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Coronavirus Update: U.S. risks prolonging pandemic if it doesn’t back WTO push to get vaccines and treatments to lower-income countries, lawmakers warn

The U.S. is at risk of prolonging the COVID pandemic if it fails to back an initiative that aims to get vaccines, diagnostics and treatments to lower-income countries, a congressional group has told President Joe Biden.

In a letter to Biden from the group led by Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, the group urged him to back the World Trade Organization’s agreement in June to ease exports of lifesaving therapies.

With more than 600 million shots in arms, 21,500 free testing sites, the ability to order at-home tests for free, and more treatments available now than at any point in the pandemic, the outlook in the United States is better than ever. Unfortunately, however, the prospect for many low-income countries is not so positive — putting the United States’ own success in jeopardy,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was sent ahead of a meeting of the WTO council for trade-related aspects of IP rights that is due to kick off Thursday.

The group noted that lower-income countries are facing a higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death as only a small percentage of their populations are vaccinated. Just 19% of people in those countries are vaccinated, compared with about 75% in high-income countries, according to the Multilateral Leaders Taskforce on COVID-19, a joint initiative of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the WTO.

U.S. known cases of COVID are continuing to ease and now stand at their lowest level since late April, although the true tally is likely higher given how many people are testing at home, where the data are not being collected.

The daily average for new cases stood at 43,149 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, down 23% from two weeks ago. Cases are rising in most northeastern states by 10% of more, while cases in the western states Montana, Washington and Oregon are rising.

The daily average for hospitalizations was down 11% at 27,184, while the daily average for deaths is down 8% to 391. 

The new bivalent vaccine might be the first step in developing annual Covid shots, which could follow a similar process to the one used to update flu vaccines every year. Here’s what that process looks like, and why applying it to Covid could be challenging. Illustration: Ryan Trefes

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• China’s huge Xinjiang region has been hit with sweeping COVID travel restrictions ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this month, the Associated Press reported. Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended, and passenger numbers on flights have been reduced to 75% of capacity in recent days, according to Chinese media reports. The region is home to minorities who have been forced into prison-like re-education centers to force them to renounce their religion, typically Islam, and allegedly subjected to human-rights abuses.

• Five current or former Internal Revenue Service workers have been charged with fraud for illegally getting money from federal COVID-19 relief programs and using a total of $1 million for luxury items and personal trips, prosecutors said, the AP reported. The U.S. attorney’s office in Memphis said Tuesday that the five have been charged with wire fraud after they filed fake applications for the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, which were part of a federal stimulus package tied to the pandemic response in 2020.

• Peloton Interactive Inc. PTON, +5.51% said it plans to cut about 500 jobs, roughly 12% of its remaining workforce, in the company’s fourth round of layoffs this year as the connected fitness-equipment maker tries to reverse mounting losses, the Wall Street Journal reported. After enjoying a strong run early on in the pandemic, Peloton has struggled since the start of the U.S. recovery, and CEO Barry McCarthy, who took over in February, said he is giving the unprofitable company another six months or so to significantly turn itself around and, if it fails, Peloton likely isn’t viable as a stand-alone company.

Don’t missPeloton CEO says ‘naysayers’ are looking at the company’s $1.2 billion quarterly loss all wrong.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 619.9 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.55 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 96.6 million cases and 1,061,490 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 225.3 million people living in the U.S., equal to 67.9% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots. Just 109.9 million have had a booster, equal to 48.8% of the vaccinated population, and 23.9 million of those who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 36.6% of those who received a first booster.

Some 7.6 million people have had a shot of one of the new bivalent boosters that target the new omicron subvariants that have become dominant around the world.

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