The UK will send three mobile “oxygen factories” that produce enough oxygen per minute to support 50 people at a time, as it battles a devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the British government announced on Wednesday.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said the three oxygen generation units – each the size of a shipping container — would be sent from surplus stock from Northern Ireland and would produce 500 liters of oxygen per minute each, which is enough for 50 people to use at a time.
“At the moment, the Indian government are asking for support with oxygen production. That’s why the UK [is sending this] in addition to the equipment we have already allocated,” Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly said in a pooled interview on Wednesday.
The decision follows the UK’s recent action to support India with 495 oxygen concentrators and 200 ventilators sent from surplus stock, the first batch of which arrived in India on Tuesday, the FCO statement said.
“International collaboration is more essential than ever, and this additional UK support package will help meet India’s current needs, particularly for more oxygen,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking at a Downing street press conference on Wednesday said the scenes in India “pains each one of us” because the “bonds between the countries are so strong.”
“Everyone across this whole United Kingdom stands side by side with the people of India In these troubled times. In this battle against coronavirus we are all on the same side,” Hancock said.
“This fight is a global fight. When other nations face their hour of need just as we faced our hour of need here at home, we will be there.”
Hancock also responded to a reporter question on whether excess vaccine doses would be sent to India, saying they had no excess to send, adding that the Serum Institute of India (SII) were able to produce sufficient vaccine supply.
The SII “are making and producing more doses of vaccine than any other single organization. And obviously that means that they can provide vaccine to people in India at cost,” Hancock said.
“We’re leaning in, both on what we can provide and the material goods we can provide now like ventilators that we thankfully don’t need any more here,” he added.
“India can produce its own vaccine, based on British technology, that is… the biggest contribution that we can make which effectively comes from British science,” Hancock said.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro criticized the Covid-19 Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) installed on Tuesday by the Brazilian Senate to investigate the country’s handling of the pandemic and questioned whether it will convene governors and mayors or just hold what he mocked as an “off-season carnival”.
“Will the commission call (governors and mayors to testify) or they will want to do a Carnival out of season? They’re going to fail, ” Bolsonaro said to supporters on Wednesday.
Bolsonaro claimed he provided resources for governors and mayors to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many stole money, embezzled. Now a commission comes to investigate my conduct? Whether (I) was in favor of chloroquine or not,” he asked.
Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Wednesday he is not worried about the inquiry.
“I will go if they ask me to. And I will openly discuss what I have been doing at the health ministry,” he said in a press conference.
The Brazilian Senate commission is aimed at investigating actions and possible omissions of the federal government during the pandemic in Brazil.
The UK government has purchased another 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to support its booster program for the fall, the Department of Health announced on Wednesday.
“Our vaccination program is bringing back our freedom, but the biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement.
“We’re working on our plans for booster shots, which are the best way to keep us safe and free while we get this disease under control across the whole world.
“These further 60 million doses will be used, alongside others, as part of our booster program from later this year, so we can protect the progress that we’ve all made,” Hancock said.
Over a quarter of the UK’s population — 13,581,076 people — have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and more than 33 million people have received a first dose, according to figures from the Department of Health.
In total, the UK has secured access to 517 million doses of eight Covid-19 vaccine candidates, however not all of these have yet been approved by the country’s medicines regulator (MHRA). Rolling reviews are underway by the MHRA to assess the Janssen and Novavax vaccines and clinical trials are ongoing for the Valneva, GSK and Sanofi and CureVac vaccines.
The details are as follows:
- Pfizer/BioNTech for 100 million doses, including the additional 60 million doses
- Oxford/AstraZeneca for 100 million doses
- Moderna for 17 million doses
- Janssen for 30 million doses
- Novavax for 60 million doses
- Valneva for 100 million doses
- GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur for 60 million doses
- CureVac for 50 million doses
Germany will send 120 respirators to India on Saturday, Germany’s Defense Ministry tweeted on Wednesday, as India grapples with oxygen supply shortages amid a massive surge in Covid-19 cases.
Germany is also planning on supplying an oxygen production facility to India, the tweet said.
It comes after India’s defense ministry said Friday it will import 23 mobile oxygen generation plants and containers from Germany.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Civil Protection agency will send an oxygen-production system to India that can be used to supply both a traditional or a field hospital and a team of specialized personnel to ensure the correct use of the machinery.
