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Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate.

Indian Billionaires Bet Big on Head Start in Coronavirus Vaccine Race

The world’s largest vaccine producer, the Serum Institute, announced a plan to make hundreds of millions of doses of an unproven inoculation. It’s a gamble with a huge upside. And huge risks.

Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate.
Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate. Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times
Jeffrey Gettleman

By Jeffrey Gettleman
Aug. 1, 2020

PUNE, India — In early May, an extremely well-sealed steel box arrived at the cold room of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker.

Inside, packed in dry ice, sat a tiny 1-milliliter vial from Oxford, England, containing the cellular material for one of the world’s most promising coronavirus vaccines.

Scientists in white lab coats brought the vial to Building 14, carefully poured the contents into a flask, added a medium of vitamins and sugar, and began growing billions of cells. Thus began one of the biggest gambles yet in the quest to find the vaccine that will bring the world’s Covid-19 nightmare to an end.

The Serum Institute, which is exclusively controlled by a small and fabulously rich Indian family and started out years ago as a horse farm, is doing what a few other companies in the race for a vaccine are doing: mass-producing hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine candidate that is still in trials and might not even work.

But if it does, Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive and the only child of the company’s founder, will become one of the most tugged-at men in the world. He will have on hand what everyone wants, possibly in greater quantities before anyone else.

His company, which has teamed up with the Oxford scientists developing the vaccine, was one of the first to boldly announce, in April, that it was going to mass-produce a vaccine before clinical trials even ended. Now, Mr. Poonawalla’s fastest vaccine assembly lines are being readied to crank out 500 doses each minute, and his phone rings endlessly.

  • Thanks for reading The Times.

National health ministers, prime ministers and other heads of state (he wouldn’t say who) and friends he hasn’t heard from in years have been calling him, he said, begging for the first batches.

“I’ve had to explain to them that, ‘Look I can’t just give it to you like this,’” he said.

Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive, says that he will split the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses he produces 50-50 between India and the rest of the world.
Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive, says that he will split the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses he produces 50-50 between India and the rest of the world. Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

With the coronavirus pandemic turning the world upside down and all hopes pinned on a vaccine, the Serum Institute finds itself in the middle of an extremely competitive and murky endeavor. To get the vaccine out as soon as possible, vaccine developers say they need Serum’s mammoth assembly lines — each year, it churns out 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines, mostly for poor countries, more than any other company.

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, COVID-19, Featured, Features, Health, International, Local, News, Regional, Science/Technology0 Comments

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Communiqué of the 96th Meeting of the Monetary Council of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank

Issued: 24 July 2020

The Ninety-Sixth Meeting of the Monetary Council of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) was held on 24 July 2020, via videoconference, under the Chairmanship of Dr the Honourable Timothy Harris, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Saint Christopher
(St Kitts) and Nevis.

  1. Monetary Stability

The Monetary Council received the Governor’s Report on Monetary and Credit Conditions in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) for the period January to June 2020.

The Council was apprised of the following:

  1. In 2020, global economic activity is expected to contract by at least 4.9 percent as the world deals with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Growth in Advanced Economies is projected at negative 8.0 percent in 2020, compared with 1.7 percent in 2019.
  2. The ECCU economy has been severely disrupted and will contract between 10.0 and 20.0 percent in 2020 before starting to recover in 2021.  Key risks to the anticipated recovery include: a delay in the global rebound; permanent job losses and business closures; natural disasters; and increasing credit and liquidity risks in the financial sector.
  3. Monetary and credit conditions in the ECCU deteriorated in the first half of 2020. That is, both the level of money available and credit extended decreased. This trend is projected to persist for the remainder of the year.
  4. Strong foreign exchange buffers, as a consequence of the ECCB’s prudent management of foreign reserves, coupled with financial stability will support gradual improvement in economic, monetary, and credit conditions.

Having received the Governor’s Report and recommendations, the Council decided to:

  1. maintain the Central Bank’s Discount Rate at 2.0 percent; and
  2. maintain the Minimum Savings Rate at 2.0 percent.
  • Financial Sector Stability

The Monetary Council received the Financial Stability Report for the ECCU for the period January to June 2020.  The key highlights of the Report were: 

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to place significant pressure on the economies of the ECCB member countries.  However, the ECCU banking sector remained stable.   
  2. The reduction in the ECCB’s Discount Rate will ease borrowing conditions for commercial banks and help to support liquidity if needed.
  3. Commercial banks and credit unions are likely to experience a significant increase in default risk, market risk, and liquidity risk. Figure 1 below shows the percentage change in Domestic and Private Sector credit conditions in the ECCU from 2017 – 2020.

Figure 1: ECCU Domestic and Private Sector Credit – 2017-2020

Data as at May 2020 | ECCB Estimates for June 2020

Framework for Macro-Prudential Regulation

The Council was apprised of the ECCB’s work on articulating an optimal framework for the ECCU financial system given the urgent need for comprehensive and coordinated oversight, especially of systemically important financial institutions, and adequate consumer protection.

  • Fiscal and Debt Sustainability

The Council was apprised that the total public sector debt of the region is expected to rise in both nominal terms and as a percentage of GDP during 2020. Convergence to the Debt-to-GDP target of 60.0 percent by 2030 will require substantial acceleration of growth and/or the generation of sustainable primary surpluses in the medium to long term.

