Top Saudi research team gets government funding to help find COVID-19 vaccine

Top Saudi research team gets government funding to help find COVID-19 vaccine
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Updated 15 April 2020

Top Saudi research team gets government funding to help find COVID-19 vaccine

Top Saudi research team gets government funding to help find COVID-19 vaccine
  • A group of Saudi scientists met to draw up a plan for fighting COVID-19

RIYADH: Saudi health chiefs on Tuesday announced funding for a major scientific initiative aimed at helping find a vaccine for the killer coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

A team of 33 top Saudi scientists and researchers has been assembled for the new Ministry of Health program to look into the genetics behind the virus and take part in global efforts to develop a cure.

The medical experts will study and run tests on the nature of the virus and put forward proposals for original projects offering solutions to the challenges faced by the Kingdom and the world in tackling the deadly outbreak.

A collaborative group of Saudi scientists from various universities had already met to discuss and draw up a plan for fighting COVID-19 prior to the first case being reported in the Kingdom and before the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared it a pandemic.

Members of the group include a number of notable scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), namely Prof. Arnab Pain, who is leading the pathogen genomics part of the work, Dr. Fathia Ben Rached, Dr. Amit Subudhi, Sara Mfarrej, and Dr. Qingtian Guan.

They have been joined by doctors Asim Khogeer, Fadwa Alofi, Afrah Al-Somali, and Khaled Al-Quthami from the Ministry of Health, doctors Naif Al-Montashiri and Ahmed Bakur from Taibah University, and experts from King Abdul Aziz University such as Dr. Anwar Hashem and Dr. Turki Abujamel.

“Each member of this collaborative group is driving a major project that is based on employing largescale genome sequencing of COVID-19-positive individuals in order to investigate the genomes of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus strain that causes COVID-19) viruses circulating in Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Sharif Hala, a biomedical researcher at the National Guard Health Affairs’ King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC).

“The initial project to build genome comparison in the global context of the virus and the host, is what we call a system biology study supported by employing bioinformatic analysis of the datasets and wet laboratory work.”

He told Arab News that 600 samples had already been collected from the cities of Madinah, Jeddah and Makkah to initially focus on specific projects.

These were to optimize nucleic acid-based (genetic material) technologies for early detection of the virus in body fluids, to benchmark existing detection technologies and develop visualization tools to understand the pandemic from a genetics perspective, and to look at identifying mutations in the host that may result in the immune response observed in various cases.

On finding a cure for COVID-19, Hala said: “Vaccines are not hard to develop as it is fundamentally part of the pathogen (in this case SARS-CoV-2) that is introduced to the host immune system to promote antibodies production and eventually educate the immune system to protect the host against this specific pathogen.”

He pointed out that the delay in producing vaccines could be down to a lack of finance, production scale, safety or other issues. Each vaccine had to be tested on a number of subjects to determine its efficiency rate, which could be a lengthy process, he added.

“Currently, our collaborative group has developed a genetic barcode of the global population of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses by systematically tracking mutations in their genetic material over time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We have also sequenced more than 60 viruses that we will be announcing very soon to aid in the fight against this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Hala.

Dr. Fatima Al-Hamlan, an assistant professor at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center’s department of infection and immunity, in Riyadh, who is also participating in the health ministry program, said: “As we are faced with a very contagious virus, so many questions need to be answered to unravel the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2.

“Hence, we aim in our study to understand the viral dynamics and transmission in symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. Understanding such factors will help healthcare officials to combat the infection and save lives.”

 


King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
Updated 23 April 2021

King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
  • Saudi ruler tells summit of world leaders the challenges created by global warming do not respect national borders
  • Biden says US will reduce emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030; China, Russia also pledge to make cuts

NEW YORK: Boosting international cooperation is the “optimal solution” to tackling climate change, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told a summit of world leaders on Thursday.

He said global warming threatens lives on our planet and that the challenges “recognize no national borders.”

“The objective is sustainable development, and in order to achieve this there must be a comprehensive methodology that takes into account the different developments and circumstances that exist around the world,” King Salman said during the Leaders Summit on Climate, which was hosted by the US.

He said the Kingdom has launched packages of strategies and introduced regulations with the aim of using clean, renewable sources to produce 50 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2030.

“Enhancing the level of international cooperation is the optimal solution to meeting the challenges of climate change,” the king said.

“During our G20 presidency last year we advocated the need to adopt a notion of a circular carbon economy, launching two international initiatives to curb land degradation and to protect coral reefs.”

He added that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced two new environmental plans: the Green Saudi Initiative and the Green Middle East Initiative. They aim to reduce carbon emissions in the region by more than 10 percent of current global contributions.

“These initiatives also aim at planting 50 billion trees in the region,” he said.

The Kingdom, he added, will work with its partners to achieve these goals and host forums for both initiatives later this year.

