India AstraZeneca shot delay could be ‘catastrophic’ for Africa: health official

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – India’s temporary hold on major exports of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot will undermine Africa’s vaccination plans, and could have a “catastrophic” impact if extended, the head of the continent’s disease control body said on Thursday.

India decided to delay big exports of the shots made in its territory by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to make sure it could meet local demand, two sources told Reuters last week.

The hold “will definitely impact our ability to continuously vaccinate people,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

The African Union had planned to vaccinate 30-35% of the continent’s population by the end of the year he said. “If the vaccines are delayed we are unlikely to meet our target,” he added.

That AU target primarily relies on supplies from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, through which 64 poorer countries including many in Africa are supposed to get doses from the SII. COVAX aims to provide enough shots for African countries to inoculate at least 20% of their populations.

“If the delay continues, I hope it’s a delay and not a ban, that would be catastrophic for meeting our vaccinations schedule,” Nkengasong said.

African countries have reported 4.25 million coronavirus infections and 112,000 related deaths, though experts have said the actual numbers could be higher.

The AU has also been negotiating with manufacturers to help member states secure the additional doses they will need to achieve 60% coverage.

On Monday, Johnson & Johnson announced it would supply the AU with up to 400 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. Delivery of those doses is due to begin in the third quarter of this year and will continue through 2022.

Those doses are separate from the GAVI/WHO-backed global COVAX facility.

Nkengasong said on Thursday the AU has “pivoted” towards the J&J shot in part as a result of the delay in the delivery of AstraZeneca shots, and also because it is a single-dose shot.

The J&J doses will begin to arrive in June or July, which will ease any shortage caused by the delay in the AstraZeneca doses, Nkengasong said. The gap until the arrival of the J&J doses is a concern, he added.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Africa COVID-19 deaths surpass 100,000 after second wave

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Africa’s reported COVID-19 death toll surpassed 100,000 on Friday, a fraction of those reported on other continents but rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms hospitals.

The continent’s reported deaths, at 100,354, compare favorably with North America, which has registered more than half a million, and Europe, which is approaching 900,000, a Reuters tally shows.

But deaths are rising sharply across Africa, driven by its southern region, especially economic powerhouse South Africa, which accounts for nearly half. South Africa was ravaged by a second wave caused by a more contagious variant that has jammed up casualty wards.

“The increased number (of infections) has led to many severe cases and some of the countries really found it quite difficult to cope,” Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the immunization program at the World Health Organization’s Africa office, told Reuters.

“We have seen some countries getting to their limit in terms of oxygen supply, which has got a really negative impact in terms of case management for severe cases.”

Mihigo said the rise in deaths was pronounced in countries near South Africa like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, raising the possibility that the 501Y.V2 variant identified in South Africa late last year had spread through the southern Africa region – although more genomic sequencing needs to be carried out to prove that.

International aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) this month called for urgent vaccine distributions in southern Africa to counter the spread of the new variant, as most African countries have lagged richer Western nations in launching mass vaccination programs.

Reuters data show Africa’s case fatality rate is now at around 2.6%, higher than the global average of 2.3%, and marginally up on the 2.4% rate after the first wave of infections – which at the time compared favorably with other continents.

Experts caution against reading too much into the data – the real toll may be much higher or lower. For instance, South Africa’s excess deaths – deaths considered over-and-above the normal rate – during the pandemic have reached over 137,000, almost three times its official COVID-19 death toll.

Then again, in some cases Africa’s low testing rates could inflate its true case fatality rate (CFR), said Professor Francisca Mutapi, an infectious disease expert at the University of Edinburgh.

“If deaths being registered as COVID-19 deaths are not necessarily contingent on a positive test … as is the case in South Africa, then this can drive up CFR,” she said.

Even with these caveats acknowledged, African countries look like they are struggling with COVID-19 more than last year.

“Are we counting all the deaths on the continent? No … but most people on the continent do know somebody who has died of COVID during this second wave,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters last week.

“Hospitals are being overwhelmed due to health systems that are fragile.”

