France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead

France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead
Vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine and loaded syringes wait to be administered to homeless persons at the Welcome Centre in Ilford, east London, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 13 February 2021

France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead

France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead
  • Medics in France report adverse side effects after taking AstraZeneca jab
  • Italians raise fears over lower efficacy rate of vaccine compared to Pfizer product

LONDON: Doctors in Italy and France have claimed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) causes side effects and that other vaccines are more effective.
France has already limited the use of the vaccine on people above the age of 65 over fears it is less effective on them and following comments regarding the issue by French President Emmanuel Macron.
A number of French medics are reportedly now shunning the vaccine altogether. So far, 149 doctors in France, of 10,000 vaccinated, reportedly suffered “high-intensity flu symptoms” after taking one dose of the Oxford vaccine, according to the French national safety agency for medicines, reporting high temperature, aches and headaches.
The government has advised medics to stagger their vaccinations to ensure their facilities’ continued function.
Doctors in Italy have voiced similar concerns, preferring the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine.
One doctor told Italian newspaper La Stampa he had refused the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding: “Why have they vaccinated hospital gardeners with more efficient vaccines while we doctors, who each day risk infection or risk infecting others, are offered something less efficient?” 
Like France, Italy has limited use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 55 over fears about its efficacy when compared to the Pfizer vaccine. It has prioritized vaccinating public workers and the elderly using stockpiles of its Pfizer jab and of a third vaccine produced by Moderna.
“Since Pfizer and Moderna are more efficient, we want to keep them for older, more vulnerable Italians,” an Italian health spokesman said.
Only 1.53 million Italians have so far received a vaccine for COVID-19, compared to 14 million in the UK, where no such qualms about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been raised.


WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic

WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic
Updated 03 December 2021

WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic

WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic
  • WHO has urged countries to boost healthcare capacity and vaccinate their people
  • "We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we're in a different situation to a year ago," WHO’s chief scientist said

DUBAI: The World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told the Reuters Next conference on Friday that while the new coronavirus variant Omicron appeared to be very transmissible, the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic.
The WHO has urged countries to boost health care capacity and vaccinate their people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant, saying travel curbs could buy time but alone were not the answer.
“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” Swaminathan said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
While the emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, she said the world was much better prepared given the development of vaccines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries. Parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the Delta variant before it emerged.
“We need to wait, lets hope it’s milder ... but it’s too early to conclude about the variant as a whole,” Swaminathan said of what was known about Omicron.
“Delta accounts for 99 percent of infections around the world. This variant would have to be more transmissible to out-compete and become dominant worldwide. It is possible, but it’s not possible to predict.”
The WHO’s top scientist said the Omicron variant seemed to be causing three times more infections than experienced previously in South Africa, meaning “it does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection.”
Vaccines did appear to be having some effect.
“The fact that they’re not getting sick .... that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection,” Swaminathan said.
Asked about the need for annual vaccine boosters, she said “the WHO is preparing for all scenarios,” which could include an additional dose, particularly among some age groups or vulnerable sections of the population, or a modified vaccine.
“Natural infection acts as a booster,” the WHO scientist said, adding that while the new variant “could have originated in a country where there isn’t a great deal of genome sequencing,” its origins were not known.
“We may never know,” Swaminathan said.


OIC-IPHRC calls for human rights-based approach to design national policies during post-pandemic recovery 

OIC-IPHRC calls for human rights-based approach to design national policies during post-pandemic recovery 
Updated 03 December 2021

OIC-IPHRC calls for human rights-based approach to design national policies during post-pandemic recovery 

OIC-IPHRC calls for human rights-based approach to design national policies during post-pandemic recovery 

LONDON: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission joins the international community in commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021 with an emphatic appeal to sign and implement the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and calls on members to design their respective national policies and post-pandemic recovery efforts based on human rights-based approaches. 

The ongoing coronavirus disease pandemic has aptly highlighted that protection, response, and recovery efforts will not be effective unless everyone is equally valued and included, the OIC-IPHRC statement said, urging action to ensure persons with disabilities are included in public emergency planning, health responses, and recovery efforts.

According to the World Health Organization, there are at least one billion people with disabilities worldwide, of which 80 percent live in developing countries, which include OIC states. 

The OIC said it recognizes the importance of promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities to build inclusive and harmonious societies. 

