Russian vaccine works ‘effectively enough,’ President Putin said.
A Russian health care regulator has become the first in the world to approve a vaccine for the coronavirus, President Vladimir V. Putin announced on Tuesday, though the vaccine has yet to complete clinical trials.
The Russian dash for a vaccine has already raised international concerns that Moscow is cutting corners on testing to score political and propaganda points.
Mr. Putin’s announcement came despite a caution last week from the World Health Organization that Russia should not stray from the usual methods of testing a vaccine for safety and effectiveness.
Mr. Putin’s announcement became essentially a claim of victory in the global race for a vaccine, something Russian officials have been telegraphing for several weeks now despite the absence of published information about any late-phase testing.
“It works effectively enough, forms a stable immunity and, I repeat, it has gone through all necessary tests,” Mr. Putin told a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning. He thanked the scientists who developed the vaccine for “this first, very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.”
Mr. Putin also said that one of his daughters had taken the vaccine.
The Russian vaccine, along with many others under development in a number of countries in the effort to alleviate a worldwide health crisis that has killed at least 734,900 people, sped through early monkey and human trials with apparent success.
But the Russian scientific body that developed the vaccine, the Gamaleya Institute, has yet to conduct Phase III tests on tens of thousands of volunteers in highly controlled trials, a process seen as the only method of ensuring a vaccine is actually safe and effective. Around the world, more than 30 vaccines out of a total of more than 165 under development are now in various stages of human trials.
Vaccines generally go through three stages of human testing before being approved for widespread use. The first two phases test the vaccine on relatively small groups of people to see if it causes harm and if it stimulates the immune system. The last phase, known as Phase III, compares the vaccine to a placebo in thousands of people. This final phase is the only way to know with statistical certainty whether a vaccine prevents an infection. And because it’s testing a much larger group of people, a Phase III trial can also pick up more subtle side effects of a vaccine that earlier trials could not.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States has said that a new coronavirus vaccine would need to be 50 percent more effective than a placebo in order to be approved.
Russia’s minister of health, Mikhail Murashko, has said the country will begin a mass vaccination campaign in the fall, and said on Tuesday that it would start with teachers and medical workers this month.
The World Health Organization maintains a comprehensive list of worldwide vaccine trials. In the latest version of the list, there is no Russian Phase III trial.
Western regulators have said repeatedly that they do not expect a vaccine to become widely available before the end of the year at the earliest. Regulatory approval in Russia, well ahead of that timeline, could become a symbol of national pride and provide a lift for Mr. Putin, whose popularity ratings have fallen steadily under the weight of the pandemic and a faltering economy.
The coronavirus has now sickened more than 20 million people worldwide, a number that has doubled in about six weeks, according to a New York Times database. The global death toll has reached nearly 735,000.
More than 200,000 cases are being reported each day on average, according to the database.
The United States leads all countries in cases, with 5.1 million. More than 47,000 cases and more than 530 deaths were announced across the nation Monday. The next highest caseloads are Brazil, with three million confirmed cases, and India, with 2.3 million.
After lockdowns went into effect across the world in March, cases leveled off in April. But as countries began to reopen again, cases started to rise. The virus is resurgent in Europe at the moment, with Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain among the countries seeing cases rise.
Africa reached 1 million cases last week, although the spread there happened more slowly than anticipated.
Latin America is also dealing with high numbers. Brazil’s case count has remained stubbornly high. And Mexico passed 50,000 deaths from the virus last week.
In recent months, Mr. Trump has imposed sweeping rules that ban entry by foreigners into the United States, citing the risk of allowing the virus to spread from hot spots abroad. But those rules have exempted two categories of people attempting to return: American citizens and noncitizens who have already established legal residence.
Now, a draft regulation would expand the government’s power to prevent entry by citizens and legal residents in individual, limited circumstances. Federal agencies have been asked to submit feedback on the proposal to the White House by Tuesday, though it is unclear when it might be approved or announced.
Under the proposal, which relies on existing legal authorities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government could block a citizen or legal resident from crossing the border into the United States if an official “reasonably believes that the individual either may have been exposed to or is infected with the communicable disease.”
The draft, parts of which were obtained by The New York Times, explicitly says that any order blocking citizens and legal permanent residents must “include appropriate protections to ensure that no Constitutional rights are infringed.” And it says that citizens and legal residents cannot be blocked as an entire class of people.
The documents appear not to detail how long a citizen or legal resident would be required to remain outside of the United States.
Even as President Trump promised relief for tens of millions of unemployed Americans who saw critical $600-a-week benefits lapse at the end of July, it was unclear how quickly states would be able to set up the new system required to distribute aid under Mr. Trump’s executive action.
Experts warn that because the administration can only divert existing aid without the congressional approval of new funds, the combination of aid siphoned from a disaster relief fund with state aid may only last for a few weeks.
Mr. Trump said on Monday that “a lot of money will be going to a lot of people very quickly.” He said he had instructed Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to move as quickly as possible to make it happen. It was unclear whether the aid would materialize if lawsuits were filed challenging the legality of the president’s actions.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Mr. Trump’s directive would cost his state about $4 billion by the end of the year, making it little more than a fantasy. Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said that no New Yorker would see enhanced unemployment benefits because of the president.
