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16 December, 2020 COVID-19 Information and Updates

COVID-19 Update: December 16, 2020

COVID-19 Update: December 16, 2020

Countries around the world are preparing for the largest vaccination introduction in history.

The first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 was the UK and, on December 10, the US authorized it for emergency-use. The first inoculations in both countries began shortly after.
There are more than 80 known agreements between drug makers and countries to deliver the first batches of vaccines, as soon as the corresponding approvals are granted. A total of five different vaccines are currently available in six countries at least.
Despite the approval of COVID-19 vaccines, the pandemic is far from over: Global COVID-19 cases surpassed 70.4 million. In the Americas, there are more than 30 million cases, over 21 million in Europe, more than 11 million cases in South-East Asia, and over 1.6 million in Africa. The worst hit countries are the US, India and Brazil. The upcoming holidays are expected to include lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions in most regions.


The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom remarked at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly that despite COVID-19 is a global health crisis, it has implications in every area of the UN work. Not all countries have responded equally to the pandemic, and have not been affected equally either. Many nations succeeded in preventing or containing widespread transmission of COVID-19 with proven public health tools.
Dr. Adhanom highlighted four key areas in which the leadership of nations is vital to end the pandemic and build the post-pandemic world: 1) invest in vaccines to end the pandemic; 2) invest in preparedness to prevent the next pandemic; 3) invest in health as the foundation of peace and prosperity; and 4) invest in multilateralism to safeguard our common future.


According to a recent report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the least developed countries (LDCs) will experience their worst economic performance in 30 years in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. LDCs are collectively the world’s most vulnerable economies, with weak levels of resilience. In addition to this, they have the least financial and institutional means to react to external shocks such as the ongoing pandemic. Some of the consequences are falling income levels, widespread employment losses and widening fiscal deficits.
Rebuilding these economies post-COVID will be especially difficult if their production capacities are not improved. Structural barriers include widespread poverty, overdependence on imports of critical goods and services, and overly concentrated export markets. The UNCTAD calls the international community to support these vulnerable economies with an action plan for the development of productive capacities.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) held the conference “COVID-19 Pandemic in Developing Countries”, which highlighted that the economic outlook significantly worsened in some emerging markets and low-income countries with a rapid rise of new infections. These economies may incur to a greater output loss over 2020-2021, compared to the pre-pandemic projections when compared to advanced economies.
According to the IMF, some measures to contain the spread of the virus have led to sharp declines in economic activity across the globe, particularly in the second quarter of 2020. The IMF “Economic Prospects and Policy Challenges for the GCC Countries” notes that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries face a double impact: from the COVID-19 pandemic and from lower oil prices. GCC authorities have implemented several measures to mitigate the economic damage, including fiscal packages, relaxation of monetary and macroprudential rules, and the injection of liquidity into the banking system. Low oil prices have caused a sharp deterioration of external and fiscal balances, and fiscal strains are evident in countries with higher debt levels.


The World Trade Organization (WTO) received a petition asking for universally accessible and affordable COVID-19 vaccines. Over 900,000 individuals from around the world have signed the petition, which asks all governments, WTO members and pharmaceutical companies to “ensure access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment for everyone in the world”.
A recent speech by WTO Deputy Director-General, Yonov Frederick Agah, highlights that trade is expected to play a key role to help Africa mitigate the impact of the pandemic and to improve living standards. According to Agah, the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) could set the continent on a path for renewed growth. The AfCFTA has great potential in boosting intra-African trade, making it easier for businesses across the continent to integrate into global supply chains.
A recent WTO report titled “Annual overview of trade-related developments” indicates a decline in trade restrictions by WTO members. The report reflects the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on trade and trade policy more in depth than the previous report issued in July 2020, which captured the early effects of the pandemic. Although world trade was slowing before the COVID-19 outbreak, merchandise exports in nominal USD terms were down 21% in the second quarter, compared to 2019. The report also provides information about several trade-facilitating and support measures introduced by WTO economies in response to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. 


