Mexico publishes medicinal cannabis regulation, creating new market

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday published rules to regulate the use of medicinal cannabis, a major step in a broader reform to create the world’s largest legal cannabis market in the Latin American country.

The new regulation was signed off by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and will now allow pharmaceutical companies to begin doing medical research on cannabis products.

The cannabis reform taking place includes the recreational use of marijuana, and will create what would be the world’s biggest national cannabis market in terms of population.

The new medicinal rules state companies who wish to carry out research have to obtain permission from the Mexican health regulator, COFEPRIS, and this research has to be done in a strictly controlled and independent laboratories.

The regulation also sets rules for the sowing, cultivation and harvesting of cannabis for medicinal purposes, which would allow businesses to grow marijuana legally on Mexican soil.

Foreign weed companies from Canada and the United States have been looking at Mexico with interest. Many had delayed making investment decisions due to policy uncertainty and were waiting for the final regulation to be published.

Mexico’s lawmakers are also in the final stages of legalizing recreational use of marijuana, with the bill expected to pass in the next period of Congress.

The regulation comes several years after Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers must legalize use of cannabis.

The legislation marks a major shift in a country bedeviled for years by violence between feuding drug cartels, which have long made millions of dollars growing marijuana illegally and smuggling it into the United States.

(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Additional reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez; Editing by Dave Graham)

Support for abortion jumped in Mexico last year, survey finds

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Support for abortion rose sharply in Mexico in 2020, according to a poll published on Monday, as attitudes towards the issue shift across Latin America.

In Mexico, a majority Roman Catholic nation, elective abortion is allowed only in the capital and the state of Oaxaca, but a growing pro-choice movement has been calling for a loosening of restrictions.

At the end of November, support for abortion stood at 48% in a survey, published by the news organizations El Financiero and Nación321 – a steep rise from the 29% recorded in March.

The poll, based on telephone interviews with 410 participants, asked if respondents agreed that “the law should permit a woman the right to abortion.”

Although Latin America has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, Argentina legalized the procedure last month.

The move was a triumph for the women’s rights movement in a region where the Catholic Church has held cultural and political sway for centuries.

Several nations in Latin American ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison.

Until recently, only Communist Cuba and tiny Uruguay permitted elective abortions.

In most of Mexico, abortion is banned except under certain circumstances, such as rape. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has declined to take a position, saying wider legalization should be a matter for public consultation.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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)

Argentine lawmakers take up government-backed bill to legalize abortion

By Nicolás Misculin

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -Argentine lawmakers began debating a bill to legalize abortion on Thursday as protesters rallied outside Congress waving trademark green scarves in support of the legislation that could set the tone for a wider shift in Latin America.

The draft law, which would provide for the legal termination of pregnancy up until the 14th week, is backed by center-left President Alberto Fernandez. It is expected to be narrowly approved by congressional deputies before moving up to the Senate, where an even tighter vote is anticipated.

The South American country is the birthplace of Pope Francis, and Thursday’s debate comes as a number of countries in the predominantly Roman Catholic region are seeing drives to give women greater reproductive rights.

A spokesman for the ruling party said a debate of almost 30 hours was expected in the lower house, meaning that the bill – which could undergo modifications to achieve broad consensus – would be likely to face a vote on Friday morning.

“”We are convinced that this offers a concrete answer to an urgent and structural public health problem,” said Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the government’s Women, Gender and Diversity minister, as she opened the session in the Chamber of Deputies.

“The time has come to stop looking the other way.”

Protesters supporting the bill began gathering outside Congress with their green scarves on Thursday, planning an overnight vigil to await news of what they hope will be an approval this time round after a similar vote to legalize abortion was narrowly defeated in 2018.

Opposition groups, who wear light blue scarves, have also pledged to take to the streets to demonstrate against the bill.

The initiative includes a parallel bill which will face a separate vote to assist women who want to continue with their pregnancy and face severe economic or social difficulties.

Argentine law currently only allows the voluntary interruption of pregnancy when there is a serious risk to the mother or in the event of rape, although activists say many women often do not receive adequate care.

The country has seen a gradual rise in agnosticism in recent years. While the current Peronist government is strongly behind the bill, that was not the case in 2018 during the conservative administration of Mauricio Macri.

