The Foreign Ministry has strongly condemned a joint statement from G7 leaders released on Wednesday that included criticism of Beijings handling of international and domestic affairs.
The communique, penned by the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, as well as representatives from the European Union, began by leveling accusations of “human rights violations” in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, before questioning Chinese handling of issues concerning its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said the accusations are not founded on facts. The Chinese government has previously clarified many times that some Western governments and media outlets have relied on fabricated figures and misinterpretation of statistics to smear China.
Wang said the G7 foreign ministers were interfering in China’s internal affairs and attempting to “reverse the wheels of history”.
He also said that China’s sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and islands in the South China Sea is based on abundant facts and has a legal basis.
As for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, including the activities of the World Health Organization, which is composed of sovereign states, it must be handled in accordance with the one-China principle, Wang said.
He said that as a group composed of developed countries, the G7 should take concrete actions to boost recovery of the world economy and assist developing countries, rather than make contradictions and sow divisions in the international community, thus disrupting the process of economic revival.
“Much less should they grossly interfere in and accuse other nations, with a mentality of superiority, putting international cooperation against the pandemic, a current top priority, in jeopardy,” Wang added.
In the communique, which followed the first in-person meeting of the G7 in two years, the foreign ministers called on China to take action to address global challenges including the “fight against the current pandemic and prevent future ones”.
Beijing is sure to take issue with this comment, as China is the world’s leading manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines by volume, according to London-based analytics firm Airfinity. The nation has distributed tens of millions of China-made vaccines throughout the developing world.
Martin Jacques, a former senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, wrote on Twitter: “Farewell, G7: You once dominated the world, now you are a shrinking faction of it. You cannot bear your diminished status. So, you blame China. You hold it responsible for your own failure.”
Jacques said G7 nations were shifting blame to China, while simultaneously failing to address “huge inequality, miserable growth and disastrous handling of COVID-19”.
“The Western nations are failing to deliver for their people. China is delivering. That is why the West is in deep trouble,” Jacques added.
David Phinnemore, a professor of European politics at Queen’s University Belfast, questioned the group’s wisdom in confronting rather than engaging with China.
“I think we’re not in the position we were a couple of decades back where the G7 was seen by some people as the key to how the world was going to be economically; it doesn’t hold that same power and position that it did back then,” Phinnemore told Xinhua. “We shouldn’t overstate its influence or importance. We shouldn’t be over-exaggerating our expectations from what’s going to come out of it in the coming years.”
No evidence that vaccines can directly cause heart attacks and strokes: HSA
SINGAPORE – There has been no uptick in heart attacks or strokes among vaccinated people, and no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccines used here can directly cause them, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said on Thursday (May 6).
“Agreater frequency of heart attacks and strokes has not been observed in vaccinated persons locally and to date, there is also no evidence that the vaccines can directly cause these events,” HSA said in its first update on the safety of the mRNA vaccines used here. Only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are used here.
“No deaths from heart attacks, strokes or any other causes suspected to be associated with the vaccines have been reported locally,” HSA said.
It had looked at the cases of adverse events – there were 2,796 – that arose from the more than 2.2 million doses administered between Dec 30 and April 18.
Due to the large number of people being vaccinated, some may, by chance, experience medical events such as heart attacks and strokes in the days or weeks after vaccination. And this may not be related to the vaccination, said HSA.
At a Ministry of Health (MOH) media briefing on Thursday (May 6), an HSA spokesman said it is hard to ascribe causality to heart attacks or strokes as they can happen spontaneously and generally these patients do have underlying medical conditions.
Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said at the briefing that typically, in a three-month period, there would be some 2,000 stroke cases and slightly fewer than 3,000 heart attack cases. People can experience these, whether they are vaccinated or not.
“There have not been any established links between cases of stroke or heart attack with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in the United States, which has seen at least 240 million doses delivered as at May 5,” he said.
He said vaccination remains key to the battle against Covid-19 as new variants spread and form clusters here. “The signal from the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) cluster is that vaccination helps because it provides much better protection against serious outcomes of infection,” he said.
MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak had earlier said that eight patients in the TTSH cluster who had been vaccinated were either asymptomatic or exhibited very mild symptoms, and none required oxygen therapy.
“Of those not protected by vaccination, seven of the 20 had need of oxygen therapy,” he had said at a May 4 Covid-19 press conference.