Congress initially provided a $600-a-week supplement to unemployment benefits when the pandemic shut down much of the United States in March. But that benefit lapsed on July 31, after talks between the White House and Congress broke down. Republicans had pushed for a $400 supplemental benefit, which Democrats said was not enough. On Saturday, Mr. Trump ordered the $400 benefit — but said it was contingent on states coming up with $100 of that on their own.
Republicans largely praised the president for trying to act where Congress had failed, but they said they would need to pull funds from other pressing budgetary needs.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican, said it was possible to comply with Mr. Trump’s executive order, but he would have to reallocate money from another part of the budget.
“We could do it,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. “It would be a readjustment of priorities and take some time.” He added, “That’s not ideal.”
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican and an ally of Mr. Trump, said his staff was still working through what to do about unemployment benefits. “We’re digging in on that issue,” he said.
And Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, a Republican, said the order would cost his state $26 million a week. He said he was hopeful that the federal government would decide to cover the whole cost of the program, and that lawmakers would strike a deal. “We hope Congress will quit being a bunch of political babies,” he said.
New Zealand on Tuesday confirmed its first locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus in months, shortly after its 100-day milestone without any new such infections.
Four people from the same family were found to be infected from an unknown source, said Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s top health official. The first case in the new cluster was a person living in South Auckland who had no history of traveling abroad, he said.
The new cases immediately triggered “level three” restrictions in Auckland for three days, which means residents are instructed to stay home other than for essential personal movements, while the rest of the country will follow social-distancing measures.
“We are asking people in Auckland to stay home to stop the spread,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday. “Act as if you have Covid, and as if the people around you have Covid.”
The nation of five million people was able to declare itself free from the coronavirus in June after strict lockdown measures were implemented, and has been hailed as a model of successfully fighting the virus. But imported cases were later confirmed.
Britain’s push to open schools may force the closure of one of its beloved institutions: The pub.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that opening Britain’s schools next month is a “moral duty,” and that in the event of a resurgence of the virus, “the last thing we want to do is to close schools.”
To avoid the scenario that Mr. Johnson described on Monday, medical experts said, the government will have to be ready to sacrifice a hallowed British institution — pubs, as well as restaurants, which reopened a few weeks ago but are increasingly viewed as among the greatest risks for spreading the virus.
Mr. Johnson’s drive to reopen schools has put him at odds with teachers’ unions and local governments, which generally accept that schools should reopen but argue that Britain’s system for testing and contact tracing is not robust enough to cope with the outbreaks that may follow.
The government, they said, had not developed plans for how teachers should handle sick students or communicate with parents if there is an outbreak. Mr. Johnson’s back-to-school campaign, some said, smacked of a government that had emphasized other priorities, like eating out in restaurants, and was playing catch-up.
“The big question is, if you open schools, how long can you keep them open?” said Devi Sridhar, the director of the global health governance program at Edinburgh University. “If there’s spreading, do you shut down the whole school? Do you shut down a single class?”
Professor Sridhar said the safest way to open schools was to drive down the transmission rate — and the way to do that, she said, was to close “the nighttime economy.” In the Scottish city of Aberdeen, she noted, nearly 800 people were forced into quarantine because of an outbreak that authorities traced to a handful of pubs.
“My message is, you have to choose,” she said. “Which part of the economy do you have to sacrifice? Something’s got to give.”
Mr. Johnson cannot order schools to open or close; those decisions are made by the local health authorities. But some teachers say they are eager to return to the classroom, viewing the health risks as manageable. Schools in Scotland plan to reopen this week, with England’s opening on Sept. 1.
In other news from around the world:
Vietnam, which did not record its first Covid-19 death until July 31, reported four on Tuesday, its highest daily number since the start of the pandemic. All 15 of the country’s fatalities so far were linked to an outbreak that began last month in the central city of Danang and infected nearly 400 people. The country now has a total of 847 confirmed cases.
Namibia will auction fishing rights to raise funds to fight the pandemic.
The Namibian government will auction fishing rights in a bid to raise desperately needed funds to fight the pandemic. The southern African country has recorded only 3,101 cases of the coronavirus and 19 related deaths, but cases are expected to increase in the coming weeks, in line with much of the rest of Africa.
The highest foreign bidder will have a 60 percent annual fishing quota normally owned by Fishcor, a state-owned company facing allegations of corruption including kickbacks in exchange for fishing rights. Fishcor’s stake amounts to 72,000 tons of horse mackerel and 11,000 tons of hake, while the rights to net a further 392 tons of monkfish will also be up for grabs by October.
“Government is in need of financial resources on an emergency basis with a view to mitigate the effects of Covid-19,” Albert Kawana, the minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, said in a statement. “We do not produce medicines in Namibia nor do we manufacture medical equipment. In order to obtain these items, we have to buy them with foreign currency.”
After mining and agriculture, fishing is the biggest foreign currency earner for Namibia, bringing in some $10 billion Namibian dollars ($565 million U.S.) annually.
Last month, the government ordered the closure of schools for 28 days as part of a new set of restrictions aimed at curbing rising virus cases.
Reporting was contributed by Luke Broadwater, Nick Bruce, Emily Cochrane, Caitlin Dickerson, Andrew E. Kramer, Mark Landler, Sarah Mervosh, Alan Rappeport, Michael D. Shear, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Jin Wu and Elaine Yu.