“We are not in favor of abortion, we do not recommend or suggest it, we are against clandestine abortion that kills thousands of women,” Argentine actress and campaigner Carola Reyna posted on Twitter.

“We believe that it is a practice that should be regulated by the State, guaranteeing women’s health.”

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Tom Brown)

Women’s movement sweeps Latin America to loosen abortion restrictions

By Daina Beth Solomon and Cassandra Garrison

MEXICO CITY/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Several weeks pregnant and about to start a job away from home, Lupita Ruiz had no doubts about wanting to end her pregnancy, despite knowing she could face jail time for having an abortion under a law in her state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.

She asked friends for help until she found a doctor two hours from her town who agreed to do it in secret.

Five years later, lawmakers in Chiapas are set to consider an initiative to halt prosecutions of women who terminate their pregnancies, part of a movement sweeping Latin America to loosen some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Several out of more than 20 Latin American nations ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison. Most countries, including Brazil, the region’s most populous, allow abortion only in specific circumstances, such as rape or health risk to the mother.

Just Uruguay and Cuba allow elective abortions.

In Mexico, a patchwork of state restrictions apply, but the debate is shifting, Ruiz said.

“When someone talked about abortion, they were shushed,” said the 27-year-old activist, who helped draft the Chiapas initiative. “Now I can sit down to eat a tamale and have a coffee and talk with my mom and my grandma about abortion, without anyone telling me to be quiet.”

Change is palpable across the predominantly Roman Catholic region. A new Argentine president proposed legalization last month, Chilean activists are aiming to write broader reproductive rights into a new constitution, and female lawmakers in Mexico are resisting abortion bans.

The push can be traced to Argentina’s pro-abortion protests in 2018 by as many as one million women to back a legalization bill that only narrowly failed to pass – in Pope Francis’s home country.

Catalina Martinez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy organization, said Argentina’s example inspired protests across Latin America.

“It was an awakening,” she said.

Outrage at worsening gender violence in Latin America, where the number of femicides has doubled in five years, has also spread awareness of the abortion rights movement and fueled demands for recognition of women’s rights in a conservative, male-dominated society.

“Women are finally understanding that they are not separate issues,” said Catalina Calderon, director for campaigns and advocacy programs at the Women’s Equality Center. “It’s the fact that you agree that we women are in control of our bodies, our decisions, our lives.”

The rise of social media has afforded women opportunities to bypass establishment-controlled media and bring attention to their stories, Calderon said.

“Now they’re out there for the public to discuss and for the women to react, and say: ‘This does not work. We need to do something’,” Calderon said.

As in the United States, where conservatives have made gains in restricting a woman’s right to an abortion, there is pushback in Latin America against the calls for greater liberalization.

Brazil, under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, is making it even harder for women to abort.

The Argentine Episcopal Conference has said it does not want to debate abortion during the coronavirus crisis, and alluded to comments by the Pope urging respect for those who are “not yet useful,” including fetuses.

Yet trust in the Catholic Church, which believes life begins at conception, is fading, with many Latin Americans questioning its moral legitimacy because of sexual abuse by priests.

SPREADING ‘GREEN WAVE’

Argentina could be first up for sweeping change, with a bill submitted to Congress by center-left President Alberto Fernandez seeking to legalize elective abortions.

Approval for legalization has risen eight percentage points since 2014, according to an August Ipsos poll, with support split nearly evenly between those who favor elective abortion and those who are for it only in certain circumstances.

“The dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system,” Fernandez said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based reproductive health research organization, an estimated 29% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean from 2015 to 2019 ended in abortion, encompassing 5.4 million women. The abortions are often clandestine, so figures are hard to determine.

The mass demonstrations in Argentina two years ago, known as the “green wave” protests, have reverberated.

Since mid-2018, lawmakers in Mexico have filed more than 40 proposals to end punishment for abortion, according to Mexican reproductive rights group GIRE.

In Chiapas, the de-criminalization effort is the first of its kind since a brief period in the 1990s when abortion was legalized during the left-wing Zapatista rebellion.

Although Chiapas does not on paper punish abortion with prison, it can jail women for the “killing” of their infants.

With Mexico’s first leftist government in a century in power, national lawmakers are considering two initiatives to open up restrictions and strip away criminal punishments from places like Sonora state, where abortion can be punished by up to six years in prison.