MOH said on Thursday it had received and was processing applications for the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme for Covid-19 vaccination (Vifap).
Under Vifap, which was launched on March 17, those who need inpatient treatment and medical intervention, and who subsequently recover, will get $2,000.
Those who require admission to high dependency or intensive care wards, and subsequently recover, will get $10,000.
Those who die or suffer permanent severe disability as a result of the vaccination will get $225,000.
Continuation of the existing tough measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak is essential, Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh has said in a clear reference to the nationwide lockdown.
The government has extended the lockdown for another 15 days until May 20. The Overall number of Covid-19 cases remains high, the premier said in a statement issued on May 5. On May 6, Laos recorded 105 new cases bringing the total number to 1,177 cases. The country is struggling to contain the current community outbreak of the virus which began in the middle of April.
“The government is aware that extending measures will cause difficulties in people’s daily lives,” PM Phankham said. “But we ask everyone to understand the situation and to be patient so that we may control and eventually overcome this virus outbreak.” He pledged that the government would do all it could to create conditions that would enable people to gradually normalise their lives as far as possible. In addition, the government will introduce policies that will reduce the payment of various fees. “Although these policies won’t meet the requirements of all sectors and people, it is the government’s intention to help in these times of hardship,” he said.
The government, the National Taskforce for Covid-19 Prevention and Control and local taskforces will follow up and closely monitor the situation with a view to easing restrictions in areas where the situation is favourable. But restrictions will be toughened in places where the outbreak escalates, the prime minister said. With the overall number of infections remaining high, authorities have prepared makeshift hospitals across the country to ensure sufficient treatment facilities. In Vientiane alone, three makeshift hospitals with 1,200 beds have been prepared. PM Phankham admitted that there were challenges undermining the government’s efforts to curb the outbreak. He said some people refused to be admitted to a health facility after testing positive for Covid-19, which created problems for authorities in charge. In addition, the information provided is sometimes unclear so that officials spend a lot of time trying to trace people who test positive. Some people continue to break the rules on Covid-19 prevention measures, as reflected by the fact that people in some places had organised traditional festivals or gatherings in violation of the rule on large public gatherings. In light of these issues, the premier called for strict compliance with all government guidelines. The premier expressed heartfelt gratitude to everyone who had had generously assisted the government in the battle against the virus outbreak. Central authorities have received 9.5 billion kip, US$13.18 million and 4.68 million Thai baht from various entities for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines and supplies. In addition, friendly countries have provided equipment worth hundreds of billions of kip.
Vaccine stock in Delhi to get over by May 15 if not replenished: Sources
The second wave of Covid-19 grappling India is proving manifold lethal for its patients as the death rate has remained higher from its previous episode.
Meanwhile, the situation is frightening in the country’s national capital as the city continues to battle for life-saving measures such as hospital beds, medical oxygen and essential drugs.
Amid this, the Delhi government has flagged the paucity of vaccine doses in the city. The government officers revealed that the current stock will not sustain more than a week.
The government sources told The Statesman that the current vaccine stock will be over by May 15, if it’s not replenished before.
“We are facing immense constraint in utilizing the vaccine stock. If the current rate of vaccination is accounted for, our stock will be over in the next nine days, unless it’s replenished,” a senior government official on the condition of anonymity said.
The officials have also conveyed the scarcity of doses to the Centre, The Statesman has learnt.
The officials also said that the scarcity enhanced after Delhi opened vaccination for all the people aged above 18 on May 3.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has also expressed concerns over the short supply of Covid-19 vaccines, even as he asserted that with the current infrastructure in place, the entire population of Delhi can be vaccinated in three months if supply is scaled up.
“In the coming days, we will need a large scale supply of vaccines. The latest consignment we have received is not a large one. With the established procedures in place, we can scale up (the vaccination drive) in 24 hours. But there is a shortage of vaccine production. If production and supply are scaled up, we are capable of vaccinating the entire population of Delhi. Right now, the only obstacle is a short supply of vaccines,” he said.
The country has embarked on the third leg of vaccination since May 1 where people aged between 18 and 44 are now eligible to receive the jab against Covid-19.
While vaccination of people aged over 45 years was underway at around 500 sites in Delhi in the second phase of immunisation against Covid-19, the drive was opened at 301 additional sites scattered across all 11 revenue districts in the city for people aged between 18 and 44 years.
