EU approves AstraZeneca jab as worries grow over virus strains

EU approves AstraZeneca jab as worries grow over virus strains
A vial of the AstraZeneca's vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is pictured at the Derby Arena velodrome in Derby, Derbyshire, Britain, January 29, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 January 2021

EU approves AstraZeneca jab as worries grow over virus strains

EU approves AstraZeneca jab as worries grow over virus strains
  • The company admitted it will only be able to deliver a fraction of the doses promised to the EU in the short term
  • That has come as a huge blow to Europe’s already struggling rollout

AMSTERDAM: The European Union on Friday approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for use on all adults, as concerns grow around the world over the effectiveness of different jabs against new strains of Covid-19.
Brussels’ announcement after a green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) marks the third vaccine approved for use in the EU, following the jabs made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
The pharma giant’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said approval “underscores the value of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” noting it is “easy to administer” — with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna alternatives requiring storage at ultra-low temperatures.
But even as she announced the approval, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen referred indirectly to a mounting row with AstraZeneca over deliveries of the shots.
“I expect the company to deliver the 400 million doses as agreed,” von der Leyen tweeted.
The British-Swedish company has admitted it will only be able to deliver a fraction of the doses promised to the EU in the short term due to production problems.
That has come as a huge blow to Europe’s already struggling rollout, while setting the EU on a collision course with former member Britain as they jostle for AstraZeneca’s limited supplies.
In a sign of the growing tensions, the EU on Friday released a redacted version of its contract with AstraZeneca, while announcing a mechanism that could allow it to deny the export of vaccines made on European soil.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom reiterated a warning against “vaccine nationalism,” saying there is “real danger that the very tools that could help to end the pandemic — vaccines — may exacerbate” global inequality.
There is also controversy over the jab within the EU itself, with the EMA saying it was suitable for adults of all ages.
But Germany’s vaccines panel on Friday upheld advice it should not be used on over-65s due to insufficient evidence that it works.
French President Emmanuel Macron also said the AstraZeneca shot appeared “quasi-ineffective” for that age group, while leaving any final decision on its use in the country to health authorities.
Beyond Europe, scientists are concerned that the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa may elude some vaccines — a potential stumbling block to the global strategy of taming Covid-19 through mass inoculation.
With the global death toll close to 2.2 million, the fight against the pandemic has been further complicated by the emergence of more contagious variants first detected in Britain and Brazil as well as South Africa.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi has warned that hospitals across southern Africa are “rapidly reaching the limit of their capacities,” in part down to the new variant.
New data on Thursday and Friday showed average effectiveness of 89.3 and 66 percent for shots from American biotech firm Novavax and Johnson & Johnson.
But while Novavax’s jab was highly effective against the British variant, both were less effective against the South African strain.
Johnson & Johnson is quickly expected to apply for a US emergency authorization, and the EMA said it expected an application for use in the EU “shortly.”
Pfizer and Moderna have said their vaccines are effective against the variants.
Citing concerns over the new strains, Germany on Friday said it would ban travel from countries where the variants are prevalent starting this weekend, while Canada announced hotel quarantine for all new arrivals.
“Now is just not the time to be flying,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said after airlines agreed to cancel flights to sunbelt destinations until the end of April.
In the EU, Hungary became the first member state to approve the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, saying it had agreed to buy five million doses.
The Chinese “know the most” about Covid-19, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, adding: “When I choose, I will want the Chinese vaccine.”
Until governments achieve widespread immunity through vaccinations, restrictions such as lockdowns remain among the few options available — but they are deeply unpopular among many.
In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office told AFP he would announce new restrictions after days of speculation about a third lockdown.
Africa’s largest film festival, the Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television of Ouagadougou, known by its acronym in French of FESPACO, has also had to be postponed due to the pandemic, Burkina Faso’s government said.
And in sport, the Oman Open golf tournament was postponed along with all other sporting events.
But there was good news for New Yorkers as Governor Andrew Cuomo said indoor dining could resume at 25 percent capacity from February 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has shrugged off growing doubts over the fate of the Tokyo Olympics — scheduled to start on July 23 — insisting they will go ahead as “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus and as a symbol of global unity.”