Only two federal entities, Mexico City and Oaxaca, allow elective abortions.

Wendy Briceno, a Sonoran lawmaker who has backed a nationwide legalization bill, said the initiatives have a good chance to pass if the debate centers on women’s health, especially given rising outrage over femicides.

In Chile, activists are celebrating a vote in October to write a new constitution as a chance to expand a 2017 law that permitted abortion to save a mother’s life, in cases of rape, or if the fetus is not viable.

Colombia, where the constitutional court has agreed to consider a petition to remove abortion from the penal code, could set an example, said Anita Pena, director of Chilean reproductive rights group Corporacion Miles.

Activists agree there is still a long way to go, with restrictive laws entrenched in many countries.

To Briceno, Brazil’s shift to the right under Bolsonaro, who has vowed to veto any pro-abortion bills, was a reminder to push even harder for abortion rights.

“No fight is ever finished,” she said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City, Cassandra Garrison in Buenos Aires, Natalia Ramos in Santiago; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Vatican City; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Grant McCool)

NIH tests therapies to help cut hospital stays for COVID-19 patients

(Reuters) – The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has started a late-stage trial to evaluate if immune-modulating therapies from three drugmakers can help reduce the need for ventilators for COVID-19 patients and shorten their hospital stay.

The NIH said on Friday it has selected three agents for the study – Johnson & Johnson unit Janssen Research’s Remicade, Bristol Myers Squibb’s Orencia and Abbvie Inc’s experimental drug cenicriviroc.

The study will enroll up to 2,100 hospitalized adults with moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms in the United States and Latin America.

Immune-modulating therapies are medications that alter the way the immune system works. Severe infections are believed to be triggered by an over-reaction of the immune system, known as a “cytokine storm,” and drugs that suppress certain elements of the immune system can play a role in arresting a rapid escalation of symptoms.

This can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and multiple organ failure, among other life-threatening complications.

The NIH said its clinical trial – ACTIV-1 Immune Modulators (IM) – will last six months, and the agency will study if the therapeutics can restore balance by modulating that immune response.

All patients will be given Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral drug remdesivir – the current standard of care – and also be randomly assigned to receive a placebo or one of the immune modulators as an add-on treatment, the NIH said in a statement.

Remdesivir was one of the drugs used to treat U.S. President Donald Trump’s coronavirus infection, and has been shown in previous studies to have cut time to recovery, though the European Union is investigating it for possible kidney injury.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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)

Latin American nations seek more time to join WHO vaccine plan

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Several Latin American countries have informed the World Health Organization (WHO) they intend to request more time to sign up for its global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan known as COVAX, an official at the WHO’s regional branch said on Thursday.

Countries have until midnight on Friday to formalize legally binding commitments to COVAX, a mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual vaccines.

A representative for the GAVI Alliance, the COVAX secretariat, said by email that details of which nations have joined COVAX will only be made public after the deadline.

Health officials in Mexico, which has the worst outbreak in Latin America after Brazil, said their country would sign the commitment on time. Brazil, which has the world’s most severe outbreak outside the United States and India, was still studying what to do, a ministry spokesperson said.

More than 170 countries have joined the global vaccine plan to help buy and distribute immunization shots for COVID-19 fairly around the world, WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan-American Health Organization, said in a briefing on Wednesday that Latin American countries were having trouble meeting the deadline and some wanted to push back the date.

Barbosa said all countries in the Americas except the United States had expressed interest in the vaccine facility, even those that have separate agreements with vaccine makers, because it gives them an added guarantee of access to doses.

Ten Latin American countries are among 90 poor nations in the world that will not have to pay for the vaccine, while the others in the region will pay an “accessible” price through COVAX, Barbosa said.

Colombian President Ivan Duque confirmed on Wednesday that his government was joining COVAX and Paraguay’s health ministry said it has already signed, even as it plans to buy the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Diego Ore in Mexico City, Julia Cobb in Bogotá, Daniela Desantis in Asunción; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Chizu Nomiyama)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Restrictions reimposed across Asia-Pacific region

From Melbourne to Manila, Hong Kong and India’s tech capital Bengaluru, lockdowns and strict social distancing restrictions are being reimposed across the Asia-Pacific after a surge in new coronavirus cases fanned fears of a second wave of infections.

