U.S.’ Blinken calls for global companies to reconsider financial support to Myanmar’s military

By Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday called on international companies to consider cutting ties to enterprises that support Myanmar’s military and he decried its crackdown on anti-coup protesters.

At least 512 civilians had been killed in nearly two months of protests against the coup, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group.

Blinken told reporters the violence was “reprehensible” and followed a pattern of “increasingly disturbing and even horrifying violence” against demonstrators opposing military rule, including the killing of children as young as five.

The United States has condemned the Feb. 1 coup that ousted an elected government. Washington has imposed several rounds of sanctions, but Myanmar’s generals have refused to change course.

Blinken said other nations and companies worldwide should look at pulling “significant investments in enterprises that support the Burmese military.”

“They should be looking at those investments and reconsidering them as a means of denying the military the financial support it needs to sustain itself against the will of the people,” he said.

The United States last week placed Treasury sanctions on two military-owned conglomerates, which prevents U.S. companies and individuals from dealing with them.

But some companies, including firms from U.S. regional allies such as Japan and South Korea, still have business relationships with military-owned companies, according to activist groups.

Activists have also called on international energy companies like U.S.-based Chevron to withhold revenues from natural gas projects they operate in Myanmar from the junta-controlled government.

One of Myanmar’s main ethnic minority rebel groups warned of a growing threat of major conflict on Tuesday and called for international intervention against the military crackdown.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; editing by Grant McCool)

White House sees no federal mandate for COVID-19 vaccine verification

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House said it expected the private sector to take the lead on verification of COVID-19 vaccines, or so-called vaccine passports, and would not issue a federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.

The Biden administration was reviewing the issue and would make recommendations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, but she added, “We believe it will be driven by the private sector.”

Japan is gearing up to issue digital health certificates to citizens who have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, joining China, the European Union and others that have adopted similar measures aimed at opening up overseas travel, the Nikkei reported on Saturday.

Psaki said the White House was leading an inter-agency process looking at these issues, and would provide guidance in line with several key principles:

“There are a couple key principles that we are working from. One is that there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” she said.

“Secondly, we want to encourage an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and nonprofit coalitions developing solutions. And third, we want to drive the market toward meeting public interest goals.”

Psaki said the Biden Administration would work to ensure that all vaccination credential systems met key standards such as universal accessibility, affordability and availability, both digitally and on paper.

She gave no indication when the process would be completed.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; writing by Andrea Shalal; editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler)

Blinken warns China against ‘coercion and aggression’ on first Asia trip

By Humeyra Pamuk, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Ju-min Park

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China on Tuesday against using “coercion and aggression” as he sought to use his first trip abroad to shore up Asian alliances in the face of growing assertiveness by Beijing.

China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testy Sino-U.S. relationship and are an important security concern for Japan.

“We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion and aggression to get its way,” Blinken said.

His visit to Tokyo with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is the first overseas visit by top members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet. It follows last week’s summit of the leaders of the Quad grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

Blinken’s comments come ahead of meetings in Alaska on Thursday that will bring together for the first time senior Biden administration officials and their Chinese counterparts to discuss frayed ties between the world’s top two economies.

Washington has criticized what it called Beijing’s attempts to bully neighbors with competing interests. China has denounced what it called U.S. efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it calls its internal affairs.

In the statement issued with their Japanese counterparts, Blinken and Austin said, “China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military and technological challenges to the alliance and to the international community.”

The two countries committed themselves to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior towards others in the region that undermines the rules-based international system, they added.

The meeting was held in the “2+2” format with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi as hosts.

North Korea was in sharp focus after the White House said Pyongyang had rebuffed efforts at dialogue.

The isolated nation, which has pursued nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, warned the Biden administration against “causing a stink” if it wanted peace, state media said on Tuesday.

Blinken underscored the importance of working closely with Japan and South Korea on the denuclearization of North Korea.

“We have no greater strategic advantage when it comes to North Korea than this alliance,” he said. “We approach that challenge as an alliance and we’ve got to do that if we are going to be effective.”

‘UNWAVERING COMMITMENT’

The ministers also discussed Washington’s “unwavering commitment” to defend Japan in its dispute with China over islets in the East China Sea and repeated their opposition to China’s “unlawful” maritime claims in the South China Sea.

