‘We’re all in this together’: Dr Fauci says world has failed India as Covid cases surge
US’s top infectious disease expert lambasts wealthy countries for failing to provide equitable access to coronavirus vaccines
Guardian (UK) Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, has said countries have failed to unite to provide an adequate global response to prevent the “tragic” coronavirus outbreak from overwhelming India, and singled out wealthier nations for failing to provide equitable access to healthcare around the world.
Speaking to Guardian Australia from the US, Fauci said the situation in India had highlighted global inequality.
“The only way that you’re going to adequately respond to a global pandemic is by having a global response, and a global response means equity throughout the world,” Fauci said.
“And that’s something that, unfortunately, has not been accomplished. Often when you have diseases in which there is a limited amount of intervention, be it therapeutic or prevention, this is something that all the countries that are relatively rich countries or countries that have a higher income have to pay more attention to.”
India recorded 360,960 new cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning according to health ministry data, another new daily global record. The ministry also said that India’s total number of fatalities had passed 200,000 to stand at 201,187.
The latest epidemiological update from the World Health Organization (WHO) issued on Tuesday said Covid-19 cases increased globally for the ninth consecutive week, with nearly 5.7m new cases reported. India accounts for the majority of cases, with 2,172,063 new cases reported in the past week – a 52% increase.
Fauci said while WHO was trying to accelerate support to India through the Covax initiative – a global program aimed at ensuring countries most in need get access to vaccines and other treatments – “we have to do even more than that”.
“The United States has really revved up their activity in helping out India … we’re sending oxygen, remdesivir, personal protective equipment, a variety of other medications and soon we’ll be sending vaccine to help out,” he said.
“So I think that that’s a responsibility that the rich countries need to assume. Right now it’s a terrible tragic situation where people are dying because there’s not enough oxygen, where there’s not enough hospital beds. We have to try, looking forward, to get as much equity when it comes to public health issues as we possibly can.
“Because we’re all in this together. It’s an interconnected world. And there are responsibilities that countries have to each other, particularly if you’re a wealthy country and you’re dealing with countries that don’t have the resources or capabilities that you have.”
Looking ahead, health systems globally would need to be upgraded so that issues emerging could be detected sooner, Fauci said. Transparency and communication between countries would be key, he said, adding that this was not just an issue for countries like India but for the US as well.
“You want to have the capability of better surveillance internationally, so that when something comes up and emerges in a given country there’s not a big delay in getting recognition of what’s going on,” he said.
“I know in the United States, for example, our local public health system has not been kept up to the level that we would have liked … we are still using fax machines, which is really unacceptable. You have to be prepared to have interconnectivity.”
As the tragedy unfolds in India, he said Australians should feel grateful that they had two safe and effective vaccines in AstraZeneca and Pfizer, even if the rollout of those vaccines had been slower than anticipated.
“Just because you have only two vaccines that are available, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re at a disadvantage, so long as you have enough efficacious and safe vaccine,” he said. “I don’t think the numbers of [different types of] vaccines in the sense of different vaccines is as important as getting enough for your citizens.”
Though there had been delays to the rollout in Australia, the federal government has secured enough vaccine supply to vaccinate the entire Australian population of 25m, even before other candidates such as the Novavax vaccine have been approved and available. If regulators approve the Novavax vaccine once more clinical trial data is available, the government anticipates 51m doses of that vaccine will be made available in Australia during 2021.
Asked whether the situation in India and elsewhere, such as in Papua New Guinea, meant the world would struggle to ever contain Covid, Fauci responded: “I believe we will get there.
“But it makes it more difficult when you have the spread of infection in a country that’s not handling it very well. If you get infections in a country in which there are a lot of immunosuppressed individuals, including people who are infected with HIV and the virus infects them, they don’t clear it as rapidly as you would hope and that gives the virus a chance to mutate, which leads to the development of additional variants.”
Fauci said the evolving situation meant he “can’t even begin to think” of a life and career beyond responding to the pandemic. While the rapid pace of the vaccination program in the US has seen a reduction of new infections, there were nonetheless 406,000 new cases reported in the US in the past week – a 15% decrease from the week prior.
“This is such an important and challenging situation we’re dealing with right now,” Fauci said. “I’m devoting all of my attention, all of my energy, 24/7, on trying to get control of this terrible outbreak that we’re experiencing, not only here in the United States, but throughout the world.”
- India has seen more Covid cases in the last seven days than any other country
- A ferocious second wave has seen the official death toll surpass 200,000 – experts believe the actual number may be higher
- People have died waiting for beds, as oxygen supplies run low and hospitals crumble under the strain
- From today all adults over 18 can sign up for Covid vaccines – only 1.6% of India’s population is fully vaccinated
- US President Joe Biden says he intends to send vaccines to India
CDC: Vaccinated People Can Un-Mask Outdoors
New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it is safe for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to be outside without a mask, but only in small groups.
The guidance, which CDC Director Rochelle Walensky outlined during a White House press conference Tuesday, builds on previous updates from the agency about the activities people can feel comfortable with once fully vaccinated.
“Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before. Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do,” Walensky said. “Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated.”
The guidance includes a color-coded chart that describes activities for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people indoors and outdoors, both with and without masks.
According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks during small, outdoor gatherings even if there’s a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Dining at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households is also considered a safe activity for vaccinated people to do without a mask, the agency said.
“The release of these new guidelines is a first step at helping fully vaccinated Americans resume what they had stopped doing because of the pandemic, at low risk to themselves, while being mindful of the potential risk of transmitting the virus to others,” the CDC said.
Last month, the CDC said it was safe for fully vaccinated people to safely gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks, and could visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household.
People are considered fully vaccinated by the CDC two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
More than 42 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, including nearly 30 percent who have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
CDC emphasized that it’s ultimately up to individuals to consider their own personal situation and the risk to themselves, their family and community before venturing out without a mask.
Even vaccinated people should wear a mask when outdoors in a crowded public space, indoors in public spaces like a mall, houses of worship, or even a small indoor gathering with a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Studies have consistently found the risk of transmitting COVID-19 is significantly reduced when outdoors, particularly when individuals are socially distanced. Experts have increasingly questioned the need for mask use outdoors given the rising percentage of Americans who are vaccinated against the virus.
As vaccination levels have increased and infections dropped, there’s been a growing chorus of public experts calling for CDC to update its guidance on outdoor activities. But there are likely some who think this does not go far enough.
For example, the guidelines for unvaccinated people have not changed. The agency still recommends wearing a mask when outside in public spaces.
“Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with people who live in your household,” the current guidance states.
“However, some areas may have mask mandates while out in public, so please check the rules in your local area (such as in your city, county, or state),” it adds.
Many states instituted strict universal mask mandates for indoors and outdoors, even if you’re alone. Some are beginning to lift them, and Walensky encouraged governors to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, as well as between small outdoor gatherings and large ones, like concerts or sporting events, where many unvaccinated people may also be present.
But there’s widespread consensus that brief encounters with an unmasked person running, hiking or biking are very low risk.
“I think we have to say, no need for blanket outdoor mask mandates,” Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, said in an e-mail.
She noted that the World Health Organization says masks are not necessary outside unless physical distancing of three feet can’t be maintained.
“If you are vaccinated, it’s fine to take off your mask any time outdoors, even if you are around others,” Wen said. “If you are unvaccinated, you should keep three feet away from others who are also unvaccinated, or are of unknown vaccination status when outdoors; if you cannot maintain 3 feet distance, you should wear a mask.”
April 28 (GMT)