Many parts of Asia, the region first hit by the coronavirus that emerged in central China late last year, are finding cause to pause the reopening of their economies, some after winning praise for their initial responses to the outbreak.

The number of coronavirus infections around the world hit 13 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, climbing by a million in just five days. Reuters’ global tally, which is based on government reports, shows COVID-19 accelerating fastest in Latin America, the number of deaths there exceeding the figure for North America for the first time on Monday.

Shutdown in California

California’s governor on Monday clamped new restrictions on businesses as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations soared, and the state’s two largest school districts, in Los Angeles and San Diego, said children would be made to stay home in August.

Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, ordered bars closed and restaurants, movie theaters, zoos and museums across the nation’s most populous state to cease indoor operations. Gyms, churches and hair salons must close in the 30 hardest-hit counties.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to recognize soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, until there is a vaccine and/or an effective therapy,” Newsom said at a news briefing.

The decision to cancel in-person classes puts the districts at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said he might withhold federal funding or remove tax-exempt status from school systems that refuse to reopen.

‘Worst-case’ winter toll

Britain faces a potentially more deadly second wave of COVID-19 in the coming winter that could kill up to 120,000 people over nine months in a worst-case scenario, health experts said on Tuesday.

With COVID-19 more likely to spread in winter as people spend more time together in enclosed spaces, a second wave of the pandemic “could be more serious than the one we’ve just been through,” said Stephen Holgate, a professor and co-lead author of a report by Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences.

“This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility,” Holgate told an online briefing. “Deaths could be higher with a new wave of COVID-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.”

The United Kingdom’s current death toll from confirmed cases of COVID-19 is around 45,000, the highest in Europe.

Good news from hard-hit Belgium

Belgium, which has reined in the coronavirus after becoming the worst-hit mid-sized country in the world, reported zero new coronavirus-related deaths in 24 hours on Tuesday for the first time since March 10.

As in many European countries that were hard-hit by the pandemic in March and April, Belgium sharply reduced infections by imposing a lockdown, which is now being lifted.

The total number of deaths reported by the national public health institute Sciensano remained at 9,787. In the country of 11.5 million people, that works out to around 850 deaths per million, the worst in the world apart from the tiny city state of San Marino. The peak daily death toll was 343 on April 12.

Bastille Day with a difference

France held a scaled-down annual Bastille Day celebration on Tuesday, with none of the usual tanks and troops parading down Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue, in a concession to the COVID-19 epidemic still stalking Europe.

Instead, President Emmanuel Macron, standing in the back of a military jeep, reviewed ranks of socially-distanced troops on the Place de la Concorde square after a flypast by military aircraft.

“I wish, with all the French, with the armies themselves, to pay a vibrant tribute to health workers and those who, in all sectors, have enabled public, social and economic life to continue,” Macron said in message released ahead of the parade.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes and Karishma Singh; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Global coronavirus cases rise above 13 million

By Gayle Issa

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus infections passed 13 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, marking another milestone in the spread of the disease which has killed more than half a million people in seven months.

The first case was reported in China in early January and it took three months to reach one million cases. It has taken just five days to climb to 13 million cases from 12 million recorded on July 8.

The number of cases is around triple that of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organization.

There have been more than 568,500 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, within the same range as the number of yearly influenza deaths reported worldwide. The first death was reported on Jan. 10 in Wuhan, China, before infections and fatalities surged in Europe and then later in the United States.

Many hard-hit countries are easing lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Other places, such as the Australian city of Melbourne, are implementing a second round of shutdowns.

The Reuters tally, which is based on government reports, shows the disease is accelerating the fastest in Latin America. The Americas account for more than half the world’s infections and half the deaths.

The United States reported a daily global record of 69,070 new infections on July 10. In, 1.86 million people have tested positive, including President Jair Bolsonaro, and more than 72,000 people have died.

India, the country with the third-highest number of infections, has been contending with an average of 23,000 new infections each day since the beginning of July.

In countries with limited testing capacity, case numbers reflect only a proportion of total infections. Experts say official data likely under-represents both infections and deaths.

(Reporting by Gayle Issa; Editing by Frances Kerry, Nick Macfie and Toby Chopra)