The government records (revised electoral rolls in January) state that around 15 million adults are expected to receive the vaccine doses. It translates to 30 million doses which Delhi would require population for full immunisation against Covid-19.
The official figures suggest that the city has been inoculating around 80,000 doses since the third phase of Covid-19 immunisation began.
As a result of the pandemic, 94 per cent of people in the Asia Pacific region (APAC) said they will consider using at least one emerging payment method, such as QR codes, digital or mobile wallets, installment plans, crypto currencies, biometrics and others, in the coming year.
These are the main findings from the Mastercard New Payments Index conducted across 18 markets globally, which reveals that 84 per cent of consumers in APAC already have access to more ways to pay compared to one year ago. Of note for entrepreneurs, 74 per cent of respondents said that they would shop at small businesses with greater frequency if they offered additional payment options.
“Mastercard’s study finds that people in the Asia Pacific region haven’t just adopted new payment technologies — they’ve made deliberate shifts based partly on necessity, but also on considerations around personal safety, security and convenience, at a time when these concerns were paramount,” said Sandeep Malhotra, Executive Vice President, Products & Innovation, Asia Pacific, Mastercard.
“Consumers in Asia Pacific have already gained recognition globally for their openness to new technologies and innovation, and these findings confirm that this trend is only set to continue as more digital payment options rapidly become main stream in this part of the world.”
Looking ahead, the use of a range of payment technologies is trending upwards as people’s comfort with and understanding of them increases – while the use of cash steadily decreases. In fact, in the coming year, 69 per cent of respondents in APAC say they plan to use cash less frequently. Meanwhile, digital or mobile wallets have gained significant popularity amongst consumers in APAC, with 68 per cent of respondents anticipating using this type of payment in the next year, higher than the global average of 62 per cent.
“This behaviour shift is reinforced by people’s desire for choice – with 85 per cent of consumers in APAC saying that they expect to make purchases when they want and how they want. Businesses that can provide multiple ways to shop and pay will be best positioned to meet the unique needs of this moment that are shaping the future of commerce for years to come,” added Malhotra.
The survey also revealed that 84 per cent of consumers in APAC have seen their access to emerging forms of payments increase in the past year alone. QR codes have gained particularly strong traction in APAC compared to the rest of the world. Of those who used QR codes for payment, 63 per cent said they used them more frequently in the last year than they had in the past.
A recent study on 5,500 major Mastercard merchants showed that between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021, more than a fifth of these merchants globally increased the number of ways they connect with consumers, either by enabling an e-commerce channel or accepting contactless transactions. Mastercard also saw the total number of card-not-present transactions grow by over 30 percent globally while more than 100 markets saw contactless as a share of total in-person transactions grow by at least 50 per cent. — VNS
IBM downgraded by S&P as deal spree clouds ability to cut debt
IBM Corp. was downgraded by S&P Global Ratings because an acquisition spree adds doubt to the companys timeline for reducing debt.
S&P cut IBM one notch to A- with a stable outlook, according to a report Thursday. The credit rater expects IBM to pursue additional takeovers to bolster its hybrid cloud and artificial ingelligence capabilities. Coupled with the planned spinoff of its managed infrastructure services business, there’s uncertainty IBM can reduce leverage to a certain level in the next year or two, S&P said.
Chief Executive Officer Arvind Krishna has been on a spending spree as he seeks to transform IBM into a more modern technology company, focusing on fast-growing markets like AI and cloud services after years of stagnation.
The first step along that road was IBM’s purchase of Red Hat, completed in 2019 for $34 billion. Since then Krishna, who became CEO last year, has stepped up the pace, spending about $1 billion on acquisitions in the first quarter of this year, according to S&P. IBM also said it’d buy Turbonomic Inc. in April in a deal valued at as much as $2 billion.
The efforts appear to be paying off, as IBM recently reported its biggest revenue gain in 11 quarters, though there was only a 1% increase in sales. The stock has gained 15% this year.
While the M&A spree has helped lift IBM’s debt load to $56.4 billion, total debt has declined $17 billion since its 2019 peak, and could fall as much as $10 billion over the next two years, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Robert Schiffman and Suborna Panja said in an April 30 report.