They also shared concerns over developments such as the law China passed in January allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.

China has sent coast guard vessels to chase away fishing vessels from countries with which it has disputes in regional waters, sometimes resulting in their sinking.

Motegi said China-related issues took up the majority of his two-way talks with Blinken, and expressed strong opposition to the neighbor’s “unilateral attempt” to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing that U.S.-Japan ties “shouldn’t target or undermine the interests of any third party,” and should boost “peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific”.

Blinken expressed concern over the Myanmar military’s attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election, and its crackdown on peaceful protesters.

He also reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to human rights, adding, “China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abusing human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.”

Motegi said Blinken expressed support during the meeting for the staging of the Tokyo Olympics, set to run from July 23 to Aug. 8 after being postponed from last year because of the coronavirus crisis.

But Blinken sounded non-committal in his remarks to Tokyo-based U.S. diplomats, saying the summer Games involved planning for several different scenarios. But he added, “Whenever and however Team USA ends up competing, it will be because of you.”

The U.S. officials ended the visit with a courtesy call on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is set to visit the White House in April as the first foreign leader to meet Biden.

Both will leave Tokyo for Seoul on Wednesday for talks in the South Korean capital until Thursday.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Ju-min Park, Antoni Slodkowski, Elaine Lies, Chang-Ran Kim, Ritsuko Ando and David Dolan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S., India, Japan and Australia agree to provide a billion vaccine doses in Asia

By David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and Japan agreed in a summit on Friday to cooperate in providing up to a billion coronavirus vaccine doses to developing countries in the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022, a move to counter China’s widening vaccine diplomacy.

Biden, hosting the first leader-level meeting of a group central to his efforts to counter China’s growing military and economic power, said a free and open Indo-Pacific region was “essential” to all four countries.

“The United States is committed to working with you, our partners, and all our allies in the region, to achieve stability,” he said.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the leaders addressed key regional issues at the virtual meeting, “including freedom of navigation and freedom from coercion” in the South and East China Sea, the North Korean nuclear issue, and the coup and violent repression in Myanmar.

Sullivan told a news briefing the meeting discussed the challenges posed by China, although this was not the focus. He said that among the issues discussed were recent cyberattacks and semi-conductor supply-chain issues.

The Quad leaders committed to delivering up to one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Southeast Asia by the end of 2022, Sullivan said .

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he wanted the four “to forge strongly ahead toward the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific” and that Japan had agreed to cooperate in providing vaccine-related support to developing countries.

He also told reporters he had expressed strong opposition to attempts by China to change the status quo in the region and that the four leaders had agreed to cooperate on the issue.

India and Australia also emphasized the importance of regional security cooperation, which has been enhanced by previous lower-level Quad meetings.

India Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the meeting had agreed U.S. vaccines would be manufactured in India, something New Delhi has called for to counter Beijing’s widening vaccine diplomacy.

In a joint statement the leaders pledged to work closely on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, climate issues and security.

“We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic  values, and unconstrained by coercion,” they added, without mentioning China by name.

The meeting also agreed to set up a group of experts to help distribute vaccines, as well as working groups for cooperation on climate change, technology standards, and joint development of emerging technologies.

The leaders agreed to hold an in-person meeting later this year.

India, Australia and Japan have all faced security challenges from China, strengthening their interest in the Quad. Quad cooperation dates back to their joint response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004.

The Quad was revived under the Trump administration, which saw it as a vehicle to push back against China. The United States hosted a foreign ministers’ meeting in 2019, which was followed by another in Japan last year and a virtual session in February.

Friday’s meeting coincided with a major U.S. diplomatic drive to solidify alliances in Asia and Europe to counter China, including visits next week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea.

Blinken will also meet in Alaska with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi – the first high-level in-person contact between the world’s two largest economies under the Biden administration.

Washington has said it will not hold back in its criticism of Beijing over issues ranging from Taiwan to Hong Kong and the genocide it says China is committing against minority Muslims.

