Ecuador stops Wikileaks founder Assange’s pal from fleeing to Japan

Ecuadorean Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo delivers a press conference at Carondelet Palace in Quito on April 11, 2019. Ecuadorean police on Thursday arrested a Swedish software developer linked to Julian Assange hours after President Lenin Moreno's government withdrew the Ecuadoran citizenship granted to the WikiLeaks founder. (AFP / Cristina Vega)
Updated 12 April 2019

Ecuador stops Wikileaks founder Assange’s pal from fleeing to Japan

  • Ola Bini was arrested at Quito’s airport as he was preparing to board a flight for Japan
  • Aussie PM says the charge against Assange is a “matter for the United States” and has nothing to do with Australia

QUITO/LONDON: A senior Ecuadorian official says a Swedish software developer living in Quito and who is allegedly close to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested as authorities attempt to dismantle a blackmail ring that in recent days had threatened to retaliate against President Lenin Moreno.
The official said Ola Bini was arrested Thursday at Quito’s airport as he was preparing to board a flight for Japan.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity and didn’t provide any additional details about Bini.
On a blog, a Swedish man by the same name describes himself as a software developer working in Quito for the Center for Digital Autonomy, a group based in Ecuador and Spain focused on privacy, security and cryptography issues. It makes no mention of any affiliation with Wikileaks.
On Twitter earlier Thursday, Bini called claims by the Interior Minister that Russian hackers and someone close to Wikileaks were working inside Ecuador “very worrisome” news. “This seems like a witch hunt to me,” Bini wrote.
The arrest came after British police dragged Assange out of Ecuador’s embassy when his seven-year asylum was revoked.

Aussie PM says not intervening
Meanwhile, Australia’s prime minister has ruled out intervention in a potential US extradition of Australian citizen Julian Assange on a charge of computer intrusion conspiracy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australian Broadcasting Corp. the charge is a “matter for the United States” and has nothing to do with Australia.
Morrison says Assange is receiving standard consular assistance offered to Australians in trouble in other countries.
Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, on the other hand, criticized what he called a “double standard” by Western media and governments who he says have been quick to condemn Assange for publishing sensitive information about US national security interests.
Correa granted Assange asylum in 2012. In an interview with The Associated Press, he was harshly critical of his successor’s decision to expel the Wikileaks founder from Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Ecuador’s former president said that “although Julian Assange denounced war crimes, he’s only the person supplying the information.”
Correa said “It’s the New York Times, the Guardian and El Pais publishing it. Why aren’t those journalists and media owners thrown in jail?“
British police on Thursday hauled a bearded and shouting Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy where he was holed up for nearly seven years, and the US charged the WikiLeaks founder with conspiring to obtain government secrets.


UK, US COVID-19 vaccines show signs of immunity in patients

Updated 15 July 2020

UK, US COVID-19 vaccines show signs of immunity in patients

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci: ‘No matter how you slice this, this is good news’

LONDON: Two of the world’s most promising studies to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 have said subjects in their trials have shown early signs of immunity. 

The trials, run by teams at Oxford University in the UK and pharmaceutical company Moderna in the US, have both received significant government funding in their bids to develop their vaccines before the end of the year.

The Oxford vaccine, being manufactured by AstraZeneca, based in Cambridge, England, has already had millions of doses mass-produced in the event of the trials proving a success. The team behind it says it is “80 percent confident” of it being available by September. 

It works by injecting altered COVID-19 genetic material, attached to a similar but benign virus called an adenovirus, which causes common colds, into the body, in a process known as recombinant viral vector vaccination. 

The aim is to facilitate an immune system response by mimicking COVID-19 itself, and training antibodies to attack the spike proteins on the virus’s exterior that it uses to attach itself to human cells.

When faced with COVID-19, in theory the immune system should then act in the same fashion.

The Oxford vaccine is currently in its second, expanded trial stage, featuring 8,000 people in the UK and up to 6,000 people in Brazil and South Africa.

Though no official results have been formally published, subjects exposed to the vaccine in its early phase were found to have developed antibodies and a certain type of white blood cell, called T-cells, which help fight infection

“An important point to keep in mind is that there are two dimensions to the immune response: Antibodies and T-cells,” a source at Oxford told ITV News in the UK.

“Everybody is focused on antibodies, but there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the T-cells response is important in the defense against coronavirus.”

Prof. Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford team leader, earlier this month said the vaccine could provide protection for several years at a time.

She told UK MPs on the House of Commons’ science and technology select committee: “Vaccines have a different way of engaging with the immune system, and we follow people in our studies using the same type of technology to make the vaccines for several years, and we still see strong immune responses.”

She added: “It’s something we have to test and follow over time — we can’t know until we actually have the data, but we’re optimistic based on earlier studies that we’ll see a good duration of immunity, for several years at least, and probably better than naturally acquired immunity.”

Moderna, meanwhile, reported that all 45 volunteers in its early phase had developed immune responses after receiving its vaccine, though with more than half its subjects experiencing mild or moderate side effects including headaches, fatigue and muscle pain.

Its vaccine, called mRNA-1273, uses ribonucleic acid to program human cells to make proteins similar to the spike proteins of COVID-19 cells, training the body’s immune system to identify and attack them.

Its initial studies found that higher doses of mRNA-1273 in the human system corresponded with higher levels of immunity in subjects, by injecting people with doses of 25, 100 or 250 micrograms of the vaccine in two instalments over 28 days.

Moderna will begin a second trial of 30,000 people later this month. The US government has so far pledged nearly half a billion dollars in funding for the Moderna vaccine.

The director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said: “No matter how you slice this, this is good news.”

Vaccines, though, are not the only potential route in the quest to find a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trials have already begun for an antibody treatment, manufactured by AstraZeneca, that would see patients given a three-minute infusion of COVID-19 antibodies that could provide protection for up to six months.

This would be a potential solution if the vaccine proves less effective in some people (especially the elderly), for those who suffer adverse reactions, or for people taking immunosuppressant drugs or undergoing chemotherapy.

Sir Mene Pangalos, head AstraZeneca’s research into respiratory diseases, said: “There’s a population who are elderly that (may not) get a particularly good immune response to the vaccine.

“In those instances you might want to prophylactically treat those patients with an antibody to give them additional protection.”