According to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), gross domestic product (GDP) in OECD countries rebounded by 9% in the third quarter of 2020. However, it remains 4.3% below the pre-pandemic high. Among the major seven economies, the rebound was more strong in those economies that also suffered the sharpest GDP falls in the second quarter, such as France, which GDP rebounded over 18%, Italy which saw a 16.1% increase, and the UK with a 15.5% rebound.
The OECD issued its “Economic Outlook, December 2020”, which highlights that faster vaccine development together with better cooperation for its distribution would boost confidence and lower uncertainty. The vaccination campaigns, other health policies and government financial support are expected to lift global GDP by 4.2% in 2021 after a fall of 4.2% in 2020. However, possible delays in the vaccination development, together with the high probability of new COVID-19 outbreaks would weaken the previsions. The recovery is likely to be gradual. OECD’s recommendations to governments are: strengthening public health policies, and support people and businesses.

INC Executive Committee Take on the Industry and COVID-19

On December 10, 2020, the Executive Committee of the INC International Nut and Dried Fruit Council virtually convened to discuss, exchange views, and look forward to 2021. One section of this meeting was to highlight the state of the industry globally, as well as give a brief glance into what this winter and next year might bring.
The meeting examined the current state of the industry with inputs from all of the committee members, representing nearly every region of the world. The overarching theme and takeaway was that the nut and dried fruit sector has been able to withstand the global health crisis. While food service consumption dropped significantly over the course of the year, the retail and in-home consumption was able to offset the decrease. Taking all of that into account, the consumption was overall positive. On the other hand, the committee agreed that COVID-19 had dragged down the logistical side of the industry, but as the pandemic is brought under control with vaccines and other public health measures, ideally there would be a return normality with respect to logistics.
Looking into the coming months and years, the committee expressed optimism for even stronger consumption numbers for 2021. In general, with extremely strong production and supply figures, the prices for nuts and dried fruits are historically low. While this price has not been reflected yet on the shelves of retail stores, at some point in 2021, they will adjust. Once they come into equilibrium, these lower prices should give way to increases in consumption across all of the products under the INC umbrella.
By the end of the discussion, the key highlights from the discussion were clear; the nut and dried fruit industry held up strong during 2020 with retail consumption balancing out the decrease within the food service sector and, as 2021 approaches, low prices give reason for belief that consumption will be strong this coming year.


Australia’s Victoria eased COVID-19 restrictions on December 6. The de-escalation includes public gatherings of up to 100 people, with density rules of one person per two square meters, and 50% of office workers will be allowed to return to workplaces by January 11, 2021, among other measures. However, face masks remain mandatory at indoor venues and public transport.
Regarding international travel, Australia has extended the restrictions on overseas travel until March 2021, extending the emergency period by three months. The emergency period rules include limiting cruise ship’s movement and outbound international travel. 


Brazil registered the highest COVID-19 death toll in almost a month. Quarantine orders were previously relaxed, which led to crowded bars and restaurants in certain cities. Experts worry that with the upcoming holiday season, the number of new cases is likely to increase due to greater social movement.


China is expected to have 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines ready for market by the end of 2020. Three inactivated vaccines are in the final stage of clinical trials. Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan told Chinese vaccine makers to get ready for mass production. In addition to this, Chunland said that the vaccination of high-risk groups should be finalized before the end of the year.
Hong Kong’s financial chief has warned that the city should be on COVID-19 alert during 2021, if vaccines are unable to eradicate all infections. 