The Council lamented the reversal of the significant progress made by member countries to meet the Debt-to-GDP target of 60.0 percent by 2030.  At the end of 2019, the Debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 65.0 percent.

The Council recognised that Member Governments will need to contract additional debt to fund critical support for their economies during this difficult period. The combination of economic contraction and the necessity of additional borrowing means a rise in the Debt to GDP Ratio in the short term.

The Council renewed calls for more financial support from the international community, at this time when the ECCU’s dominant sector, Tourism, is largely shut.

  • Growth and Competitiveness

The Council was advised that:

  1. The outlook for the ECCU in 2020 had changed profoundly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Real GDP for the ECCU is projected to decline within a range of 10.0 percent to 20.0 percent this year, a stark contrast to pre-COVID anticipated growth of 3.3 percent. Figure 2 below shows economic growth (percentage) in global, advanced, and ECCU economies for 2019 – 2021. Figure 2 below shows economic growth (percentage) in global, advanced, and ECCU economies for 2019 – 2021.

Figure 2: Economic Growth for Global, Advanced and ECCU Economies 2019-2021

Data as at May 2020 |ECCU worst-case scenario shown in chart
  1. The economic decline is largely due to the decline in Tourism. The recovery of this dominant sector is expected to be protracted with performance unlikely to revert to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.

2. The pandemic has resulted in a drastic reduction in jobs and incomes, lower government revenues and elevated unemployment.

5.0 Programme of Action for Recovery and Resilience

The Council agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to unite around a Programme of Action for making the region’s economies more competitive, productive and resilient.  The Programme of Action will include the following:

  1. Enactment of modern insolvency and bankruptcy legislation to support the efficacious restructuring of businesses to protect jobs and to preserve financial stability;
  2. Determination of the optimal regulatory framework for the financial system of the ECCU and the enactment of a financial stability framework;
  3. Fast-tracking of the Caribbean Digital Transformation Programme;
  4. Launch of the EC Digital Currency (Cash) Pilot with an early expansion to all eight member countries;
  5. Enactment of modern Payment System and Services legislation; and
  6. Enactment of all outstanding legislation already approved by the Monetary Council including the Credit Reporting Bill.
  • Enhanced Coordination for Collective Action

In the context of the significant challenges facing the ECCU, the Council agreed to convene more frequently to address matters of critical importance and to work even more closely with the OECS Commission.  The areas to be addressed at the upcoming Special Meetings would include:

  1. Tourism
  2. Labour Markets
  3. Digital Transformation
  4. Business Support;
  5. Citizen by Investment Programmes (CIP)
  • Report from the Technical Core Committee on Insurance (BAICO and CLICO)

BAICO

The Council approved a funding proposal of US$1.4 million to support the payment of outstanding claims to 250 policyholders under the Policyholder Assistance Scheme (PAS), which was established in 2013 when SAGICOR purchased the portfolio.  The PAS was established to help settle surrenders, maturities, claims, and bonus payments owed to policyholders at the time of sale.

CLICO  

The Council was updated on the steps being taken to pursue and protect the interest of ECCU policyholders by pursuing an application, under Section 60 of the Barbados Insurance Act, for the winding up of CLICO International Life Insurance Co. Ltd.

  • Date and Venue of 97th Meeting of the Monetary Council

The Council agreed that the 97th Meeting of the Monetary Council will convene on
Friday, 23 October 2020 at 9:00 a.m. via videoconference. 

  • Attendance

Council Members attending the meeting were:

  1. Dr the Honourable Timothy Harris, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Saint Christopher (St Kitts) and Nevis (Chairman)
  2. The Honourable Dr. Ellis Lorenzo Webster, Premier and Minister for Finance, Anguilla
  3. The Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Antigua and Barbuda
  4. The Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, the Commonwealth of Dominica
  5. Dr the Right Honourable, Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Grenada
  6. The Honourable Easton Taylor-Farrell, Premier and Minister for Finance, Montserrat
  7. The Honourable Allen Chastanet, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Saint Lucia
  8. The Honourable Camillo Gonsalves, Minister for Finance, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

24 July 2020

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GSK actions to support the global response to COVID-19

GSK is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and is supporting global efforts to tackle the virus. Since the outbreak, we have been actively exploring ways to help, with our science and expertise, alongside protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and managing our global supply chains to support patients and consumers who depend on our products.

Using our science, technology, portfolio, and resources to support the development of products for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and the overall global response.

Our COVID-19 solutions PDF – 698.2KB

Hear from our CEO, Emma Walmsley

Hear from our CEO, Emma Walmsley

Emma discusses GSK’s response to COVID-19 including our collaboration with Sanofi to develop an adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine, our commitment to access and investment in long-term pandemic preparedness.

Supporting research and production of candidate COVID-19 vaccines

We are collaborating with companies and research groups across the world working on promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates through the use of our innovative vaccine adjuvant technology. The use of an adjuvant is of particular importance in a pandemic situation since it may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and therefore contributing to protecting more people.

