UK PM raises visas in pitch for post-Brexit trade with Africa

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (2nd front left) and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson with other African leaders and officials at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London. (AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2020

UK PM raises visas in pitch for post-Brexit trade with Africa

  • Boris Johnson told leaders including presidents Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya that he wanted to make Britain their investment partner of choice
  • Boris Johnson: By putting people before passports we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson told African leaders Monday that Britain would be more open to migrants from their continent after Brexit as he hosted a summit intended to boost trading ties.

He also promised an end to direct UK state investment in thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas, saying London would focus on supporting a switch to low-carbon energy sources.

Johnson was speaking at the start of the first UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, a clear pitch for business less than two weeks before Britain leaves the European Union.

He told leaders including presidents Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya that he wanted to make Britain their “investment partner of choice.”

After highlighting all that Britain has to offer, he said Brexit would mean an end to preferential treatment for EU migrants.

“Our (immigration) system is becoming fairer and more equal between all our global friends and partners, treating people the same, wherever they come from,” he said.

“By putting people before passports we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be.”

The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, was also in attendance where he met with leader from Malawi, Mozambique and Morocco.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This morning at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, hosted by the UK Government, The Duke of Sussex met with leaders from Malawi, Mozambique and Morocco - touching on investment in renewable energy, jobs, tourism, and environmental issues. The Duke has been involved in various causes in Africa for over a decade, and has helped to initiate a number of key projects in the region surrounding conservation and tourism, the threat posed by landmines and the HIV/AIDS epedemic. During their recent visit to Southern Africa last September, The Duke and Duchess met with project teams working to encourage youth employment, entrepreneurship, education and health. Through their roles as President and Vice President of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, The Duke and Duchess have worked to support a growing network of young change-makers across the Commonwealth and will continue to do so, especially in the run up to CHOGM 2020. The Duke of Sussex’s love for Africa is well known - he first visited the continent at the age of thirteen and more than two decades later, the people, culture, wildlife and resilient communities continue to inspire and motivate him every day. Photo © PA

A post shared by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (@sussexroyal) on

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who also attended the summit, said Brexit offered an opportunity for increased free trade across the Commonwealth — and said visas were a key issue.

“While many in the African diaspora enjoy considerable benefits from life in the West, they do not always feel at the heart of the community,” he wrote in an article for The Times on Monday.

“A renewed sense that there are ties that bind us through the Commonwealth, and a concerted effort to grow those links through trade, could act as a spur to encourage togetherness and the certainty of belonging.”

Johnson, whose country hosts the next UN climate change summit in Glasgow later this year, also announced a shift in investment strategy to help combat global warming.

Sub-Saharan African faces a number of environmental challenges, particularly the effects of climate change, water and air pollution, desertification, deforestation and over-fishing.

On fossil fuels, Johnson said: “There’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn, if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it, is there?“

“We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky. We all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warns.”

He added: “Not another penny of UK taxpayers money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity.

“Instead, we’re going to focus on supporting the transition to lower and zero carbon alternatives.”

The British government’s export agency reports providing £2 billion ($2.6 billion) in financing for UK company exports to Africa in the past two years. The agency says it now wants to “increase its risk appetite” in Egypt and the emerging economies in Nigeria and Rwanda.

The UK government said the London summit will see British and African firms announce commercial deals worth £6.5 billion.

It did not spell out whether these were all firm commitments or included memorandums of understanding that do not always result in actual deals.

Britain will leave the EU on January 31, although ties will remain the same for 11 months while the two sides thrash out a new trading relationship.

The UK has said it will be leaving the bloc’s single market and customs union.

Johnson wants the freedom to strike trade deals with other countries, even at the expense of some of its producers facing trade tariffs and quotas as a result.

 


Man vs. machine in bid to beat virus

Updated 52 min 16 sec ago

Man vs. machine in bid to beat virus

  • Human and artificial intelligence are racing ahead to detect and control outbreaks of infectious disease

BOSTON: Did an artificial-intelligence system beat human doctors in warning the world of a severe coronavirus outbreak in China?

