South Africa’s president has warned of “vaccine apartheid” as millions of people in poor countries are dying of the coronavirus with no access to vaccines and wealthy countries are hogging shots.
President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote in a weekly newsletter that COVID-19 vaccines should be “a global public good.”
“It is about affirming our commitment to the advancement of equality and human rights, not just in our own country but around the world,” he said.
“A situation in which the populations of advanced, rich countries are safely inoculated while millions in poorer countries die in the queue would be tantamount to vaccine apartheid,” the president added.
Ramaphosa made the remarks as his country along with India have been pushing for a waiver on some intellectual property (IP) rights for vaccines and medicines at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The US and the European Union are bickering over whether to waive COVID vaccine patents as a way to increase supply. Even if they do, it would take months to make a deal on producing the jabs in other countries.
The sub-Saharan Africa has administered the fewest vaccines relative to its population of any region, with roughly 8 doses per 1,000 people versus 150 doses per 1,000 people globally, according to the WHO.
Foreign leaders have repeatedly called on the Biden administration to provide help on accessing coronavirus vaccines.
Biden, however, has said his administration would help the rest of the world only after all Americans have access to the vaccines. That means worst-hit countries such as India are likely to cross new and grimmer milestones.
India COVID cases hold close to record highs
The health ministry in India Monday said it was running out of vaccines, with just three to four days of supplies remaining of AstraZeneca as the coronavirus infections and deaths held close to record daily highs.
The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks, taking India's tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths as hospitals run out of oxygen and beds and morgues and crematoria overflow.
Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the main opposition Congress party, accused the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of abdicating its responsibility by leaving vaccinations to states.
The Asian country, which is the world's largest vaccine producer, had fully vaccinated just over 34.8 million or about 2.5% of a population of about 1.35 billion by Monday, government data showed.
Prime Minister Modi has come under pressure for his handling of the situation. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said he needs to impose a "complete, well-planned, pre-announced" lockdown on the country.
New Delhi entered a fourth week of lockdown, with tougher curbs such as the shutdown of the suburban rail network, while residents scrambled for scarce hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
US top coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci also said he had advised Indian authorities they needed to shut down.
Venezuela asks US to donate vaccines
As the US issued advice for other countries, Venezuela's main academy of medicine called on the United States to add the Latin American country to its donor list for coronavirus vaccines instead of sanctions.
The politically independent National Academy of Medicine made the request to US Ambassador to Venezuela James Story at a meeting early this month, the academy said in a statement on Monday.
"To control the pandemic in our country, we need to vaccinate around 70% of the adult population, nearly 15 million people, in as little time as possible," said the statement.
"The amount of vaccines that have arrived to Venezuela ... represents less than 10% of what Venezuela needs,” it added.
Venezuela, which is under harsh US sanctions, continues to the fight the pandemic with the help of China, Russia, and Iran.
It has received around 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia, according to the health ministry.
It also hopes to receive doses for about 5 million people from the WHO’s COVAX program.
Third wave of COVID-19 swells Sudan
Meanwhile, Sudan is struggling to provide hospital beds, drugs and medical oxygen to its patients.
The country, with a population of over 40 million, is hit by a third wave of infections.
Health officials have recorded 33,000 cases and over 2,600 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Officials say the real numbers are likely to be much higher given low rates of testing.
Malaysia imposes new nationwide lockdown
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced new lockdown measures as the country grapples with a surge in the cases of infection and highly infectious variants.
He said all inter-state and inter-district travel will be banned, along with social gatherings.
"Malaysia is facing a third wave of COVID-19 that could trigger a national crisis," Muhyiddin said.
The restrictions which will continue until June 7 are imposed ahead of this week's Eid al-Fitr festival, meaning that millions of Muslims will have to forgo for a second year the tradition of returning to hometowns at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The pandemic has so far claimed the lives of 3,299,817 people and infected over 158,620,404 across the world, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.