Kuwait approves emergency use of Astrazeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine

This file illustration photo shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. (File/AFP)
This file illustration photo shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Kuwait approves emergency use of Astrazeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine

This file illustration photo shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. (File/AFP)
  • The first batch of the vaccine is expected to arrive in days

LONDON: Kuwait’s health ministry approved on Friday the emergency use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, state news agency (KUNA) reported, citing a health ministry official.
Abdullah Al-Bader, assistant undersecretary for Drug and Food Control Affairs, said the ministry had succeeded in obtaining an initial batch of the British-produced vaccine, due to its keenness not to delay the national vaccination program.
He added that the first batch is expected to arrive in days.
Al-Bader also said that the vaccine had obtained approval from the Gulf Cooperation Council’s health council, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer approved by the World Health Organization.
Al-Bader said that the decision came after an extensive review of all scientific data and reports by a technical committee, which “conducted a comprehensive assessment of the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine, as well as reviewing results of clinical studies on the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety.”
He added that the committee also ensured that principles of good manufacturing were applied in factories that are producing the vaccines, according to international standards, to ensure quality in all stages of manufacturing.
Al-Bader said that the ministry will closely monitor the safety of the vaccine after it had been distributed and would also continue to follow up on information and data related to the the vaccine, both locally and globally.
The EU’s medicines regulator, EMA, on Friday recommended the authorization of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for adults of all ages, saying it believed it would be safe for older people too.
“With the recommendation today, we are further expanding the range of COVID-19 vaccines available to EU states to bring the pandemic under control,” EMA chief Emer Cooke told a press conference at the agency’s Amsterdam headquarters.
The vaccine developed by the British-Swedish company and Oxford University had demonstrated a 60 percent efficacy against COVID-19 across various clinical trials, the EMA said in a statement.
“Today’s recommendation underscores the value of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine which is not only effective and well-tolerated, but also easy to administer,” said AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot in a statement.
(With Reuters and AFP)


Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip

Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip
Updated 43 min 11 sec ago

Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip

Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip
  • Israeli army spokesman John Conricus confirmed the escalation 
  • At least 103 people have been killed since Monday, and more than 580 wounded

JERUSALEM: Israel said Friday it sent ground forces into action and pounded Gaza in response to a new barrage of rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave in a conflict that has now claimed over 100 Palestinian lives.
“Israeli planes and troops on the ground are carrying out an attack in the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli army said in a brief message.
The escalation was confirmed by army spokesman John Conricus, although he did not specify the scale of the operation.
As the violence intensified, Israel security forces scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs, with projectiles also fired on Israel from Lebanon.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel,” voicing support for a United Nations Security Council meeting “early next week” on the crisis.
“We believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity,” Blinken said.
There were intense artillery exchanges Thursday night, and AFP reporters saw Israeli troops assembling at the security barrier.
Balls of flames rose high into the sky after strikes smashed into densely packed Gaza.
Dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza toward the southern Israeli coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, and in the vicinity of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
“We are prepared, and continue to prepare for various scenarios,” Conricus said, describing a ground offensive as “one scenario.”
In Gaza, AFP photographers said people were evacuating their homes in the northeastern part of the enclave ahead of possible Israeli attacks, with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, warning of a “heavy response” to a possible ground incursion

With the conflict showing no signs of easing, Israel has been rocked by an unprecedented wave of mob violence, in which both Arabs and Jews have been savagely beaten and police stations attacked.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” to suppress the internal unrest.
The heavy bombardments coincided with the start of Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, and saw the faithful pray at mosques and amid the rubble of Gaza’s collapsed buildings.
Israel’s air force launched multiple air strikes, targeting locations linked to Hamas, with the air force saying jets had struck a “military compound” of the group’s “intelligence headquarters.”
At least 103 people have been killed since Monday, including 27 children, and more than 580 wounded, the health ministry in Gaza said.
Heavy bombardments have brought down entire tower blocks.
Inside Israel, seven people have been killed since Monday, including one six-year-old, after a rocket struck a family home