Modi told the session the Quad had “come of age” and would “now remain an important pillar of stability in the region.” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the meeting “a whole new level of cooperation to create a new anchor for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”

A fact sheet issued after the meeting said the United States, through its International Development Finance Corp, would work to finance Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd to produce at least 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by end of 2022.

It also said Japan was in discussions to provide concessional yen loans for India to expand manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines for export.

The Biden administration told Reuters on Tuesday the United States and Japan would help fund Indian firms manufacturing vaccines for U.S. drugmakers Novavax Inc and J&J.

However, Indian government sources say U.S. curbs on exports of critical materials could hamper that effort and those to start large-scale distribution to Southeast Asia.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina, Jeff Mason and Doina Chiacu; additonal reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alistair Bell)

Ten years on, Japan mourns victims of earthquake and Fukushima disaster

By Eimi Yamamitsu

IWAKI, Japan (Reuters) – With a moment of silence, prayers and anti-nuclear protests, Japan on Thursday mourned about 20,000 victims of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan 10 years ago, destroying towns and triggering nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima.

Huge waves triggered by the 9.0-magnitude quake – one of the strongest on record – crashed into the northeastern coast, crippling the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant and forcing more than 160,000 residents to flee as radiation spewed into the air.

The world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and the tremor have left survivors struggling to overcome the grief of losing families and towns to the waves in a few frightening hours on the afternoon of March 11, 2011.

About 50 kilometers (31 miles) south from the plant, in the gritty coastal city of Iwaki, which has since become a hub for laborers working on nuclear decommissioning, restaurant owner Atsushi Niizuma prayed to his mother killed by the waves.

“I want to tell my mother that my children, who were all close to her, are doing well. I came here to thank her that our family is living safely,” said Niizuma, 47.

Before setting off for work, he quietly paid his respects at a stone monument at a seaside shrine with carvings of his mother’s name, Mitsuko, and 65 others who died in the disaster.

On the day of the earthquake, Mitsuko was looking after his children. The children rushed into a car but Mitsuko was swept away by the waves as she returned to the house to grab her belongings. It took a month to recover her body, Niizuma said.

The Akiba shrine has become a symbol of resilience for the survivors, as it was barely damaged by the tsunami while houses nearby were swept away or burned down.

About two dozen residents gathered with Niizuma to decorate it with paper cranes, flowers and yellow handkerchiefs with messages of hope sent by students from across the country.

“It was sleeting 10 years ago, and it was cold. The coldness always brought me back to the memory of what happened on the day,” said Hiroko Ishikawa, 62.

“But with my back soaking up the sun today, we are feeling more relaxed. It’s as if the sun is telling us that ‘It’s okay, why don’t you go talk with everyone who came back to visit their hometown?'”

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

At 2:46 p.m., the exact moment the earthquake struck a decade ago, Emperor Naruhito and his wife led a moment of silence to honor the dead in a commemorative ceremony in Tokyo. Silent prayers were held across the country.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the memorial ceremony that the loss of life was still impossible to contemplate.

“It is unbearable when I think of the feelings of all those who lost their loved ones and friends,” said Suga, dressed in a black suit.

At the ceremony attended by emperor and prime minister, the attendees wore masks and kept their distance, and did not sing along with the national anthem to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In a joint statement, Suga and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden said the two countries would continue to move forward shoulder-to-shoulder to finish the reconstruction of the region.

The Japanese government has spent about $300 billion (32.1 trillion yen) to rebuild the region, but areas around the Fukushima plant remain off-limits, worries about radiation levels linger and many who left have settled elsewhere.

Some 40,000 people are still displaced by the disaster.

Japan is again debating the role of nuclear power in its energy mix as the resource-poor country aims to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050 to fight global warming. But an NHK public TV survey showed 85% of the public worries about nuclear accidents.

The work to decommission the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, deal with contaminated water and solid waste, and make the area safe is immense, as critics say it could take up to a century to return the plant to a usable state.

About 5,000 workers pass through gates each day to work on dismantling the crippled plant, which still has about 880 tonnes of melted fuel debris in its reactors.

The mass demonstrations against nuclear power seen in the wake of 3/11 have faded, but distrust lingers. Some protesters held an antinuclear rally in front of the headquarters of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power on Thursday night.

