UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists

UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists
A healthcare professional prepares a dose of Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for health and social care workers at the Life Science Centre at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, northeast England, on January 9, 2021. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 10 January 2021

UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists

UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists
  • Findings quash fear that jabs could soon be outdated, professor says

LONDON: The UK variant of coronavirus detected worldwide is “extremely unlikely” to dodge immune responses from vaccines or previous COVID-19 infections, leading scientists have said.

US researchers found that antibodies collected from coronavirus patients seldom attacked new mutations contained in the variant. 

The findings suggest that only 0.5 percent of people are at risk of reduced protection against mutations present in the new form of the virus.

Scientists say the study has allayed fears that vaccines being distributed worldwide might be ineffective against the new variant.

Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University in the US, said: “The variant is unlikely to escape recognition by antibodies generated by prior infection or vaccines.”

Iwasaki, who worked with a team at US biotechnology company Serimmune, collected 579 antibodies from coronavirus patients and examined which continuous strands of virus protein they targeted.

The majority attacked the same center of the virus, meaning antibody defenses will not be weakened as new mutations are contained elsewhere in the virus.

Although the study is awaiting peer review, Iwasaki’s team found that only 0.3 percent of those studied had antibodies that were less likely to attack the defenses of the new coronavirus variant.

“I believe it is important to give the first shots to as many people as possible, given the emergence of several more contagious variants on the rise,” said Iwasaki. 

“The second dose should be given, when available, as close to the recommended original schedule as possible, but a slight delay is not expected to significantly reduce the efficacy,” she added.

“People should wear masks and stay away from crowded indoor gatherings, even after getting the vaccines.”

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the study “should comfort people” who are worried that the new variants found in the UK and South Africa could be resistant to vaccines. The findings suggest that most people’s antibodies will neutralize either variant, he added.


Italian FM stresses concerns about Tunisia’s political situation

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 51 min 36 sec ago

Italian FM stresses concerns about Tunisia’s political situation

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi
  • Italy will also send further medical aid to Tunisia to help combat COVID-19

ROME: Italy is “very concerned” about the political turmoil in Tunisia, and has urged Tunisian authorities to respect the constitution and “allow the legitimately elected parliament to carry out its duties.”

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi and issued “an appeal to moderation, so that every initiative is taken to avoid clashes and violence there.”

“Jerandi assured me that the constitution will be respected, and confirmed that President Kais Saied is carrying out consultations to appoint a new prime minister shortly. Right after that, the Parliament will promptly restart its work,” he said. 

Referring to Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, Di Maio added: “The situation in Tunisia causes strongly concerns us. We are following with the utmost attention effects of the decisions taken by President Saied,”

The foreign minister stressed that in the hours following Saied's decision, “we immediately gave a strong (signal) to spark a coordinated action with our main European partners, as we believe that the EU can and should carry out a decisive role in this phase.”

Di Maio spoke on the phone with the EU High Representative Josepp Borrell on July 26, and with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian the following day. “We all decided to stay permanently in touch and to send a strong and unanimous appeal to the Tunisian institutions for responsibility and respect for democracy and the rule of law,” including allowing the legitimately elected parliament "to perform its duties.”

The latest developments came, he said, “at a very complicated moment for Tunisia, a country already gripped by a very serious economic crisis” which the COVID-19 pandemic has only made worse.

Di Maio also offered assurances that Italy will support Tunisia in its discussions with the International Monetary Fund over a new financial-aid program, which he described as “a fundamental step to allow the implementation of the necessary economic reforms.”

Italy will also send further medical aid to Tunisia to help combat COVID-19. On top of the five containers of medical supplies and donations for the purchase of oxygen generators for Tunisian hospitals already given to Tunis in the past weeks, Italy will soon donate vaccines, he explained.

“We will not fail to support a people we have always been friends with, as we are sharing a common destiny,” Di Maio said.


Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout
Updated 29 July 2021

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout
  • David Petraeus, senior UK intelligence official raise concerns over return of violence and potential refugee crisis

LONDON: The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will not mark the end of Taliban violence and will result in a situation that must be “managed” to avoid full-scale conflict, senior US and UK military figures have warned.

