By Earl Bousquet
It’s like a virtual World War III over drugs as China, Cuba and Russia line-up to combat European and American dominance of distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
But first a look at a unique global COVID phenomenon in China: its celebration of two New Years – January 1 and the Lunar New Year (also called Spring Festival and which has no fixed date).
Spring Festival starts with an official week-long holiday and stretches over 40 days (and nights) — and can start anytime between January and February.
In 2019, Year of the Pig started on February 5, in 2020 Year of the Rat began on January 25 and Year of the Ox got underway on February 12, 2021.
The Festival also annually registers the biggest mass migration of people on the planet, with close to three billion trips in 2019.
The size of that mega mass movement of human bodies is hardly imagined by Caribbean citizens, but usually described to Americans as ‘Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving and Halloween, all wrapped-in-one.’
Observed across China and by Chinese worldwide, it brings home hundreds of millions riding, driving, flying — even walking for long days and lonely nights – to spend holidays with their families.
The 2020 Lunar New Year arrived just as China was coming to grips with the spread of the Corona Virus.
Having informed the World Health Organization (WHO), Beijing restricted Festival movements by implementing strict travel protocols, including COVID tests a week before travel and 14-day quarantines.
But after the Festival ended on March 1 last year, the world was still way behind in recognizing the speed of the virus’ spread, US President Donald Trump likening it to ‘the Common Flu’ and christening it ‘The Chinese Kung-flu’.
By April, while the rest of the world adjusted to people dying by the hundreds and thousands, China, Cuba and Russia were also busy developing vaccines.
Cuba, which had helped China develop a formula to check the virus’ spread in Wuhan by the time the Spring Festival arrived last year, has developed eight of the vaccines on its authorized list and scores of nations have registered for its Soberania brand, due by June.
But the 14 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member-states depend on the WHO for supplies through its Covax mechanism.
By December 2020, following engineered shortcuts around science-based testing periods and rushed approvals by regulators, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna each announced new vaccines almost ready for market delivery.
In the arms race for people’s shoulders everywhere, voracious pharmaceutical corporations stumbled over each other to secure contracts heavier than their ability to deliver, also resulting in frustrating delays.
But 2021 has already seen belated discovery of defects and/or other problems with some of the vaccines already rolled-out, the latest being Japan’s decision (last week) to dump 144 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, due to syringe problems.
With over two million people dead worldwide by the end of January and tens of millions of positive cases, the scientists also discovered that Oxford-AstraZeneca is not at all as effective against SARS-CoV-2 as the manufacturers had claimed.
And the UK delayed informing WHO of its discovery of SARS-CoV-2 in September 2020 until January 2021, after which it quickly developed another new strain in Brazil, spreading faster than COVID-19.
On the other hand, Sputnik was in early February given the Green Light by ‘The Lancet’, the medical world’s premiere medical journal, which confirmed its over-90% effectiveness.
As the news spreads about Oxford-AstraZeneca’s and Pfizer’s deficiencies, several EU member-states indicated they were ready to start playing Draughts with Big Pharma by registering for Russia’s Sputnik.
CARICOM today has multiple vaccine choices, including the American, European, Chinese, Cuban and Russian brands.
Electing to play Snakes and Ladders and not Chinese Checkers, the Caribbean nations are rolling their dices in search of an elusive vaccine.
WHO’s Covax distribution arrangement, using Oxford-AstraZeneca, has already started landing in the Caribbean, over 100,000 doses received in Barbados last week.
Saint Lucia registers the most COVID cases per capita in CARICOM, over 40% of the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) and the highest number of COVID-19 deaths (22 on February 12).
With a total of 2,415 cases on February 13, predictions are that at current rates, the island could register 5,000 cases by month-end — unless Community Spread is reduced, halted and reversed by then.
Watching Saint Lucia in shock and awe, other CARICOM nations are ramping-up ongoing efforts to secure vaccines from multiple sources.
Guyana received a donation of Sinovac and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines last week also registered Russia’s Sputnik.
Guyana’s embrace of Sinovac can open-up new Silk Roads for the China vaccine in the Caribbean that the Belt and Road project couldn’t.
One year after the virus was discovered in Wuhan, WHO scientists are back in the Chinese city trying to detect its true original source, a process that can take years.
But while the rest of the world is still counting COVID-19 economic losses in 2020, China has quickly returned to posting positive growth rates – and continues making Sinovac available to developing countries unable to afford and most in need.
Sinovac is already in use in Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Indonesia, Turkey and five other countries, while Sputnik is in 26 nations, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The scientists are warning, however, that the world will remain at risk of continuing COVID pandemic spread for as long as the planet’s majority, living in developing and poor countries, remain under-vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Spring Festival 2021 travel in China was expected to be significantly reduced this year, but all signs are that COVID-19 has not slowed-down the world’s longest and fastest flow of humans.
Even with the stiffer protocols, it was estimated (on January 28) that 1.7 billion trips will be made during this year’s Spring Festival — 40% lower than 2019, but 10% higher than 2020, according to China’s Transport Ministry.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of St Lucia Times.