(Reporting by Alexander Winning, Tim Cocks and Wendell Roelf; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Nick Macfie, Angus MacSwan and Jane Wardell)

Not perfect, but saves lives, AstraZeneca says as Africa backs COVID-19 shot

By Pushkala Aripaka and Ludwig Burger

(Reuters) – AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is not perfect, but will have a big impact on the pandemic, its chief executive predicted on Thursday, as the drugmaker pledged to double output by April and the African Union gave its backing for the shot.

The two-dose inoculation, developed with Oxford University, has been hailed as a “vaccine for the world” because it is cheaper and easier to distribute than some rivals.

But its rapid approval in Europe and elsewhere has been clouded by doubts over its most effective dosage and interval between doses.

Data at the weekend also showed it was less effective against a fast-spreading variant of the virus in South Africa, prompting the country to pause rollout of the shot, and the company has also been embroiled in a row with the European Union over supply delays.

“Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect, but it’s great. Who else is making 100 million doses in February?” CEO Pascal Soriot said on a conference call about the vaccine.

“We’re going to save thousands of lives and that’s why we come to work everyday.”

The company said it aimed to produce more than 200 million doses per month by April, double this month’s level as the world tries to tame a pandemic that has killed 2.35 million.

Head of operations Pam Cheng said on the call that the group was working to further expand global capacity and productivity.

AstraZeneca has set a target to produce 3 billion doses this year, with India’s Serum Institute making much of that aimed at poorer nations.

On Wednesday, the company enlisted Germany’s IDT Biologika as a contract manufacturer, but the bulk of IDT’s contribution will only come onstream late next year.

AstraZeneca said it expected much-anticipated data from the U.S. trial of the vaccine before the end of March, and that it was confident the shot offered relatively good protection against severe disease and death for the South African variant. Its disappointing results were against milder cases.

However, after rising to become Britain’s most valuable company last summer, the company has now slipped to sixth, in a move some analysts attribute to doubts over the vaccine.

“In a year or two we will look back and everybody will realize we made a big impact,” Soriot said.

POSTER CHILD

AstraZeneca’s shares were up 0.95% in afternoon trade, paring some earlier gains, after the company forecast a pick up in earnings growth this year on strong demand for its cancer and other new therapies.

It has pledged not to make any money from its COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic.

It has been a tumultuous week for the drugmaker after South Africa put on hold giving the shot to its citizens, choosing one developed by its U.S. rival Johnson & Johnson instead.

That came after the trial data raised concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s effectiveness on mild symptoms from the more infectious 501Y.V2 variant of the virus dominant in South Africa, which has spread to 41 nations around the world.

Despite that blow, the World Health Organization endorsed the British vaccine on Wednesday and the African Union said it would target its use in countries that have not reported cases of the variant.

Kenya and Morocco are also planning to administer it.

AstraZeneca said it expected 2021 revenues to rise by a low teens percentage and core earnings of $4.75 to $5.00 per share, as it beat expectations for fourth-quarter sales.

The earnings guidance equates to 18-24% growth, after 15% in 2020, but was a little lower than the $5.10 per share analysts were expecting, as the company flagged more spending this year.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not included in the guidance and the company said its sales would be reported separately from the first quarter of 2021.

While public interest is focused on the vaccine, AstraZeneca’s core business of diabetes, heart, kidney, and cancer medicines has been steadily growing, helping the company to turn around years of decline.

“The company is arguably the poster child for big pharma turnarounds,” said Third Bridge senior analyst Sebastian Skeet.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka and Ludwige Burger. Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter)

Africa secures 400 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses

By George Obulutsa

NAIROBI (Reuters) – The African Union (AU) has secured another 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, a regional health leader said on Thursday, in a push to immunize 60% of the continent’s population over three years.

As richer nations race ahead with mass immunization campaigns, Africa is scrambling to obtain supplies for its 1.3 billion people. Only a handful of African nations have begun giving doses.

John Nkengasong, director of the AU’s disease control and prevention body, told an online briefing that in addition to 270 million doses previously secured, the bloc would get 400 million shots from the Serum Institute of India (SII) – all AstraZeneca/Oxford University shots.

