The United States will share technologies used to make COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization and is working to expand rapid testing and antiviral treatments for hard-to-reach populations, President Joe Biden said on Thursday.
Speaking at the second global COVID-19 summit, Biden called on Congress to provide additional funds so that the U.S. may contribute more to the global pandemic response.
“We are making available health technologies that are owned by the United States government, including stabilized spike protein that is used in many COVID-19 vaccines,” Biden said in his opening speech.
The summit, jointly hosted by the United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal, is being held virtually on Thursday for countries to discuss efforts to end the pandemic and prepare for future health threats.
It is set to build on efforts and commitments made at the first global summit in September, including getting more people vaccinated, sending tests and treatments to highest-risk populations, expanding protections to health-care workers, and generating financing for pandemic preparedness.
It has gathered more than $3 billion in new funding to fight the pandemic, the White House said, including over $2 billion for immediate response and $962 million in commitments to the World Bank pandemic preparedness fund.
The contributions include the United States contributing an additional $200 million to a global health fund for future pandemic preparedness at the World Bank, bringing its total contribution to $450 million, it said.
The European Union said it was providing 300 million euros for vaccination support, and $450 million for the preparedness fund. NGOs, philanthropies, and the private sector made over $700 million in new commitments.
Several generic drugmakers that will produce versions of Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid have agreed to sell the medicine in low- and middle-income countries for $25 a course or less, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) said on Thursday. read more
At least 14 other countries as well as the WHO, European Commission, private-sector companies like Google, and non-governmental organizations, are attending the summit.
“This summit is an opportunity to renew our efforts, to keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting this pandemic under control and preventing future health crises,” Biden said.
He called on world leaders to consider how their countries could contribute further to the global pandemic response.
“That is why I continue to call on Congress here at home to take the urgent action to provide emergency COVID-19 funding,” he said. “The request also includes $5 million to keep up our global partnership in the fight against COVID-19, to sustain our efforts to get shots in people’s arms all around the world.”
Biden has asked Congress for over $22.5 billion in additional COVID-19 response funds, including $5 billion for international aid, but lawmakers have failed to pass any funding bill and those negotiating the package have been unable to agree on how to pay for the global response.
While additional U.S. funding may be stuck, the commitment to share 11 COVID-19 technologies with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) should help improve access to vaccines, treatments, and tests in lower-income countries by allowing them to work on generic versions, the WHO said.
“It’s through sharing and empowering lower-income countries to manufacture their own health tools that we can ensure a healthier future for everyone,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The technologies will be licensed by the U.S. National Institutes for Health to the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and the MPP, initiatives set up to share know-how with manufacturers all around the world, allowing them to work on generic versions of key COVID-19 tools.
Scientists at the NIH worked with Moderna to develop its COVID-19 shot.
The United States has delivered over 500 million doses of vaccines to over 100 countries as part of the 1.2 billion doses it pledged at the first summit in September and has already committed over $19 billion in funding for vaccines, tests, treatments, and other forms of assistance, Biden said.
“There is still so much left to do. This pandemic isn’t over,” said Biden. “Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, 1 million COVID deaths, 1 million empty chairs around a family dinner table. Each irreplaceable.”
U.S., Japan, Australia, and India to launch tracking system to monitor illegal fishing by China, Financial Times reports
U.S., Japan, Australia, and India will unveil a maritime initiative at the Quad summit in Tokyo to curb illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific, the Financial Times reported on Saturday, citing a U.S. official.
The report said that the maritime initiative will use satellite technology to create a tracking system for illegal fishing from the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific by connecting surveillance centers in Singapore and India.
U.S. President Joe Biden is visiting Japan to attend the meeting of the Quad group of countries – Australia, India, Japan and the United States in Tokyo- which have increased cooperation in the face of China’s growing assertiveness.
According to the Financial Times report, the maritive initiative will enable these countries to monitor illegal fishing even when the boats have turned off the transponders which are typically used to track vessels.
The U.S.-Indo Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell had said earlier this month that United States will soon announce plans to battle illegal fishing in the U.S.
Several countries in the Indo-Pacific region chafe at China’s vast fishing fleet. They say its vessels often violate their exclusive economic zones and cause environmental damage and economic losses.
WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally
The World Health Organization said it expects to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not typically found.
As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus, the U.N. agency said, adding it will provide further guidance and recommendations in coming days for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.
“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic”, the agency added.
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, so it can be relatively easily contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene.
“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” WHO official David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist, told Reuters.
Heymann said an international committee of experts met via video conference to look at what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who are at most risk, and the various routes of transmission.
He said the meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation”. The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said close contact was the key transmission route, as lesions typical of the disease are very infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox, a related virus.
Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.