Last October, Krishna announced plans to spin off IBM’s managed infrastructure services unit into a separate publicly traded company, which will be called Kyndryl and be based in New York. The division, currently part of IBM’s Global Technology Services division, handles day-to-day infrastructure service operations like managing client data centers and traditional information-technology support for installing, repairing and operating equipment.
IBM’s shares and bonds were little changed in early trading in New York.
Published : May 07, 2021
By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Molly Smith, Molly Schuetz
Weekly jobless claims fall below 500,000, setting new pandemic low
Weekly jobless claims hit a pandemic-era low for the fourth consecutive week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, with 498,000 Americans filing for initial unemployment benefits during the week ended May 1.
That’s down 92,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised level, a bigger decrease than economists expected and the lowest figure since March 2020. The streak of declines, which started with a surprise drop in mid-April, suggests the recovery is gaining traction, pulling scores of people back into the folds of the labor market as business restrictions continue to loosen and vaccination numbers climb.
Signs of an economic rebound are abundant: Hunger, which has hovered near historic highs for much of the pandemic, is decreasing. The number of families behind on rent fell by more than 2 million in March. The S&P 500 has notched at least 21 records since President Joe Biden took office, the most seen in the first 100 days of any new administration since that of John F. Kennedy. Business optimism is bouncing back in the manufacturing and service sectors. Consumer confidence and retail sales have surged.
“A bigger than expected decline in new jobless claims is a most pleasant surprise,” Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst at Bankrate, said Thursday in comments emailed to The Washington Post. “The healing of the job market, including reduction of unemployed and those seeking and receiving jobless aid, is as important an economic thread as any being monitored amid the reopening story.”
States reported 101,214 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self-employed workers, for the week that ended May 1. Nearly 7 million PUA claims were continued in mid-April for benefits that are set to expire in September.
California, Florida, New York and Virginia had the biggest decreases in first-time unemployment claims last week. Kentucky, Minnesota and New Jersey were among the only states to post increases in weekly claims greater than 1,000.
This time last year, more than 2.7 million Americans were applying for initial unemployment benefits, and the national unemployment rate ranged from 15 to 20%. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, weekly claims surpassed 6 million.
But the rebound has cascaded unevenly through the economy, a dynamic that many economists refer to as “K-shaped” because of the diverging prospects for rich and poor Americans. Poverty rose to 11.7% in March, the highest level of the pandemic, according to research from the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame, with children and women being hit the hardest.
Women would need nearly 15 straight months of job gains at last month’s level to recover the more than 4.6 million net jobs they have lost since February 2020, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Those who are employed are experiencing greater burnout and feeling more pressure at work, according to data from McKinsey.
“How do I file for unemployment?” was the most Googled question nationwide the past year, according to research from CenturyLinkQuote.com.
Economists are looking toward Friday’s monthly jobs report for a fuller employment picture. The private payroll report that ADP released Wednesday showed gains of about 742,000 positions from March to April.
“With jobless claims hitting a pandemic-era low, anticipation for the full jobs picture tomorrow mounts,” Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at eTrade, said Thursday in comments emailed to The Washington Post. “Today’s read is another proof point that we’re one step closer to full economic recovery, sooner than some may have expected.”
Employers are believed to have recovered nearly 1 million jobs across the board in April after gaining more than 900,000 the previous month. That would put the national unemployment rate in the “high 5% range,” Hamrick said, a level not seen since late 2014.
But vaccinations, a key engine for the recovery, have been slowing. More than 107.3 million Americans are fully vaccinated, according to data tracked by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Biden announced a new vaccination goal on Tuesday, saying he wants 70% of adults to have received at least one dose by July 4.
Even with major gains in the labor market, there is still a long way to go before employment reaches pre-pandemic levels. More than 16 million Americans were drawing unemployment benefits across all programs in April. In 2019, average weekly initial claims hovered around 218,000.
Hopes surge for boosted vaccine supply after U.S. voices support for waiving patents, even as uncertainty remains
NAIROBI – When South Africa and India proposed it in October, the idea seemed straightforward: Waive intellectual property rights on coronavirus vaccine recipes and production technology so the world can produce as many doses as possible and end the pandemic as fast as possible.