A spokesman for the SII declined comment.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is the cheapest option and one of the best-suited to African health systems as it does not require storage at ultra-low temperatures like the vaccine from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech.

Separately from the AU’s efforts, Africa is to receive about 600 million vaccine doses this year via the COVAX facility co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health authorities hope to vaccinate about 30-35% of Africans this year, rising to 60% in two to three years. The AU has said vaccines secured by its vaccine task team will be allocated according to population.

Though COVID-19 has not hit Africa as badly as some experts had feared it would, wealth disparities, logistical difficulties and “vaccine nationalism” by developed nations may put the world’s poorest continent at a disadvantage.

Africa has reported 3.5 million infections and 88,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. That is fewer fatalities than individual nations the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.

OUTLIER TANZANIA

In an implicit rebuke to Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who has discouraged mask-wearing and social distancing, discontinued data publication and called vaccines a malign foreign plot, WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti urged Tanzania to implement such measures, prepare vaccinations and share data. “Africa is at a crossroads and all Africans must double down on preventive measures,” she told an online news conference on Thursday, saying WHO officials were in touch with Tanzanian officials. “Science shows that vaccines work.”

Magufuli’s government has published no coronavirus data since May 8, when the country had 509 cases and 21 deaths.

On Wednesday, he said, without evidence, that vaccines were a foreign plot to spread illness and steal Africa’s wealth. He urged Tanzanians instead to trust God and use alternative remedies such as steam inhalation.

“We in Tanzania managed to stay for a year without corona. Even here, no one has put on a mask. Our God is beyond Satan and Satan will always fail using different diseases,” he said in a speech in his western home area.

Nkengasong said the Africa CDC was exploring obtaining more vaccines from China, Russia and Cuba, and would work with any partner whose vaccine was safe and effective.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa, Nairobi newsroom and Alexander Winning; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)

WHO vaccine scheme risks failure, leaving poor countries no COVID shots until 2024

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The global scheme to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries faces a “very high” risk of failure, potentially leaving nations home to billions of people with no access to vaccines until as late as 2024, internal documents say.

The World Health Organization’s COVAX program is the main global scheme to vaccinate people in poor and middle income countries around the world against the coronavirus. It aims to deliver at least 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20% of the most vulnerable people in 91 poor and middle-income countries, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

But in internal documents reviewed by Reuters, the scheme’s promoters say the program is struggling from a lack of funds, supply risks and complex contractual arrangements which could make it impossible to achieve its goals.

“The risk of a failure to establish a successful COVAX Facility is very high,” says an internal report to the board of Gavi, an alliance of governments, drug companies, charities and international organizations that arranges global vaccination campaigns. Gavi co-leads COVAX alongside the WHO.

The report and other documents prepared by Gavi are being discussed at Gavi’s board meetings on Dec. 15-17.

The failure of the facility could leave people in poor nations without any access to COVID-19 vaccines until 2024, one of the documents says.

The risk of failure is higher because the scheme was set up so quickly, operating in “uncharted territory”, the report says.

“Current risk exposure is deemed outside of risk appetite until there is full clarity on the size of risks and possibilities to mitigate them,” it says. “It therefore requires intensive mitigation efforts to bring the risk within risk appetite.”

Gavi hired Citigroup last month to provide advice on how to mitigate financial risks.

In one Nov. 25 memo included in the documents submitted to the Gavi board, Citi advisors said the biggest risk to the program was from clauses in supply contracts that allow countries not to buy vaccines booked through COVAX.

A potential mismatch between vaccine supply and demand “is not a commercial risk efficiently mitigated by the market or the MDBs,” the Citi advisors wrote, referring to multilateral development banks such as the World Bank.

“Therefore it must either be mitigated through contract negotiation or through a Gavi risk absorption layer that is carefully managed by a management and governance structure.”

Asked about the documents, a Gavi spokesman said the body remains confident it can achieve its goals.

“It would be irresponsible not to assess the risks inherent to such a massive and complex undertaking, and to build policies and instruments to mitigate those risks,” he added.