The European Council recently approved a set of conclusions on debt relief efforts for African countries. The conclusions highlight the increasing debt vulnerability in low income countries, especially in Africa, and recognize further debt relief for countries with unsustainable debt levels. In addition to this, the Council welcomed the G20 Paris Club Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which offers a temporary debt moratorium to the poorest countries to help them manage the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council welcomed the extension of the DSSI until 30 June 2021 with the possibility of a further extension of six months.
On December 3, 2020, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel proposed an international treaty on pandemics within the framework of the WHO. In case of future pandemics, an international treaty, anchored in collective mobilization and solidarity, would enable the international community to better anticipate, prepare for and manage epidemics. The success of this collective action has been demonstrated in developing safe and effective vaccines in record time. The areas such a treaty could address are: 1) risk monitoring, 2) better financing and coordination of research, 3) a more efficient system of alerts and information sharing, 4) improving access to healthcare, 5) resilience: strengthening healthcare systems and securing supply chains.
On December 7, the European Council greenlighted a temporary VAT relief on COVID-19 vaccines and test kits, in order to ensure affordable access. Member States will allow a temporary VAT exemption of the aforementioned products, as well as closely related services until December 31, 2022.
The conclusions of the European Council meeting of December 10-11 highlighted that the arrival of vaccines does not mean the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is a positive step towards this goal. The Council commits to strengthening coordination, especially for the gradual lifting of restrictions when the public health situation improves. Vaccination should be treated as a public good, and the Council stresses the importance of preparations for a timely distribution. In addition to this, increased resilience in the area of health is needed, including the proposals for a Health Union.
The European Council presidency reached a political agreement with the European Parliament in order to adopt its next multiannual framework program for research and innovation. Horizon Europe is set to help overcome major global challenges, such as COVID-19 and climate change. The program for the period 2021-2027 contains the following main elements: 1) budgetary issues, which include additional funds; 2) synergies with other EU programs; and 3) international cooperation and association of third countries. 


From December 18, Belgium is expected to reimpose compulsory 10-day quarantines for international travelers from COVID-19 high-risk countries. A large number of European countries remain in COVID-19 high-risk zones, which means that most EU travelers will be required to self-isolate or get tested upon arrival. Belgium authorities have obliged travelers during the recent months to follow quarantine rules to prevent the further spread of the disease. 


France planned to lift stay-at-home orders on December 15, after performing massive testing. A daily curfew from 8:00 pm until 06:00 am is applicable until mid-December. However, the curfew will not be lifted for New Year’s Eve celebrations to prevent massive gatherings of people. The Government conditioned the easing of restrictions on a decrease of new cases. The opening of cultural venues has also been delayed until the end of the year. 


The Government agreed to implement a stricter lockdown starting on December 16, forcing all non-essential businesses to close until January 10, 2021. Previously, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for tougher COVID-19 restrictions, especially as the holiday season approached. The call included an extended holiday school break, the closure of non-essential businesses, and a strong recommendation on working from home.
In addition to this, certain regions like Bavaria are planning to impose curfews in some hotspots, due to an increase in COVID-19 infections. The southern state of Baden-Württemberg has imposed a curfew from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am, as well as strict movement limits during the day. 


In order to avoid further spread of the COVID-19 disease, Greece imposed mandatory 10-day quarantines to international travelers upon arrival. Students returning home and business travelers will also be required to self-isolate. In addition to this, Greece lockdown measures will be extended until January 7, 2021, with schools, sports venues, courts, bars, restaurants and other venues closed until then. 


Italy became Europe’s first COVID-19 hotspot in spring, and was the first EU country that imposed lockdown measures. Consequently, the number of new infections decreased in summer. However, during the first half of December, the country reported a record-high number of daily deaths. At this moment, Italy is the second highest COVID-19 hotspot in the EU, after France, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The country is set to adopt tighter restrictions over the end of the year holiday season, in order to prevent a third wave of infections. These restrictions include banning travel between regions from December 21 to January 6, 2021. The limitations also include a ban on leaving one’s home town on December 25 and 26, and on January 1, 2021. The country still applies curfew measures, from 10:00 pm until 5:00 am (extended to 7 am on New Year’s Day).

The Netherlands

As of December 15, travelers who are exempt from the EU travel ban, and who are not from countries on the EU list of low-risk regions, are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result, and a signed declaration in order to enter the Netherlands. These requirements do not apply to EU or Schengen countries nationals, including the Netherlands, but it does apply to nationals of Indonesia. 