“I wish to express my profound closeness to the Indian people for the suffering caused by the new wave of the pandemic. Italy will not fail to support it in this difficult time,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in a statement on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Russia would provide emergency humanitarian aid to help combat India’s Covid-19 crisis, according to state news agency TASS on Wednesday.
Putin and Modi spoke by phone and according to the Kremlin, the Russian Emergencies Ministry will send aircrafts to India with more than 22 tons of humanitarian aid including 20 units of oxygen supply equipment, 75 ventilators, 150 medical monitors and 200,000 packages of medicines, TASS reported.
An Il-76 plane from the Russian Emergencies Ministry took off for Delhi on Wednesday transporting medical equipment and a second plane is due to depart for India shortly, according to TASS.
The European Union plans to sign a deal for 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, according to the New York Times, after a dispute with AstraZeneca derailed its vaccination rollout.
CNN’s Cyril Vanier was live from London with the latest, answering your questions about vaccines in Europe.
India is facing one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks. Daily cases are rising continuously and breaking records for highest single-day increases recorded globally.
The outbreak has pushed the country’s healthcare system to near breaking point with no space left in hospitals and dire oxygen shortages.
Here’s what we know today:
- The big picture: India accounted for 38% of global coronavirus cases last week, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Preliminary modeling from WHO has suggested that the the B.1.617 variant, which was first detected in India, “has a higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility.”
- Deaths: India’s coronavirus death toll has surpassed 200,000, after the country reported 3,293 deaths on Wednesday. Delhi’s crematoriums say they have been cremating more than 600 bodies a day for the last week.
- Regional spread: Covid-19 cases are also surging in India’s neighboring Nepal. Bangladesh is diverting industry oxygen supplies to hospitals fearing oxygen shortages for Covid-19 patients there. Additionally, Pakistan recorded its highest single day count of virus-related deaths.
- Vaccines: India typically produces more than 60% of all vaccines sold globally, and is home to the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker – but the country is experiencing a shortage as SII can’t keep up. The Indian state of Maharashtra has been forced to shut down a number of vaccination centers.
- Oxygen shortages: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the procurement of 100,000 portable oxygen concentrators. The plants are designed with a capacity of 1,000 liters per minute (LPM) and can cater to 190 patients at a flow rate of 5 LPM and charge 195 cylinders per day, the government said.
- Global assistance: Other countries are sending resources to India. Singapore’s government on Wednesday sent 256 oxygen cylinders in two C-130 aircraft. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that the US and CDC are also working to send supplies and assistance.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN’s Newsroom Wednesday that he hopes full, formal US Food and Drug Administration approval of Covid-19 vaccines will come soon.
“I hope very soon,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto, when asked when he believed there would be full approval. “I don’t know exactly when, but when you’re getting a formal approval you have to have a certain amount of time just observing predominantly the safety, and obviously the safety looks really, really good in well over 140 million people having been vaccinated with at least a single dose.”
He said the FDA will work as expeditiously as possible, adding that the organization is the gold standard for safety globally.
“I hope they do it quickly, because as you say, people when they hear it’s still emergency use, they still have a little concern about how far you can go with it,” he said. “So, I’m with you on that. I’d like to see it really soon.”
Some background: Emergency use authorization means a medical product gets special authorization by the FDA to be used during an emergency, and that its known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks – but it is short of full approval.
Vaccine makers will have to file a separate application for vaccines to be fully licensed. There are three Covid-19 vaccines in the United States with emergency use authorization – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – and no Covid-19 vaccines have been approved by the FDA.
Some organizations, such as the University of California and California State University systems, have said they plan to require Covid-19 vaccination for faculty and staff only once the vaccine has received full FDA approval.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said Google has not gotten any takedown requests from the Indian government of posts or videos critical of the country’s handling of the devastating Covid-19 surge.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it had asked Twitter, Facebook and others to remove around 100 posts “in view of the misuse of social media platforms by certain users to spread fake or misleading information.”
“In the past, we’ve been able to work constructively with governments around the world, and we’ll continue that approach here,” Pichai said to CNN’s Poppy Harlow.
The India-born Pichai has pledged aid to India, with Google providing a grant for urgent medical supplies and $15 million in free advertising for public health information campaigns.
“The situation there is dire, and it’s been heartbreaking to see. I think … the worst is yet to come,” Pichai said.
Pichai added that fighting coronavirus misinformation “definitely was one of the most important efforts we had” throughout the pandemic. Google has removed nearly a million misleading YouTube videos, he said.