The WHO did not respond to a request for comment. In the past it has let Gavi take the lead in public comments about the COVAX program.

Citibank said in a statement: “As a financial advisor, we are responsible for helping Gavi plan for a range of scenarios related to the COVAX facility and supporting their efforts to mitigate potential risks.”

SUPPLY DEALS

COVAX’s plans rely on cheaper vaccines that have so far yet to receive approval, rather than vaccines from frontrunners Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna that use more expensive new mRNA technology. The Pfizer vaccine has already been approved for emergency use in several countries and deployed in Britain and the United States, and the Moderna vaccine is expected to be similarly approved soon.

COVAX has so far reached non-binding supply agreements with AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sanofi for a total of 400 million doses, with options to order several hundred million additional shots, one of the Gavi documents says.

But the three companies have all faced delays in their trials that could push back some possible regulatory approvals to the second half of 2021 or later.

This could also increase COVAX’s financial needs. Its financial assumptions are based on an average cost of $5.20 per dose, one of the documents says.

Pfizer’s vaccines costs about $18.40-$19.50 per dose, while Moderna’s costs $25-$37. COVAX has no supply deals with either of those firms. Nor is it prioritizing investment in ultra-cold distribution chains in poor countries, necessary for the Pfizer vaccine, as it still expects to use mostly shots which require more conventional cold storage, one of the Gavi documents says.

On Tuesday a WHO senior official said the agency was in talks with Pfizer and Moderna to include their COVID-19 vaccines as part of an early global rollout at a cost for poor countries possibly lower than current market prices.

Other shots are being developed worldwide and COVAX wants to expand its portfolio to include vaccines from other companies.

Rich countries, which have booked most of the currently available stocks of COVID-19 vaccines, are also planning to donate some excess doses to poor countries, although is not clear whether that would be through COVAX.

FINANCIAL PRESSURE

To meet its target of vaccinating at least 20% of people in poor countries next year, COVAX says it needs $4.9 billion in addition to $2.1 billion it has already raised.

If vaccine prices are higher than forecast, supply is delayed or the additional funds are not fully collected, the facility faces the prospect of failure, the documents say.

So far Britain and European Union countries are the main donors to COVAX, while the United States and China have made no financial commitments. The World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions are offering cheap loans to poor countries to help them buy and deploy vaccines through COVAX.

The facility is issuing vaccine bonds which could raise as much as $1.5 billion next year if donors agreed to cover the costs, one of the Gavi documents says. COVAX is also receiving funds from private donors, mainly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But even under the best financial conditions, COVAX could still face failure, because of disproportionate financial risks caused by its complex deal-making process.

COVAX signs advance purchase contracts with companies on vaccine supplies that need to be paid for by donors or receiving countries that have the means to afford them.

But under clauses included in COVAX contracts, countries could still refuse to buy pre-ordered volumes if they prefer other vaccines, or if they manage to acquire them through other schemes, either faster or at better prices.

The facility could also face losses if countries were not able to pay for their orders, or even if herd immunity were developed too quickly, making vaccines no longer necessary, the Citigroup report said. It proposed a strategy to mitigate these risks including through changes in supply contracts.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Peter Graff)

As America counts, the world holds its breath for U.S. election outcome

By Luke Baker, Libby George and Daria Sito-Sucic

LONDON/LAGOS/SARAJEVO (Reuters) – A day after Americans voted in a bitterly contested election, the rest of the world was none the wiser on Wednesday, with millions of votes still to count, the race too close to call and a mounting risk of days or even weeks of legal uncertainty.

Donald Trump’s pre-emptive declaration of victory at the White House was condemned by some U.S. political commentators and civil rights groups, who warned about the trampling of long-standing democratic norms.

Most world leaders and foreign ministers sat on their hands, trying not to add any fuel to the electoral fire.

“Let’s wait and see what the outcome is,” said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. “There’s obviously a significant amount of uncertainty. It’s much closer than I think many had expected.”

But while Raab and others urged caution, the Slovenian prime minister broke ranks, congratulating Trump and the Republican party via Twitter.

