Nepal eyes railway deal with China during Xi visit

The Chinese Presidentand Xi Jinping, right, met with Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, left, in Beijing in 2016. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 October 2019

Nepal eyes railway deal with China during Xi visit

  • Xi will be the first Chinese president to visit Nepal in 22 years
  • The rail link will be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

KATMANDU, Nepal: Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in Nepal on Saturday for talks with Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and is expected to sign a deal expanding a railway link between the Himalayan nation and Tibet, officials said.
Xi will be the first Chinese president to visit Nepal in 22 years and will arrive from India, where he held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Landlocked Nepal, a natural buffer between India and China, has been trying to lessen its dependence on New Delhi.
The Chinese leader will meet Oli on Sunday and the two leaders are expected to sign a slew of deals, including the planned extension of the rail link from remote, mountainous Tibet to Nepal’s capital, Katmandu, officials said.
The link will be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s signature project that Nepal joined in 2017.
Rajan Bhattarai, one of Oli’s top aides, said a feasibility study of the plan had been conducted by Chinese experts.
“An agreement for the preparation of a detailed project report for the railway link is expected to be signed after the prime minister’s meeting with President Xi on Sunday,” Bhattarai told Reuters.
The report will contain cost estimates, with financing and construction models to be decided, officials said.
Nepal sees the rail link with China as an alternatve to its dependence on India. New Delhi accounts for nearly two-thirds of Nepal’s trade and is the sole source of its fuel supply.
A prolonged blockade of its border crossings with India in 2015 and 2016 left Nepal short of fuel and medicine for months.
Asian giants India and China have both sought to woo Nepal and have poured in aid and infrastructure investment.
Beijing has helped build or upgrade highways, airports and power plants in Nepal under the Belt and Road infrastructure drive — a string of ports, railways, roads, bridges and other investments tying China to Europe via central and southern Asia.


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.”