World News in Brief: August 12

Russia said on Wednesday (August 12) the first batch of its Covid-19 vaccine would be ready for some medics within two weeks and rejected as "groundless" safety concerns aired by some experts over Moscow's rapid approval of the drug. President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday (August 11) that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine, after less than two months of human testing.

Photo provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows a researcher working in a laboratory of the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 6, 2020. (Source: RDIF/Handout via Xinhua)
Photo provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows a researcher working in a laboratory of the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 6, 2020. (Source: RDIF/Handout via Xinhua)

* Philippine scientists were set on Wednesday to meet representatives of the Russian state research facility that developed a coronavirus vaccine, to discuss participation in clinical trials and access to its research data. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has lauded the Russian vaccine and offered to be "injected in public", to allay public fears about its safety. Russia on Tuesday became the world's first country to grant regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, to be named "Sputnik V" in homage to the Soviet Union's launch of the world's first satellite.

* The Indonesian government has prepared IDR5trillion (some US$339 million) for this year's production of the COVID-19 vaccine which is now still under a clinical test, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto said on Wednesday. Companies from Indonesia and China have been conducting clinical tests on the vaccine, he said, adding that the production of the vaccine was expected to start in October.

* Mexico aims to conduct late-stage clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in development by US and Chinese companies, two of which might base some of their vaccine production in the country, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. Mexico has signed memorandums of understanding with Johnson & Johnson, along with Chinese companies CanSino Biologics Inc and Walvax Biotechnology Co Ltd , Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference. Ebrard said trials would start between September and January, depending on approval from Mexico's food and drug agency.

* The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday said it has approved a US$400 million policy-based loan to support reforms by the Philippine government aimed at raising the productivity and competitiveness of the country's agriculture sector and significantly reducing poverty in rural areas.

* More than 20.41 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 742,207 have died, according to a Reuters tally. Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

* Chinese health authority said Wednesday that it received reports of 25 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Chinese mainland Tuesday, including 16 imported cases and nine locally-transmitted ones. No deaths related to the disease were reported Tuesday. As of Tuesday, the overall confirmed COVID-19 cases on the mainland had reached 84,737, including 761 patients who were still being treated, with 40 in severe conditions. Altogether 79,342 people had been discharged after recovery, and 4,634 had died of the disease on the mainland, the commission said.

* Over 5.1 million Americans were infected with COVID-19 as the national death toll surpassed 163,000 as of Tuesday, according to a rally by Johns Hopkins University.

* Indonesia reported 1,942 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the country to 130,718, data from the government's health ministry website showed. The Southeast Asian country also added 79 new deaths, taking the total number to 5,903, the highest COVID-19 death toll in Southeast Asia.

* Singapore on Wednesday reported 42 new COVID-19 cases, its lowest daily count in about four and a half months. The city-state went into a lockdown in mid-April after mass outbreaks in cramped migrant worker dormitories pushed its caseload to one of the highest in Asia.

* Malaysia reported 11 new COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said on Wednesday, bringing the national total to 9,114. Another eight cases have been released, bringing the total cured and discharged to 8,817 or 96.7 percent of all cases. Of the remaining 172 active cases, one is being held in intensive care and no cases are in need of assisted breathing. No new deaths have been reported, leaving the total deaths at 125.

* Russia's confirmed coronavirus case tally, the fourth largest in the world, rose to 902,701 on Wednesday after officials reported 5,102 new infections. Authorities said 129 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 15,260.

* Australia recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday and the biggest daily rise in infections in three days, denting hopes that a second wave gripping the state of Victoria may be stabilising. Victoria reported 21 deaths - two more than the previous deadliest days earlier this week - and 410 new cases in the past 24 hours, ending a run of three consecutive days with new infections below 400.

* New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her cabinet will decide on Friday on the next steps with regards to the new restrictions placed across the country, as it reported four new probable cases of coronavirus in the community. Of the four new probable cases, two are work colleagues of a man who tested positive, and two are related to the household that one of the cases stayed at.

* The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,226 to 218,519, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. The reported death toll rose by 6 to 9,207, the tally showed.

* France will gradually ramp up police checks to ensure people wear face masks where it is mandatory and respect social distancing amidst a new surge of COVID-19 infections, the government's spokesman said on Wednesday.