Early genomic sequencing of a handful of the cases in Europe has suggested a similarity with the strain that spread in a limited fashion in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” the virus had been circulating outside of the countries where it is endemic, but had not led to major outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.
He stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it does not transmit as easily. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or who show symptoms including bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is, you can protect yourself,” he added.
‘Straight to your soul’: Japan’s taiko reinvents drum tradition
In a hall on Japan’s Sado island, 71-year-old Yoshikazu Fujimoto strikes the imposing drum mounted before him, producing a boom so powerful that it reverberates through the floorboards.
Fujimoto is a veteran performer of Japanese taiko drumming, a musical form with roots in religious rituals, traditional theatre and the joyous abandon of seasonal festivals called matsuri.
But for all its ancient pedigree, taiko as a stage performance is a fairly modern invention, developed by a jazz musician and popularised in part by one of Japan’s most famous troupes: Sado island’s Kodo.
Fujimoto is the oldest of the 37 musicians that make up the group, which recruits members through a rigorous two-year training programme.
It was founded partly to attract people to Sado, off Japan’s west coast, and tours internationally, spreading the gospel of taiko.
“Taiko itself is like a prayer,” said Fujimoto, who came to Sado in 1972 to join the group that evolved into Kodo.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performer Yoshikazu Fujimoto of the Kodo troupe posing for a photo after a perfomance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
“It used to be said that the area reached by the sound of a drum made up a single community,” he said.
“Through taiko… I want to become part of a community with the audience and send a message of living together, a message of compassion.”
It has been a life-long project for Fujimoto, who is a specialist performer of the o-daiko, an enormous single drum mounted on a stand that is struck by a musician standing with his back to the audience and arms raised overhead.
The effect is an all-encompassing wall of sound that seems to enter the ribcage and vibrate through its bones.
And it is highly physical, with Fujimoto grunting in exertion as the muscles in his almost-bare back flex beneath the straps of his tunic with every strike.
|This photo taken on April 26, 2022 shows a craftsperson working on the renovation of a Japanese taiko drum at the Miyamoto Unosuke workshop in Tokyo. Photo: AFP|
‘One with the sound’
“I become one with the sound,” he said. “Playing taiko makes me feel I’m alive.”
Kodo’s performances range from the sombre power of the o-daiko solo to ensemble pieces featuring flute and singing, and even comic interludes that encourage audience participation.
Taiko simply means drum in Japanese, and performers use two main types.
The first is made from a single, hollowed tree trunk with cow or horsehide nailed over each end. The second uses hide stretched over rings attached with ropes to a wooden body.
They have been part of rituals and theatrical artforms like noh and kabuki in Japan for centuries.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performer Hana Ogawa of the Kodo troupe warming up before a performance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
But drumming in those contexts is often a solemn practice,while modern taiko performance is closer to folk festivals where troupes often made up of local residents play in streets or fields to unite the community, drive away malign influences or pray for a good harvest.
“Contemporary taiko drumming took a lot of inspiration from this local festival drumming and combined with more formal traditional performing arts to evolve into what we see as taiko drumming today,” explained Yoshihiko Miyamoto, whose company Miyamoto Unosuke has made taiko for over 160 years.
Key to that evolution was jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi, who moved festival drumming onto the stage in the 1950s and 60s.
Then in 1969, musician Den Tagayasu moved to Sado to found a taiko troupe that he hoped would attract young people to the island and revitalise it.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performers of the Kodo troupe taking part in a performance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
‘Straight to your soul’
Fujimoto left his native Kyoto to join the group known as Ondekoza, and when they split he stayed and helped found Kodo.
Joining now involves an arduous two-year training programme, where apprentices aged 18-25 live in dorms, without phones or televisions.
“The day starts at 5am, when we get up and immediately go out to stretch. Then we start cleaning and polishing the floors,” said Hana Ogawa, a 20-year-old who completed the trainee programme this year.
After cleaning, the trainees go for a run and then spend the entire day practising, with breaks only for food. They have one day off a week.
It might not be for everyone, but Ogawa, who decided to join Kodo after seeing them perform in high school, has no regrets.
|This photo taken on May 7, 2022 shows Japanese taiko drum performer Yoshikazu Fujimoto attending a perfomance on Sado island. Photo: AFP|
“I’m happy every day, because I love taiko and I pursued this one goal and achieved it, so it’s a dream come true,” she told AFP.
Taiko drumming has been growing in popularity at home and abroad in recent years, with troupes established in Europe and the United States and a steady rise in overseas orders for Miyamoto’s store.
“Taiko has the power to connect people with its sound,” he said.
“Especially in this contemporary age, you hear the sound of machines everywhere, but taiko uses this raw hide and the drum bodies made by wood,” he added.
“It’s like a sound of nature, it’s very organic. I think that’s one of the reasons it comes straight to your soul.”
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