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WTO head says pandemic-related trade barriers are rising
14 June 2021, 7:01 PM

The head of the World Trade Organisation said on Monday that trade barriers related to medical supplies used against COVID-19 had risen and urged member states to drop them, as it intensified efforts to reach a deal on vaccine-sharing.

“The trend is going in the wrong direction,” WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told a virtual UN forum, referring to barriers on goods trade related to the pandemic.

“We need to bring those restrictions down so we can move…medical goods and supplies and vaccines (faster).”

She said the number of trade restrictions reported by WTO member states was 109 at the start of the pandemic early last year, and had later fallen to 51 but had since risen to 53, without giving a time-frame.

One such measure is the European Union’s export authorisation scheme for COVID-19 vaccines, which is set to expire on 30 June. Okonjo-Iweala has previously said she is “disappointed” by the scheme although the Commission has said it is targeted, proportionate and temporary.

She elaborates on that in the video below:

Another way to ease trade flows might be a “voluntary monitoring system” to identify and remove supply bottlenecks, she added, saying the WTO was in talks with manufacturers and the International Chamber of Commerce and other partners about setting this up.

At the same event, she called on WTO members to reach a deal by July on improving access to COVID-19 vaccines after months of talks on waiving drug firms’ intellectual property rights.

Most developing countries support the waiver but several wealthy countries remain strongly opposed, saying it will deter research that allowed COVID-19 vaccines to be produced so quickly.

“I’m in a hurry and I want us to get some agreement by July because lives are important,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

WTO members to engage on TRIPs waiver for COVID-19 vaccines:

The former Nigerian finance minister also commented on a WTO ministerial conference next month that will aim to strike a deal on cutting fisheries subsidies, saying she still saw “serious differences” between countries.

Aspen says it’s taking steps to mitigate loss of COVID-19 vaccines
14 June 2021, 5:45 PM

The South African pharmaceutical manufacturer, Aspen, says it is taking steps to mitigate the loss of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines stored at its Gqeberha plant in the Eastern Cape.

The manufacturer says Johnson and Johnson will, within days, provide 300 000 doses of the vaccine for South African teachers.

Aspen adds that within a week it expects to release Johnson and Johnson vaccines manufactured from ingredients that are not impacted by the contamination of vaccines in the US.

The company says it is also busy producing more doses of the vaccine that are set to be available in July.

Details of this in the statement below:

The company’s move follows reports that some batches waiting to be distributed from the Gqeberha Aspen plant had been contaminated.

The vaccines were affected by contamination issues at a US vaccine plant in Baltimore. Some of the affected doses were cleared, while others were destroyed.

On Sunday, government and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) assured South Africans that the contaminated doses will not be released in the country.

Sahpra CEO, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela speaking about contaminated J&J vaccines:

Reaction to possible discarding of J&J vaccines awaiting distribution in Gqeberha:

Samwu warns of possible nationwide strike
14 June 2021, 4:48 PM

The South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) says it has begun balloting its members for a possible strike in municipalities across the country.

The union is unhappy with the latest wage offer from the South African Local Government Association (Salga), which represents the country’s 278 municipalities.

Wage negotiations between Salga and trade unions began back in March.

Samwu, which represents the majority of municipal employees in the country, is demanding a R4 000 wage increase across the board.

But Salga maintains that most municipalities are cash-strapped and they can only afford an increase of 2.8% or around R250 a month.

Now, the facilitator of the wage negotiations has proposed that the parties settle on a 4% wage increase, which according to Samwu translates to R365 a month.

The union’s Deputy General Secretary Dumisane Magagula says while the union understands that a crippling strike in municipalities is the last thing the country needs at this time, it has no choice but to consider it as a last resort to secure a better deal for its members.

Municipal workers currently earn a minimum salary of R8 300 a month.

The developments on the municipal workers’ wage talks come as the Public Servants Association says it’s one step closer to downing tools in the public service.

This after it was issued with a certificate of non-resolution by the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council last Friday.

The union has rejected government’s offer of a 1.5%  wage increase and insists on 7%.

The public sector wage negotiations are on a knife-edge:

More Springbok players report for training camp in Bloemfontein
14 June 2021, 4:15 PM

More players have reported for the Springboks in the second week of their three-week training camp in Bloemfontein as the team prepares for the start of the international season early next month.

While the Boks boast one of the best forward packs in the world, they are not resting on their laurels and are paying attention to detail ahead of the series against the British and Irish Lions.

Assistant coach, Deon Davids, says their focus has been on combinations and playing to their strengths.

The first week of the Springbok camp last week had a small group of players, mostly locally-based and those based in Japan. While the focus has been on conditioning, coaches will now be able to also work on tactics and combinations with around 26 players said to be in camp now.

Davids, who joined the team last year, says there are good systems in place and they just need to build on them.

“Obviously, the guys have won a World Cup they’ve learned a lot of lessons. There’s a lot of systems and it’s just fantastic to build on that and decide together on where we can improve.”

The Springbok team has experienced players with a forward pack that is one of the best in the world and was instrumental in the team’s triumph in Japan in 2019.

Davids is a new member of the technical staff after the departure of members who were part of the World Cup winning team.

As much as they were brought in to add value and build on the team’s success in Japan, Davids believes the senior players also have a role to play.

“In my opinion, the players have a huge role to play and its quite good to sit together with them and chat about what worked and what didn’t work and what plans we can make going forward.”

The Springboks, who haven’t played together since November 2019, first play Georgia in a two-match series before the series against the British and Irish Lions.

Springboks squad for British and Irish Lions Tour announced:

Full hospitals in Afghanistan close doors to new patients as COVID-19 surges
14 June 2021, 3:12 PM

The two main hospitals treating people with COVID-19 in Afghanistan have had to close their doors to new patients because of a lack of beds, a senior health official and doctors said on Monday.

Afghanistan is grappling with a third wave of the pandemic, with a record number of infections and deaths being reported amid a surge in violence as US-led international forces withdraw and Taliban insurgents go on the offensive.

“Both Afghan Japan and Ali Jinnah hospitals had to close their doors because they had no more beds or resources,” the health official said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

The official said the two hospitals, both in the capital Kabul, were facing persistent shortages of oxygen and other medical supplies.

Mirwais Alizay, deputy health ministry spokesperson, said hospitals had close sometimes due to higher patient numbers but he denied that hospitals were facing serious shortages of supplies, saying issues with oxygen had been solved.

Masi Noori, a doctor at Afghan Japan hospital, said it had been closed to new patients for several days because it had run out of beds.

Eid Wali, head of Ali Jinnah hospital, said it had to stop taking new patients when its COVID-19 beds were full. It let in new patients as beds become free.

“We only have 50 beds for COVID cases, that’s the main problem,” Wali told Reuters.

Afghanistan reported on Monday 1 804 new COVID-19 cases and 71 deaths from the disease.

In all, it has had 93 272 cases and 3 683 deaths but doctors say many cases are likely being missed because of low rates of testing.

Human rights group Amnesty International said last week the government needed to immediately procure more oxygen and vaccines.

“Afghanistan’s COVID-19 case numbers have been steadily increasing,” said Zaman Sultani, the group’s South Asia researcher. “Without urgent international support to contain this surge, the situation could quickly spiral out of control.”

The country, with a population believed to be about 36 million, has administered about 1 million doses of vaccine, largely to front-line health workers and members of the security forces.

Last week, Afghanistan received 700 000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm.

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