The new Cairo Declaration of the OIC on Human Rights has duly emphasized the importance of the rights of people with disabilities in various contexts, a statement by the commission said.

The OIC is initiating the Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities to help member states align their national policies and legislation with universal human rights standards, particularly the UNCRPD.

The commission also called upon all member states to: 

Design policies and targeted interventions to remove psychological, social, cultural and environmental barriers, which hinder the enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities

Follow multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach by integrating civil society, religious leaders, media and private sector to enhance public awareness and influence public policies aiming to improve public perception

Enhance opportunities for their employment and accessibility to education and healthcare services

Formulate national disability strategy/plan of action for improved investments in rehabilitation assistive technologies

Enhance capacities to gather data, statistics and qualitative information to better assess and address the situation of persons with disabilities


EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis

EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis
Updated 03 December 2021

EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis

EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis
  • The bloc has accused Belarus of manufacturing a crisis for political ends
  • 13 people have died on the Belarus border due to freezing conditions

LONDON: The EU is considering suspending some rights belonging to asylum seekers in countries bordering Belarus in an effort to end the ongoing migrant crisis.

Proposals put forward by the European Commission, the executive arm of the bloc, would allow for faster deportations and the detention of asylum seekers at the border for up to four months.

The plans are aimed at mitigating the political harm caused by large numbers of people attempting to enter Poland and other EU states from Belarus, in what Brussels describes as a crisis manufactured by Minsk.

The EU argues that Belarus has flown migrants in from the Middle East in order to put pressure on its northeastern border regions and manufacture political instability, with the onus of dealing with a large influx of migrants placed disproportionately on Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Belarus has denied those accusations, calling them absurd.

The three Belarus-bordering EU states have defended their approach of pushing migrants back without individually assessing their cases or granting them a realistic chance to claim asylum.

Rights groups say that 13 people have now died in the area due to the freezing conditions and that the practice violates EU rules and international humanitarian law.

Under the EU’s proposals, migrants would be permitted to claim asylum only at designated locations, such as border crossings.

National authorities would have a longer period of up to four weeks to register asylum applications and asylum seekers could be kept for up to 16 weeks at the border, losing a standing right to be held in more suitable centers inside the country.

The proposals are a further example of the EU tightening immigration rules since more than one million people arrived in 2015 — many of them fleeing the conflict in Syria — overwhelming the bloc and dividing member states over how to respond.

Immigration is among the most contentious intra-bloc issues for EU members, in part because regulation and geography mean that the burden of managing asylum applications and inward immigration falls disproportionately on Southern and Eastern countries — many of which are less wealthy than western states, such as France and Germany.

According to Lithuania’s interior ministry, around 10,000 migrants remain in Belarus, despite Minsk initiating removal flights for some.


Pope Francis urges ‘fraternity’ at mass in divided Cyprus

Pope Francis urges ‘fraternity’ at mass in divided Cyprus
Updated 03 December 2021

Pope Francis urges ‘fraternity’ at mass in divided Cyprus

Pope Francis urges ‘fraternity’ at mass in divided Cyprus
  • The 84-year-old pontiff was expected to offer 50 migrants now in Cyprus a chance for a new life in Italy
  • Francis on Thursday bemoaned “the terrible laceration” of Cyprus while also urging greater unity in Europe

NICOSIA: Pope Francis appealed for a “sense of fraternity” in an open-air mass in Cyprus on Friday, the second day of a visit to the divided Mediterranean island that has focused heavily on the plight of migrants.
As a gesture of solidarity to those fleeing poverty and conflict, the 84-year-old pontiff was expected to offer 50 migrants now in Cyprus a chance for a new life in Italy.
The pope delivered his open-air mass at Nicosia’s main football stadium to some 7,000 faithful, many of them workers from the Philippines and South Asia who make up a large proportion of the 25,000 Catholics in mainly Greek-Orthodox Cyprus.
“Faced with our own inner darkness and the challenges before us in the church and in society, we are called to renew our sense of fraternity,” Francis told them.
“If we remain divided, if each person thinks only of himself or herself, or his or her group, if we refuse to stick together, if we do not dialogue and walk together, we will never be completely healed of our blindness.”
Many in the crowd were waving the flags of nearby Lebanon, the Philippines and the pope’s native Argentina. A 130-member multicultural choir sang songs in Arabic, English and Greek.
“We are so lucky,” Jackylyn Fo Bulado, a 31-year-old domestic worker from the Philippines wearing a T-shirt with the pope’s image, said before the mass started.
“We are just waiting for a simple message of love and peace from the pope and that he will bless Cyprus and the world.”

