WHO urges UK to pause COVID-19 vaccine campaign

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris (L) appealed to the UK to pause its vaccine campaign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) said all adults in UK should be offered a first vaccine dose by autumn, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) said governments had a responsibility to protect their people. (Reuters/File Photos)
WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris (L) appealed to the UK to pause its vaccine campaign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) said all adults in UK should be offered a first vaccine dose by autumn, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) said governments had a responsibility to protect their people. (Reuters/File Photos)
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Updated 30 January 2021

WHO urges UK to pause COVID-19 vaccine campaign

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris (L) appealed to the UK to pause its vaccine campaign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) said all adults in UK should be offered a first vaccine dose by autumn, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) said governments had a responsibility to protect their people. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • Spokeswoman: Choose fair global distribution, not ‘vaccine nationalism’

LONDON: The UK should pause its vaccination campaign after vulnerable groups have received jabs to promote a fair global rollout, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said all adults in the UK should be offered a first vaccine dose by autumn.

But the WHO said countries should look for 2 billion doses to be “fairly distributed” worldwide by the end of the year.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris appealed to the UK, saying “you can wait” because ensuring fair global distribution is “clearly morally the right thing to do.” Many poorer countries have yet to begin their vaccination drives.

This week, Johnson said the UK was on track to reach its goal of vaccinating the most vulnerable parts of the population by Feb. 15.

In her appeal, Harris told the BBC: “We’re asking countries, once you’ve got those high-risk and healthcare worker groups, please ensure that the supply you’ve got access to is provided for others. While that’s morally the right thing to do, it’s also economically the right thing to do.”

She added: “There’ve been a number of very interesting analyses showing that just vaccinating your own country and then sitting there and saying ‘we’re fine’ won’t work economically. That phrase ‘no man is an island’ applies economically as well … Unless we get all societies working effectively once again, every society will be financially affected.”

Directors of the WHO previously warned that “vaccine nationalism” could cost high-income countries $4.5 trillion, while a report by the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation found that the world economy could lose up to $9.2 trillion if poorer countries do not receive access to jabs.

One member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, Jeremy Farrar, warned that vaccinating “a lot of people in a few countries, leaving the virus unchecked in large parts of the world, will lead to more variants emerging.”

He said countries with vaccine supply deals should donate some doses to the WHO Covax vaccine fund, which he claimed “would not take away from the national effort to protect the most vulnerable in society and healthcare workers.”

The UK has so far helped to raise more than £730 million ($1 billion) for the Covax advance market commitment, to help deploy more than 1.3 billion vaccine doses to 92 developing countries this year.

In January, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said governments had a responsibility to protect their people, but “vaccinationalism” is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery.

“Science is succeeding, but solidarity is failing,” he warned. “Vaccines are reaching high-income countries quickly, while the world’s poorest have none at all.”


Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
Updated 23 sec ago

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
  • Man who killed MP David Amess had previously been discharged from Britain’s deradicalization program, Prevent
  • Government recently missed a deadline for a review of the program

LONDON: Britain’s counter-radicalization program is facing renewed scrutiny after it emerged that the man who murdered an MP late last week had received extensive support from the Prevent program before having his case closed.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that Ali Harbi Ali, who stabbed MP David Amess to death last Friday, was first referred to the deradicalization intervention scheme Prevent in 2014 over concerns that he was being drawn toward a radical Islamist ideology.

Ali was later sent on to a more intensive deradicalization program, Channel, designed to intervene against individuals viewed as most vulnerable to terrorist ideology and recruitment.

He voluntarily accepted a referral to the scheme and completed its processes.

This involved having his vulnerability assessed and accepting support, a source told the Guardian. The source said: “He went through the process and was discharged. He was not thought to pose a threat of terrorist violence and the case was closed.”

Seven years later, Ali murdered Amess, and the attack has been confirmed as a terrorism-related incident.

The Amess attack, and some that came before it, have prompted questions over the effectiveness of the Prevent program once an at-risk individual is enrolled in the deradicalization course.