The Israeli military said earlier it had hit targets in Gaza more than 600 times while 1,750 rockets were fired from the enclave.
Hundreds of rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
Three rockets were also fired from southern Lebanon toward Israel, landing in the Mediterranean Sea, Israel’s army said.
A source close to Israel’s arch-enemy Hezbollah said the Lebanese Shiite group had no link to the incident.
The military escalation was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
The disturbances, in which riot police had repeatedly clashed with Palestinians, has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem.
The surging tensions sparked clashes in many of Israel’s mixed towns where Jews live alongside Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population.
Nearly 1,000 border police were called in to quell the violence, and over 400 people were arrested.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said inter-communal violence in multiple towns was at a nadir not seen for decades, and that police were “literally preventing pogroms.”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said police were increasing their use of force, warning of the “option” of deploying soldiers in towns.
Israeli far-right groups have clashed with security forces and Arab Israelis, with television footage Wednesday airing footage of a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, leaving him with serious injuries.
In Lod, which has become a flashpoint of Arab-Jewish clashes this week with an Arab resident shot dead and a synagogue torched, a gunman opened fire Thursday at a group of Jews, wounding one.
Netanyahu said the violence was “unacceptable.”
“Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” he said, adding Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts.”
Amid the rocket fire, Israel’s civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport in the south.
Hamas announced it had also fired a rocket at Ramon, in a bid to stop all air traffic to Israel.
Israeli media said the rocket missed its target, but a number of international airlines canceled flights amid the aerial onslaught.


Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties
Updated 14 May 2021

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties
  • Concern over criminalization of politics as opposition calls for parliamentary inquiry

JEDDAH: Turkish government officials entered into a war of words with the country’s well-known mafia leader, Sedat Peker, who released a series of videos about schemes within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) involving some of its deputies.

The claims pushed opposition politicians to call for the truth behind the claims in order to fight against the criminalization of politics.

Ultranationalist convict Peker alleged that former interior minister, Mehmet Agar, and his son, Tolga Agar, who is currently a deputy for the AKP, were involved in the suspicious death of a 21-year-old Kazakh journalist, Yeldana Kaharman, two years ago, a day after she interviewed Tolga Agar.

Kaharman allegedly committed suicide, but it is claimed that the autopsy report shows otherwise. However, the case was quickly closed by the local prosecutors at the time.

Peker claimed that Agar was “the head of deep state” in Turkey.

Former justice minister of the ruling government and current member of the presidency’s higher advisory board, Cemil Cicek, urged the judiciary to investigate Peker’s claims about the Agar family.

“If even one-thousandth of these claims are true, this is a disaster and very problematic ... Turkey has had enough experience in the past concerning similar issues,” Cicek said on May 12.

“We should learn the necessary lessons. The relevant prosecutor needs to take action and do what is necessary,” Cicek said.

Mehmet Agar claims that the state can examine him whenever required.

The claims pushed opposition parties to try to make the government accountable for its ties with the mafia leader.

Last year, the Turkish government passed a controversial amnesty law that freed up to 90,000 inmates from Turkish prisons for nonpolitical crimes, but excluded dissident journalists and politicians.

The law resulted in the mass release of organized gang leaders, including Alaattin Cakici, a notorious mafia kingpin closely connected to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). During the time that Cakici was behind bars, his rival Peker consolidated his grip on the Turkish underworld.

The group deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, said that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was the connection point between the AKP, its ally MHP and the mafia.

Ozel also claimed that the interior minister was closely tied to mafia leader Peker and that the government turned a blind eye to Peker’s previous actions in the northern city of Rize, where he threatened the dissident academics of the country, saying: “I will shower them with their own blood.”

In the latest video he released, Peker confessed that he had played a role in the support shown for Interior Minister Soylu when the minister decided to resign from his post in April 2020. Peker allegedly organized a Twitter campaign to object to Soylu’s resignation.

