Coronavirus: Feds urged to spend $1.5B more to battle COVID-19 around the world – National

Canada is expected to send hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding towards an international effort to develop and fairly distribute an eventual COVID-19 vaccine when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joins a global fundraising effort today.

Trudeau is taking part this morning in another virtual international fundraiser, this one sponsored by the organization, Global Citizen, that is trying to raise $42.8 billion.

The money is to support organizations, health professionals and business in their efforts to develop a vaccine, as well as drug therapies and diagnostic tools to battle the pandemic.

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Canada has already promised $850 million in a previous fundraiser that had a target of $11 billion.

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Canadian aid agencies and advocacy groups say that whatever the government pledges, it will only be fraction of what is eventually needed to fight the pandemic and to ensure that when a vaccine is developed it reaches poor countries that don’t have the ability to pay for it.

Global Citizen bills itself as the world’s largest anti-poverty advocacy group, and it is organizing Saturday’s pledging conference as well a star-studded evening concert that is to be livestreamed across the world.

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The event is trying to fund a new initiative called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was created in April by the World Health Organization, the French government, the European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Julia Anderson, the chief operating officer of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, said the ACT is the “robust mechanism” the world needs to co-ordinate the fight against the pandemic while supporting the existing health systems of vulnerable countries.

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“It’s shaping up to be hopefully the one-stop shop,” Anderson said, adding that the ACT is very much a work in progress. “The plane is being built as it is being flown.”

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Anderson said whatever Trudeau announces today should only be seen as a “deposit” on future spending. Her group and two anti-poverty organizations — the One Campaign and Results Canada — say Canada should be devoting one per cent of its overall COVID-19 spending programs to international assistance.

They say that would require a boost of at least $1.5 billion to Canada’s foreign-aid budget, which stands at about $5 billion.

Chris Dendys, the executive director of Results Canada, said she expected Trudeau to announce a “meaningful investment” but that more will be needed.

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“We’ve been calling for Canada to commit at least one per cent of what we’ve spent on COVID within our borders, on the global response,” she said.

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Nicolas Moyer, the executive director of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said his organization will be making a formal submission over the summer to the government to increase aid spending in the next federal budget. The CCIC, an umbrella group for aid organizations, has not yet formulated how much that increase should be, but Moyer agreed that the one per cent target suggested by the two advocacy groups was appropriate.

“Canada’s response to the pandemic has been significant at home and it needs to be matched with global ambition,” said Moyer.

The aid agencies and anti-poverty groups are crediting International Development Minister Karina Gould for being one of the strongest advocates they have seen for their sector around the federal cabinet table.

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“We are happy to see Minister Gould pushing for more investment because more is desperately needed,” said Stuart Hickox, the Canadian director of the One Campaign.

“There is an immediate two-part need for investment to address the humanitarian crisis and make sure tests, treatments and eventually a vaccine are available everywhere.”

In past interviews, Gould has repeatedly stressed that Canadians’ safety is linked to the success of stamping out COVID-19 abroad.

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“The needs around the world are staggering and our investments are crucial to protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the poorest and most vulnerable around the globe. Our global response is part of our domestic response: we will not be safe from COVID-19 in Canada until everyone, everywhere is,” Gould said in an emailed statement to The Canadian Press on Friday.

Gould has also stressed that there can be no rolling back of existing spending, or else there could be new flare-ups of preventable diseases such as tuberculosis, polio and malaria.

“What keeps me up at night is not just the immediate needs of the pandemic, but the collateral damage if we turn our attention away from our core activities,” Gould said Friday.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Global flower industry suffers $1.5b loss, but Australian industry may bloom as a result

Countries around the world are suffering as pandemic restrictions affect the trade of flowers, causing leading export countries like Kenya to lose millions of dollars while tonnes of flowers wilt and rot.

But the drop in international flower trade may offer a windfall for Australian farmers.

Almost half of the flowers sold in Australia are brought in from Kenya, Ecuador, Colombia, Vietnam, Malaysia and China.

According to Flowers Victoria chairman Michael van der Zwet, Australia imports $75 million worth of flowers each year.

He said imports had “squashed a lot of local growers in Australia”, forcing many to leave the industry.

But COVID-19 restrictions — and the halt of passenger jets carrying floral produce — had seen “a scarcity of [overseas] flowers” down under, he said.