The program was already under review when Ali killed Amess, following a wave of attacks in the mid to late 2010s that saw dozens of people die to terrorism across Britain — including many children in the Manchester arena bombing, and another MP, Jo Cox, who was shot dead in her constituency. Some attackers had been referred to Prevent and completed its courses.

The government missed the deadline for that review, meant to be Sep. 30, 2021, in the weeks leading up to Amess’ killing.

The results of the review will be published more than three years after it was undertaken. Not only was the review designed to ensure that people vulnerable to terrorist ideology were safeguarded effectively, but also to address criticisms that Muslims were unfairly targeted at higher rates than the wider population.

Out of 6,287 referrals to Prevent in the year to March 2020, more than half were for individuals with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology.

Around a quarter of referrals were due to concerns over Islamist radicalization, and 22 percent related to right-wing radicalization.

The largest age group was children and young people aged 20 and under, including 1,559 children under the age of 15.

In the wake of Amess’ killing, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would ensure Prevent is “fit for purpose.” 

“Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that, we have to learn, we obviously constantly have to learn, not just from incidences that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs,” said Patel.


Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister
Updated 20 October 2021

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister
  • Around 154 officers had been identified for ‘possible criminal liability’ over police operations
  • Three policemen were sentenced in 2018 to prison for killing a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep

MANILA: The Philippine government’s review of dozens of deadly drug war operations has cast doubt on police claims they acted in “self-defense,” a top official said Wednesday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced this month that around 154 officers had been identified for “possible criminal liability” over police operations carried out during President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.
Most of the 52 cases reviewed by the Justice Department and made public Wednesday were drug war operations that ended in the fatal shooting of the suspect.
“Most... indicate circumstances that do not support the police officers’ claim of self-defense,” Guevarra said in a text message.
“That is why we have endorsed these cases to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) for a proper case build-up.”
Most of the officers involved in the cases had been recommended for demotion or temporary suspension by the police internal affairs service.
In one incident, the suspect was shot 15 times after allegedly firing at police, who received a 31-day suspension from duty.
Guevarra last year told the United Nations Human Rights Council that an inter-agency review of 5,655 deadly anti-drug operations was under way.
His announcement came after the UN human rights office released a damning report on the drug war.
Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch senior researcher for the Philippines, said the reviewed cases showed the drug war was an “illegal, murderous state policy.”
Duterte was elected in 2016 on a promise to get rid of the Philippines’ drug problem, openly ordering police to kill drug suspects if officers’ lives were in danger.
At least 6,191 people have died in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to the latest official data.
Rights groups estimate tens of thousands of mostly poor men have been killed in the crackdown.
International Criminal Court judges authorized in September a full-blown investigation into the anti-narcotics campaign, saying it resembled an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.
Guevarra told AFP the Justice Department’s actions were not “to impress or influence the ICC, but because it is the right and just thing to do.”
“Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will also look into the files of the thousands of other cases where no liability was found (by police internal affairs),” he said.
While defending the drug war, police chief General Guillermo Eleazar on Wednesday urged victims to “cooperate in holding policemen who committed abuses accountable for their action.”
Three Philippine policemen were sentenced in 2018 to decades in prison for murdering a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep, the first and only conviction so far against officers carrying out Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte said this month he would prepare his defense against an ICC probe, after previously insisting he would not cooperate.


Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week
Updated 20 October 2021

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week
  • Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), reported the attack targeted the city center
  • Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately answer a phone call requesting comment on the reported strike

ADDIS ABABA: An air strike hit the capital of Tigray region in northern Ethiopia on Wednesday morning, regionally controlled television said, reporting the second attack on the city of Mekelle this week.
Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), reported the attack targeted the city center.
It posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke, but it was not immediately possible for Reuters to geolocate the photographs. The TV station said in a statement on Facebook that the strike was at 10:24 a.m. (0724 GMT).
Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately answer a phone call requesting comment on the reported strike. It was not immediately possible to reach the spokesperson for the TPLF.
The two sides have been fighting a war for almost a year that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million.
A humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters the strike was in an area of the city called 05 Kebelle — an area near the a cement factory on the city’s outskirts.
The strike hit around 10:30 a.m., the source said.
The report of a strike comes two days after two air strikes hit the city. Rebellious Tigrayan forces accused the Ethiopian government of launching the strikes. Though a government official initially denied any strikes, state-run media later reported the air force conducted an attack.
The news follows intensified fighting https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/ethiopian-offensive-two-northern-regions-intensifies-tigrayan-forces-say-2021-10-13 in two other Ethiopian regions, where the central government’s military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF, which recaptured Mekelle and most of the rest of Tigray several months ago.
“The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which has recently made further gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said.


Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’

Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’
Updated 20 October 2021

Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’

Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’
  • Taiwan has repeatedly said that it will defend itself if attacked, but wants to maintain the status quo with China
TAIPEI: The odds of war with China in the next year are “very low,” a top Taiwanese security official told lawmakers on Wednesday, amid heightened tensions between Taipei and Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the island.
Taiwan has repeatedly said that it will defend itself if attacked, but wants to maintain the status quo with China even as it complains of repeated sorties by the Chinese air force in its air defense identification zone, or ADIZ.
“I think generally, within one year, the probability of war is very low,” National Security Bureau Director-General Chen Ming-tong told a parliamentary defense committee meeting.
“But there are many things you still have to pay attention to, called contingent events.”
Earlier this month, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not be forced to bow to China, but reiterated a desire for peace and dialogue with Beijing.
Barring any “contingent events,” Chen said, “in the next one year, two years, or three years, during President Tsai’s term, I think there won’t be a problem.”
Chen cited the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of an unexpected event that has fundamentally changed society.
“Nobody expected that,” he said.
Earlier this month China mounted four consecutive days of mass air force incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ, which covers a broader area than Taiwan’s territorial air space. Taiwan monitors and patrols ADIZ in order to give it more time to respond to any threats.
While China’s aircraft did not enter into Taiwan’s airspace, flying primarily in the southwestern corner of its ADIZ, Taiwan views the increased frequency of incursions as part of Beijing’s intensifying military harassment.
China defended its military activities as “just” moves to protect peace and stability, blaming the tensions on Taiwan’s “collusion” with foreign forces — a veiled reference to the United States.
Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said last week that Taiwan will not start a war with China but will “meet the enemy full on.”
Military tensions with China are at their higher point in more than 40 years, Chiu said earlier this month, adding China will be capable of mounting a “full scale” invasion by 2025.

Flooding in Venice worsens off-season amid climate change

Flooding in Venice worsens off-season amid climate change
Updated 20 October 2021

Flooding in Venice worsens off-season amid climate change

Flooding in Venice worsens off-season amid climate change
  • Venice’s worse-case scenario for sea level rise by the end of the century is a startling 120 centimeters