Since 2019, Peker has lived in Balkan countries where he regularly met Bosniak political leaders. He claimed that he had to leave Turkey because of a personal hostility with the Turkish president’s son-in-law and former finance minister, Berat Albayrak.

After being arrested earlier this year in North Macedonia with a fake ID and passport, he was deported to Kosovo where he had a business residence permit. He is currently believed to live in Dubai.

Peker, with a strong network in Istanbul’s underworld, was previously blamed by some politicians, such as Baris Atay of the Workers’ Party of Turkey, for using gangs to attack dissidents in the streets. Atay was seriously beaten up in a busy street of Istanbul after he was verbally targeted by Soylu.

The opposition now urges the government to form a parliamentary inquiry commission and inform the public about these allegations.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, former head of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission and founding member of the breakaway Future Party that is led by the country’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the allegations should spark a serious campaign against “deep state” in Turkey.

“Turkey should launch a countrywide campaign against deep state and a widespread mafia structure that reached out to the inner circles of the state,” he told Arab News.

“A parliamentary commission should be established where each party at the parliament will be represented equally to investigate Peker’s claims,” he said.

“Any connection between the politics and public security should be put under broad daylight,” Ustun added, referring to the 1996 Susurluk scandal in Turkey where close ties between the state and the mafia were revealed after strong popular insistence.

Interior Minister Soylu will file a lawsuit against the allegations made by Peker, and he called on the mafia leader to surrender to Turkish justice.

Peker has been tried several times by Turkish courts over his involvement in criminal gangs.

He was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2007 for establishing and leading a criminal organization, and for forgery.

His sentence, however, was later reduced to 10 years and he was released from jail in 2014.

The number of Peker’s damaging video releases are expected to reach 12 in total.


Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war

Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war
Updated 14 May 2021

Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war

Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war
  • Groups of men entered silently and sat down to listen to religious recitals in the building

MOSUL: As dawn broke over Mosul on Thursday, worshippers knelt between piles of rubble while Eid Al-Fitr prayers took place in the city’s oldest mosque for the first time since Daesh was driven out of the area in 2017.

Groups of men entered silently and sat down to listen to religious recitals in the building, which dates back to the Umayyad period in the 7th century and remains largely in ruins following heavy fighting in Mosul’s Old City.

“The message is clear. The Al-Masfi Mosque is the Islamic epicenter and symbol of the area. It is not only Islamic, but also a symbol of the city,” said Ahmed Najem, a local academic, after prayers.

The mosque was partially destroyed during the brutal occupation by Daesh, which proclaimed Mosul the capital of its self-styled caliphate, and an intense campaign of airstrikes to liberate the city from the militants.

Like many other heritage and religious buildings in the Old City, it has been left in disrepair, with collapsed walls and mounds of rubble. Local campaigners say this is due to insufficient public funding allocated to reconstruction in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province.

“We need to accelerate its reconstruction,” said Najem.

Volunteers from a local group campaigning for the renovation of the Old City swept the floor and put down rugs ahead of the prayers for Eid, a holiday which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

“We are happy about Eid and other celebrations, but there is also heartbreak because of great destruction in Mosul until this day,” said Ayyub Dhanun, one of the volunteers.

Volunteer groups have sprung up in Mosul since its liberation, with many campaigning for funds to rebuild the city’s architectural heritage and identity.

They have organized events at mosques, churches and recently Mosul’s Spring Theatre, cleaning and tidying damaged buildings as best they can, often with no financial or other support.

“This is an invitation to rebuild this monument and to compensate Mosul residents by rebuilding their houses in old Mosul,” said Dhanun after prayers at the Al-Masfi Mosque.


Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

People hold placards in January with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. (Reuters/File Photo)
People hold placards in January with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 14 May 2021

Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

People hold placards in January with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport
  • Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks

OTTAWA: Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing US forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a US missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable ... they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.