In a narrow sense, yes. But what the humans lacked in sheer speed, they more than made up in finesse.

Early warnings of disease outbreaks can help people and governments to save lives. In the final days of 2019, an AI system in Boston sent out the first global alert about a new viral outbreak in China. But it took human intelligence to recognize the significance of the outbreak and then awaken response from the public health community.

What’s more, the mere mortals produced a similar alert only a half-hour behind the AI systems.

For now, AI-powered disease-alert systems can still resemble car alarms — easily triggered and sometimes ignored. A network of medical experts and sleuths must still do the hard work of sifting through rumors to piece together the fuller picture. It is difficult to say what future AI systems, powered by ever larger datasets on outbreaks, may be able to accomplish.

The first public alert outside China about the novel coronavirus came on Dec. 30 from the automated HealthMap system at Boston Children’s Hospital. At 11:12 p.m. local time, HealthMap sent an alert about unidentified pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The system, which scans online news and social media reports, ranked the alert’s seriousness as only 3 out of 5. It took days for HealthMap researchers to recognize its importance.

Four hours before the HealthMap notice, New York epidemiologist Marjorie Pollack had already started working on her own public alert, spurred by a growing sense of dread after reading a personal email she received that evening.

“This is being passed around the internet here,” wrote her contact, who linked to a post on the Chinese social media forum Pincong. The post discussed a Wuhan health agency notice and read in part: “Unexplained pneumonia???”

Pollack, deputy editor of the volunteer-led Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, known as ProMed, quickly mobilized a team to look into it. ProMed’s more detailed report went out about 30 minutes after the terse HealthMap alert.

Early warning systems that scansocial media, online news articles and government reports for signs of infectious disease outbreaks help inform global agencies such as the World Health Organization — giving international experts a head start when local bureaucratic hurdles and language barriers might otherwise get in the way.

Some systems, including ProMed, rely on human expertise. Others are partly or completely automated.

“These tools can help hold feet to the fire for government agencies,” said John Brownstein, who runs the HealthMap system as chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It forces people to be more open.”

The last 48 hours of 2019 were a critical time for understanding the new virus and its significance. Earlier on Dec. 30, Wuhan Central Hospital doctor Li Wenliang warned his former classmates about the virus in a social media group — a move that led local authorities to summon him for questioning several hours later.

Li, who died Feb. 7 after contracting the virus, told The New York Times that it would have been better if officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier. “There should be more openness and transparency,” he said.

ProMed reports are often incorporated into other outbreak warning systems. including those run by the World Health Organization, the Canadian government and the Toronto startup BlueDot. WHO also pools data from HealthMap and other sources.

Computer systems that scan online reports for information about disease outbreaks rely on natural language processing, the same branch of artificial intelligence that helps answer questions posed to a search engine or digital voice assistant.

But the algorithms can only be as effective as the data they are scouring, said Nita Madhav, CEO of San Francisco-based disease monitoring firm Metabiota, which first
notified its clients about the outbreak in early January.

Madhav said that inconsistency in how different agencies report medical data can stymie algorithms. The text-scanning programs extract keywords from online text, but may fumble when organizations variously report new virus cases, cumulative virus cases, or new cases in a given time interval. The potential for confusion means there is almost always still a person involved in reviewing the data.

“There’s still a bit of human in the loop,” Madhav said.

Andrew Beam, a Harvard University epidemiologist, said that scanning online reports for key words can help reveal trends, but the accuracy depends on the quality of the data. He also notes that these techniques are not so novel.

“There is an art to intelligently scraping web sites,” Beam said. “But it’s also Google’s core technology since the 1990s.”

Google itself started its own Flu Trends service to detect outbreaks in 2008 by looking for patterns in search queries about flu symptoms. Experts criticized it for overestimating flu prevalence. Google shut down the website in 2015 and handed its technology to nonprofit organizations such as HealthMap to use Google data to build their own models.

Google is now working with Brownstein’s team on a similar web-based approach for tracking the geographical spread of the tick-borne Lyme disease.

Scientists are also using big data to model possible routes of early disease transmission.