“It’s pretty clear that American people have elected @realDonaldTrump and @Mike_Pence for #4moreyears,” wrote Janez Jansa, one of several east European leaders, including Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who are fervent Trump allies. “Congratulations @GOP for strong results across the #US.”

The latest vote tally showed Democrat challenger Joe Biden with a lead in the Electoral College – 224 votes to 213, with 270 needed for victory – but with counting still be completed in at least five major ‘battleground’ states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Georgia.

In 2000, the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore hinged on Florida. It was ultimately decided in Bush’s favor by the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling five weeks after the vote.

In his comments, Trump suggested the Supreme Court – to which he has nominated three of the nine justices – would have to decide the winner again.

On Twitter, the hashtags #Trump, #Biden and #USElections2020 were trending from Russia to Pakistan, Malaysia to Kenya and across Europe and Latin America, underscoring how much every region of the world sees the outcome as pivotal.

In Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of trying to interfere in the election, there was no official reaction.

But Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov, the grandson of Stalin’s foreign minister, advised Russians to stock up on popcorn to watch the show he predicted was about to unfold, saying U.S. society was fatally split.

“The result of the elections is the worst outcome for America,” Nikonov, who welcomed Trump’s 2016 win, wrote on Facebook. “Whoever wins the legal battles half of Americans will not consider them the lawful president. Let’s stock up on large quantities of popcorn.”

‘IT AFFECTS US ALL’

In Australia, crowds watched the results roll in while drinking beer in an American bar in Sydney.

“The news is so much better when Trump is in,” said Glen Roberts, wearing a red ‘Make Europe Great Again’ baseball cap. “You never know what he said, it’s so good. I think it’ll be less interesting if Trump loses.”

Others were quick to underline the ramifications of the U.S. vote worldwide. “I think it affects us all, what happens over there really matters for the next four years over here,” said Sydney resident Luke Heinrich.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading civil rights groups, warned about the need to reserve judgment on the results until every vote is counted. With a very high number of mail-in ballots this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, full tallies are expected to take days in some states.

Executive director Kenneth Roth said premature declarations of victory were dangerous.

“Autocrats might be perfectly happy to undermine democracy in the United States by welcoming a premature declaration of victory,” he said.

China, whose relations with the United States have sunk to their worst in decades under Trump, said the election was a domestic affair and it had “no position on it”.

Chinese social media users, however, were quick to mock the failure of the U.S. electoral system to deliver a quick and clear result.

“Whether he wins or loses, his final mission is to destroy the appearance of American democracy,” one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform wrote on Wednesday.

“Let Trump be re-elected and take the U.S. downhill,” another wrote.

In Nigeria, one leading politician, Senator Shehu Sani, said the uncertainty in the United States was reminiscent of Africa.

“Africa used to learn American democracy, America is now learning African democracy,” he tweeted to his 1.6 million followers.

(Reporting by Luke Baker in London, Libby George in Lagos and Daria Sito-Sucic; Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva, Crispian Balmer in Rome, Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw, Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Tony Munroe and Gao Liangping in Beijing; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Height of fashion? Clothes mountains build up as recycling breaks down

By Sonya Dowsett and George Obulutsa

MADRID/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Clothes recycling is the pressure-release valve of fast fashion, and it’s breaking under COVID-19 curbs.

The multi-billion-dollar trade in second-hand clothing helps prevent the global fashion industry’s growing pile of waste going straight to landfill, while keeping wardrobes clear for next season’s designs. But it’s facing a crisis.

Exporters are struggling, as are traders and customers in often poorer nations from Africa to Eastern Europe and Latin America who rely on a steady supply of used clothes.

The signs are everywhere.

From London to Los Angeles, many thrift shops and clothing banks outside stores and on streets have been deluged with more clothes than could be sold on, leading to mountains of garments building up in sorting warehouses.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began early this year, textile recyclers and exporters have had to cut their prices to shift stock as lockdown measures restrict movement and business slows in end markets abroad. For many, it’s no longer commercially viable and they can’t afford to move merchandise.