Instead wealthy, mostly Western nations, including the United States, with powerful pharmaceutical lobbies, rejected the idea and then cut deals with vaccine makers to effectively hoard doses. The World Health Organization’s head called it a “catastrophic moral failure,” and other critics likened it to “vaccine apartheid.”
Seven months later, as the U.S. vaccine rollout nears its peak and life veers back toward normal, Washington has reversed its position to support a short-term waiver, angering drug companies while infusing hope into efforts to ramp up vaccine production as severe shortages coincide with enormous waves of virus infections in India, Latin America and other parts of the developing world.
“The notion that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’ is true, and the Biden administration seems to have finally taken that to heart,” said Fatima Hassan, a South African human rights lawyer and founder of the Health Justice Initiative, which was part of a global campaign for a generically produced “people’s vaccine.”
“Did it take them seeing people in India dying on television to make this decision?” she asked. “Maybe, but however late this comes, attention now needs to turn immediately to getting other vaccine-producing countries to follow.”
The statement, issued Wednesday by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, said the United States will move forward with international discussions to waive the protections for the duration of the pandemic.
World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview Thursday that she was pressing member countries to reach an agreement on the waiver no later than December.
“It’s not overnight that we’re going to be able to scale up,” she said, adding that “it is very difficult to say now whether there is going to be a consensus.” She described the U.S. announcement as “helpful” and said it would give momentum to talks.
The U.S. statement did not appear to be a move coordinated with U.S. allies.
The German government voiced opposition to the U.S. proposal in a statement Thursday, saying it would have “significant implications” for vaccine production. The statement said the limiting factor in manufacturing vaccines is production capacity and quality control rather than patents. “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future,” it said.
Canada and Britain’s trade ministers as well as the European Commission president issued statements indicating their willingness to continue discussions, but they did not commit to any change of stance.
The European Union’s top vaccine czar, Thierry Breton, pointed to concerns about supply chains, expressing skepticism that it made sense to open up the patents immediately. He noted there were many barriers to speeding up production, including access to the raw materials.
“When we will be able to reach this without destabilizing the ramp-up and the supply chain, . . . I could tell you, ‘Yes, the supply chains now are solid, the ramp-up is effective, so yes, it is the time to do it,'” Breton said. “Personally I think it will be good to do it quickly, but as I said always, everything at its time.”
French President Emmanuel Macron took time on the sidelines of a visit to a vaccination center to say that he was in favor of “opening up intellectual property” but that a waiver wouldn’t have much effect without a concrete plan to transfer technology and know-how.
Those technical details – like how quickly a factory in India, for instance, could actually start churning out vaccine doses based on Pfizer’s formula should they gain access to it – were certain to be tricky if a temporary waiver does eventually come through. And even that is not a given.
It remained unclear whether other countries that had been blocking the waiver, which include almost all of Europe as well as Japan, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Singapore, would follow suit. Those negotiations, which would take place under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, would determine whether Washington’s change of stance leads to the ramping up of production of generic vaccines.
The process to hammer out a deal could take months and result in a narrow interpretation of intellectual property rights. The WTO has met 10 times in the past seven months on the original waiver proposal. The organization’s rules stipulate that any decision has to be made by consensus, meaning any country could hold up a coordinated move on intellectual property waivers.
Ultimately, such a waiver might come into effect only later this year, once vaccine manufacturers in the West have boosted production.
Western pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer stand to make billions of dollars off coronavirus vaccines alone, and they have received billions more in subsidies from the U.S. government. The industry opposed the short-term waiver, warning of dire consequences for vaccine development and manufacturing going forward.
On Monday, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America condemned the U.S. decision. “In the midst of a deadly pandemic, the Biden administration has taken an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety,” president and CEO Stephen Ubl said in a statement.
Wednesday’s news was welcomed in India and South Africa, both hit hard by the pandemic but where vaccination campaigns are far behind those in the United States and Europe.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa praised the new U.S. stance in a statement and said the “anticipated temporary waiver provides a global response” to the pandemic.
“For countries that do not currently have manufacturing capacity on certain medical technologies, the waiver could open up more supply options and avoid countries being reliant on only one or two suppliers,” he said.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs welcomed the U.S. decision, calling it an “important step for enabling rapid scaling up of manufacture and timely availability of affordable Covid 19 vaccines and essential medical products.”
“We are hopeful that with a consensus based approach, the waiver can be approved quickly at the WTO,” the ministry said in a statement issued Thursday.