We announced on 14 April that GSK has joined forces with Sanofi, bringing together two of the world’s largest vaccines companies in an unprecedented collaboration to fight COVID-19. The two companies will combine innovative technologies to develop an adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to enter clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and, if successful and subject to regulatory considerations, aim to complete the development required for availability by the second half of 2021. This would be a significantly faster timeline than for normal vaccine development and teams from both companies are starting work on this urgently. 

One of the important parts of this collaboration is our combined scale. Both companies bring significant manufacturing capacity and whilst we have a lot of work to do, given this is at an early stage of development, we believe that, if successful, we will be able to make hundreds of millions of doses annually by the end of next year. Both GSK and Sanofi have a long history of making our vaccines available to people all around the world and we are committed to making any vaccine that is developed through this collaboration affordable and through mechanisms that offer fair access for all people.

In addition to Sanofi, we are also collaborating with the University of Queensland, Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Xiamen Innovax Biotech Co., Ltd. We believe that more than one vaccine will be needed and we’re hoping that there will be a number of successful vaccines developed with our pandemic adjuvant technology. 

On 19 June, the scientific collaboration with Clover, using GSK’s pandemic adjuvant in combination with COVID-19 vaccine candidate SCB-2019, moved into phase I clinical trials. Over the next few months, we expect to see data from many of these collaborations.

On 7 July, we announced a new collaboration with Canadian biopharmaceutical company, Medicago, to develop and evaluate a COVID-19 candidate vaccine combining Medicago’s recombinant Coronavirus Virus-Like Particles (CoVLP) with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant system. CoVLPs mimic the structure of the virus responsible for COVID-19 disease, allowing them to be recognised by the immune system. The companies will use Medicago’s innovative plant-based production technology to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine antigen. This innovative technology uses the leaves of a plant as bioreactors to produce the protein for use in the CoVLP vaccine candidate. It is highly scalable and can support the production of large amounts of vaccine in a significantly shortened timeline. The vaccine candidate will enter into Phase I clinical trials in mid-July.

We have confirmed our intention to manufacture 1 billion doses of our pandemic vaccine adjuvant system, in 2021, to support the development of multiple adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidates. This follows the completion of a review conducted across our global supply network. We will manufacture, fill, and finish adjuvant for use in COVID-19 vaccines at sites in the UK, US, Canada, and Europe.

Overall GSK does not expect to profit from our portfolio of collaborations for COVID-19 vaccines during this pandemic. As any short-term profit generated will be invested in support of coronavirus related research and long-term pandemic preparedness, either through GSK’s internal investments, or with external partners. Making our adjuvant available to the world’s poorest countries will also be a key part of our efforts, including donations of this adjuvant, by working with governments and the global institutions that prioritise access. 

Our approach to pricing and making our adjuvant available

We have announced our approach to pricing and making our adjuvant available as part of our COVID-19 vaccine collaborations. Here, we explain some of the thinking behind it.

What is an adjuvant?

What is an adjuvant?

An adjuvant is added to some vaccines to enhance the immune response, thereby creating a stronger and longer-lasting immunity against infections than the vaccine alone. The use of an adjuvant is of particular importance in a pandemic situation since it can reduce the amount of antigen required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and made available to more people. 

Screening and research into new medicines

In addition to Vaccines we are also supporting screening and research into potential medicines for COVID-19.

In April we announced a collaboration with Vir Biotechnology to use Vir’s monoclonal antibody platform technology to accelerate existing and identify new anti-viral antibodies that could be used as therapeutic or preventative options for COVID-19. Subject to regulatory review, the companies plan to proceed directly into a phase 2 clinical trial within the next three to five months.

GSK is also evaluating its marketed pharmaceutical products and medicines in development to determine if any could be used beyond their current indications in response to the pandemic. This includes medicines with potential direct anti-viral activity and those with possible utility in prevention or treatment of secondary complications of COVID-19.

Following this evaluation, we started a phase II clinical trial in May 2020 at sites in the United States (US) to assess whether one of our medicines currently in development – a monoclonal antibody – can help treat patients who are affected by secondary complications associated with COVID-19. In addition to the US, we intend to conduct the trial at sites in Europe, South America, and Africa.

GSK is a member of the collaborative research effort, the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. The aim of the Accelerator is to bring pharmaceutical companies and expert academic institutions into coordinated research programs, with the aim of bringing the most promising molecules forward that could be used to treat cases of COVID-19. GSK will contribute by making available compounds from its libraries for screening for activity against COVID-19.

What is antibody therapy?

What is antibody therapy?

Our immune system fights infections by recognising antigens on the surface of invading viruses and bacteria. It makes antibodies to destroy antigens. Antibody therapy uses monoclonal antibodies which are produced, or cloned, from immune cells in a lab. By targeting specific antigens, they could help our immune system fight diseases such as COVID-19.

Helping frontline health workers and offering expertise

GSK is donating $10 million to The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, created by the UN Foundation and WHO, to support WHO and partners to prevent, detect, and manage the pandemic, particularly where the needs are the greatest. Amongst its objectives, the fund will enable distribution of essential supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline health workers. GSK is also donating surplus reagents to support diagnostic testing to several countries and is preparing to do the same for surplus PPE.