A worker at Nini and Lamorna farms in Kenya throwing roses on a waste pile amid the coronavirus pandemic.(Supplied: Fiona Coulson)

Mr van der Zwet said this had led to “a resurgence in Australia’s flower industry”, as florists and wholesalers turned to local farmers to fill the gap left by a lack of imports.

So, while trade restrictions are good news for Australian flower farmers, it’s bad news for major flower exporting countries that rely heavily on the global floriculture industry.

Export freeze puts livelihoods at risk

Rabobank fresh produce analyst Lambert van Horen said “millions of flower stems” had “gone to waste” during the pandemic.

Workers grading flowers in a hall.
Many flower farm workers in Kenya lost their jobs when coronavirus restrictions came into force.(Supplied: Fiona Coulson)

“In the Netherlands alone, we estimate the damage of the cut flower business is approximately 400–500 million euros [$660 million to $825 million] … in Kenya and Ethiopia it will be 200–300 million euros,” he said.

“At first, the sale of roses dropped by 80 per cent and a lot of workers on the flower farms were sacked because there wasn’t any work anymore.”

The Kenya Flower Council said in a tweet in March that the flower sector “employs 150,000 people directly and one million in affiliated industries”.


Since March, some trade and air travel has resumed but the situation remains dire for Kenyan growers who supply flowers to European and Australia auction houses and wholesalers.

Fiona Coulson, the co-owner of Nini and Lamorna farms in Naivasha, Kenya, said the first six weeks of coronavirus lockdown measures in Europe had greatly impacted upon her business, causing six million stems of roses to go to waste so far.

“Our income was cut in half … in April we had to put people on 14 days’ unpaid leave,” Ms Coulson said.

Nini and Lamorna farms employ 1,200 people alone — many of whom are poor and reliant on employment in the country’s floriculture industry to feed their families.

Three women dressed in yellow work suits holding roses.
Workers at Nini and Lamorna rose farms were able to resume work after having to take unpaid leave due to the pandemic.(Supplied: Fiona Coulson)

Employees at Nini and Lamorna farms were some of the ‘lucky ones’ who could resume work in May.

But many others were still left struggling, as increased air freight costs made it unviable for farmers to ship flowers to overseas wholesalers.

Business blooms for Australian farmers

While major overseas exporters were struggling to sell their flowers, the tide was changing for flower growers in Australia.

General manager of Brisbane’s Redlands Farms, Jatinder Nijjar, said Queensland’s flower industry had shrunk from 200 growers to just 10 because of cheap overseas imports.

“But now, because of this pandemic, and the change in supply and demand, Australians are going direct to local growers again,” he said.

A huge bunch of red, yellow, cream, pink, and orange roses
Wholesalers and florists in Australia have seen a shortage of roses amid the pandemic.(ABC Rural: Marty McCarthy)

“I am going to be putting in more roses to meet the demand over the next six months and I am looking to plant around 15,000 [rose bushes].

“People are wanting more and more local product. People are loving local product and they’re wanting to support their local grower,” he said.

Florists struggle to fill orders

The shortage of overseas imports has come at a time when more Australians are buying flowers for loved ones during uncertain and stressful times.

General manager of Tony’s Wholesale Flowers Michael Vallelonga said the demand had been unprecedented.

Flower farmer stands in a crop of lilies, with a bunch of flowers in his hands.
Farmer and wholesaler Michael Vallelonga and his brother Daniel (pictured) have never experienced such a spike in demand for their flowers.(Supplied: Michael Vallelonga)

“That just shows how desperate things are … if florist shops don’t have enough stock it means they’re not going to have enough revenue.”

One of Mr Vallelonga’s customers, Wendy Day of Renmark Flower House, said the past few weeks had been the busiest time of her life.

“[Some days] I can’t take any more orders because that’s all the stock I must work with. I’m basically selling out most days,” she said.

Uncertain future for flower industry

With trade disruptions turning global demand and supply chains upside down, the future of the floriculture industry is on uneven footing.

Wendy Day standing behind bunches of flowers.
Florist and owner of Renmark Flower House Wendy Day says she can’t keep up with demand for flowers.(ABC Rural: Jessica Schremmer)

Mr van Horen said the effects of a global recession had caused significant uncertainty about the demand for flowers.

“Of course, flowers and plants are typically a luxury product and if people get unemployed, for example, will they still give the same amount of money for the bunch of flowers, bouquets and plants?”

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