibodies in people who had been infected with and recovered naturally from COVID-19.

After a three-dose course of the vaccine, neutralising levels against Omicron were similar to those against the virus’s Delta variant after two doses, the company added.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said researchers at Oxford University who carried out the study were independent from those who worked on the vaccine, Vaxzevria, with AstraZeneca.

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