We have also initiated new volunteering processes for people working at the company, to enable those with medical expertise to provide support to frontline health workers, whilst at the same time ensuring we protect supply and development of our medicines and vaccines. Initiatives have also been started to use salesforce personnel to help with the delivery of PPE and testing equipment, and for specialists, such as procurement leaders, to work with national governments on developing supply chains.

Taking action to deliver high-demand consumer healthcare products

GSK Consumer Healthcare is prioritising actions in its supply chain to deliver more products that are in high demand, due to COVID-19. This includes increasing production for pain relief brands such as Panadol and multi-vitamins and dietary supplements such as Emergen-C and Centrum.

GSK Consumer Healthcare has also entered into a collaboration with Mammoth Biosciences to develop a consumer-friendly test for active COVID-19, using CRISPR technology. The two companies have started work on the test and are aiming to have a device submitted for FDA Emergency Use Authorization before the end of 2020.

Supporting and strengthening UK COVID-19 testing capability 

In April 2020, GSK joined with AstraZeneca and the University of Cambridge to create a state-of-the-art, high-throughput testing laboratory in Cambridge. This Centre complements the Lighthouse Centres’ testing efforts and will support the UK Government’s comprehensive COVID-19 plan of “test, track, and trace.” In particular, the Cambridge Testing Centre is introducing state-of-the-art robotics, automation, and other diagnostic innovations to optimise COVID-19 testing. In the long-term, these innovations will inform and strengthen the UK’s diagnostics capability.

Further actions and updates

We will provide regular updates on our progress and our efforts to support the global response to COVID-19. We continue to monitor the situation closely and will take further actions to develop our response to the pandemic, including ideas and support for long-term, global pandemic preparedness. In doing so, we will continue to put the needs of patients and our people first at all times.

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Coronavirus: Boris Johnson vows £3bn NHS funding boost to get NHS ‘battle ready’ for winter

Coronavirus: Boris Johnson vows £3bn NHS funding boost to get NHS ‘battle-ready’ for winter

Coronavirus: Boris Johnson vows £3bn NHS funding boost to get NHS ‘battle ready’ for winter

Number 10 said ministers were “fully aware that winter will present further challenges” for the NHS.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

matt_hfoster

Boris Johnson is promising a £3bn spending boost to get the NHS “battle-ready for winter“ as the country continues to grapple with coronavirus.

Number 10 said the additional funding would be “available immediately”, with Mr. Johnson also using a press conference on Friday to bulk out the Government’s Covid-19 “road-map” recovery plan and promise a further boost to testing.

The funding comes after a government-commissioned report this week urged ministers to make “intense preparation” over the next two months to get the NHS ready for a winter spike of Covid-19 cases which could lead to 119,000 hospital deaths. 

Downing Street said the cash would allow the NHS to both carry on using private hospital capacity and maintain extra support in the largely-unused new Nightingale hospitals.

Mr. Johnson is also set to publish a new chapter for the Government’s coronavirus “road map”, and confirm plans to increase antigen testing capacity — detecting whether a person currently has the virus — to half a million a day by the end of October.

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It has been reported that the Prime Minister will also use Friday’s press conference to signal a shift in the Government’s advice on returning to work — although Sir Patrick told MPs on Thursday that there was “absolutely no reason” for companies to change their policy if it was not detrimental to business.
 
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the British people, the virus is under control and we have eased restrictions in a cautious, phased way.
 
“But the Prime Minister is clear that now is not the time for complacency, and we must make sure our NHS is battle-ready for winter.
 
“Tomorrow, he will set out a broad package of measures to protect against both a possible second wave and to ease winter pressures and keep the public safe.”

A report by the Academy of Medical Sciences, commissioned by the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, said this week that the health service should brace for a peak in hospital admissions next January to February “of a similar magnitude” to the first wave earlier this year.

And it estimated that there could be 119,000 hospital deaths between September 2020 and June 2021 — “over double the number that occurred during the first wave” — if steps are not taken to ready the NHS.

Pressure in the health service is typically at its most intense in the winter, and the report warned that a “generalised increase” in flu cases could “rapidly overwhelm” the NHS’s test and trace capacity.

Number 10 said ministers were “fully aware that winter will present further challenges”, and said a new marketing campaign would be launched “shortly” to increase public awareness of access to testing for Covid-19.
 
Officials have been modeling scenarios for the winter and looking to “assess what the UK can learn from other nations”, it said, while the Government is auditing stockpiles of personal protective and other equipment to ensure the health service has the tools it needs.

The funding boost has been welcomed by the Local Government Association, which represents councils.

But chairman James Jamieson warned: “If this awful pandemic has proved one thing it is that there cannot be a sustainable NHS without a sustainable adult social care system. You cannot protect one and not the other. 

“Adult social care services remain on the frontline of this crisis and need parity of esteem with the NHS. We urge the Government to also further address the immediate financial pressures facing the sector.”

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Reverse story of need for negative COVID-19 test certificate to enter Antigua

Reverse story of need for negative COVID-19 test certificate to enter Antigua

by Bennette Roach

We are pleased to say we rush to reverse a story where we hurried yesterday the headline “Travelers to face Negative COVID-19 Test to enter Antigua”, from a Montserrat GIU release.