“Finally we would like to affirm our keenness and commitment to cooperation to combat climate change, in order to create a better environment for future generations, wishing success for our efforts to protect our planet,” he said.

Earlier, US President Joe Biden — who convened the summit with a view to building global momentum for climate action ahead of COP26, the UN’s

Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November — pledged to cut US fossil fuel emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030.

“Meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet,” Biden said. “It’s about providing a better future for all of us.” He called it “a moment of peril but a moment of opportunity.”

In his presidential campaign last year, Biden made tackling climate change one of his top priorities. While Republicans oppose his plans on the grounds they will cost jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries, Biden believes that a transition to cleaner energy sources will create millions of well-paid jobs, a stance echoed by many of the world leaders who attended the summit.

“This is not bunny-hugging, this is about growth and jobs,” said the UK’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Forty leaders are taking part in the two-day summit. The UN has described 2021 as a “climate emergency” year, with scientists warning that climate change caused by the use of coal and other fossil fuels is exacerbating natural disasters such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires. There are fears that the world now faces a race against time to avoid the disastrous extremes of global warming.

The world’s most powerful nations have announced various measures to address the crisis. They include targets for reductions in harmful emissions, plans to stop the public financing of coal, and a commitment to integrating climate action into economic-stimulus plans in an effort to “build back better” after the pandemic-related economic collapse, with the goal of “leaving no one behind.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin also made commitments to reduce emissions. Neither of them made any mention of their respective non-climate disputes with Biden.

Xi — whose country is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed closely by the US — said that “to protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. It’s as simple as that.”

Putin, who Biden recently referred to as a “killer” because of the Russian leader’s crackdown on opponents, said his country is “genuinely interested in galvanizing international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a number of other leaders who spoke at the summit in welcoming the US back to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, from which President Donald Trump withdrew.

She told Biden: “There can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals.”

Small states and island nations, which contribute the least to greenhouse- gas emissions but face the most severe dangers and damage resulting from climate change as they are increasingly affected by hurricanes and rising sea levels, asked the major world powers for help.

Gaston Alfonso Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said his people are “teetering on the edge of despair.” He asked the international community for debt relief and assistance to help his country recover from the effects of storms and the pandemic, to “prevent a flow of climate refugees.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the commitments made during the summit to achieving carbon neutrality as “a much-needed boost to our collective efforts to address the climate crisis ahead of COP26 in November in Glasgow.”

He added: “It is now urgent that all countries, especially other major emitters, present their 2030 climate plans well before COP 26.”

Guterres also urged leaders to deliver on $100 billion of climate commitments made to developing countries a decade ago.

“The world will be watching carefully, particularly those already experiencing severe climate impacts and an ongoing economic crisis,” he said.

“Today’s summit shows the tide is turning for climate action, but there is still a long way to go. To avert a permanent climate catastrophe, we must now urgently build on the momentum delivered today, in this make-or-break year for people and the planet.”


‘Let’s Make it Green’ campaign plants 10 million trees across Saudi Arabia

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
Updated 23 April 2021

‘Let’s Make it Green’ campaign plants 10 million trees across Saudi Arabia

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
  • Efforts will continue to plant more trees, in line with the ‘Green Saudi’ and ‘Green Middle East’ initiatives

RIYADH: A campaign to plant 10 million trees in 165 sites across the Kingdom to develop vegetation cover and limit desertification has been successfully completed.

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and the National Center for Vegetation Cover announced the success of the “Let’s Make it Green” campaign that was launched in October 2020. 

The campaign covered all of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces. The Eastern Province topped the list with more than 2.6 million trees planted, followed by more than 2.1 million in Madinah, over 1.3 million in Makkah, around 1 million in both Jazan and Riyadh, 462,000 in Qassim, and 270,000 in Asir.

Baha reached nearly 300,000, and more than 142,000 trees were planted in the Northern Border, followed by Jouf with more than 113,000, then Hail with about 85,000, Tabuk with over 75,000, and finally Najran with nearly 52,000 trees.

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)

The CEO of the center, Dr. Khaled Al-Abd Al-Qader, said that the campaign planted endangered trees and shrubs in areas that were environmentally degraded due to overgrazing, logging, uprooting, and urban sprawl.

“The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation,” he added.

The ministry ensured that the campaign was aligned with sustainability and water conservation requirements and by using treated wastewater or seawater for irrigation, in line with the best international practices.

The center and ministry worked in cooperation with various governmental authorities, private sector organizations, environmental associations, and community groups.

Minister of Water, Environment and Agriculture Abdul Rahman Al-Fadli said: “What we have accomplished is the result of the support and directions of the Saudi leadership to make the Kingdom a pioneer in protecting the Earth, achieve the international objectives in protecting the environment, increase the vegetation cover, reduce carbon emissions, combat pollution and land degradation, and preserve marine life.”