In Fukushima, fireworks lit up night sky to connect to the souls of the victims and pray for a bright future.

“Watching the fireworks, I felt like we’re taking another new step towards recovery,” said Hiroshi Yokoyama, 56, a school teacher from the Fukushima town of Namie who lost his parents and home to the tsunami.

“I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it used to be… but I am looking forward to what sort of new approaches there will be to revitalize the town.”

(Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu, Elaine Lies, Kim Kyung Hoon, Irene Wang, Sakura Murakami, Antoni Slodkowski, Ju-min Park and Linda Sieg; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Hugh Lawson)

‘Great day for humanity’: Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine over 90% effective

By Michael Erman and Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – Pfizer Inc’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective based on initial trial results, the drugmaker said on Monday, a major victory in the war against a virus that has killed over a million people and battered the world’s economy.

Experts welcomed the first successful interim data from a large-scale clinical test as a watershed moment that showed vaccines could help halt the pandemic, although mass roll-outs, which needs regulatory approval, will not happen this year.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE said they had found no serious safety concerns yet and expected to seek U.S. authorization this month for emergency use of the vaccine, raising the chance of a regulatory decision as soon as December.

If granted, the companies estimate they can roll out up to 50 million doses this year, enough to protect 25 million people, and then produce up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen,” he said.

Experts said they still wanted to see the full trial data, which have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal, but the preliminary results looked encouraging.

“This news made me smile from ear to ear. It is a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and bodes well for COVID-19 vaccines in general,” said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford.

There are still many questions, such as how effective the vaccine is by ethnicity or age, and how long it will provide immunity, with the “new normal” of social distancing and face covering set to remain for the foreseeable future.

Pfizer expects to seek U.S. emergency use authorization for people aged 16 to 85. To do so, it will need two months of safety data from about half the study’s 44,000 participants, which is expected in the third week of November.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it would take several weeks for U.S. regulators to receive and process data on the vaccine before the government could potentially approve it.

MARKETS SURGE

The prospect of a vaccine electrified world markets with the S&P 500 and Dow hitting record highs as shares of banks, oil companies and travel companies soared. Shares in companies that have thrived during lockdowns, such as conferencing platform Zoom Video and online retailers, tumbled.

Pfizer shares jumped more than 11% to their highest since July last year, while BioNTech’s stock hit a record high.

Shares of other vaccine developers in the final stage of testing also rose with Johnson & Johnson up 4% and Moderna Inc, whose vaccine uses a similar technology as the Pfizer shot, up 8%. Britain’s AstraZeneca, however, fell 2%. Moderna is expected to report results from its large-scale trial later this month.

“The efficacy data are really impressive. This is better than most of us anticipated,” said William Schaffner, infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. “The study isn’t completed yet, but nonetheless the data look very solid.”

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the test results, and the market boost: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!” he tweeted.

President-elect Joe Biden said the news was excellent but did not change the fact that face masks, social distancing and other health measures would be needed well into next year.

The World Health Organization said the results were very positive, but warned there was a funding gap of $4.5 billion that could slow access to tests, medicines and vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.

‘NEAR ECSTATIC’

“I’m near ecstatic,” Bill Gruber, one of Pfizer’s top vaccine scientists, said in an interview. “This is a great day for public health and for the potential to get us all out of the circumstances we’re now in.”

Between 55% and 65% of the population will need to be vaccinated to break the dynamic of the spread of COVID-19, said Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn, adding that he did not expect a shot to be available before the first quarter of 2021.

The European Union said on Monday it would soon sign a contract for up to 300 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The companies have a $1.95 billion contract with the U.S. government to deliver 100 million vaccine doses beginning this year. They did not receive research funding from the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program.

The drugmakers have also reached supply agreements with the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan.

Pfizer said the interim analysis, conducted after 94 participants in the trial developed COVID-19, examined how many had received the vaccine versus a placebo.

Pfizer did not break down how many of those who fell ill received the vaccine. Still, over 90% effectiveness implies that no more than 8 of the 94 had been given the vaccine, which was administered in two shots about three weeks apart.

The efficacy rate, which could drop once full results are available, is well above the 50% effectiveness required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a coronavirus vaccine.