“We are reaching the point where our warehouses are completely full,” Antonio de Carvalho, boss of a textile recycling company in Stourbridge, central England, wrote to a client in June, asking for a price cut for clothes he collects.

De Carvalho pays towns for clothing collected in his containers then sells it on at profit to traders overseas.

Since May, he said, the price he has been able to charge overseas buyers had dropped from 570 pounds ($726) a tonne to 400 pounds, making it hard for his company, Green World Recycling, to cover the costs of collecting and storing items.

Buyers were also asking to increase the credit periods before they had to pay from 15 days to 45-60 days, adding to cash-flow problems, de Carvalho wrote.

“We are losing … a huge amount of money, making a big loss for the operation.”

‘GOING OUT OF BUSINESS’

De Carvalho’s experience is mirrored across the sector, suggesting that, even once the pandemic passes, the battered trade could take a long time to recover.

Recyclers are removing clothes banks from streets, reducing the number of times they are emptied per week and looking at laying off workers to conserve cash, according to Reuters interviews with 16 market players in Britain, the United States, Germany and the Netherlands.

At the same time, in a bleak irony for such firms, donations have mounted as people stuck at home clear out their wardrobes – a boon in normal times.

“This is unlike any other recession in a century,” said Jackie King, executive director of U.S. trade body the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART). “I would anticipate there will be companies going out of business.”

The retreat of recyclers is having far-reaching consequences for an industry that has seen an annual average of more than $4 billion of used clothing exported globally over the five years to 2019, according to U.N. trade data.

Exports have shrunk this year.

In Britain, the weight of used clothing exported from March to July was around half what it was for the same period last year, official trade data shows. Exports improved in July – the latest month on record – as merchants rushed to shift stock as countries began to re-open, but were still down around 30%.

In the United States, the value of exports from March to July fell 45% compared with the same period last year, government data shows.

Up to a third of clothes donated in the United States – the world’s biggest exporter of used clothing – ends up for sale in markets in the developing world.

KENYAN WOES

The consequences of the decline can be seen in countries like Kenya, which imported 176,000 tonnes of second-hand clothing in 2018, equivalent to over 335 million pairs of jeans.

Business is sluggish in the open-air Gikomba market in Nairobi, one of the biggest second-hand clothes market in East Africa. Shop assistants stand idle while traders call out to shoppers asking them to try their garments

Traders have been hit with a double-whammy of the shrinking supply, exacerbated by the government banning the import of used textiles in March on concerns they could carry the novel coronavirus, and a drop in footfall due to people staying home.

“Before coronavirus came in, I would manage to sell at least 50 (pairs of) trousers a day,” said trader Nicholas Mutisya, who sells jeans and hats. “But now with coronavirus, even selling one a day has become difficult.”

“We cannot buy bales (of clothes) directly, so we buy our stock from those who have already bought them.”

The ban on used textiles imports was lifted in August after pushback from traders in Kenya and industry bodies in Europe and the United States who said second-hand clothes were safe as the virus could not survive the journey to Africa.

Yet the struggle continues for traders like Mutisya and Anthony Kang’ethe, who works as a driver for a shop selling second-hand clothes in bales shipped from Britain. He said the business had been hit hard by the supply crunch.

“Before we used to have five workers in our company,” Kang’ethe said. “We are left with two.”

DARK SIDE OF FASHION

Large-scale commercial trade in second-hand clothing from Europe and the United States to emerging markets took off in a big way in the 1990s due to growing African and Eastern European demand for Western fashion.

Such demand has provided a badly needed release value for a booming fashion market, where clothing production has approximately doubled over the past 15 years, according to sustainability charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, the U.N.’s environment program said in March 2019.

Meanwhile, clothes account for a massive, and growing, pile of waste that ends up in landfills.

In Britain, shoppers buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe, amounting to some five times more than what they bought in the 1980s, according to a 2019 UK parliamentary report by the Environmental Audit Committee.

About 300,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill or incineration per year, the report said.