Canada finds hundreds of graves at former indigenous school: media

Canada finds hundreds of graves at former indigenous school: media
Updated 5 min 50 sec ago

Canada finds hundreds of graves at former indigenous school: media

Canada finds hundreds of graves at former indigenous school: media
  • The native Cowessess community said it had made “the horrific and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves” during excavations at former Marieval boarding school

MONTREAL: Hundreds of unmarked graves have been found near a former Catholic residential school for indigenous children in western Canada, local media reported late Wednesday.
Excavations at the site around the former school in Marieval, Saskatchewan began at the end of May.
They followed the discovery of the remains of 215 schoolchildren at another former indigenous residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, which sent shock waves through Canada.
The finds revived calls on the Pope and the Catholic church to apologize for the abuse and violence suffered by the students at these boarding schools, where they were forcibly assimilated into the dominant culture.
In a statement quoted by several Canadian media, including CBC and CTV, the native Cowessess community said it had made “the horrific and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves” during excavations at former Marieval boarding school.
“The number of unmarked graves will be the most significantly substantial to date in Canada,” the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said in a statement.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the news was “absolutely tragic, but not surprising. I urge all Canadians to stand with First Nations in this extremely difficult and emotional time.”
After the discovery of the Kamloops remains, excavations were undertaken near several former schools for indigenous children across Canada, with the assistance of government authorities.
The Marieval residential school in eastern Saskatchewan hosted indigenous children between 1899 and 1997 before being demolished and replaced by a day school.
Some 150,000 Native American, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly recruited up until the 1990s in 139 of these residential schools across Canada, where they were isolated from their families, their language and their culture.
Many were subjected to ill-treatment and sexual abuse, and more than 4,000 died in the schools, according to a commission of inquiry that concluded Canada had committed “cultural genocide” against the indigenous communities.


Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at 61

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at 61
Updated 24 June 2021

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at 61

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at 61

MANILA: Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino, the son of two of the Southeast Asian country’s democracy icons, died on Thursday after being hospitalized in Manila.
The 61-year-old was president of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016.
“It is with profound sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of former Pres. Benigno Aquino,” Supreme Court justice Marvic Leonen, who was appointed by Aquino in 2012, said in a statement.
“It was an honor to have served with him. He will be missed,” the statement said.
Known popularly as Noynoy, he rode a wave of public support to the presidency after the 2009 death of his mother, the revered “People Power” leader Corazon Aquino, who was herself president from 1986 until 1992.
His namesake father, a senator who staunchly opposed the rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos, was assassinated when he returned home from political exile in 1983.
The killing shocked the nation and helped propel Marcos out of office in the 1986 People Power revolution and ushered in his mother’s presidency.
Aquino was an only son and worked in the family sugar business before launching his political career in 1998.
He was a three-term member of the House of Representatives between 1998 and 2007, representing the sugar-growing Tarlac province north of Manila.
He still carried a bullet wound from a 1987 attempted military coup against his mother’s administration, during which he was shot five times and three of his bodyguards were killed.
Aquino’s six-year term as president was not free from crisis, including in his fifth year in office when 44 commandos were killed in a botched operation to capture a wanted Malaysian militant.
In November 2013, Aquino was also forced to deal with the devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded. The super typhoon that ravaged towns and villages in the central Philippines, killed more than 6,000 people.
Despite some gains in tackling corruption, his Mr.Clean image was tainted by scandals over the lawmakers’ misuse of public funds that same year. 


Canada’s Trudeau survives vote of no confidence

Canada’s Trudeau survives vote of no confidence
Updated 24 June 2021

Canada’s Trudeau survives vote of no confidence

Canada’s Trudeau survives vote of no confidence
  • The conservative opposition voted together against Trudeau, but he was able to hang with the support of three other smaller blocs in the lower chamber

OTTAWA, Canada: The minority government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence Wednesday in a face-off over the proposed budget, eliminating the possibility of early elections this summer.
The House of Commons voted 211 to 121 in favor of approving the budget, which was proposed in April and contains a plan to spend CAN$101.4 billion (69 billion euros) over three years.
The conservative opposition voted together against Trudeau, who was able to hang on thanks to the support of three other smaller blocs in the lower chamber.
The 2021-2022 budget, which began April 1, must still be approved by the Senate — a formality expected Friday, ahead of the summer recess.
After clearing this hurdle — and with Canada’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign progressing rapidly — Trudeau, who enjoys a high approval rating, could be tempted to call for snap elections at the end of the summer in an effort to regain a parliamentary majority, which his Liberal party lost after October 2019’s general election.
The budget’s flagship provision is a CAN$30 billion investment over five years to establish a network of low-cost, high-quality public daycares to encourage the participation of women in the labor market.
Some CAN$17.6 billion are earmarked for green initiatives, including helping companies reduce their carbon footprints and supporting public transport projects in large cities.

