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South Africa pulls two million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Africa|: Johannesburg: South Africa, which is struggling to roll out its inoculation programme as it enters a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, said Sunday it will pull two million of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following contamination concerns at one of the US drugmaker's sites. On Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration told J&J that millions of doses produced at the group's Emergent BioSolutions facility in the city of Baltimore were not suitable for use. Following a review of the FDA decision, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said in a statement that it had decided "not to release vaccine produced using the drug substance batches that were not suitable". J&J's Emergent plant was ordered to pause production in April several weeks after it was determined that batches of a substance used to produce the vaccine were cross-contaminated with ingredients from another jab made by Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca. J&J did not reveal the precise number of doses in each batch, but they are known to correspond to several million jabs. The FDA is still deciding whether to allow the factory to reopen. Acknowledging the setback in South Africa's vaccination programme, Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said Saturday that the country had two batches - representing some two million doses - that were stored in a high-security laboratory in Port Elizabeth belonging to drugmaker Aspen. South Africa is one of the countries campaigning for a waiver of patents on COVID-19 vaccines in order to allow every nation to produce generic versions at low cost. "If we are to save lives and end the pandemic, we need to expand and diversify manufacturing and get medical products to treat, combat and prevent the pandemic to as many people as quickly as possible," President Cyril Ramaphosa told the G7 group of wealthy nations meeting in Britain on Sunday. South Africa is counting on a delivery of 31 million doses of the single-shot J&J vaccine to help inoculate its population of 59 million. One percent vaccinated It has also secured 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but that jab must be stored at extremely low temperatures and requires two shots. SAHPRA said that a new delivery of around 300,000 doses of the J&J jab "that have been cleared by the US FDA that meet the requirements and will subsequently be released and shipped to South Africa." The government already temporarily suspended vaccinations in April after rare cases of blood clots were reported in the US. And in February, South Africa turned down more than 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine because of doubts about its efficacy on the local coronavirus variant. Lagging behind many other countries, South Africa has only vaccinated just over one percent of its population. It is the African country hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 1.7 million infections and nearly 58,000 deaths. More than 9,300 new cases were registered in the past 24 hours.

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China cautions G7: ‘Small’ groups don’t rule world

Asia|: Carbis Bay, England: China on Sunday pointedly cautioned Group of Seven leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world was long gone, hitting back at the richest democracies as they sought to act in concert to counter Beijing’s might. The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War. But the return of China as a global power has unnerved the United States: President Joe Biden casts China as the main strategic competitor and has vowed to confront China’s “economic abuses” and push back against human rights violations. “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said. 'Handled through consultation' “We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.” The Chinese spokesman said the only valid global system was the international order based on the principles of the United Nations and “not the so-called rules formulated by a small number of countries.” The G7, whose leaders are meeting in southwestern England, has been searching for a coherent response to the growing assertiveness of President Xi Jinping after China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years. Leaders of the group, which comprises the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan, want to use their gathering in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to Chinas growing clout. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led a G7 discussion of China on Saturday and called on leaders to come up with a unified approach to the challenges posed by the People’s Republic, a source said. The G7 are planning to offer developing nations an infrastructure scheme that could rival Xi’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China, and says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

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COVID-19 presents Modi with difficult situation

India|: New Delhi: As India gasped for air at the peak of its COVID-19 devastation, its leader appeared to advise his people to just breathe normally. The instructions, a bit of yoga advice for the stressed, came from one of the many social media accounts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had largely vanished from public view as his government proved powerless to stop the deaths and the mounting criticism about his performance. With his poll numbers dropping, he and his allies have increasingly pushed positive messaging and feel-good tips. The campaign has struggled to connect. “Sit in a comfortable meditative posture,” read a tweet from one of Modi’s many accounts, which project his diverse set of personas - this one the wise yoga guru. “Keep the spine erect. Place the hands on the thighs. Gently close the eyes and raise the face slightly. Breathe normally.” “This is like rubbing salt on wounds,” a commenter responded. 900m adults On Monday, in a rare televised address since the second wave began in April, Modi declared that the central government would help all 900 million adults get free vaccines, a reversal of his earlier policy that had forced state governments into a chaotic competition over limited supplies. The positivity push appears to be an attempt to drown out dissatisfaction. One survey found disapproval with Modi had risen by about 10 percentage points since the second wave intensified. In another survey, 1 in 6 people said they had lost a loved one and blamed the central government first, and then “destiny,” for their loss. Modi’s approval rating is still above 60 per cent, according to one poll. But the growing dissatisfaction suggests the prime minister may not so easily be able to change public sentiment by pushing emotional nationalist causes or shifting his image as he has done in the past. Rather, like any other politician, he may increasingly be judged by his ability to deliver.