Shortly after Pfizer’s announcement, Russia said its Sputnik V vaccine was also more than 90% effective, based on data collated from inoculations of the public. Its preliminary Phase III trial data is due to be published this month.

MORE DATA NEEDED

To confirm the efficacy rate, Pfizer said it would continue its trial until there were 164 COVID-19 cases among volunteers. Bourla told CNBC on Monday that based on rising infection rates, the trial could be completed before the end of November.

Pfizer said its data would be peer reviewed once it has results from the entire trial.

“These are interesting first signals, but again they are only communicated in press releases,” said Marylyn Addo, head of tropical medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.

Dozens of drugmakers and research groups around the globe have been racing to develop vaccines against COVID-19, which on Sunday exceeded 50 million cases since the new coronavirus first emerged late last year in China.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks, and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines. The technology is designed to trigger an immune response without using pathogens, such as actual virus particles.

The Trump administration has said it will have enough vaccine doses for all of the 330 million U.S. residents who want it by the middle of 2021.

(Reporting by Michael Erman and Julie Steenhuysen; Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg in New York, Ludwig Burger and Patricia Weiss in Frankfurt and Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Caroline Humer, Edwina Gibbs and David Clarke)

‘Not like prison’ – gymnasts content with COVID restrictions before Tokyo test

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – At an upscale hotel in Tokyo, gymnasts from the United States, Russia, China and Japan are getting a taste of what more than 11,000 athletes might experience when the city hosts the postponed Olympic Games next year.

They are preparing for Sunday’s meet, which will be the first international event to be held at an Olympic venue since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Games’ postponement.

The one-off event is seen as a trial run for how international athletes may travel to and stay in Japan safely during the Games.

The 30 gymnasts are staying at the same hotel but on separate floors and have different training times to avoid contact.

“Before breakfast, we take a COVID test and they also gave us cell phones that alert us if someone has COVID (in the group),” 16-year-old eMjae Frazier, who had never previously travelled outside of the United States, told Reuters from her hotel room.

“They are being very safe and cautious but it is not like we are in prison.”

Team members are chaperoned from the team bus to their rooms and to the dining room for meals.

“The U.S. team is only allowed to be in the elevators (with the) U.S. team,” said Yul Moldauer.

“We can’t be in there with China, Russia or Japan.”

“We are on the 14th floor and we aren’t allowed beyond the 14th floor, only going down for food when it is lunch, breakfast or dinner time.”

Moldauer, who won bronze at the 2017 World Championships, said he wasn’t bored being stuck in his room and was enjoying looking at the view of Tokyo Tower from his window.

However, the 23-year-old added that he will bring a video games console if he returns for a longer period during the Olympics.

As well as daily COVID-19 tests, all gymnasts and team officials must pass through temperature checks and anti-bacterial sprays when arriving at the meet venue.

There are some benefits to the limitations, according to U.S. coach Tricia Scott.

“We have a lot more time,” she said.

“We don’t have to vie for space, taking turns on beam or taking turns on bars… so that part is very nice.”

Russian athlete Nikita Nagornyy told a virtual news conference later on Friday that he hoped this competition was a sign of things to come.

“I think that the competition we take part in shows that the Olympic Games can and should be held,” he said.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Global CO2 emissions show biggest ever drop in first half of 2020

By Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) – Global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 8.8% in the first six months of this year, the biggest drop for a first half-year period, due to the effects of coronavirus-related restrictions, a study showed on Wednesday.

Research published in the journal Nature Communications by a group of scientists from China, France, Japan and the United States, said emissions fell by 1,551 million tonnes or 8.8% in the first half of the year, compared to the same period last year.

The 8.8% reduction represents largest ever fall in emissions over the first half year, larger than for any economic downturn. The drop was also larger than the annual decrease during World War Two, although mean emissions are much bigger now than at that time.

The scientists used data based on real-time activity and analyzed the daily, weekly and seasonal trends of CO2 emissions before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn it triggered.

This spring, governments around the world imposed lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 pandemic which curtailed energy use for industrial production and transport. This resulted in greenhouse gas emissions declining.

Warmer-than-usual weather across much of the northern hemisphere also meant that emissions were somewhat lower than they would have been in the same period of last year.

