International Covid-19 news: Virus hunt buoyed by $8bn pledge, Tomorrowland goes online

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Governments around the world on Thursday pledged $8.8 billion for global vaccines alliance Gavi to help immunisation programmes stalled by the coronavirus outbreak and support the development and distribution of a potential Covid-19 vaccine, AFP reports.

The online meeting beat a funding target of $7.4 million for Gavi to provide vaccines at a reduced cost to 300 million children worldwide over the next five years, the group said.

More than 50 countries took part as well as individuals such as billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation pledged $1.6 billion.

"Together, we rise to fulfil the greatest shared endeavour of our lifetimes - the triumph of humanity over disease," said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the summit.

"Today we make the choice to unite, to forge a path of global cooperation."

Gavi and partners also launched a new financing drive to purchase potential Covid-19 vaccines, scale-up production and support delivery to developing nations.

Scientists around the world are racing to develop and test a vaccine for coronavirus and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it must be available to everyone.

"A vaccine must be seen as a global public good - a people's vaccine, which a growing number of world leaders are calling for," he said in a video message.

There needed to be "global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access".

Eurozone to get financial support

Sharply downgraded growth and inflation forecasts and uncertainty about the course of the coronavirus pandemic prompted the European Central Bank to again pump up its support to the eurozone economy Thursday, AFP reports.

Announcing 600 billion euros more of emergency bond-buying and the scheme's extension until June 2021, President Christine Lagarde warned that recovery from infection control shutdowns could be slow in materialising.

As countries gradually begin to reopen, there are signs of the slump "bottoming out", Lagarde said, after just 0.1% growth in January-March and a likely "significant contraction" in the second quarter.

But "the improvement has been tepid compared with the speed at which economic indicators plummeted in the preceding months", the former French finance minister added.

Amazon accused of not protecting staff during coronavirus

AFP reports that three Amazon warehouse employees announced a lawsuit Thursday claiming the US retail and tech giant failed to protect its workers from coronavirus infections at a New York facility.

The complaint filed Wednesday at a US court said the "relentless pace of work at Amazon facilities" led to hazardous conditions and that company policies "discourage workers from leaving their workstations to wash their hands and from taking the time to wipe down their workstations."

The lawsuit comes following protests outside the facility in the New York borough of Staten Island where one Amazon worker was fired. The employee said his dismissal was the result of speaking out, while Amazon maintained it was for his failure to quarantine.

One of the three workers in the lawsuit claimed to have been infected with coronavirus "from workers who were explicitly or implicitly encouraged to continue attending work and prevented from adequately washing their hands or sanitizing their workstations," according to the lawsuit.

The workers and family members are seeking policy changes, including a more transparent leave policy that encourages workers to stay home when dictated by public health guidance without fear of losing their jobs. They also want stepped up "contact tracing" for infected workers and back pay for quarantine leave.

According to the complaint, Amazon allowed workers to continue on the job even after being in contact with infected individuals.

Amazon, which has hired 175 000 new employees to deal with surging demand during the pandemic, claims to have made dozens of changes to improve health and safety at its facilities. It has also set aside and estimated $4 billion in the current quarter for virus mitigation.

The company has maintained it has followed safety guidelines of state and federal public health officials and has in many cases gone beyond compliance requirements.

Asked about the lawsuit, Amazon had no specific comment but spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said: "We are saddened by the tragic impact Covid-19 has had on communities across the globe, including on some Amazon team members and their family and friends. From early March to 1 May, we offered our employees unlimited time away from work, and since 1 May we have offered leave for those most vulnerable or who need to care for children or family members."

Tomorrowland will be online

Belgium's Tomorrowland festival, one of the world's biggest electronic music events, will be held online this year because of coronavirus restrictions, AFP reports.

While Belgium is slowly lifting the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, music festivals are banned until at least the end of August.

Tomorrowland, which usually draws some 400 000 people to the small town of Boom, will this year take the form of a two-day "digital music festival experience".

Revellers will be able to navigate eight different "stages" through a computer, smartphone or tablet, with organisers promising "the planet's biggest names in electronic dance music and the world's best technology in 3D design, video production and special effects".

Weekend tickets for Tomorrowland Around the World on 25 July to 26 July, and will cost 20 euros.

Sweden to offer free testing for anyone with symptoms

Sweden on Thursday said it would provide free testing for anyone showing coronavirus symptoms and conduct contact tracing for those who are infected, AFP reports.

The announcement came as the country said it would also allow domestic travel across the country, almost three months after it was discouraged in line with anti-virus measures.

The aim of the new testing program is to control infection rates in the country, which did not impose strict lockdown measures like many of its European neighbours.

The government said it would dedicate 5.9 billion Swedish kronor (about $640 million), in addition to a billion kroner already promised, to cover the costs of testing and contact tracing.

"From now on, everyone with symptoms will be able to test themselves for Covid-19 free of cost," Minister for Financial Markets Per Bolund told reporters.

Both tests to screen for active infections and serological tests to discover previous infections would be made widely available.

Sweden has reported nearly 42 000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 4,500 deaths, according to the latest figures Thursday.

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