We dutifully published,While entering Montserrat has taken on visa-styled requirements to enter the island, leaving Montserrat is equally involved as health certificates become necessary to enter Antigua.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services is notifying travelers from Montserrat to Antigua, of the need to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to traveling.

At 1.45 p.m. today Premier Farrell reiterated the information in the Government release which three hours later we discovered the following news from Antigua News Room which completely contradicts the information confirmed by the  Hon Premier Farrell in his press conference where he announced the reduction of conditions resulting in full lockdown and curfews including the closure of the borders of Montserrat to travel in and out of Montserrat.

The Cabinet has agreed to establish what is known as “a travel bubble” that will allow citizens from identified states to travel to Antigua without the necessity to have Covid-19 tests undertaken and certificates presented upon entry.

The citizens of the O.E.C.S. and Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica will be accorded the privilege of being included in this “bubble”. Reciprocity is also deemed to be a requirement. The number of infected persons in these jurisdictions is deemed sufficiently low so as not to cause a threat, although the citizens of these CARICOM countries, upon entry, will be made to undergo non-invasive temperature tests. Only two of the states have opened their borders since the Covid-19 epidemic.

All other persons of every citizenship who intend to travel to Antigua, after yesterday, July 7, 2020, are required to undertake a Covid-19 test that is no more than 7 days old prior to travel, and to have a certificate showing that they have tested negative.

 



Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, COVID-19, Features, International, Local, Regional, TOURISM, Travel0 Comments

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Travelers to face Negative COVID-19 Test to enter Antigua

by Bennette Roach

While entering Montserrat has taken on visa-styled requirements to enter the island, leaving  Montserrat is equally involved as health certificates become necessary to enter Antigua.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services is notifying travelers from Montserrat to Antigua, of the need to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to traveling.

This became necessary as advised in a release today from the Government Information Unit (GIU) whereby, “In accordance with the Government of Antigua public health protocols, all passengers arriving in Antigua must have a negative COVID -19 test taken within seven days of their arrival. This includes passengers transiting through Antigua to other final destinations.”

To facilitate the established protocols; The Ministry of Health and Social Services will facilitate the testing of prospective travelers.  As such “Residents who are booked to travel must contact Dr. Georgette Skerritt at telephone number (664) 496-9724 to make an appointment, to be sampled for testing.

“Sampling will occur each Friday, and test results are anticipated to be available by Wednesday of the following week. At present, there is no cost associated with sampling and testing.”

The public is asked to review their travel dates and be guided accordingly to ensure a smooth transition through Antigua.

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, CARICOM, COVID-19, Government Notices, Health, International, News, Regional0 Comments

visa-trave

COVID-19 forces Visa-styled requirements to enter Montserrat

by Bennette Roach

As the Government of Montserrat continues to remove and amend COVID-19 suppression restrictions, and the phased reopening of the economy continues, a release from the Government Information Unit (GIU) advises:  

“As of Wednesday, July 8, 2020 at 5:00 a.m. the maximum number of persons allowed to gather in a public place will increase from 10 to 50.

  This is outlined in the ‘Public Health (COVID-19 Suppression) (No.4) Order, S.R.O. 44 of 2020’ which will be in effect until August 4, 2020.

Additionally, the categories of persons allowed to travel to Montserrat now “includes a person” who owns a habitable house or home in Montserrat.  However, persons traveling to Montserrat must register by completing and submitting the declaration form on the government of Montserrat website (www.gov.ms) no later than three days of their intended date of travel.”

Aircraft owners have seemingly (non-criminalised) responsibilities

The owner of an aircraft or vessel must also ensure that the person has been granted approval to travel to Montserrat prior to departing. All persons arriving on Montserrat must self-quarantine for 14-days commencing on the date of arrival.

The Order also “makes provisions for child care centers, nursery schools, primary schools, secondary school, tertiary school, and any other school(s) to open.”

“However, the Head or owner of the school must submit a sanitisation plan to the Minister of Health for approval, before opening.  The Head or owner of the school must also ensure that staff, students and customers practice social distancing, and comply with any direction or guideline issued by the Minister of Health regarding cleaning, sanitisation, and other precautions. Failure to comply with the directives from the Minister of Health may result in the school being ordered to close.

“As it relates to the operations of gyms and sports clubs, these entities will be allowed to offer services, but must first submit a sanitisation plan to the Minister of Health for approval, before opening.  Once approved to operate, owners of gyms and sports clubs must ensure that customers maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from each other and must comply with any direction of guideline from the Minister of Health regarding cleaning, sanitisation, and other precautions.

“Although the six feet physical distance is specified for gyms and sports clubs, the Order also makes provisions for ‘contact sporting’ activities but individuals must comply with the restriction on the number of persons allowed to gather.” 

The release concludes that all other measures which were previously announced guiding the operations of businesses such as restaurants, cookshops, barbershops, beauty salons, bars, spas and bus, and taxi operators still remain in effect.

