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Biden joins U.S.-ASEAN summit Trump skipped after 2017

By Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom and Ain Bandial

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Biden joins U.S.-ASEAN summit Trump skipped after 2017
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before departing for Newark, New Jersey, from the Delaware Air National Guard Base, New Castle, Delaware, U.S., October 25, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

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By Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom and Ain Bandial

WASHINGTON/BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden joined Southeast Asian leaders for a virtual summit on Tuesday, the first time in four years that Washington has engaged at the top level with a bloc seen as key to countering an increasingly assertive China.

The United States had not met with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the presidential level since Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, attended an ASEAN-U.S. meeting in Manila in 2017. During that time, U.S. relations with China deteriorated to their worst level in decades.

In his opening remarks to the summit, Biden said the United States was committed to the central role of the 10-nation ASEAN in the region and ASEAN nations can expect him to personally show up in the region in future.

“The relationship between the United States and ASEAN is vital, vital for the future of all one billion of our people,” Biden said. “Our partnership is essential to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, which has been the foundation of our shared security and prosperity for many decades.”

A day after the ASEAN summit, Biden will participate in the broader East Asia Summit, which brings together ASEAN and other nations in the Indo-Pacific region, a senior U.S. administration official said.

Analysts say Biden’s meeting with the 10-nation bloc reflects his administration’s efforts to engage allies and partners in a collective effort to push back against China.

However, in his opening remarks Biden avoided specific mention of China, as have U.S. officials in the run-up to the meetings as they work to set up a virtual summit between the U.S. president and Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this year.

The White House said Biden will announce plans to provide up to $102 million to expand the U.S. strategic partnership with ASEAN, which is currently chaired by Brunei, with funding going towards health, climate, economic and education programs.

Biden is also expected to assure ASEAN that a recent U.S. focus on engagement with India, Japan and Australia in the so-called Quad grouping and a deal to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines are not intended to supplant ASEAN’s regional role.

Edgard Kagan, senior director for East Asia at the White House National Security Council, stressed last week that Washington does not see the Quad as “an Asian NATO” and that it was not intended to compete with ASEAN.

He said Washington had an interest in working with ASEAN to ensure supply-chain resilience, on climate, and to address “common challenges on maritime issues” – an apparent reference to China’s broad claims in the disputed South China Sea.

While planning to provide a modest sum to promote trade with ASEAN, Biden has given no sign of any plan to return to a regional trade framework Trump withdrew from in 2017.

Analysts said ASEAN leaders would be anxious to hear how Washington plans to engage further on trade, investment and infrastructure and of any U.S. plans to step up provision of COVID-19 vaccines to the region, which has been hard hit by the pandemic.

An Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the lack of an economic element in U.S. regional engagement was a major gap at a time when countries were expanding economic ties with China.

Kagan said it was critical for the credibility of the Quad that it deliver on a pledge it made in March to supply a billion COVID-19 vaccines to Southeast Asia by the end of 2022.

That plan stalled after India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, banned exports in April amid a massive domestic COVID outbreak.

The ASEAN meetings will take place without Myanmar military leader Min Aung Hlaing, who overthrew a civilian government on Feb. 1 – a rare exclusion for a grouping usually known for non-interference.

Kagan called ASEAN’s move to exclude the Myanmar leader a significant step but said more needed to be done to address the challenges that country is facing.

Coronavirus

WHO expects to have more information on Omicron transmission ‘within days’

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WHO expects to have more information on Omicron transmission 'within days'
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: WHO Technical lead head COVID-19 Maria Van Kerkhove attends a news conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, at the WHO headquarters in Gene

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization expects to have more information on the transmissibility of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus within days, its technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing on Wednesday.

That was faster than the “weeks” the WHO had predicted last week that it would take to assess the data available on the variant after designating it a “variant of concern”, its highest rating.

Whether the variant is more transmissible or evades vaccines are some of the major questions that still need answering.

