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U.S. to discuss wider distribution, India calls to waive patent protections

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Ground staff unload coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief supplies from the United States at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi, India April 30, 2021.

Prakash Singh | Reuters

WASHINGTON – White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said Sunday that the Biden administration is looking to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to India and other countries now that millions of Americans have received their doses.

In recent weeks, India has grappled with a staggering rise in new coronavirus infections. Over the weekend, India reported 400,000 daily cases, bringing the nation’s cumulative total to 19,557,457 cases, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins. The spike may have been triggered by a highly contagious Covid variant, known as B.1.617, which was first identified in the country.

The variant has since been identified in other countries, including the United States.

On Friday, the White House announced that it would restrict travel from India as the country works to counter its surge of Covid-19 infections.

“We are rushing aid to India,” Klain said during an interview on CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Klain said that the U.S. has sent therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and protective equipment to the world’s largest democracy as well as raw materials crucial for vaccine production.

“Our U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is going to the WTO next week to start talks on how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared,” he said when asked if the Biden administration would relax patent protections on the coronavirus vaccine.

Klain added that he expected the White House to have more to say on the matter in the coming days.

Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed lifting the patent protections of the coronavirus vaccine with Biden, according to a readout of the call. The relaxation would grant governments quicker and more affordable access to the lifesaving doses.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that it will immediately make raw materials needed for India’s coronavirus vaccine production available. The U.S. response came after Britain, France and Germany pledged aid to India, the world’s largest democracy. Rich nations have come under fire in recent days for hoarding the raw materials needed to make the shots.

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U.S. and China could cooperate to end crisis in Myanmar

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Protesters demonstrate against the military coup in Yangon, and demanded the release of detained State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi.

Theint Mon Soe | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

U.S.-China relations may be off to a rough start under President Joe Biden, but the two countries could find common ground to work together to end the violence in Myanmar.

Scot Marciel, former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, said both the U.S. and China wouldn’t want to see escalating crisis in the Southeast Asian country.

A military coup on Feb. 1 triggered mass protests across Myanmar and security forces have tried to suppress the demonstrations through violent tactics. The crackdown has killed 780 people so far, while over 3,800 people are still detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group.

“My sense would be that this coup and certainly the turmoil and violence in Myanmar, I don’t see how it’s in China’s interest … my sense is China wants stability, for a whole host of reasons, so my guess is they’re not thrilled with this, but they’re being cautious,” Marciel said Friday, during a webinar organized by Australian think tank Lowy Institute.  

“So, there may be some shared interests between United States and China in this, in certainly ending the violence and the instability,” said Marciel, who was U.S. ambassador to Myanmar from 2016 to 2020.

The U.S. and other Western powers have strongly condemned the coup and imposed sanctions to pressure the military. Meanwhile, China’s response has been more muted with Beijing emphasizing the importance of stability.

China is a major investor in Myanmar and shares a border with the Southeast Asian country. Some analysts have said that China’s relatively subdued response could hurt its own interests.

Crisis not likely to resolve soon

“ASEAN just hopes that whatever plan we’re going to have on the ground in Myanmar, that the U.S. and China can also help to contribute to that plan, for example humanitarian assistance,” said Sukma, who is a former Indonesian diplomat.

Sukma said he’s “quite frustrated” that ASEAN has yet to appoint the special envoy to Myanmar two weeks after the statement. He said the regional grouping should “press ahead” with its plan so that it can start talking with the different parties with Myanmar.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” Monday that it is up to the Myanmar military to decide how and when ASEAN can play a role.

Balakrishnan reiterated that the military must stop the violence and release political detainees — which include Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders. He said only then can “honest direct negotiations” between the army and civilian leaders proceed.

“Without this national conversation and reconciliation, you’re not going to see any progress in Myanmar. Indeed the signs of a potential civil war are there,” said the minister.

Marciel said he hopes the initiatives by the group can make “a little bit of headway” in Myanmar. But it’s currently difficult to see the crisis resolving any time soon, and that likely means more suffering among the people, he added.