The United States produces just under 17 million U.S. tons (15.4 tonnes) of textile waste per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency – equivalent to around 29 billion pairs of jeans. Two-thirds of this ends up in landfills.

Many fashion retailers, including Zara owner Inditex and H&M, encourage shoppers to bring unwanted textiles to their stores for collection and, in the case of H&M, even offer discounts on new purchases in exchange.

Only a small proportion of clothes collected by Inditex end up for sale in international markets, a company spokesman said. H&M said clothing collected in its stores was processed by I:CO, a unit of German textile recycling company Soex.

“The whole problem is just getting bigger,” said Anna Smith, a doctoral researcher at King’s College London looking at a so-called circular economic system, which aims to eliminate waste.

“People are consuming more and more.”

(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm; Editing by Pravin Char)

Delivering super-cooled COVID-19 vaccine a daunting challenge for some countries

By Matthias Inverardi and Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Getting a coronavirus vaccine from manufacturing sites to some parts of the world with rural populations and unreliable electricity supply will be an immense challenge, given the need to store some vials at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit), Deutsche Post warned on Tuesday.

The German logistics firm said that distribution of an eventual vaccine across large parts of Africa, South America and Asia would require extraordinary measures to keep deliveries of so-called mRNA vaccines refrigerated at Antarctic-level temperatures.

Companies developing vaccines requiring exceptional cold storage, such as Moderna and CureVac, are working hard to make their injections last longer in transit.

The novel class of mRNA vaccines is among the furthest advanced in a field of 33 immunization shots currently being tested on humans globally, but they may need to be cooled at minus 80 degrees Celsius.

But upgrading cold storage infrastructure in regions outside the 25 most advanced countries, home to one third of the global population, will pose an immense challenge, said Deutsche Post in its study, conducted with consultancy firm McKinsey.

Vaccine developers Translate Bio and Moderna said in June they are working to produce evidence in time for the roll-out that their respective products can be shipped and stored at less extreme temperatures.

A spokesman for CureVac said its vaccine candidate is based on an experimental rabies vaccine which has already been shown to keep its molecular structure when stored in a regular fridge for months. Tests are underway to show the COVID-19 product has the same durability and the company is confident the data will be “competitive”, he added.

Deutsche Post said that even if the vaccine cold chain requires temperatures of only minus 8 degrees Celsius the share of the world’s population with reliable access to it increases only to about 70%, with substantial parts of Africa at risk of missing out.

“We anticipate 10 billion vaccine doses will have to be distributed across the world, and that includes regions that don’t have motorway access every five miles,” Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer of Deutsche Post’s DHL global forwarding unit, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Louise Heavens)

World Bank approves record $500 million to battle locust swarms

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank on Thursday approved a record $500 million in grants and low-interest loans to help countries in Africa and the Middle East fight swarms of desert locusts that are eating their way across vast swaths of crops and rangelands.

Four of the hardest-hit countries – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – will receive $160 million immediately, Holger Kray, a senior World Bank official, told Reuters. He said Yemen, Somalia and other affected countries could tap funds as needed.

“The Horn of Africa finds itself at the epicenter of the worst locust outbreak we have seen in a generation, most probably in more than a generation,” he said, noting the new coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the crisis.

Locust swarms have infested 23 countries across East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, the biggest outbreak in 70 years, the World Bank said. It threatens food supplies in East Africa where nearly 23 million people are facing food shortages.

See graphic:

The World Bank estimates the Horn of Africa region could suffer up to $8.5 billion in damage to crop and livestock production by year-end without broad measures to reduce locust populations and prevent their spread. Even with the measures, losses could be as high as $2.5 billion, it said.

Desert locusts can travel up to 150 km (95 miles) a day, sometimes in swarms as large as 250 km (155.34 miles) across, eating their own body weight in greenery.

In Kenya, the locusts are eating in one day the amount of food consumed by all Kenyans in two days, Kray said.

The new World Bank program will help farmers, herders and rural households by providing fertilizer and seeds for new crops, and cash transfers to pay for food for people and livestock.

