Variants a risk to economy, Yellen states

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VENICE — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday that she was concerned that coronavirus variants could derail the global economic recovery and called for an urgent push to deploy vaccines more rapidly around the world.

[DOCUMENT: Read a transcript of Yellen’s remarks » arkansasonline.com/712yellen/]

Her comments, made at the conclusion of a gathering of the finance ministers of the Group of 20 nations, came as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus was driving outbreaks among unvaccinated populations in countries such as Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Portugal. The delta variant is also now the dominant variant in the United States.

“We are very concerned about the delta variant and other variants that could emerge and threaten recovery,” Yellen said. “We are a connected global economy. What happens in any part of the world affects all other countries.”

Many cities and countries have started to declare victory against the pandemic, easing restrictions and returning to normal life. But Yellen warned that the public health crisis is not over.

She said the world’s top economic officials spent much of the weekend in Venice discussing how they could improve vaccine distribution, with the goal of getting 70% of the world inoculated by next year. Yellen noted that many countries had been successful in financing the purchase of vaccines, but that the logistics of getting them into people’s arms were falling short.

“We need to do something more and to be more effective,” she said.

The spread of variants has started to dampen optimism about the trajectory of the recovery.

Analysts at Capital Economics said last week that they planned to lower their economic growth outlook for the year to below 6%.

The spread of new coronavirus variants has “raised doubts about the pace of real economic growth in the second half of this year and beyond,” Paul Ashworth, the chief North America economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a research note.

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The International Monetary Fund said it was maintaining its projection for 6% global growth this year, but it warned that growth was being suppressed in developing countries where infection rates were surging.

“The divergence across economies is intensifying,” Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, said Saturday. “Essentially, the world is facing a two-track recovery.”

Some finance ministers also expressed concern over the weekend that variants and slow vaccine uptake could upend the recovery. That concern was highlighted as a downside risk to the global economy in the joint statement that the group released.

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“The single hurdle on the way to a quick, solid economic rebound is the risk of having a new wave of pandemics,” said Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister. “We all have to improve our vaccination performance.”

The IMF executive board approved a plan last week to issue $650 billion worth of reserve funds that countries could use to buy vaccines and finance health care initiatives.

Yellen said she had pressed her G-20 counterparts to accelerate “equitable” delivery and distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics to ensure that low- and middle-income countries could fight flare-ups of the virus.

Policymakers at the meeting also spent time focusing on new investments to prepare for future pandemics. Yellen said that, while this was important, there was more that needed to be done in the near term.

“Certainly variants represent a threat to the entire globe,” she said.

BOOSTER TALKS

Pfizer says it plans to meet with top U.S. health officials today to discuss the drugmaker’s request for federal authorization of a third dose of its covid-19 vaccine as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser acknowledged that “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that booster shots will be needed.

The company said it was scheduled to have the meeting with the Food and Drug Administration and other officials today, days after Pfizer asserted that booster shots would be needed within 12 months.

Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten said last week that early data from the company’s booster study suggests people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared with their second dose months earlier — evidence it believes supports the need for a booster.

Currently only about 48% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Some parts of the country have far lower immunization rates, and in those places the delta variant is surging. Last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said that’s leading to “two truths” — highly immunized swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.

The Biden administration has turned to grassroots methods to get more Americans vaccinated, even sending teams to areas of the country that are falling behind inoculation goals.

This component of the federal vaccination campaign has been in operation since April, when supplies of shots began outpacing demand. It was outlined and funded by Congress in the $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief bill passed in March and overwhelmingly is carried out by local officials and private sector workers and volunteers.

ISRAEL DEAL

Israel’s prime minister says the country has struck a deal with Pfizer to receive a fresh batch of coronavirus vaccines in August to help with its drive to vaccinate teenagers.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting that the agreement to advance delivery of new vaccines to Aug. 1 would “ensure from this moment a continuous supply of vaccines in the state of Israel.”

Bennett said the country had vaccinated more than 200,000 people in recent weeks, many of them teenagers. The country is trying to halt a fresh outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant. Children under age 12 aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine.

Israel has vaccinated more than 61% of its 9.3 million citizens with at least one dose, and almost 56% with two doses, the vast majority with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The Health Ministry has recorded a steady climb in new infections in recent weeks, most of them among unvaccinated young children. Most new infections have been mild cases of coronavirus.

BRITAIN RULES

Meanwhile, Britain’s vaccines minister says that people in England are expected to continue wearing masks indoors from July 19 even though the legal requirement to do so would be dropped.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will confirm today whether most coronavirus restrictions including social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing will be lifted next week as widely expected.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said new guidance will be issued today on mask-wearing. He said there will be “an expectation of people to wear masks indoors, in crowded places, on public transport” instead of a legal requirement.

The U.K. is seeing a sharp surge in coronavirus cases. It’s partly driven by the more transmissible delta variant and partly by increased social mixing with the easing of lockdown rules. New cases now stand at more than 34,000 a day. But deaths and hospitalizations have remained low and broadly stable.

OLYMPIC TORCH PLEA

The mayors of two Tokyo islands have asked the city’s government to take the planned Olympic torch relay off public roads amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

The torch relay in Tokyo, which started Friday, has been taken off all public roads except for those on islands because of rising cases in the Japanese capital.

Kyodo News agency reported that the mayors of Oshima and Hachijo have asked the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to take the torch off public roads in their areas, citing rising virus cases.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday declared a state of emergency in Tokyo.

Olympic officials last week barred all fans from venues in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures.

Tokyo reported 950 new cases Saturday. That is the highest level since early May. Japan has reported about 816,000 cases and 15,000 deaths during the pandemic.

RUSSIA CASES

Russia’s daily tally of confirmed coronavirus infections has exceeded 25,000 for the third day in a row.

Authorities reported 25,033 new cases Sunday.

Russia has been facing a sharp rise of contagions in recent weeks, with daily new infections increasing from around 9,000 in early June to more than 25,000 on Friday. For the first time in the pandemic, the daily death toll exceeded 700 Tuesday. It’s remained at that level ever since, with 749 new deaths registered Sunday.

Officials blame the surge on the spread of the delta variant. They’re seeking to boost vaccine uptake, which has remained lower than in many Western countries. As of Wednesday, about 27 million Russians, or just 18.5% of the 146 million population, have received at least one shot of a vaccine, and 18.5 million, or 12.6%, have been fully vaccinated.

IN BANGLADESH

Authorities in Bangladesh say the country has registered the highest number of covid-19 fatalities and positive cases in a single day.

The news comes amid concern that the coronavirus pandemic could worsen over the next seven days.

The government’s directorate general of health services said 230 people died and 11,874 tested positive Sunday. That’s a single-day record on both counts.

About 100,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 10 days.

Experts say if the present trend continues already overwhelmed hospitals would struggle to provide treatment.

Bangladesh has been under a nationwide lockdown since July 1, but new records of positive cases are being reported everyday.

Overall, Bangladesh has reported more than 1 million positive cases, including 16,419 deaths, in the nation of 160 million people.

Information for this article was contributed by Alan Rappeport of The New York Times; and by Hope Yen and other staffers of The Associated Press.

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