Vaccine developers have said it will take about two weeks to assess whether their shots are effective against it.

Van Kerkhove said one possible scenario was that the new variant, which was first reported in southern Africa, may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant. She said it was not yet known if Omicron makes people more ill.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the agency believes the existing COVID-19 vaccines will work against the variant.

Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergency director, reiterated the agency’s opposition to the blanket bans on flights to and from southern Africa that have been imposed by Britain and other countries, saying it would not prevent the variant’s spread:

“The idea you can just put a hermetic seal on some countries is not possible. I can’t see the logic from an epidemiological or public health perspective.”

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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U.S. FDA evaluating effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron

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U.S. FDA evaluating effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A vial and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2” in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

(Reuters) – The U.S. Food & Drug Administration said on Tuesday it was evaluating the effectiveness of authorized COVID-19 vaccines against the Omicron coronavirus variant and expects to have more information in the next few weeks.

The agency is currently evaluating the vaccines to see if and how well they work against the variant, first detected in South Africa, Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

She said if the review shows a modification to the current vaccines is needed, the agency and companies will work together to develop and test such a modification quickly.

The new variant has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. health regulatory agency maintained that the authorised vaccines remain highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and serious clinical outcomes associated with the infection and urged people to get vaccinated.

The FDA is also evaluating the potential impact of the variant on the currently available diagnostics and therapeutics. It said a preliminary review showed that high volume PCR and antigen tests, widely used in the United States, have low likelihood of being impacted by Omicron.

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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Coronavirus

Omicron variant could outcompete Delta, South African disease expert says

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Omicron variant could outcompete Delta, South African disease expert says
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2” in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Alexander Winning

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The Omicron coronavirus variant detected in southern Africa could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious Delta variant, the director of South Africa’s communicable disease institute said on Tuesday.

The discovery of Omicron has caused global alarm, with countries limiting travel from southern Africa for fear it could spread quickly even in vaccinated populations and the World Health Organization saying it carries a high risk of infection surges.

“We thought what will outcompete Delta? That has always been the question, in terms of transmissibility at least, … perhaps this particular variant is the variant,” Adrian Puren, acting executive director of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), told Reuters in an interview.

If Omicron proves even more transmissible than the Delta variant, it could lead to a sharp spike in infections that could put pressure on hospitals.

Puren said scientists should know within four weeks to what extent Omicron can evade the immunity generated by vaccines or prior infection, and whether it leads to worse clinical symptoms than other variants.

Anecdotal accounts by doctors who have treated South African COVID-19 patients say Omicron appears to be producing mild symptoms, including a dry cough, fever and night sweats, but experts have cautioned against drawing firm conclusions.

Puren said it was too early to say whether Omicron was displacing Delta in South Africa, since local scientists have only produced 87 sequences of Omicron so far.

But the fact that cases have started to rise rapidly, especially in the most populated Gauteng province, is a sign that some displacement might already be happening.

Delta drove a third wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa that peaked at more than 26,000 cases per day in early July. Omicron is expected to trigger a fourth wave, with daily infections seen topping 10,000 by the end of the week from around 2,270 on Monday.

Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist at the NICD, said it looked like infections were rising throughout the country.

On Monday, an NICD presentation a flagged a large number of COVID-19 admissions among infants aged under two years as an area of concern. But von Gottberg cautioned against linking that with Omicron just yet.

“It looks like in fact some of those admissions might have started before the emergence of Omicron. We are also seeing that there was an increase in influenza cases just in the last month or so, and so we need to be really careful to look at the other respiratory infections,” she said.

“We are looking at the data very, very carefully, but at the moment I’m not too sure that we can link it definitively to Omicron.”

South Africa has been praised for alerting the global scientific community and WHO so quickly to Omicron — a brave move given the damage that travel restrictions imposed by multiple countries including Britain will do to its important tourism sector.

The country has reported close to 3 million COVID-19 infections during the pandemic and over 89,000 deaths, the most on the African continent.

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