VENICE, Italy: After Venice suffered the second-worst flood in its history in November 2019, it was inundated with four more exceptional tides within six weeks, shocking Venetians and triggering fears about the worsening impact of climate change.
The repeated invasion of brackish lagoon water into St. Mark’s Basilica this summer is a quiet reminder that the threat hasn’t receded.
“I can only say that in August, a month when this never used to happen, we had tides over a meter five times. I am talking about the month of August, when we are quiet,” St. Mark’s chief caretaker, Carlo Alberto Tesserin, told The Associated Press.
Venice’s unique topography, built on log piles among canals, has made it particularly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels are increasing the frequency of high tides that inundate the 1,600-year-old Italian lagoon city, which is also gradually sinking.
It is the fate of coastal cities like Venice that will be on the minds of climate scientists and global leaders meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, at a UN climate conference that begins Oct. 31.
Venice’s worse-case scenario for sea level rise by the end of the century is a startling 120 centimeters (3 feet, 11 inches), according to a new study published by the European Geosciences Union. That is 50 percent higher than the worse-case global sea-rise average of 80 centimeters (2 feet, 7 1/2 inches) forecast by the UN science panel.
The city’s interplay of canals and architecture, of natural habitat and human ingenuity, also has earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding universal value, a designation put at risk of late because of the impact of over-tourism and cruise ship traffic. It escaped the endangered list after Italy banned cruise ships from passing through St. Mark’s Basin, but alarm bells are still ringing.
Sitting at Venice’s lowest spot, St. Mark’s Basilica offers a unique position to monitor the impact of rising seas on the city. The piazza outside floods at 80 centimeters (around 30 inches), and water passes the narthex into the church at 88 centimeters (34.5 inches), which has been reinforced up from a previous 65 centimeters (25.5 inches).
“Conditions are continuing to worsen since the flooding of November 2019. We therefore have the certainty that in these months, flooding is no longer an occasional phenomenon. It is an everyday occurrence,” said Tesserin, whose honorific, First Procurator of St. Mark’s, dates back to the ninth century.
In the last two decades, there have been nearly as many inundations in Venice over 1.1 meters — the official level for “acqua alta,” or “high water,” provoked by tides, winds and lunar cycles — as during the previous 100 years: 163 vs. 166, according to city data.
Exceptional floods over 140 centimeters (4 feet, 7 inches) also are accelerating. That mark has been hit 25 times since Venice starting keeping such records in 1872. Two-thirds of those have been registered in the last 20 years, with five, or one-fifth of the total, from Nov. 12-Dec. 23, 2019.
“What is happening now is on the continuum for Venetians, who have always lived with periodic flooding,” said Jane Da Mosto, executive director of We Are Here Venice. “We are living with flooding that has become increasingly frequent, so my concern is that people haven’t really realized we are in a climate crisis. We are already living it now. It is not a question of plans to deal with it in the future. We need to have solutions ready for today.”
Venice’s defense has been entrusted to the Moses system of moveable underwater barriers, a project costing around 6 billion euros (nearly $7 billion) and which, after decades of cost overruns, delays and a bribery scandal, is still officially in the testing phase.
Following the devastation of the 2019 floods, the Rome government put the project under ministry control to speed its completion, and last year start activating the barriers when floods of 1.3 meters (4 feet, 3 inches) are imminent.
The barriers have been raised 20 times since October 2020, sparing the city a season of serious flooding but not from the lower-level tides that are becoming more frequent.
The extraordinary commissioner, Elisabetta Spitz, stands by the soundness of the undersea barriers, despite concerns by scientists and experts that their usefulness may be outstripped within decades because of climate change. The project has been delayed yet again, until 2023, with another 500 million euros ($580 million) in spending, for “improvements” that Spitz said will ensure its long-term efficiency.
“We can say that the effective life of the Moses is 100 years, taking into account the necessary maintenance and interventions that will be implemented,’’ Spitz said.
Paolo Vielmo, an engineer who has written expert reports on the project, points out that the sea level rise was projected at 22 centimeters (8 1/2 inches) when the Moses was first proposed more than 30 years ago, far below the UN scientists’ current worse-case scenario of 80 centimeters.
“That puts the Moses out of contention,” he said.
According to current plans, the Moses barriers won’t be raised for floods of 1.1 meters (3 feet, 7 inches) until the project receives final approval. That leaves St. Mark’s exposed.
Tesserin is overseeing work to protect the Basilica by installing a glass wall around its base, which eventually will protect marshy lagoon water from seeping inside, where it deposits salt that eats away at marble columns, wall cladding and stone mosaics. The project, which continues to be interrupted by high tides, was supposed to be finished by Christmas. Now Tesserin says they will be lucky to have it finished by Easter.
Regular high tides elicit a blase response from Venetians, who are accustomed to lugging around rubber boots at every flood warning, and delight from tourists, fascinated by the sight of St. Mark’s golden mosaics and domes reflected in rising waters. But businesses along St. Mark’s Square increasingly see themselves at ground zero of the climate crisis.
“We need to help this city. It was a light for the world, but now it needs the whole world to understand it,’’ said Annapaola Lavena, speaking from behind metal barriers that kept waters reaching 1.05 meters (3 feet, 5 inches) from invading her marble-floored cafe.
“The acqua alta is getting worse, and it completely blocks business. Venice lives thanks to its artisans and tourism. If there is no more tourism, Venice dies,” she explained. “We have a great responsibility in trying to save it, but we are suffering a lot.”