Efforts will continue to plant more trees, in line with the “Green Saudi” and “Green Middle East” initiatives, he added.

Al-Qader said that the “Let’s Make it Green” campaign has recovered biodiversity, rehabilitated degraded vegetation cover sites, promoted positive behaviors to preserve the nation’s environment and improve the quality of life in Saudi Arabia.


Volunteers in Asir donate 2 million hours of their time

Volunteers in Asir donate 2 million hours of their time
Updated 23 April 2021

Volunteers in Asir donate 2 million hours of their time

Volunteers in Asir donate 2 million hours of their time

MAKKAH: More than 11,000 volunteers in Asir region have donated more than 2 million hours of their time as part of an initiative that aims to encourage people to get involved in their communities, in particular with efforts to tackle the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nashama Asir initiative was launched last Ramadan to boost voluntary work and raise awareness in the region of its importance, in support of government efforts to increase participation.

“It was launched by the Coronavirus Crisis Management Chamber in Asir, under the leadership and vision of Asir Gov. Prince Turki bin Talal,” Nasser Qmeshan, who is supervising the initiative, told Arab News.

“It came as a response to the significant societal readiness to assist the government in its efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic and its repercussions.”

It was necessary to develop a strategy, identify targets and set up a mechanism to ensure the efficient implementation of the project, he added. The strategy that was developed by the chamber included a vision for the initiative, specific fields of work, and clear goals.

“Those able to provide ideas, financial support or volunteer services in certain health, economic and social fields can apply through the initiative’s website,” said Qmeshan. “The site was visited by about 4,000 people in the first week after the initiative was announced.”

“Hundreds of activities not requiring assistance — such as financial support, in-kind support and physical preparation — were referred to the bodies that would directly benefit from them,” said Qmeshan.

“As for those that required assistance, a project was set up, partners were identified and approached, an action plan was developed, and standards were set along with performance indicators and launch mechanisms.”

HIGHLIGHT

  • The Nashama Asir initiative was launched last Ramadan to boost voluntary work and raise awareness in the region of its importance, in support of government efforts to increase participation.
  • Specific projects included the provision of quarantine facilities, hygiene tools, and food baskets for families and employees who were struggling as a result of the pandemic, along with fundraising support.

Specific projects included the provision of quarantine facilities, hygiene tools, and food baskets for families and employees who were struggling as a result of the pandemic, along with fundraising support.

In response to the initiative 11,077 people volunteered to help and so far they have carried out 2,008,841 hours of work.

Some of the activities were technical in nature, Qmeshan said, such as one “where a qualified group of young Saudi volunteers helped with maintenance work at family homes during the lockdown period.

“The requests for this service were processed automatically and the service was provided free of charge, while taking into consideration all precautionary health measures,” he added.

The initiative also helped to improve awareness of health and security issues among the residents of Asir region. Announcements and advice from the health and security authorities were translated into a number of languages, for example, and volunteers supported the work of the healthcare sector by highlighting the importance of social distancing and other precautions to slow the spread of the disease. They also provided healthy meals for workers during Ramadan, along with other types of community assistance.

Another project is helping municipalities implement pandemic precautions in markets and shopping centers. “The implementation of this project will start with the reopening of markets by the end of the holy month of Ramadan,” said Qmeshan.

A specialized, medical-manufacturing project was proposed to develop and manufacture spare parts for ventilators, along with various types of protective equipment, using 3D printers in engineering laboratories at King Khalid University.

Qmeshan said that dozens of officials and tribal delegations, including princes, ministers, tribal sheikhs and social figures, have visited the initiative’s operations center.


83 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches

83 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches
Updated 23 April 2021

83 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches

83 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches

JEDDAH: Authorities in Jeddah have shut down 83 commercial outlets for breaching coronavirus disease (COVID-19) protocols.
Municipalities in the Kingdom have stepped up their efforts to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety measures designed to protect public health.
The municipality of Jeddah governorate carried out 4,166 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities and identified 116 violations for issues related to overcrowding and the failure to effectively use the Tawakkalna app. Authority officials in the Red Sea port city urged people to report any suspected breaches of COVID-19 regulations to the 940 call-center number.


KAICIID-organized forum of experts look to counter hate speech in Europe

KAICIID-organized forum of experts look to counter hate speech in Europe
Updated 23 April 2021

KAICIID-organized forum of experts look to counter hate speech in Europe

KAICIID-organized forum of experts look to counter hate speech in Europe

RIYADH: The King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) organized an expert forum on combating hate speech in collaboration with religious institutions and other organizations.
The meeting was held in cooperation with the European Council of Religious Leaders, the Religions for Peace in Europe, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
The consultation aimed to explore pathways and efforts to combat hate speech in Europe by strengthening ties between religious and political entities and civil society.