According to data compile by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, total new COVID-19 cases reported globally reached 5,042,415 for the last fourteen days on October 22, 2020 bringing the totals since data started to be gathered at the end of 2019 to 41.299 million cases. See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, October 22, 2020, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 22 October 2020, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases. This is the first day where the two week total exceeded five million. The most recent two week total compares to 3,780,469 new cases for the two weeks ending on September 13; 3,019,983 new cases for the two weeks ending on July 19; 1,932,024 new cases for the two weeks ending on June 21; and 1,281,916 new cases for the two weeks ending on May 24.
While vaccines are available in China and the Russian Federation to some extent and emergency approval of two vaccines may be presented to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the second half of November 2020, countries is the Americas and Europe in particular are seeing sharp increases in the number of new cases as cooler weather and greater time indoors accompanies the start of Fall.
Here are all countries (13) that had 100,000 new cases or more in the last two weeks according to the ECDC report. They account for 3,605,666 of the cases in the last two weeks (71.5%). All but India and Brazil are increasing, most dramatically:
India – 871,291 (down from recent periods)
United States – 786,488 (increasing)
France – 303,912 (increasing)
Brazil – 298,078 (down from recent periods)
United Kingdom – 244,954 (increasing)
Russian Federation – 198,716 (increasing)
Argentina – 196,410 (increasing)
Spain – 169,394 (increasing)
Italy – 115,708 (increasing)
Czechia – 113,555 (increasing)
Colombia – 104,017 (increasing)
Netherlands – 103,024 (increasing)
Belgium – 100,119 (increasing)
Individual countries in Europe are reimposing some restrictions in response to the sharp spike in new cases, including lockdowns in Ireland and Czechia. See Politico, October 21, 2020, EU leaders to discuss Coronavirus on October 29, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-leaders-to-confer-on-pandemic-oct-29/. The EU has made arrangements with three groups developing vaccines for early supplies and is reported to be close to arrangements with three more (and possibly with a fourth).
Different states in the United States are responding to the rising number of new cases in different ways reflecting in part the politicization of prevention measures like wearing masks and the continued mixed messages coming from government officials on the pandemic. Rural America which had escaped most of the early infections has been going through large surges, particularly in the middle of the country and in the northern states in the midwest. Hospitalizations have increased in many states and will likely continue to climb if predictions of worsening new case counts continue to play out. The U.S. has made arrangements with a number of pharmaceutical companies and groups for early access to vaccines that receive approval for distribution.
In a recent WTO TRIPs Council meeting, the U.S. and U.S. reportedly opposed a proposal from India and South Africa to waive certain intellectual property protections for a period of time to address getting vaccines and therapeutics to all peoples when available. See World Trade Organization press release, October 20, 2020, Members discuss intellectual property response to the COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/trip_20oct20_e.htm; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, October 20, 2020, U.S., EU oppose WTO effort to waive IP protections amid pandemic, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/us-eu-oppose-wto-effort-waive-ip-protections-amid-pandemic.
As the pandemic continues to rage with a shifting focus on hot spots back to more developed countries and as vaccines get close to approval and mass production, the question of distribution of vaccines and therapeutics to countries in need will become a more pressing issue. While there has been greater international cooperation (with the exception of the U.S.) in supporting groups focuses on getting vaccines to developing and least developed countries, there obviously remains a tension between the role of government in taking care of its citizens and its role in contributing to global outreach. See Nature, 24 September 2020, Who Gets a Covid Vaccine First? Access plans are taking shape, https://media.nature.com/original/magazine-assets/d41586-020-02684-9/d41586-020-02684-9.pdf While the WHO would like to see all countries pool vaccines and make them available to vulnerable groups globally before addressing other national needs, that is a highly unlikely scenario among major producing countries. Particularly for developed countries experiencing large surges in new cases, the political pressure to address the immediate needs at home will likely rule government actions. The good news is that some pharmaceutical companies involved in vaccine development have plans to produce or license production in multiple countries, including in countries for broader distribution to developing and least developed countries. This is in addition to the government and private sector support to GAVI and others for obtaining vaccines and therapeutics and making them available to countries in need.
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate and will likely worsen for the Americas and Europe in the coming weeks. If there are increased restrictions by countries in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, that will slow the economic rebound in important parts of the world and will likely slow the rebound in trade in goods and services.
At the same time, the world is getting close to knowing whether a number of the vaccine trials underway by western pharmaceutical companies have been successful and whether vaccines from these companies will join those of China and Russia. As vaccines and some therapeutics become commercially available, there will be the important challenge of seeing that all peoples with needs are able to access the vaccines and therapeutics on an equitable and affordable basis. The jury is out as to how access will actually work and whether the roll out of vaccines and therapeutics will in fact be equitable and affordable.
Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.
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