The Indian government had been lobbying for a relaxation of the patent regime for coronavirus vaccines for months. Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought up the topic in a call with President Joe Biden in April, and Indian diplomats have reportedly reached out to U.S. senators to appeal for their support.
A spokesman for Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine makers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the move. Serum is manufacturing vaccine doses under licensing deals with large U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies.
The vaccine supply crunch has made it difficult for Covax – a World Health Organization-backed effort to equitably distribute vaccine doses – to get off the ground. The program aims to deliver up to 2 billion doses by the end of the year, targeting 20 percent of the population of participating low- and middle-income countries, but under current conditions, some countries could be waiting until 2023 to secure what they need.
So far, Covax has delivered only 53 million doses, with deliveries well behind schedule.
The huge wave of infections in India – where many of Covax’s doses are being manufactured – has slowed the international effort’s timeline, leaving many countries wondering when or if their next doses will arrive. For months now governments, public health experts and rights advocates have urged policymakers to address the growing gap by focusing not just on sharing available doses but on dramatically expanding supply.
Many of these voices now stress that a waiver is a helpful but not sufficient step toward ramping up vaccine production.
“The US must also demand that pharma companies that received significant amounts of US taxpayer funding to create these vaccines share the technology and know-how with other capable manufacturers to protect more people worldwide,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement.
Since October, at least 60 countries became co-sponsors with India and South Africa on the proposal, and at least 40 more voiced their support. Most of them are in the Global South, which includes Latin America, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.
“This development represents true leadership in a time of need,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the continent’s main public health body. “When the history of the covid-19 pandemic will be written, the decision of this waiver by the U.S. government will be remembered as pivotal in our fight against this terrible virus.”
The U.S. announcement came as a win for South Africa, India and the broad coalition they built at the WTO, where delegations of civil servants, not politicians, persevered against a bloc of the world’s most powerful nations who seemed unready to budge.
“How could we have a situation with a global pandemic, and you keep considering vaccines a commodity?” said Hassan, the South African campaigner. “It was and is absurd. In a sense, it was rich countries and their pharmaceutical companies saying that intellectual property claims and the interests of shareholders on a very narrow set of items mattered more than the lives of millions of people – people in the Global South, in particular.”
Published : May 07, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Max Bearak, Emily Rauhala
Israel, worlds vaccine trailblazer, shows what return to office will look like
Traffic is returning to the city streets. Elevators are getting crowded. Favorite lunch spots are filling up. Two months after Israel reopened its economy, Tel Aviv is moving on from the work-from-home era.
Israel’s lightning-fast vaccine program gave it a headstart in planning for life after coronavirus, and its quick rollout turned it into a global test case on everything from real-world efficacy data to vaccine passports. With commercial activity now heating up in Tel Aviv, employers and employees around the world are watching with interest to see what happens in a country that has come to be seen as a late-pandemic bellwether.
Early signs are that the end of lockdown has flicked the switch on office life. Demand for space is picking up across the board, according to data tracked by commercial real estate outfit Natam Group. Co-working provider WeWork says footfall in its Israeli buildings is up 20% since February, with strong demand for new sales. Google’s mobility data shows a sharp increase in travel to work in Tel Aviv during April, with numbers now close to their pre-pandemic baseline.
Nir Minerbi got the first sign that things were about to change back in December, when he tried – and failed – to renew the discounted deal he struck with WeWork during 2020’s initial lockdown.
Being in the office last year was like “being at a graveyard,” said Minerbi, chief executive officer of quantum computing firm Classiq Technologies. He’s keen to revive the camaraderie of face-to-face working, so has signed an interim contract with a smaller co-working space while looking for a more traditional long-term office lease.
While covid-19 continues to ravage India and cases accelerate around the world, countries with high vaccination levels are taking first their steps towards reopening. Australia and New Zealand kept Covid-19 at bay, though many office-based employees remain at home. In the U.K., where working from home is recommended until at least June 21, some 42% of employees were at their desks in April, according to Morgan Stanley research. That figure is higher in Europe. In the U.S., New York will soon lift many pandemic restrictions, and major banks are planning a resumption of office life.
Tel Aviv offers a glimpse for other economic hubs of what work may look like soon, as workers and employees alike seek to rekindle the sense of community they lost last year.