For those so able, the full S.R.O may be downloaded at http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/SRO-44-of-2020-Public-Health-Covid-19-Suppression-No.4-Order-.pdf

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EASTERN CARIBBEAN CENTRAL BANK

EASTERN CARIBBEAN CENTRAL BANK

V A C A N C Y

Debt Analyst Ι, Eastern Caribbean Central Bank

Suitably qualified citizens of member territories of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) and wider CARICOM countries are invited to apply to fill the post of Debt Analyst I, in the Statistics Department (SD), at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) in St Kitts.  Working at the ECCB provides a unique opportunity for you to help our member countries to manage their debt portfolios in a sustained and effective way to promote fiscal and debt sustainability.  The successful candidate will be based in St Kitts and will be hired initially on a two (2) year contractual engagement with the opportunity to transfer to the permanent establishment based on performance.

All applicants must complete the ECCB Employment Application Form which is available on the ECCB Website (www.eccb-centralbank.org).

SELECTION CRITERIA:

  1. A relevant first or higher degree and/or professional qualifications preferably in Economics, Finance, Business or Public Policy.
  2. At least three (3) years of relevant work experience in finance or public financial management; work experience in public debt management is a plus.

APPLICANTS MUST HAVE:

  1. Proven quantitative and qualitative analytical and problem-solving skills;
  2. Proficiency in Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint;
  3. Excellent communication skills – both verbal and written;
  4. Experience in giving presentations and training;
  5. Quick learning and creative thinking abilities, with initiative and attention to details;
  6. A high level of motivation, strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work effectively in a team-oriented environment;
  7. Ability to deliver high-quality work, multitask and to work under tight deadlines and pressure;
  8. Good networking and self-management abilities;
  9. High ethical standards.

The following would be considered as assets:

  • Experience in analytical tools such as Fiscal and Debt Sustainability, Financial Programming, Medium Term Debt Management Strategy;
  • Knowledge of debt management systems;
  • Experience in providing policy advice in areas related to fiscal policy and debt management would be assets.

DUTIES

The successful candidate will work with the Fiscal, Debt and Domestic Market team.  The main responsibilities will include:

  1. Accurately managing and maintaining public sector debt statistics to ensure consistency with international standards;
  2. Providing technical support to ECCU member countries to enhance the quality of the data in the debt recording system;
  3. Providing technical support to ECCU member countries in building capacity in debt management to undertake debt portfolio reviews, debt management strategies, debt restructuring and portfolio realignment, fiscal and debt sustainability analyses, and risk and asset-liability management;
  4. Facilitating the production of debt procedures manuals, identification of best practices and standardized guidelines for debt management;
  5. Conducting training to ensure that debt data are based on international standards;
  6. Facilitating the dissemination of public sector debt statistics;
  7. Undertaking research and providing policy advice to ECCU member countries on debt management issues in pursuit of fiscal and debt sustainability;
  8. Any other related duties which may be assigned.

SALARY

This position will be offered at a Grade 7 level. 

The following documents must be submitted:

  • Employment application form
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Two (2) original letters of reference
  • Certified copies of certificates
  • Official transcripts where applicable

Supporting documents should be addressed to:

Human Resource Department
Eastern Caribbean Central Bank
BASSETERRE
St Kitts

hrd@eccb-centralbank.org

To reach no later than 3 July 2020.

Note:   
1.  Applicants may enquire of the Human Resource Department to ascertain receipt of applications;
2.  Only candidates shortlisted for the selection process will be contacted;
3.  Shortlisted candidates will be required to undertake various assessments.

Posted in Advertisements, Business/Economy/Banking, Local, OECS, Regional, Vacancies0 Comments

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‘It makes no sense’: Feds consider relaxing infection control in US nursing homes

Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tricia L. Nadolny – USA TODAY – Published May 4, 2020 – reprint

The federal government is considering rolling back infection control requirements in U.S. nursing homes – even as the long-term-care industry’s residents and workers are overwhelmed by the coronavirus.

A rule proposed last year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would modify the amount of time an infection preventionist must devote to a facility from at least part-time to “sufficient time,” an undefined term that lets the facility decide how much time should be spent. The regulation has not been finalized, but CMS last week defended its proposal, saying it aims to reduce regulatory burden and strengthen infection control.

Opponents of the change said the rule could leave nursing home residents more vulnerable to infection. They expressed concern, especially given the devastation COVID-19 has caused within long-term care facilities.

“It makes no sense at all – prior to a pandemic, but more so now during a pandemic – to roll back any of the necessary infection and control requirements and the federal regulations,” said Lindsay Heckler, a supervising attorney at the Center for Elder Law & Justice, a civil legal services agency in Buffalo, New York. “They should be strengthening these infection and control requirements.”

A patient is loaded into an ambulance at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. Monday, March 9, 2020, near Seattle. The nursing home is at the center of the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Washington state. Ted S. Warren, AP

CMS has acknowledged that infection is “the leading cause of morbidity and mortality” in the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes. In its proposed rule, the agency said 1.6 million to 3.8 million infections occur each year in those facilities, with almost 388,000 deaths attributed to infections.

The coronavirus has put a spotlight on the problem. More than 16,000 long-term-care residents and staff have died of COVID-19, according to a USA TODAY analysis of government data. And nearly 97,000 residents and staff have tested positive for the virus. Those figures are an undercount, because testing has been limited and many states have not released full data.