It will also fund investments to strengthen surveillance and early warning systems to make the region more resilient over the medium- to longer-term, Kray said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Latest on the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus – 5-7-20

(Reuters) – More than 3.79 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 263,682 have died, according to a Reuters tally as of 1427 GMT on Thursday.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* For a U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

EUROPE

* Russia’s cases overtook France and Germany to become the fifth-highest number in the world after a record daily rise. Moscow’s mayor said the real number of cases in the capital was more than triple the official, TASS news agency reported.

* Restrictions in Moscow have been extended until May 31, said Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

* Black people and men of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin are nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than whites, even when adjusting data for deprivation, a British report said.

* Poland plans to test 1,000 miners a day at drive-through sites as data show rapid growth in new cases in the coal region.

* German officials warned the crisis is far from over despite the country slowly reopening its economy.

* After standing empty for two months, Greece’s ancient sites, including the Acropolis hill, will reopen to visitors on May 18, authorities said.

* A European coalition is forming around an approach to using smartphone technology to trace infections that, its backers hope, could help to reopen borders without unleashing a second wave.

AMERICAS

* The first immigrant in U.S. detention has died of the coronavirus, local health authorities said as infections steadily climbed among the country’s around 30,000 immigrant detainees.

* Indigenous groups from nine countries in the Amazon basin called for donations to help protect 3 million rainforest inhabitants, vulnerable because they lack adequate access to healthcare.

* Brazil, one of the world’s emerging hot spots, registered a record number of cases and deaths on Wednesday, prompting the health minister to flag the possibility of strict lockdowns in hard-hit areas. President Bolsonaro’s spokesman has tested positive and is quarantined in his home.

* Argentine President Alberto Fernandez is rising in the polls on approval of his handling of the response, as he faces off against creditors with a major debt revamp.

* Colombia has removed the contact-tracing feature in its official coronavirus app after experiencing glitches, but aims to rebuild it using potentially more reliable technology.

* At least 47 residents and three workers have been infected at a retirement home in Mexico, in one of the biggest outbreaks yet reported in the country.

* A war of words broke out between Costa Rica and El Salvador after the Salvadoran president accused the other country of massaging statistics by deliberately carrying out fewer tests.

* El Salvador said it would from Thursday temporarily suspend public transport.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* China said it supports the WHO in trying to pinpoint the origins of the pandemic and accused the U.S. Secretary of State of lying in his attacks on Beijing.

* Japan has approved Gilead’s remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19, the health ministry said, making it the country’s first officially authorized drug for the disease.

* Cases in India rose past 50,000 on Thursday, with the pace of new infections showing no signs of abating despite a strict weeks-long lockdown.

* India will roll out a version of its coronavirus contact-tracing application that can run on Reliance Jio’s cheap phones, as it looks to widen use.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Iran is scrambling to buy millions of tonnes of grains to shore up reserves, officials and traders said, despite the president’s assertions that the coronavirus would not endanger food supplies.

* Pakistan’s lockdown will be lifted on Saturday, its prime minister said, despite the number of cases still accelerating.

* The head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention rejected the Tanzanian president’s assertion that tests it supplied are faulty.

* Saudi Arabia has formed a police unit to monitor violations of rules banning gatherings, state news agency SPA said.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* World shares largely shook off data on Thursday showing millions more Americans sought unemployment benefits, with sentiment sustained by stronger than expected Chinese exports. [MKTS/GLOB]

* The IMF has approved 50 requests for emergency aid for a total of about $18 billion, and is continuing to work quickly through remaining requests, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said.

* Millions more Americans likely sought unemployment benefits last week, suggesting a broadening of layoffs from consumer facing industries to other segments of the economy and could remain elevated even as many parts of the country start to reopen.

* The Bank of England said Britain could be headed for its biggest economic slump in over 300 years and kept the door open for more stimulus next month.

* Sweden will not provide state aid to companies paying dividends to shareholders and could claw back funds from recipients that have already done so, the agency charged with disbursing the emergency support said.

* Border controls, lockdowns and flight shortages are making illegal drugs more expensive and difficult to obtain around the world, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in a report published on Thursday.

(Compiled by Sarah Morland; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)