An Egyptian psychotherapy platform offers online help amid pandemic

Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
Updated 48 min 58 sec ago

An Egyptian psychotherapy platform offers online help amid pandemic

Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
  • Three Egyptian entrepreneurs created O7 Therapy to help connect people with mental health professionals
  • Nearly all face-to-face interactions in different fields have shifted to online platforms over the past one year

CAIRO: Using their industry knowledge and the power of technology, three Egyptians have built an online platform designed to help people cope with mental health difficulties.

Talks about O7 Therapy had been continuing for almost a year before the pandemic started, according to Ashraf Bacheet, CEO and co-founder of the online platform.

However, as the world slowly started to close down and the pandemic spread widely, Bacheet, together with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel, were motivated to quickly launch their newly founded business venture.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, nearly all face-to-face interactions have shifted to online platforms. Learning, grocery shopping and even attending events now lack the in-person intimacy of the past. Like everything else, psychotherapy sessions have become virtual, conducted behind a screen.

Following internationally acclaimed strict acceptance policies helped O7 Therapy attract some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists. (Supplied)

A recently released survey from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in the last week of June 2020, adults in the US experienced “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.”

Using validated screening instruments, the CDC established that 40.9 percent of 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, trauma-related symptoms, new or increased substance use, or thoughts of suicide.

While social anxiety may seem to be a temporary issue, experts warn that a sizable minority of people will experience mental health disorders that will long outlast the pandemic.

Being a pharmacist, Bacheet had spotted quite a few loopholes in Egypt’s health care industry long before it was hit by the coronavirus storm.

“Whether it was health care or education, people in Egypt are paying hefty amounts of money for mediocre quality in both sectors,” he said.

THENUMBER

* 40.9% - CDC respondents who reported adverse mental or behavioral health conditions.

After months of exploring the idea of merging tech and health care in one holistic solution, the trio were ready to roll up their sleeves and start working on O7 Therapy.

“At the time, two years ago, we barely had any competition. No one in the region was offering a customized tool that spoke directly to Arabs and addressed their problems, from age-old stigmas to cultural idiosyncrasies,” Bacheet said.

“Our main goal was to build a complete ecosystem for mental health services; a platform that connected people who really needed help with doctors who offered it.”

Following internationally acclaimed strict acceptance policies helped O7 Therapy attract some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists. “Doctors on the O7 Therapy platform undergo extensive screening before joining our team of therapists,” Bacheet said.

“Our 20 percent acceptance rate is proof that every doctor on our platform holds at least a master’s degree and has a clear understanding of modalities, psychometric tests and specific therapy techniques, which helps them in offering their service in the most efficient and professional manner.”

Patients seeking help on the O7 Therapy platform can gain access to art therapy, online counselling, e-prescriptions, drug management services, and more. (Supplied)

From peer reviews and case-management sessions to drug-review meetings, all the doctors on the platform offer each other praise, positive guidance and constructive criticism to ensure increased patient safety, updated modes of treatment and overall quality of care.

While O7 Therapy started its funding journey by bootstrapping, it is currently closing a pre-series A round of investment.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve the level of service we offer on our platform,” Bacheet said.

“We have designed a HIPAA and GRDP-compliant AI-powered novelty software that offers solutions to ensure personalized customer experiences and seamless patient engagement.

“By gaining insight into the patient’s journey, O7 Therapy aptly matches every patient with their respective doctor while providing comprehensive data security and data encryption features.”

Patients seeking help on the O7 Therapy platform can gain access to art therapy, online counselling, e-prescriptions, drug management services, and more.

“O7 Therapy has bridged location gaps, overcome cultural stigmas associated with seeking therapy, and created a safe space for people to openly face their problems and actively seek solutions,” Bacheet said.

“We’re constantly working on improving our platform, with bi-weekly updates that allow customer satisfaction within a user-friendly environment.”

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region