* The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday lifted entry restrictions that required foreign residents who are overseas to seek approval before returning to the Gulf state. The UAE in March suspended the entry of non-citizens as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease. It has since gradually allowed residents to return, either by granting them special exemptions or through an online registration system though many still remain overseas. The UAE has recorded 62,966 coronavirus infections and 358 deaths.

* Wearing a face mask became compulsory on Wednesday in all public places in Brussels as the number of COVID-19 infections rose to a government alert level that puts the city among the worst affected in Europe. The Belgian capital, which hosts the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, recorded on average 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants daily over the last week. Belgium has been hit hard by the pandemic, with nearly 10,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, which gives the country of 11 million one of the world's highest death rates from COVID-19 per head.

* Armenia on Wednesday extended a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak until Sept. 11 despite a decline in number of daily infections. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a government meeting that Armenia had a chance to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and citizens should continue wearing face masks, which became mandatory from May. Armenia, a country of around 3 million, has registered 40,794 confirmed coronavirus cases and 806 deaths as of Wednesday from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. Daily infections have dropped to around 200 after being 400-500 in July.

* Bangladesh reported nearly 3,000 new COVID-19 cases and 42 new deaths on Wednesday, making the total tally at 266,498 and total deaths at 3,513 respectively, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said. According to the figure reported by the DGHS under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country reached 266,498, including 2,995 new cases on Wednesday.

* Iran recorded 2,510 new COVID-19 cases during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 333,699 on Wednesday. The death toll from the virus in the country rose to 18,988 after 188 new deaths were added overnight, Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the health ministry, announced during her daily update. Out of the new patients, 1,089 were hospitalized, she said, adding that there have been 290,244 recoveries, while 3,940 still remain in critical condition. The health spokeswoman noted that 2,763,225 lab tests for COVID-19 have been carried out in Iran.

* Twenty-six new ministers were sworn into Sri Lanka's new cabinet on Wednesday after the country recently held a Parliamentary Election which saw the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa winning a landslide victory, securing a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The ministers took oaths in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a grand ceremony held in the central hills of Kandy. Along with the cabinet ministers, 39 state ministers were also sworn in. Sri Lanka's new Parliament will convene on Aug. 20.

* The Republic of Korea and the United States will kick off their annual joint military drills this week but without mobilising US-based troops after scaling back the programme due to coronavirus concerns, a military source in Seoul said on Wednesday. The allies have been discussing how to adjust the exercises, which usually begin in August, with the coronavirus threatening to disrupt the travel of US personnel. The programme involves tens of thousands of soldiers from both sides, though it is largely focused on computerised simulations rather than live field training.

* German and Russian foreign ministers on Tuesday rejected US sanctions threat against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. "No state has the right to dictate Europe's energy policy with threats, and this will not succeed," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on Tuesday following a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

* Britain said its latest round of trade talks with the United States made positive progress in many areas, and that both sides agreed negotiations should continue at pace in the coming months. After leaving the European Union earlier this year Britain is trying to tie up swift trade deals with major partners like the United States to capitalise on its new freedom to strike bilateral deals rather than EU-wide ones. Total trade between the two countries was valued at GBP232.7 billion in 2019, according to British statistics.

* The Swiss federal government expects a financing deficit of CHF20.9 billion (US$22.87 billion) and an ordinary budget deficit of CHF3.1 billion this year as the coronavirus pandemic hits revenue, it said on Wednesday.

* Turkey wants to resolve a dispute with Greece over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean through dialogue, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday, but added that Ankara would defend its "rights and interests" in the region. Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, are vehemently at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region, and tensions have risen since Ankara launched exploration operations in a disputed area of the Mediterranean on Monday.

* The foreign ministers of Greece and the United States will meet in Vienna on Friday to discuss tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greek foreign ministry said, amid a dispute between Athens and Ankara over hydrocarbon resources.

* Belarusian police detained more than 1,000 protesters on the third night of protests on Tuesday that broke out over a contested election handing a new term to President Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian Interior Ministry said on Wednesday. The ministry said 51 protesters and 14 police officers were hurt during the protests overnight.

* Chilean market analysts estimate that the South American country's economy will fall by 6 percent in 2020, a slightly lower projection than the estimate made in July (6.10 percent), according to a report released by the Central Bank of Chile on Tuesday. Experts consulted by the central bank predicted growth of 4.5 percent in 2021, similar to what was previously forecasted, while in 2022, an expansion of 3.2 percent is expected, a lower figure than what was predicted in July (3.3 percent).

Reuters, Xinhua