The pope earlier visited the Holy Archbishopric of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus in Nicosia, seeking to improve historically difficult relations between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.
“Where our relations are concerned, history has opened broad furrows between us, but the Holy Spirit desires that with humility and respect we once more draw close to one another,” he said in an address to Orthodox clerics, including Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus.
Elena Chentsova, an Orthodox Christian originally from Ukraine, said she woke up early to see the pope.
“I’m Orthodox and I hope he will spread a message of dialogue between the different religions, to be all the more close,” the 42-year-old told AFP.
Francis — on his 35th international trip since becoming pope in 2013 — is the second Catholic pontiff to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI went in 2010. He travels on to Greece on Saturday morning.
Cyprus said it had deployed 500 police to secure the pontiff’s visit, with sharp-shooters deployed on rooftops and a helicopter buzzing in the sky.
Police said a 43-year-old man was arrested after a security check at the stadium when a knife was found in his possession. A police spokesperson said it was believed the knife “had nothing to do with the pope” and was for personal use.
The pope will later hold an ecumenical prayer service with migrants from dozens of nations at Nicosia’s Church of the Holy Cross, located near the UN-patrolled “Green Line” that divides the country.
Cyprus has been split since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied the island’s northern third in response to a military coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.
Only Ankara recognizes the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and tensions simmer between the two sides.

The majority-Greek speaking south accuses the north of sending migrants across the Green Line and also says it now receives the highest number of first-time asylum seekers of any EU member country.
Francis on Thursday bemoaned “the terrible laceration” of Cyprus while also urging greater unity in Europe, instead of nationalism and “walls of fear,” as the continent faces an influx of refugees and migrants.
The island’s experience served as a reminder to Europe, he said, that “we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity.”
On Thursday evening, Francis visited President Nicos Anastasiades for talks focused on the island’s painful division.
“I think of the deep suffering of all those people unable to return to their homes and their places of worship,” said the pope, urging dialogue.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar accused the south of seeking to use the trip to score “political goals against Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”
It was a “source of sorrow for us that Pope Francis will visit Greek Cyprus only,” he said.
“There are two peoples in Cyprus. Not only Christian Greeks but also Muslim Turks live in Cyprus. This is one of the basic realities of Cyprus.”


Philippines court allows Nobel laureate Ressa to travel to Norway

Philippines court allows Nobel laureate Ressa to travel to Norway
Updated 03 December 2021

Philippines court allows Nobel laureate Ressa to travel to Norway

Philippines court allows Nobel laureate Ressa to travel to Norway
  • The prize is the first Nobel Peace Prize for journalists since the German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935
  • The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided this year’s award ceremony will be an in-person event taking place in Oslo City Hall

MANILA: Philippine journalist Maria Ressa will be allowed to travel so she can accept her Nobel Peace Prize in person after a court gave her permission to leave the Southeast Asian country to visit Norway later this month.
Ressa, who is subject to travel restrictions due to the legal cases she faces in the Philippines, shared the Peace Prize with Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Muratov, in an endorsement of free speech under fire worldwide.
The prize is the first Nobel Peace Prize for journalists since the German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935 for revealing his country’s secret post-war rearmament program.
In its ruling on Friday, the Philippine Court of Appeals granted Ressa’s request to travel to receive the award on Dec. 10, noting that “she is not a flight risk.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided this year’s award ceremony will be an in-person event taking place in Oslo City Hall.
Ressa’s news site, Rappler, has had its license suspended and she is embroiled in various legal cases. Supporters say she is being targeted due to her scrutiny of government policies, including a bloody war on drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Free on bail as she appeals against a six-year prison sentence https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-media-idUSKBN23M03B handed down last year for a libel conviction, Ressa is facing five tax evasion charges and a corporate case with the regulator.
The Philippines saw its ranking in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index drop two notches to 138 out of 180 countries, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines seventh in the world in its impunity index, which tracks deaths of media members whose killers go free.
The government denies hounding media and says any problems organizations face are legal, not political. It says it believes in free speech.
The United Nations on Monday had urged the Philippines to allow Ressa to travel https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/un-urges-philippines-let-nobel-laureate-ressa-travel-norway-2021-11-29 to Norway to accept the award.

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