CMS told USA TODAY its rule would allow facilities to determine for themselves the time needed for infection prevention and go above part-time when warranted. 

“This is a person-centered approach to care and would allow CMS to hold facilities accountable by having the infection preventionist onsite full time, especially in times of an outbreak,” the agency said in a statement last week. 

Search USA TODAY’s database: More than 4,000 nursing homes with COVID-19 cases

The changes were first proposed in July 2019, part of an ongoing effort by the Trump administration to reduce regulations for nursing home providers and suppliers. In addition to modifying the infection preventionist requirement, the proposed rule would also reduce the need for a facility-wide assessment from once a year to every other year and allow certain facilities to disregard a requirement that caps residents at two per room. CMS said the changes would reform “unnecessary, obsolete or excessively burdensome” requirements. 

CMS, which has the authority to change regulations on nursing homes without legislation, said the proposal is still under review. There were 1,731 comments on the rule – from nursing homeowners to advocates to residents and their family members – when the period for public input closed in September.

Some of the submissions are prescient given what has since occurred with COVID-19.

“Too many people have died and too many have suffered,” Alice Hedt, a former director of the National Ombudsman Center, wrote in a comment posted Sept. 24. “Minimizing the requirements of the Infection Preventionist when we know infections can be prevented and addressed will result in even more deaths and suffering. I personally think this person should be full time in every facility until the death rate from infection and unnecessary hospitalizations decline by fifty percent.”

Hedt, who spent 30 years as an advocate for long-term care residents, called the proposal “a slap in the face of residents who are more frail than any time in our long term care history.”

Experts say COVID-19’s devastating effect on people in long-term care is the result of a complex mix of factors, including the characteristics of the virus, the vulnerability of older adults, and those with underlying conditions, staffing levels, and national availability of testing and personal protective equipment. For some, the virus’ effect on nursing homes has renewed their concerns about the proposed rule.

“That softening of that rule I think, in retrospect, is exactly the wrong thing,” said Christopher Laxton, executive director of the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. 

Laxton, whose association represents about 5,500 medical professionals working in long-term-care settings, last year offered tepid support of the change, writing that his group didn’t object to the new language but that both terms “may be confusing and difficult to define.” He wrote that the amount of time spent on infection prevention should be based on real-life factors, such as the facility’s risk assessment, seasonal changes, and the presence of outbreaks. 

In an interview last week, he said it is “a different world than when we first commented on that proposal.” 

“At this point, sufficient time for an infection control preventionist in a building means full time,” he said. “And it means dedicated to a single building. And being there every day. That’s what sufficient means in this context. It may not mean that outside of a COVID pandemic. But it certainly means it now.”

The News-Journal has found that nearly a third of all coronavirus cases at long-term care facilities in the county are at the Opis Coquina Center nursing home in Ormond Beach. [News-Journal]/David Tucker]

‘Sometimes regulation hinders us’ 

Within the long-term-care industry, some are less convinced that leaving the rule as is, or even strengthening it, would make a meaningful difference in infection control. 

“Sometimes regulation hinders us from putting resources where we know they need to be,” said Dr. Gregory Johnson, chief medical officer of the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, the largest not-for-profit provider of long-term care and senior services in the United States.

He noted that only a small portion of the facility-wide assessment – which the proposed regulations would require to be conducted every other year rather than annually – focuses on infection control. The amount of work that goes into what can become a 300-page document is “colossal,” Johnson said, and there are other regulations that address infection control.

During the pandemic, he said, his organization has “far exceeded” even the part-time requirement. Johnson said they began implementing visitor restrictions and other preventative measures in early March. As of Sunday, the Good Samaritan Society said 26 of its 143 skilled nursing facilities had at least one confirmed case of COVID-19.

Johnson said the organization – which operates in 26 states – grapples with differing local, state, and federal regulations and tries to surpass them. 

Too often, Johnson said, the public hears only about the nursing homes that are “bad apples.”

“There are a whole lot of people out there in this business who are doing it because of a deep care and a deep commitment to mission,” he said. 

Combined, the CMS regulations serve as the basis for federal inspections that are conducted in U.S. nursing homes. Mark Parkinson, president, and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said that the survey process is “broken on many levels” because it measures too many things and is too punitive.

His organization, which represents more than 14,000 long-term-care facilities that collectively provide care to more than 5 million people, said it supports quality infection prevention in facilities but is behind CMS’ proposed rule change. The organization said in a statement that “more oversight is not the answer to what has happened during the pandemic – it would reduce critical resources these centers need or even put them at risk of closing.” But it also said facilities can always do more.

“When we get through this, the entire country will need to have a serious discussion and reckoning about our infection control practices in health care settings and throughout society,” the statement said.

Opposition to proposed rule

People who oppose CMS’ rule change say COVID-19 has proven that strong infection control is paramount.

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) has remained steadfast in its opposition to CMS’ proposed rule. The nonprofit organization said it was disappointed to see CMS acquiesce to the argument that compliance is overly burdensome and expressed concern that the federal government was trying to change the regulations, which have been phased in since late 2016, before their impact has fully been felt. 