The study said the fall in daily CO2 emissions was most pronounced in April when the toughest restrictions were in place. Emissions began to recover in late April and May as economic activity resumed in China and parts of Europe.

But falls in transport-related emissions persisted.

“By July 1, the pandemic’s effects on global emissions diminished as lockdown restrictions relaxed and some economic activities restarted, especially in China and several European countries,” the paper said.

“However, substantial differences persist between countries, with continuing emission declines in the U.S. where coronavirus cases are still increasing substantially,” it added.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney. Editing by Jane Merriman)

IEA says oil demand recovery set to slow for rest of 2020

By Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) – The International Energy Agency (IEA) trimmed its 2020 oil demand forecast on Tuesday, citing caution about the pace of economic recovery from the pandemic.

The Paris-based IEA cut its 2020 outlook by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 91.7 million bpd in its second downgrade in as many months.

“We expect the recovery in oil demand to decelerate markedly in the second half of 2020, with most of the easy gains already achieved,” the IEA said in its monthly report.

“The economic slowdown will take months to reverse completely … in addition, there is the potential that a second wave of the virus (already visible in Europe) could cut mobility once again.”

Renewed rises in COVID-19 cases in many countries and related lockdown measures, continued remote working and a still weak aviation sector are all hurting demand, the IEA said.

China – which emerged from lockdown sooner than other major economies and provided a strong prop to global demand – continues a strong recovery, while a virus upsurge in India contributed to the biggest demand drop since April, the IEA said.

Increasing global oil output and the downgraded demand outlook also mean a slower draw on crude oil stocks which piled up at the height of lockdown measures, it added.

The agency now predicts implied stock draws in the second half of the year of about 3.4 million barrels per day, nearly one million bpd less than it predicted last month, with July storage levels in developed countries again reaching record highs.

However, preliminary data for August showed industry crude oil stocks fell in the United States, Europe and Japan.

As output cuts eased among producers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies such as Russia, global oil supply rose by 1.1. million bpd in August.

After two months of increases, recovery among countries outside the OPEC+ pact stalled, with production in the United States falling 400,000 bpd as Hurricane Laura forced shut-ins.

(Reporting by Noah Browning; editing by Jason Neely)

WHO’s Tedros says ‘vaccine nationalism’ would prolong pandemic

By Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that “vaccine nationalism” would only slow the effort to quash the pandemic and called for vaccines to be used fairly and effectively.

Tedros said 78 high-income countries had now joined the “COVAX” global vaccine allocation plan, bringing the total to 170 countries, and the “number is growing”. He urged others to join by the Sept. 18 deadline for binding commitments.

Joining the plan guaranteed those countries access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccines, with nine candidates currently in the pipeline, he said, adding that a further four were “promising”.

The WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance are leading the COVAX facility, aimed at helping buy and distribute vaccination shots fairly around the world.

But some countries that have secured their own supplies through bilateral deals, including the United States, have said they will not join COVAX.

“Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it,” Tedros told a WHO briefing in Geneva, without mentioning any specific countries.

“If and when we have an effective vaccine, we must also use it effectively … In other words, the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries,” he said, adding that priority should be given to healthcare workers, the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

Tedros thanked Germany, Japan, Norway and the European Commission for joining COVAX during the last week.

“Certainly by the middle of 2021 we should start to see some vaccines actually moving into countries and populations,” said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, reiterating earlier comments.

Noting that there were 13 experimental vaccines currently in clinical trails, Swaminathan called it an “optimistic scenario” since the typical success rate of 10% could mean several vaccines are approved.

But Swaminathan said that no vaccine should be approved for a worldwide rollout until it had undergone sufficient scrutiny.

“No vaccine is going to be mass-deployed until regulators are confident, governments are confident, and the WHO is confident it has met the minimum standard of safety and efficacy,” she said.

Results were expected from some of the candidates already in phase 3 trials, each involving thousands of participants, by the end of the year or early 2021, Swaminathan said.

“We are not going to have enough for the whole world right at the beginning,” she said adding that scaling up of manufacturing would take time.

“Eventually there will be enough for everyone but it will mean prioritization,” she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)