During the first half of December, COVID-19 incidence rate in Spain was in a downward phase. The 14-day cumulative number per 100,000 inhabitants was 189 on December 10. However, the number is far from the authorities’ goal of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and there are concerns regarding the holiday season, which could lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus, the Government has asked citizens to stay at home during the upcoming holiday season. Inter regional travel may be allowed between December 23 and January 6 only in some areas. On December 24, 25 and 31, and on January 1, 2021, social gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed, instead of the current 6 people limitation.

United Kingdom

After the UK’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, the country began its biggest vaccination program. People over 80 are the first ones to get vaccinated in the following days.


According to a recent USDA GAIN report, India’s trade volumes have not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the overall trade volumes fell 12% from April to October, compared to the same period last year. From March to October, container freight rates increased nearly 70% due to trade disruptions and shortage of containers. However, in October trade volumes increased a 5% compared to September. In Mumbai, the average port dwell time for import containers has improved to 19 hours. Tuticorin port prepared for Cyclone Burevi, to avoid possible damage as well as disruptions in port operations. In Chennai, after the Cyclone Nivar, port operations are back to normality. Cochin port reported slow truck movements.
Food inflation in New Delhi surpassed 11% in October, a six-year high, because of excess rains that damaged crops, in addition to higher cost edible oil imports. In Chennai, Koyambedu market opened its retail and semi-wholesale shops after being closed for seven months. However, the market is only operating at 27% capacity, as many workers remain in their home villages. In Bengaluru, vegetable prices declined reflecting the fact that both transportation and production conditions are returning to normal after lengthy COVID-19 restrictions.
According to another GAIN report, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the consumption of almonds and walnuts in India, due to their nutritional benefits which are being used to tackle the pandemic. These consumer behavior changes are expected to last even after the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
India hopes to receive up to 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by July 2021. However, the vaccination of over 1.3 billion people in the country in a short period of time may entail distribution problems. 


On December 10, Japan hit a record of COVID-19 infections. The increase of new cases has been registered in free of clusters’ areas, and after the closure of restaurants and other establishments from 10:00 pm became mandatory. Large cities in the island of Hokkaido and urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka have seen rising coronavirus cases since November. 

South Korea

South Korea, like many Asian countries, performed well during the pandemic. However, unlike many countries, such good performance did not entail lockdown measures, which were rejected early as they were considered too costly to people and businesses. Furthermore, in September the OECD projected that the Korean economy will contract by only 1% in 2020, compared with an average decline of 4.1% in G-20 countries. Unemployment is about 4%, higher than before the pandemic but far below the levels of other major economies. 

United States

The US approved the COVID-19 vaccine on December 10. Thousands of doses arrived at 50 states and inoculations began shortly after. The US plans to distribute 40 million vaccine doses by the end of the year, and 50 to 80 million in the beginning of 2021. However, experts warn that during the winter holidays the pandemic is likely to worsen before the majority of the population receives the vaccine.
Following the Thanksgiving holiday, the US hit a record 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases, adding more than one million new cases in the first five days of December. For this reason, hospitals are overwhelmed. Healthy, non-elderly Americans with no known underlying health conditions will likely start getting vaccinated in late March to early April. The first people to be vaccinated by the end of December, would be health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Recently, New York City’s number of COVID-19 cases hit the highest levels since May. In addition to this, certain areas of California announced new confinement measures, which affect tens of million people.
US president-elect Joe Biden announced he would ask citizens to commit to wearing face masks for 100 days, in order to curb down the surge of new COVID-19 cases. Furthermore, face coverings would be mandatory in federal buildings and public transportation.
The information above is a review of actions the INC has compiled from government sources, international organizations and press media. This news article is not intended to be exhaustive and it does not reflect the opinions of the INC. While the publishers believe that all information contained in this publication was correct at the time of publishing, they can accept no liability for any inaccuracies that may appear or loss suffered directly or indirectly by any reader as a result of any advertisement, editorial, photographs or other materials published in this news article.
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