“The COIVD-19 outbreak has really brought to light the opportunities and vulnerabilities of long-term care and the need for effective infection prevention,” said APIC President Connie Steed, who is the director of infection prevention and control at Prisma Health in South Carolina. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s COVID-19 or influenza or other concerning infections and outbreaks that can occur in these settings. A robust infection prevention control program is really imperative for these types of facilities.”

Search USA TODAY’s database of facilities with COVID-19 cases

Carol Buckner, a registered nurse who works in telehealth, said she has long had concerns about the quality of care at the nursing home in Rochester, New York, where her brother lives, The Pearl Nursing and Rehabilitation. The center, which until recently was named New Roc Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, is one of 88 nursing homes identified by CMS as a Special Focus Facility, homes that have chronic deficiencies and face additional government oversight.

“There’s not enough staff. They’re not trained. And there’s no direct oversight. I never see a nurse in there unless they’re passing meds,” she said. “And then you add COVID into this?”

The facility’s administrator did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, Buckner wrote to CMS to object to the proposed rule change by noting that infection control is the “single most protective” measure a facility can provide its residents. She said she knows her brother’s home has an infection preventionist only because she once spotted a staff list on a visit and saw that title listed beside a person’s name. She does not know how many hours the employee devotes to infection control. 

She said the facility has not reported any cases of COVID-19, but she still worries. 

“I’m still nervous,” she said. “I mean I’m hoping they’re doing a stringent job with being masked. But I had asked the facility, ‘What can I help you with?’ They said if you have any long-sleeved men’s shirts they could put on backwards and wear like a gown. So obviously they’re telling me they don’t have enough PPE.”

Buckner said CMS needs to impose stricter regulations. 

“I’m hopeful things are getting better,” she said, “but I don’t know that things will ever improve until full regulations are really strengthened and shored up. They need to be much better than they are.”

Marisa Kwiatkowski is a reporter on the USA TODAY investigations team, focusing primarily on children and social services. Contact her at mkwiatko@usatoday.com, @IndyMarisaK, or by phone, Signal or WhatsApp at (317) 207-2855. 

Tricia L. Nadolny is a reporter on the USA TODAY investigations team. She can be reached at tnadolny@usatoday.com or @TriciaNadolny.

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, COVID-19, Health, International, Legal, News, Regional0 Comments

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Power outages and damage reported after 5.4 earthquake hits southern Puerto Rico

Associated Press Published – May 2, 2020 – reprint

by Danica Coto

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico— A 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit near southern Puerto Rico on Saturday, briefly knocking out power and jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit at a shallow depth of 5.6 miles near the city of Ponce and the towns of Guanica and Guayanilla, where hundreds of homes were destroyed by a quake in early January that killed one person and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Reports of damage were still trickling in on Saturday, with at least one second-story balcony crashing in the southern city of Ponce, spokeswoman Inés Rivera told The Associated Press. Meanwhile, cracks in homes were reported in Guayanilla.

“Everything shook really hard,” spokesman Danny Hernández said by phone.

A police officer, wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, removes debris caused by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Saturday, May 2, 2020. The quake hit near southern Puerto Rico, jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. Carlos Giusti, AP

Meanwhile, in Guánica, Mayor Santos Seda told the AP that no major damage has been reported so far, but noted that between five to 10 people remain in a shelter since the 6.4-magnitude quake that hit in January.

“Thank God everyone is OK,” he said. “The infrastructure is already weak.”

From January: 950 earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico so far this year. Why? Blame it on an ‘earthquake swarm’

Several aftershocks hit Puerto Rico’s southern region, including a 4.9-magnitude one.

Víctor Huérfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, said in a phone interview that while it’s understandable many people are afraid and surprised by the most recent earthquake, it’s not unusual given the seismic activity that began in the region in late December.

“In the long run, it’s decreasing, but you can have peaks,” he said, adding that he expects strong aftershocks to continue.

The earthquake struck as Puerto Ricans are ordered to remain home as part of a two-month lockdown to help curb coronavirus cases. Gov. Wanda Vázquez tweeted that rescue crews were fanning out across the area and that she would shortly be traveling there to meet with those affected in person. 

A police officer, wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, walks past debris caused by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Saturday, May 2, 2020. The quake hit near southern Puerto Rico, jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. Carlos Giusti, AP

“If your infrastructure is damaged, you must leave with your face mask on and your emergency backpack,” she said as she urged people to remain calm.

But nerves are already frayed in many parts of the island as Puerto Rico continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, a string of strong earthquakes and the coronavirus.

Silvestre Alicea, a 67-year-old man who moved back to Puerto Rico from New York upon retiring, lost his home in January’s earthquake and is still living with his sister in Guanica. 

“This is unreal,” he said, adding that some neighbors have left the area to stay with relatives elsewhere and that many, including a security guard who worked all night, are now sitting nervously in their balconies. “He hasn’t slept.”

Alicea, however, said he decided to knock down a couple of breadfruits from a nearby tree as the aftershocks continue: “I’m taking it easy. There’s nothing else you can do.” 

A resident, wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, makes photos of the damage caused by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Saturday, May 2, 2020. The quake hit near southern Puerto Rico, jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. Carlos Giusti

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Earthquake, Environment, International, Local, News, Regional, Travel0 Comments

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