WHO’s Tedros warns against over-reaction to Omicron

GENEVA, Nov 30 (Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) voiced concern on Tuesday that some countries were introducing blanket measures against the Omicron coronavirus variant that may not be necessary and penalised African nations unfairly.

“I well understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant that we don’t yet fully understand,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“But I am equally concerned that several Member States are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities.”

First reported in southern Africa a week ago, the variant has brought global alarm, led to travel bans, and highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world

In remarks to a closed-door meeting posted on its website, the WHO’s Ethiopian head urged the 194 member states to stick to “rational, proportional” measures.

There were still more questions than answers, Tedros said, about Omicron’s severity and the effectiveness of vaccines.

No Omicron-linked deaths have yet been reported though the WHO has said it poses a high risk of infection surges. read more

“Once again, I thank Botswana and South Africa for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant so rapidly,” added Tedros. “It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing.”

‘KNEE-JERK REACTION’

Mid-way through a three-day WHO meeting of health ministers, Namibia’s delegation on Tuesday expressed disappointment towards those states imposing travel bans on southern Africa.

This travel ban is a knee-jerk reaction grounded in politics, not in science or guidance from the WHO Constitution,” it said. “We therefore ask why is it that other states that (detected) the variant in persons who have no travel history to southern Africa are exempted from this travel ban?”

Tanzania called for an immediate lifting of the travel curbs, which are hurting tourism in the region, while Canada voiced gratitude for regional transparency.

“Transparent international collaboration, as demonstrated by the leadership of South Africa and the South African scientists who swiftly and openly shared information on this new variant, is what is needed now more than ever,” said Leslie Norton, Canada’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva.

“Through your actions you bought the world time.”

Jobs of future’ in focus as Biden visits Minnesota technical college

WASHINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden, racing to stay ahead of a new COVID-19 variant and rising inflation, travels to Minnesota on Tuesday to highlight the benefits of his $1-trillion infrastructure law and push for passage of a separate $1.75-trillion spending measure.

Biden will visit Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, a suburb near Minneapolis and St. Paul, which has programs to train workers to build, operate, and maintain infrastructure supported by the infrastructure law.null

He will focus on how the law will “deliver concrete results for communities, create good-paying union jobs, and position America to compete and win the 21st century,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.

She said Dakota County Tech, which serves 2,900 credit students and 10,000 non-credit students, offered an example of institutions nationwide that will train the next generation of workers and rebuild America’s infrastructure.null

The infrastructure law, coupled with $24 billion

The infrastructure law, coupled with $24 billion in investments in the $1.75-trillion “Build Back Better” spending measure, will prepare millions of workers for high-quality jobs in growing economic sectors, the White House said.

Biden had pushed to include two years of free community college in the massive spending package, but that funding was cut in a compromise with moderate Democrats concerned about the bill’s steep price tag.null

It still includes $5 billion for community colleges to expand workforce training programs in partnership with employers, unions, public systems and community bodies, with $5 billion for large-scale training for jobs in high-demand sectors such as clean energy, manufacturing, education and caregiving.

Under the infrastructure law, Minnesota will receive $4.5 billion in federal aid to rebuild highways, about $302 million for bridges, and $818 million to improve public infrastructure, the White House said.null

It will also fund expansion of a network to charge electric vehicles and measures to give state residents access to high-speed internet.

Pakistan expects $3 billion reserves deposit from Saudi in days

Reza Baqir, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), gestures during a news conference at the head office in Karachi, Pakistan January 22, 2021. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

ISLAMABAD, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will deposit $3 billion in Pakistan’s foreign reserves in a week or so for one year at 4% interest under a support package signed on Monday, Pakistan’s finance ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

The South Asian nation has faced growing economic challenges with sliding foreign reserves, a widening current account deficit, a depreciating currency and high inflation.

Pakistan’s total liquid foreign reserves stand at $22.77 billion, according to the central bank.

The Saudi support package that included a $1.2 billion oil loan facility was agreed during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Riyadh last month.

Asked when the Saudi deposit would land in Pakistan’s foreign reserves, Finance Ministry spokesman Muzammil Aslam told Reuters: “Hopefully this week or early next week.”

He said it was a “one year demand deposit” with 4% interest.

Chief Executive Officer Sultan Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Marshad of the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) and Pakistan’s State Bank Governor Reza Baqir signed the agreement in Karachi on Monday, the central bank said in statement.

“Under this deposit agreement, SFD shall place a deposit of USD 3 billion with SBP. The deposit amount under the agreement shall become part of SBP’s Foreign Exchange Reserves,” it said.

The Saudi facility has come a week after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed with Pakistan on measures needed to revive a stalled $6 billion funding programme. 

The completion of the review, pending since earlier this year, would make available 750 million in IMF special drawing rights, or around $1 billion, bringing total disbursements so far to about $3 billion, the statement said.

The central bank has raised its benchmark interest rate by 150 basis points to 8.75% to counter inflationary pressures and preserve stability with growth.

Headline inflation had reached 9.2% in October, up from 8.4% two months earlier, and the Pakistani rupee that closed at 175.72 at inter-bank against a dollar has depreciated over 11% since the start of this year.