Retired US Gen. David Petraeus and Sir John Scarlett, a senior UK intelligence official, questioned the withdrawal process and raised concerns over the resulting long-term implications in an interview with Wilson Center President, Director and CEO Mark Green.

It comes ahead of the September withdrawal deadline that came as a result of long-term negotiations, including the landmark Doha agreement last year.

But Petraeus warned that a withdrawal would not result in long-term peace: “The big lesson of the past 20 years is that if you withdraw and declare victory and go home, they will be back.

“So instead, what you have to do, especially in cases where you can’t ‘win,’ where victory is not possible, you have to manage it. And the way to manage it is to get to the smallest, most affordable — in terms of blood and treasure — presence and capability that we can possibly design,” he said.

“We could have achieved the objective that we were staying in Afghanistan to accomplish, which is to prevent Al-Qaeda, and then more recently, Daesh, from establishing sanctuaries on Afghan soil under this very Islamist regime, the Taliban,” he continued.

Scarlett also questioned the withdrawal, arguing that a better option would have been to maintain a “modest” military presence in the war-torn country.

He said: “There was another path. There has been a modest troop presence there over the last year, but they weren’t actively engaged in fighting … they were actually providing support.

“And so it isn’t necessarily, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ It’s whether or not we were willing to maintain a modest presence there to help continue to build capacity and manage risks.”

He added that the withdrawal — which also includes NATO allies — was primarily a US decision, and that questions remain over how it was reached.

Scarlett said: “In a way, it’s been expected, because it’s been the policy to withdraw as part of the negotiated agreement with the Taliban, under the previous administration, but there’s clearly — particularly in Afghanistan, but also really across Europe — quite a degree of surprise.

“There will be tens of thousands of refugees going into Pakistan and possibly into central Asian states. I’m afraid Pakistan will wonder about US sustainability and commitment in the medium-to longer-term.

“There’s obviously an issue of credibility here, not just for the US, but also for the allies,” he concluded.


Syrian refugee to set up charity using libel cash from far-right figure 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
Updated 29 July 2021

Syrian refugee to set up charity using libel cash from far-right figure 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
  • Jamal Hijazi, from Homs, was falsely accused of violence against female classmates by Tommy Robinson
  • Robinson rose to prominence as the founder of the Islamophobic English Defence League

LONDON: A teenaged Syrian refugee, who won £100,000 ($139,632) in damages from a British Islamophobe, has said he wants to use the money to establish a charity for young people. 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. He was beaten, and pupils were seen pouring water over his face in an apparent effort to “waterboard” him. 

Following the attack, Tommy Robinson, a well known far-right figure in the UK whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, published two videos in which he falsely accused the refugee of attacking young English girls at his school and threatening to stab other pupils. 

Hijazi, who is originally from Homs, faced death threats and other serious disruptions to his life and education following those claims — which were viewed nearly a million times — and took Robinson to court for libel.

Robinson, who rose to prominence as the founder of Islamophobic far-right group the English Defence League, was ordered to pay Hijazi the damages, as well as foot his legal costs. 

Speaking for the first time since the case’s resolution on July 23, Hijazi, now 17, said: “I want to use this money to set up a charity to help young people of any race who go through problems at school or anywhere. 

“Not just bullying, but racism or any other problems that young people experience,” he told the i newspaper.

“I have been through a lot and I want other young people to have the support that I had and I want to help people.” 

He added that it “felt good” to have won the case but, when asked about Robinson, he said: “I don’t want to go into that.”

Asked about his future, Hijazi said he is now “a lot happier,” and that he hopes to take up an apprenticeship. 

Tasnime Akunjee, the teeanger’s lawyer, said it was disgusting that Robinson “thought it was in any way appropriate to add to the burden of a child who had been seriously bullied.”

He added: “This outcome shows there are limits to what society will tolerate and that when someone crosses the line, there will be support for the victim and that those responsible will be held to account. 

