Biden pledges Covid aid for US as poor countries win cheaper tests

Published: 08:51 PM, 22 Jan, 2021
Biden pledges Covid aid for US as poor countries win cheaper tests
Stay tuned with 24 News HD Android App
Get it on Google Play

New US President Joe Biden was due Friday to order more help for Americans struggling to cope with the pandemic in the world's worst-hit country, as an international deal won cheaper access to rapid Covid-19 tests for millions in poorer nations. 

As Biden moves rapidly to distance himself from the legacy of predecessor Donald Trump -- who often undermined the advice of his own experts -- a flurry of US measures will oblige officials to boost protection for workers and speed up access to federal money.

"The American people can't afford to wait," said Brian Deese of the White House's National Economic Council, adding that many people were "hanging by a thread".

Europe's economy has also taken a battering, with indicators showing Friday that strict anti-virus measures were helping to push the eurozone into a "double-dip" recession.

The continent's biggest economy Germany is among the nations struggling to tamp down its outbreak, with the national death toll now past 50,000.

Germany also confirmed its first case of the newer Brazilian strain of Covid-19 on Friday -- one of several potent new variants spreading worldwide.

Hungarian rebellion

There were further signs that European Union governments are tiring of the bloc's strategy to buy vaccines in bulk on behalf of members, with Hungary announcing it had made a deal with Russia to buy two million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

"If there is no vaccine from the Union, let it come from elsewhere," said Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose popularity comes partly from a long-running battle with Brussels on a range of topics.

Brazil, the second worst-hit country in terms of deaths, was also due to receive two million vaccine doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab that were made in India.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly warned that richer countries are hogging the vaccine.

But there was some good news on Friday for poorer nations, as a deal was announced to supply them with tens of millions of rapid antigen tests at half the usual $5 price.

The deal was brokered by international agencies working with the WHO, and will see an Indian firm manufacture up to 120 million tests.

We're tired

Many parts of Europe are still in crisis mode, with hospitals pushed to the brink.

"We're tired, we've spent a year in the same situation," said Mapi Gracia from Barcelona's Hospital del Mar, where intensive care beds are increasingly hard to come by.

"Right now we don't know how bad it's going to get and we're just hoping the hospitals aren't overwhelmed," the doctor told AFP.

With record deaths and widespread concern about fast-spreading new strains, much of the world remains in partial lockdown with a raft of travel and other restrictions.

Denmark on Friday banned all flights from the United Arab Emirates, saying it needed to make sure the testing regime in Dubai was rigorous enough.

And cultural establishments are also feeling the heat of a pandemic that has all but killed the tourism industry and decimated visitor numbers.

Six out of 10 museums in Britain fear they may have to close, a survey reported.

"The pandemic has left us on our knees," said David Green, the director of London's Florence Nightingale Museum.

Zidane tests positive

The sporting world has also taken a hammering, with the Tokyo Olympics postponed from 2020 to 2021, and now having to face almost daily questions over whether it will go ahead at all.

The Japanese government said there was "no truth" to a media report quoting an unnamed source as saying "the consensus is that it's too difficult" to hold the Games in 2021.

And Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has become the latest high-profile sports person to be hit with the virus.

"I spoke with the coach this morning and he is fine," said Real's assistant coach David Bettoni. "He was a little sad this morning not to be with us."

Techno music, unmasked

But in the Super Monkey nightclub in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where Covid-19 first emerged in 2019, virus worries were worlds away for crowds of late-night revellers.

After passing a temperature check at the door they were welcomed inside, where there were glow-in-the-dark rabbit ears, pulsating techno beats, champagne on ice and a flexible attitude to masks.

"I was stuck inside for two or three months," a man in his thirties, who gave his name as Xu, told AFP. "Now I can go out in complete tranquility."


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.