“There’s a huge bounce back,” Dotan Weiner, chief operating officer at Labs, a co-working firm owned by Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi, said in an interview. “Companies are telling us that without the office, it’s harder to recruit and maintain their culture.”
Footfall at Labs’ Israel site is now back to over 95% of total capacity, Weiner said, up from a low of 15% in 2020’s first lockdown and 40% in the second. Weiner was five minutes late to his interview, a tardiness he blamed on “elevator traffic.” Labs is in talks to open two more Tel Aviv locations in the next two years, he said.
Labs also operates 12 buildings in London, and Weiner is similarly optimistic for business prospects in the English capital. Weiner expects a somewhat slower return than in Tel Aviv, with Londoners seen as reluctant to flock back onto public transport networks.
The U.K. has broadly tracked Israel’s path through the pandemic, locking down and reopening a few weeks behind the Middle Eastern nation. With case numbers now low and vaccination rates high in both countries, the U.K. appears on course to reopen its economy fully in late June.
Nevertheless, even in Israel many companies are yet to settle on a definitive balance between working from home and returning to the office.
Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., one of the country’s largest employers, has seen attendance double recently to about 35% of its 2,400 workers at its Tel Aviv headquarters, said Nirit Schneider, head of real estate and operations. While that is still a steep drop from before the pandemic it covers a significantly larger group of people, with most splitting their working week between home and office.
More than half the cyber security giant’s workforce is outside Israel, where Check Point has been trying to shorten contracts and swap desks for meeting rooms. Face-to-face contact is now the main reason for people to show up to the office, Schneider said.
The new need for adaptability is driving change in Israel’s commercial real estate sector. Co-working provider Mindspace is shifting towards what it calls a “partnership” model with landlords, handling rental agreements with tenants on behalf of landlords in a bid to minimize the risk of a falling market.
“Companies don’t know what to do with their real estate strategy,” Mindspace CEO Dan Zakai said. “That’s why we’ll see an increase in flexible contracts.”
At Classiq, Nir Minerbi understands that some of his team are still scarred by the pandemic and prefer a more tightly controlled office experience than they can get at a co-working venue.
“People don’t love crowded working areas anymore,” Minerbi said. “Even if it isn’t 100% full, some of our employees want a place where they feel they can breathe.”
Published : May 07, 2021
By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Yaacov Benmeleh
Europes vaccine campaign is accelerating. It expects to match the U.S. by July.
ROME – After months of supply shortages and embarrassing blunders, Europes coronavirus vaccine campaign is at last sprinting ahead, renewing hopes that the continent might meet its initial inoculation goals and tame the virus even while relaxing restrictions.
Across the European Union, countries are touting new daily vaccination records. Supply concerns have eased. The EU is now administering roughly the same number of daily per capita doses as the United States, trending up while America trends down.
Some European countries have helped their cause by sorting out logistical problems or enlisting family doctors and pharmacists to administer shots. But the bloc, more broadly, owes its turnaround to a deepened reliance on Pfizer-BioNTech, which has ramped up vaccine production – beyond what was initially expected – as other options have faltered or come too slowly.
Mostly using Pfizer, France’s pace of daily doses has increased 60% over the past month. Italy has accelerated by 90%. Germany by 145%.
While the United States has doses widely available to any adults who want them – and is struggling to find takers – many people in the EU are not yet eligible. But appointments are starting to open up in Europe, even for younger cohorts.
EU officials, noting President Joe Biden’s target of getting at least one dose to 70% of U.S. adults by July 4, say that by midsummer Europeans and Americans will be in roughly the same situation.
“The U.S. has a similar goal, and this shows how much our vaccination campaigns are aligned by now,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The EU has so far administered at least one dose to 30% of its total population, compared to 45% in the United States, 52% in Britain and 60% in Israel.
Even as the EU campaign takes off, the costs of the slow start are being felt. A bruising third wave struck the continent toward the end of winter, leading to scores of preventable deaths among the uninoculated elderly. Lockdowns caused the EU’s economy to contract in the first three months of the year. All the while, the bloc’s leaders were warring with AstraZeneca, the drugmaker that was falling short of delivery pledges, whose vaccine had initially been counted on to play a primary role in the campaign.