“It’s really impossible to predict. I would say the most likely scenario over the next several months — which is as far as I can go — is sadly probably more of the same,” he said. “I don’t see the (military) giving in, I certainly don’t see the people accepting this coup.”

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Fauci says face masks could become seasonal after Covid pandemic

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases testifies at the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on the Capitol Hill in Washington, April 15, 2021.

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

WASHINGTON — White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that people may decide to wear masks during certain seasons when respiratory illnesses are more prevalent.

“I think people have gotten used to the fact that wearing masks, clearly if you look at the data it diminishes respiratory diseases, we’ve had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominately against Covid-19,” Fauci said during an interview on NBC Sunday program “Meet the Press.”

“So it is conceivable that as we go on a year or two or more from now that during certain seasonal periods when you have respiratory borne viruses like the flu, people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you’ll spread these respiratory borne diseases,” he added.

Fauci’s comments come less than a month after the Biden administration announced a relaxation of federal public health guidance on wearing masks outdoors.

Visitors walk past a sign requiring face masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during Memorial Day weekend at Bethany Beach, Delaware, May 24, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that fully vaccinated people can exercise and attend small gatherings outside without wearing a face mask. The agency still recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask outdoors when in crowded areas.

“We are at the point right now where we can and start lifting these ordinances and allowing people to resume normal activity. Certainly, outdoors, we should not be putting limits on gatherings anymore and we should be encouraging people to go outside,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS Sunday program “Face the Nation.”

Gottlieb added that indoor public health measures should also be relaxed in states where coronavirus infections are low and vaccination rates are high.

“Covid won’t disappear, we are going to have to learn to live with it but the risks have substantially reduced as a result of vaccination and as a result of immunity that people have acquired through prior infection,” Gottlieb said.

As of Saturday, more than 45% of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, including 33.9% who have been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. Pfizer has a manufacturing agreement with Gilead for remdesivir. Gottlieb also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean‘s “Healthy Sail Panel.”

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SpaceX accepts Dogecoin payment for DOGE-1 mission to the moon

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SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by U.S. President Donald Trump at NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center

Paul Hennessy | SOPA Images | Getty Images

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch the “DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon” in the first quarter of 2022, with the company accepting the meme-inspired cryptocurrency as full payment for the lunar payload.

Geometric Energy Corporation announced the dogecoin-funded mission on Sunday, which SpaceX’s communications team confirmed in an email to reporters. The mission’s financial value was not disclosed.

DOGE-1 will fly a 40 kilogram cube satellite as a payload on a Falcon 9 rocket, with Geometric Energy Corporation saying its payload “will obtain lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board with integrated communications and computational systems.”

SpaceX vice president of commercial sales Tom Ochinero said in a statement that DOGE-1 “will demonstrate the application of cryptocurrency beyond Earth orbit and set the foundation for interplanetary commerce.”

“We’re excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!” Ochinero said.

A Falcon 9 rocket launches the Transporter-1 mission in January 2021.

SpaceX

Musk previously announced the company’s plans, albeit in a tweet on April Fool’s Day.

“SpaceX is going to put a literal Dogecoin on the literal moon,” Musk wrote.

The DOGE-1 mission comes after Musk, the self-proclaimed “Dogefather,” made his debut as host of “Saturday Night Live.” The price of dogecoin plunged during his appearance, falling below 50 cents, despite his references to the cryptocurrency.

For SpaceX, the announcement also comes on the day the company set a new record for its Falcon 9 series of rockets. After launching another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit, SpaceX landed the Falcon 9 rocket’s booster for a 10th time — a benchmark Musk has previously described as key in the company’s progress of reusing its rockets.

“It’s designed to do 10 or more flights with no refurbishment between each flight,” Musk told reporters in May 2018.

“We believe that the [Falcon 9] boosters are capable of on the order of at least 100 flights before being retired. Maybe more.”

A Falcon 9 rocket booster lands after launching the Sentinel-6 mission.

SpaceX

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