- Pope Francis hopes for equal access to vaccine, as WHO works to ensure it happens.
- U.S. universities suspend in-person classes after surge in coronavirus cases.
- COVID-19 continues to spike in B.C. as province extends state of emergency to Sept. 1.
- Iran passes 20,000 official deaths due to COVID-19.
- South Korea sees another spike tied to a large church.
- Greece enacts new restrictions on some tourist-heavy islands.
Pope Francis on Wednesday warned against any prospect that rich people would get priority for a coronavirus vaccine.
“The pandemic is a crisis. You don’t come out of it the same — either better or worse,” Francis said, adding improvised remarks to his planned speech for his weekly public audience.
“It would be sad if the rich are given priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. It would be sad if the vaccine becomes property of this or that nation, if it is not universal and for everyone,” Francis said.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pope said, the world can’t return to normal if normal means social injustice and degradation of the natural environment.
Francis has dedicated much of his papacy to highlighting the plight of those living on life’s margins, saying societies must put them at the centre of their attention. He said Wednesday it would be scandalous if all the economic assistance in the works, most of it using public funds, ends up reviving industries that don’t help the poor or the environment.
Throughout the pandemic, many poor, who often have jobs that don’t allow them to work from home, have found themselves less able to shelter from possible contagion during stay-at-home guidelines enacted by many nations to reduce the contagion rate. Access to the best health care for the poor is often impossible in many parts of the world.
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“The pandemic has laid bare the difficult situation of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world,” the Pope said in his speech. “And the virus, while it doesn’t make exceptions among persons, has found in its path devastating, great inequalities and discrimination.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday urged countries to join a global pact aimed at ensuring less-wealthy countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines, warning about the risks from so-called “vaccine nationalism.”
The COVAX global vaccines facility is a program designed to pool funds from wealthier countries and non-profits to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it equitably around the world. Its aim is to deliver two billion doses of effective, approved vaccines by the end of 2021.
The details of the program are still being hashed out ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for nations to join.
COVAX is part of a broader program, called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, that works to ensure that vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests and other health-care resources are broadly available to combat the pandemic.
There have been over 22.1 million official cases of the virus worldwide, with over 781,000 deaths, according to tracking data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases, with 5.4 million reported as of Tuesday, and more than 170,000 confirmed dead.
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Concerns about reopening schools at all levels of education continue there, with Notre Dame and Michigan State universities becoming the latest colleges on Tuesday to move classes online because of the coronavirus. The decisions came the same day a third school in the 17-member University of North Carolina system reported a COVID-19 cluster in off-campus housing.
“We had anticipated and planned for COVID cases on our campus this fall,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told faculty members in a Zoom call on Monday. “However, seeing the COVID-19 positivity rate rise from 2.8 per cent to 13.6 per cent at Campus Health over the past week is very concerning.”
Meanwhile, the University of Oklahoma is requiring its sororities to recruit new members virtually after learning of students attending large social events without taking precautions against the virus.
The coronavirus outbreak has already seen several university sports seasons cancelled for the fall.
What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 123,154 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 109,357 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,080.
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The latest COVID-19 update from the province, released in a written statement on Tuesday afternoon, brings the total number of cases to date to 4,677.
Earlier in the day, the provincial government extended its state of emergency to Sept. 1. B.C. has been in a state of emergency because of the pandemic since March 18.
“British Columbians have sacrificed a lot to keep transmission rates down, and now unsafe parties and gatherings are eroding that hard work. We’re committed to getting our province back on track and will be announcing enforcement action against those who continue to put others at risk,” Premier John Horgan said in a news release.
Here’s what’s happening around the world
Greece is imposing extra restrictions in the top holiday destinations of Mykonos island and the northern resort region of Halkidiki after an increase in the number of coronavirus cases traced back to those areas.
The Civil Protection authority says starting Friday through Aug. 31, all events such as live parties, religious processions and open-air markets are banned, while gatherings are limited to a maximum of nine people, both in public and in private settings.
A maximum of four people are allowed per table at restaurants, or six people per table in cases of immediate family members.
Masks are mandatory in all indoor and outdoor areas on Mykonos and throughout Halkidiki province.
Iran surpassed 20,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, the health ministry said — the highest death toll for any Middle East country so far in the pandemic.
The announcement came as the Islamic Republic, which has been struggling with both the region’s largest outbreak and the highest number of fatalities, went ahead with university entrance exams for over one million students. Iran is also preparing for mass Shia commemorations later this month.
On Wednesday, Iran reported over 350,200 confirmed cases, with 20,125 deaths, Health Ministry spokesperson Sima Sadat Lari said.
Iran suffered the region’s first major outbreak, seeing top politicians, health officials and religious leaders in its Shia theocracy stricken with the virus. It has since struggled to contain the spread of the virus across the nation of 80 million people, initially beating it back only to see it spike again beginning in June.
Still, international experts remain suspicious of Iran’s case counts. Even researchers in the Iranian parliament in April suggested the death toll is likely nearly double the officially reported figures due to undercounting and because not everyone with breathing problems has been tested for the virus.
South Korea has found more than 600 coronavirus infections linked to a Seoul church led by a vocal opponent of the country’s president as officials began restricting gatherings in the greater capital area amid fears that transmissions are getting out of control.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday that health authorities are also seeking location data provided by cellphone carriers while trying to track thousands who participated in an anti-government protest on Saturday, which worsened the virus’s spread. The march was attended by members of the Sarang Jeil Church and its ultra-right pastor, Jun Kwang-hun, who has been hospitalized since Monday after testing positive.
Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said 623 cases have been linked to church members after the completion of some 3,000 tests. Police are pursuing around 600 church members who remain out of contact.
Transmissions from the church have already spread through various places through the activities of members, including call centres, nursery homes and other churches.
The country on Wednesday reported 297 new cases of the virus, its biggest daily rise since March 8.
It was the sixth straight day the country reported daily increases in triple digits, with most of the cases coming from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.