“Obviously, it was painful for EU leaders in January and February,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “There was an acute shortage, while the countries they like to compare themselves with didn’t have that problem. But now, it has changed. The scale-up of production in the EU has been extremely rapid.”
Pfizer has said it will be delivering 250 million doses in the second quarter of the year, a fourfold increase from the first three months. Italy, for instance, received 6.9 million doses of Pfizer in April, compared with 8.7 during the previous three months combined.
The EU expects supplies to be boosted further as additional vaccines start to come online. After a delay to assess concerns about rare blood clots, the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine is underway in Europe.
Another vaccine, made by the German company CureVac, could soon be approved, depending on the imminent results of a late-stage clinical trial. The CureVac vaccine is similar to those produced by Pfizer and Moderna, in that it uses mRNA technology.
The EU has scrambled to make up for lost time after an approach characterized by more caution and less urgency than that of the United States.
While the U.S. Operation Warp Speed spared little expense to help companies build factories and expand their production capacity at an early stage last year, the EU behaved more like an ordinary customer in early vaccine negotiations, haggling with drug companies over the price of doses and leaving it up to the drugmakers to figure out how to produce the promised supplies.
The EU team that negotiated the deals on behalf of the 27-nation bloc had no experience with the issue, since health issues have previously been the responsibility of individual countries. And it was plagued by a mix of demands from rich countries, such as Germany, that wanted to go big with the more expensive, newer technology Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and poorer ones such as Bulgaria, for whom cost was a major issue and who preferred AstraZeneca’s cheaper and easier-to-store doses.
European policymakers also didn’t fully realize the extent to which barriers to vaccine exports out of the United States, Britain and India would put pressure on EU production to supply the world, leaving fewer doses to supply the Europeans themselves.
The result was that as Britain, the United States and a handful of other countries raced ahead with vaccinations starting in December, the EU badly lagged behind. At the last minute, AstraZeneca also said it would not be able to deliver nearly as many doses of its vaccine as it had promised, further slowing the E.U. effort.
Politicians in every country faced down furious citizens.
“France: Homeland of Permanent Delay,” read one headline in France’s Le Point magazine in early March, atop an angry opinion piece about the molasses-slow vaccination campaign there.
But behind the scenes, a shift was underway. Von der Leyen, a trained doctor, had developed a productive relationship with Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla, who seemed more capable than AstraZeneca’s leaders of expanding production capacity and meeting new and faster delivery targets, officials said.
And Thierry Breton, the top European Commission official in charge of Europe’s internal market and a former French finance minister and industrialist, started a whistle-stop tour of the continent’s 53 vaccine factories, speaking to workers on the production floor and to leaders of the factories about what they needed to sort out snags and speed doses.
When he was tasked in early February with overseeing the vaccine production effort, his team had little insight into what was happening with the complex process needed to make vaccines from start to finish.
“There was not really a good overview of the numbers, of where are the factories, of what is the capacity of the factories,” said one European official familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door process. Breton mapped out the process, and realized that there was a good chance that Europe already had the capacity to meet the 70% target in July, the official said.
Companies have gone to him with issues as basic as a shortage of plastic bags used in bioreactors, devices that are crucial for making the substances needed for the vaccines. He found another supplier and fixed the bottleneck, the official said.
Countries have also fine-tuned their strategies, making doses easier to come by. Germany, for instance, has allowed family doctors to administer vaccines, meaning people are no longer obliged to go to government-run vaccine centers. Italy, meantime, under new Prime Minister Mario Draghi, appointed a military logistics specialist, General Francesco Figliuolo, to overhaul the rollout.
Figliuolo has helped create some 1,000 new vaccination centers, nearly doubling Italy’s total. He has worked with the country’s most populous region, Lombardy, on a new vaccine reservations portal, after the region’s initial system kept crashing, leading in a few instances to empty vaccination centers. The general, in March, set a goal for Italy to administer 500,000 doses per day – something that seemed like a long shot at the time, when the nation was administering some 200,000 daily jabs.
Two days over the past week, Italy exceeded 500,000 doses. It has averaged 442,000 daily doses in the latest week.
Figliuolo, in a telephone interview, described his role as, “basically, fine-tuning the vaccination machine.”
“By June, we are counting on having such an inflow that we’ll further increase the speed of the machine,” he said.
Published : May 07, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Chico Harlan, Michael Birnbaum