“For Jamal and his family, it is a great relief that the horrific lies which were told about Jamal have been resoundingly put to bed and his name has been cleared.”


Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources
Updated 29 July 2021

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources
  • Rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday
  • Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings

BERLIN: All travelers arriving in Germany will be required from this weekend to demonstrate immunity from COVID-19 either from a vaccine or previous infection, or present a negative test result, government sources reported.
The plan reflects growing concern among Germany’s regional and national leaders that rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday.
Germany now requires a negative test or proof of immunity only from those arriving from so-called “risk areas,” “high-incidence areas” and “virus-variant areas,” which in Europe now include Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.
Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings, and regional leaders are keen to make them more consistent.
Germany saw 3,142 new infections on Thursday, according to its main disease fighting agency, the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases. Average daily new cases in Britain stand at almost 30,000.
After an initial slow start, Germany has swiftly implemented widespread vaccination, with 61.3 percent of the population receiving at least one shot, dramatically reducing the disease’s severity and lethality.


Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees
Updated 29 July 2021

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees
  • More than 1,200 Syrians, mostly women and the elderly, set to be affected after parts of Damascus marked safe for return
  • Denmark does not recognize Assad regime on account of human rights abuses

LONDON: Lawyers taking the Danish government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its efforts to deport Syrian refugees warn that the move will set a “dangerous precedent.”
Denmark recently began rejecting temporary residency status renewal applications from many Syrians in the country after it determined that security in parts of Syria had “improved significantly,” including the capital Damascus.
This comes despite the government in Copenhagen having no diplomatic ties to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad over ongoing human rights abuses, which would lead to many proposed deportees being left indefinitely in detention centers.
About 1,200 of the 35,000 Syrians living in Denmark are set to be affected by the change in policy, as the Scandinavian nation, previously considered one of the world’s most tolerant and open societies, feels the political impact of a rise in support for the far-right Danish People’s Party.
A similar policy in 2018 revoking the status of hundreds of Somalis in Denmark led to many leaving or disappearing altogether, with the Danish Refugee Council saying they had moved to other countries without official status.
Lawyers from London-based international human rights chambers Guernica 37 said in a note: “The situation in Denmark is deeply concerning. While the risk of direct conflict-related violence may have diminished in some parts of Syria, the risk of political violence remains as great as ever, and refugees returning from Europe are being targeted by regime security forces.
“If the Danish government’s efforts to forcibly return refugees to Syria is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent, which several other European states are likely to follow.”
Guernica 37 is part of a group including 150 Danish law firms pushing back against the new policy.
Carl Buckley, the lead barrister from the chambers, said: “The ECHR is a slow-moving system, but we would make an application asking the court to consider interim measures, which would involve ordering Denmark to stop revoking residencies until a substantive complaint has been considered and ruled upon.”
Jens Rye-Andersen, a Danish immigration lawyer, said that he believed public opinion was on the side of refugees and that he believed the government would change its stance before the case reached the ECHR.
“There have been a lot of changes in the asylum system in the last two years and clearly it’s not working very well. Experts who compiled the initial report the government used to show the security situation in Syria has improved are saying that their work has been misquoted. So I think the government doesn’t have a choice except to reconsider.”
As a result of the Syrian regime’s policy of conscripting young men to serve in its armed forces or punishing others for desertion, the majority of those set to lose their residency status are women or the elderly — with several refugees saying it could end up splitting families.
Ghalia, a 27 year old who arrived in 2015, had her residency permit revoked in March. She told The Guardian newspaper: “I feel nothing but fear about going into the immigration center by myself, but I can’t return to Syria … it is like they believe we have a choice but if I go back, I will be arrested.
“I have no control over my life and I feel like I haven’t done anything to deserve this.”
Faeza, a 25-year-old nurse who had her residency revoked in January, said: “I was interviewed for eight hours. I was asked over and over why hadn’t I returned to Syria? I said because it wasn’t safe.” The ruling was overturned in July, but she added: “I am now worried (in case it happens again). As Syrian refugees, we are subject to unjust decisions.”