The United States supported a waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines as India Thursday posted record deaths and infections from a catastrophic wave swamping the country.
Rich nations have faced accusations of hoarding shots while poor countries struggle to get inoculation programs off the ground, with the virus surging across the developing world in contrast to the easing of restrictions in Europe and the United States.
Under intense pressure to ease protections for vaccine manufacturers, Washington’s Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the country “supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”
“The extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said in a statement.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the “historic” move and said it marked “a monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19.”
The WHO chief wrote on Twitter that the move was a step towards vaccine equity, “prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time.”
“Now let’s all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of scientists who produced life-saving COVID-19 vaccines,” he added.
Tedros has for months pleaded for such a patent waiver—an idea backed by India and South Africa – arguing this would help to ramp up production and make COVID-19 vaccines much more accessible for poorer nations.
But it was opposed by a consortium of big pharmaceutical companies, which described the decision as “disappointing” and warned it could hamper innovation.
India reported Thursday almost 4,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 412,000 infections, both new records, dashing hopes that the catastrophic recent surge may have been easing following several days of falling case numbers.
Also seeing rising coronavirus cases is Egypt, which announced a partial shutdown of malls and restaurants and called off festivities for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr to curb the spread.
The country has now recorded nearly 232,000 positive cases including more than 13,000 deaths, with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli saying it was in a “third wave.”
He said about 1.7 million people had been fined in recent months for not wearing face masks and that hundreds of thousands of shishas (water pipes) had been seized from cafes that breached COVID regulations.
Eid celebrations are also due to be disrupted in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where new rules in the capital Kuala Lumpur will see only essential businesses allowed to operate and restaurant dining-in banned after daily cases topped 3,000 in recent days.
Authorities were similarly moving to stem a cluster in the Australian city of Sydney on Thursday, where two new infections sparked a hunt for the source of its first local Covid-19 cases in more than a month.
Five million residents will again have to wear masks on public transport and in indoor venues, while New Zealand said it would put a
travel bubble with the state of New South Wales on hold until the source of the infection was better understood.
Joining India in breaking records for COVID-19 deaths this week is Argentina, which recorded 633 deaths in 24 hours on Wednesday despite stepped-up measures to reduce the movement of people across the country.
In neighboring Brazil, far-right leader Jair Bolsonara said the novel coronavirus might have been made in a laboratory to wage “biological warfare.”
The comments are likely to strain Brazil’s relations with China, and they echo claims by former US president Donald Trump that have been dismissed by the World Health Organization as “extremely unlikely.”