 


Antivirus pioneer John McAfee found dead in Spanish prison

Antivirus pioneer John McAfee found dead in Spanish prison
In this Dec. 12, 2012, file photo, anti-virus software founder John McAfee answers questions to reporters as he walks on Ocean Drive, in the South Beach area of Miami Beach, Fla. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2021

Antivirus pioneer John McAfee found dead in Spanish prison

Antivirus pioneer John McAfee found dead in Spanish prison
  • McAfee twice made long-shot runs for the U.S. presidency and was a participant in Libertarian Party presidential debates in 2016
  • According to the US extradition request filed in November and quoted in the ruling, McAfee earned more than 10 million euros ($12 million) in 2014-18, but never filed a tax return

MADRID: John McAfee, the creator of McAfee antivirus software, was found dead in his jail cell near Barcelona in an apparent suicide Wednesday, hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the United States to face tax charges punishable by decades in prison, authorities said.
The eccentric cryptocurrency promoter and tax opponent whose history of legal troubles spanned from Tennessee to Central America to the Caribbean was discovered at the Brians 2 penitentiary in northeastern Spain. Security personnel tried to revive him, but the jail’s medical team finally certified his death, a statement from the regional Catalan government said.
“A judicial delegation has arrived to investigate the causes of death,” it said, adding that “everything points to death by suicide.”
The statement didn’t identify McAfee by name but said the dead man was a 75-year-old US citizen awaiting extradition to his country. A Catalan government official familiar with the case who was not authorized to be named in media reports confirmed to The Associated Press that it was McAfee.
Spain’s National Court on Monday ruled in favor of extraditing McAfee, 75, who had argued in a hearing earlier this month that the charges against him by prosecutors in Tennessee were politically motivated and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison if returned to the US
The court’s ruling was made public on Wednesday and was open for appeal, with any final extradition order also needing to get approval from the Spanish Cabinet.
McAfee was arrested last October at Barcelona’s international airport and had been in jail since then awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings. The arrest followed charges the same month in Tennessee for evading taxes after failing to report income from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consulting work, made speaking engagements and sold the rights to his life story for a documentary. The criminal charges carried a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
Nishay Sanan, the Chicago-based attorney defending him on those cases, said by phone that McAfee “will always be remembered as a fighter.”
“He tried to love this country but the US government made his existence impossible,” Sanan said. “They tried to erase him, but they failed.”
The lawyer said Spanish authorities have not given his legal team a cause of death, and he wants to know if there were video cameras in McAfee’s cell or in the prison.
The US Attorney’s Office in Memphis declined to comment.
Tennessee prosecutors had argued that McAfee owed the US government $4,214,105 in taxes before fines or interests for undeclared income in the five fiscal years from 2014 to 2018, according to a Spanish court document seen by AP. But in this week’s ruling, the National Court judge agreed to extradite him only to face charges from 2016 to 2018.
Born in England’s Gloucestershire in 1945 as John David McAfee, he started McAfee Associates in 1987 and led an eccentric life after selling his stake in the antivirus software company named after him in the early 1990s.
McAfee twice made long-shot runs for the US presidency and was a participant in Libertarian Party presidential debates in 2016. He dabbled in yoga, ultralight aircraft and producing herbal medications.
In 2012 he was wanted for questioning in connection with the death of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death in early November 2012 on the Belize island where the men lived.
McAfee told AP at the time that he was being persecuted by the Belizean government. Belizean police denied that, saying they were simply investigating a crime about which McAfee may have had information. Then-Prime Minister Dean Barrow expressed doubts about McAfee’s mental state, saying, “I don’t want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid, even bonkers.”
A Florida court ordered McAfee in 2019 to pay $25 million to Faull’s estate in a wrongful death claim.
In July of that year he was released from detention in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of traveling on a yacht carrying high-caliber weapons, ammunition and military-style gear.
McAfee told Wired Magazine in 2012 that his father, a heavy drinker and “very unhappy man,” shot himself when McAfee was 15. “Every day I wake up with him,” he told Wired.
He lived for a time in Lexington, Tennessee, a rural town of about 7,800 some 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Memphis. In a 2015 interview with WBBJ-TV, McAfee said he only felt comfortable when armed. The TV station reported that he chose to be interviewed with a loaded gun in each hand.
“Very little gives me a feeling of being safe and more secure other than being armed in my bedroom with the door locked,” McAfee told the station.
In one of his last known media interviews, with British newspaper The Independent last November, McAfee said his prison experience in Spain was a “fascinating adventure” and he planned never to return to the US
“I am constantly amused and sometimes moved,” he was quoted as saying. “The graffiti alone could fill a thousand-page thriller.”
He also told The Independent that prisoners and guards had recognized him and some asked for his autograph.
McAfee said his main point of contact outside the prison was his wife, Janice McAfee. The last post from his Twitter account was a retweet of a Father’s Day message from her.
“These eight months John has spent in prison in Spain have been especially hard on his overall health both mentally and physically, as well as financially, but he is undeterred from continuing to speak truth to power,” it said.
California chipmaker Intel, which bought McAfee’s company in 2011 for $7.68 billion, for a time sought to dissociate the brand from its controversial founder by folding it into its larger cybersecurity division. But the rebranding was short-lived, and Intel in 2016 spun out the cybersecurity unit into a new company called McAfee.
Jaime Le, a McAfee company spokesperson, said in a statement: “Although John McAfee founded the company, he has not been associated with our company in any capacity for over 25 years. That said, our thoughts go to his family and those close to him.”
A spokesperson with the US Embassy in Madrid said it was aware of the reports about McAfee’s death but would not comment for privacy reasons.


Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure

Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure
Sri Lankan police commandos patrol on the streets of Pallekele, a suburb of Kandy, on March 6, 2018, following anti-Muslim riots that has prompted the government to declare a state of emergency. (AFP)
Updated 24 June 2021

Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure

Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure
  • Sri Lanka has been marred by a protracted 37-year-long civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers
  • Modifications to the PTA on March 9 allow for two years of detention without trial for anyone “who surrenders or is taken into custody on suspicion” of causing or intending to cause “religious, racial or communal disharmony”

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka could “either repeal or revise” a controversial anti-terror law based on a detailed review amid pressure from the EU and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over concerns it violates human rights, a top official said on Wednesday.
Enacted in 1979, the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which a previous government promised to scrap but did not, allows authorities to make warrantless arrests and searches if a person is suspected of involvement in a “terrorist activity.”
Under the law, suspects have the right to trial but not by a jury, while the country’s defense minister can order detentions of up to three months at a time for a maximum of 18 months.
“The PTA will be either revised or repealed depending on a report by two committees appointed by the Cabinet,” Justice Minister Ali Sabry told Arab News on Wednesday.
“The first will be a ministerial committee, while the second will be a technical group of experts. We will give them three months to submit their findings, and action will be taken based on that,” he added.
Modifications to the PTA on March 9 allow for two years of detention without trial for anyone “who surrenders or is taken into custody on suspicion” of causing or intending to cause “religious, racial or communal disharmony.”
On June 8, the European Parliament passed a motion for a resolution demanding that the PTA be scrapped as it “breaches human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
“The impunity and lack of accountability for past human rights violations by various agents and the excessive application of the PTA (do) not adhere to international practices and human rights principles,” it said.
The EU urged Sri Lanka to “amend the PTA … immediately” and threatened to withdraw its Generalized System of Preferences — a preferential tariff system that provides tariff reduction on various products — plus tax concessions amounting to $2 billion if the act was not amended.
On Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s government told parliament that the PTA would be revised “without compromising the country’s security.”
On what prompted the government to initiate the move now, Sabry said that the PTA “needed to be adjusted with changing times and factor in internet crimes, a high incidence of money laundering and an increasing need to ensure human rights.”

HIGHLIGHT

Government could amend Prevention of Terrorism Act to keep up with ‘changing times,’ official says.

“We want a balanced act now to meet human rights requirements in keeping with local interests and international obligations,” he added.
However, lawmaker and former Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, who is also the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, told Arab News that the government “stands exposed” for its “abuse of the PTA for political gains” in recent years.
Sri Lanka has been marred by a protracted 37-year-long civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers.
The UN believes 80,000-100,000 people died in the conflict when the rebels sought to carve out a separate state for the Tamil minority and accused both sides of war crimes. In March, the UNHRC passed a resolution in Geneva censuring Colombo over its treatment of minorities and alleged failure to investigate atrocities during the civil war.
Hakeem said several people had been arrested under the PTA since 2009, in addition to “some 200 people who had been taken into custody” after the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, which killed 269 people and injured more than 500 in separate locations in Sri Lanka.
Human rights groups, for their part, say the PTA is a “draconian” weapon targeting dissidents and minorities in the country: Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of its total population of 22 million, while Buddhists account for 70 percent of the census.
“The recent EU resolution clearly states that the PTA must be repealed, not revised,” Shreen Saroor, a women’s rights activist and co-founder of the Women’s Action Network, told Arab News.
“It is a draconian piece of legislation that has been aggressively used against Muslims and to curb any form of dissent. It must be repealed fully, not revised,” Saroor added.
International lobbyist and human rights activist Muheed Jeeran agrees, adding that international pressure had “brought this government down to its knees to end this act.”  “The PTA is a monster that blatantly and grossly violates the universal declaration of human rights,” he told Arab News.
“It was introduced in 1979 as a temporary measure when the government did not have tools such as mobile phones and investigators had to work at a snail’s speed. But, today, we are in a technological era, and these investigators still detain a suspect for 540 days without any charges. The PTA must be repealed rather than reformed,” he added.