UK hits target: Gives at least 1 vaccine shot to 15 million

UK hits target: Gives at least 1 vaccine shot to 15 million
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A person gets off a mobile vaccination centre for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after receiving the vaccine, in Thamesmead, London, Britain, February 14, 2021. (Reuters)
UK hits target: Gives at least 1 vaccine shot to 15 million
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A woman receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine inside a bus modified into a mobile vaccination centre for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Thamesmead, London, Britain, February 14, 2021. (Reuters)
UK hits target: Gives at least 1 vaccine shot to 15 million
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A woman receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine inside a bus modified into a mobile vaccination centre for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Thamesmead, London, Britain, February 14, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 February 2021

UK hits target: Gives at least 1 vaccine shot to 15 million

UK hits target: Gives at least 1 vaccine shot to 15 million
  • The UK will start administering vaccines from Monday to those aged between 65 and 69 and the clinically vulnerable to COVID-19
  • Britain has registered nearly 117,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test

LONDON: The UK government said Sunday that it reached its goal of giving at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to the most vulnerable people in the country, increasing pressure on ministers to clarify when they will ease a lockdown imposed in early January.
Some 15 million people, or 22% of the UK population, have received their first shot or were offered one. The figure includes most people in the government’s top four priority groups, including everyone over 75, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff.
“15,000,000! Amazing team,'' Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said in a tweet that featured a red heart. “We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase1 the 1-9 categories of the most vulnerable & all over 50s by end April and then all adults.''
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to unveil his roadmap for easing restrictions on Feb. 22 amid signs that infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen sharply since England’s third national lockdown began on Jan. 4.
Jockeying has already begun between those who want the measures lifted as soon as possible and those who fear moving too fast will lead to a resurgence of the virus.
Britain got a head start on its vaccination effort in December, when it became the first country to authorize widespread use of a COVID-19 shot. It ranks behind only Israel, 71%, the Seychelles, 53%, and the United Arab Emirates, 50% in the percentage of people who have received one dose, according to data compiled by Oxford University. The US is fifth at 15%.
At the same time, rules that have closed schools, restaurants and nonessential shops in the UK are starting to pay off. The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths recorded over the past seven days have all dropped by more than 20% from the previous week, according to government figures.
When Johnson announced the lockdown, he said the government would review the measures in mid-February based on their success in controlling the pandemic and progress in the vaccination effort. Johnson’s first priority is to reopen schools, and he has promised to give schools two weeks notice to give teachers time to prepare for the return of students.
The prime minister on Saturday applauded the vaccine rollout but urged people to be cautious.
“We have still got infections running very high throughout the country — levels which last year we would have thought were really very high indeed — (and) still, sadly, a great many deaths in our hospitals,” he said during a visit to a vaccine manufacturing facility in northeastern England. “Although the number is beginning to come down, and perhaps starting to come down quite fast, we need to look at the data very, very hard.”
Britain has reported over 117,000 virus-related deaths, the highest toll in Europe.
Mark Harper, a member of Parliament from the ruling Conservative Party, last week warned the government against “moving the goalposts” for deciding when to ease the lockdown.
Johnson should start by reopening schools, then gradually lift other restrictions as more people are vaccinated, said Harper, who leads a group of about 70 lawmakers who have lobbied for the government to consider the negative economic and social impacts of the restrictions, along with the health benefits.
“If you think about the restrictions that the government’s placed on everybody, they are the toughest set of restrictions that have ever been placed on the British people outside of the Second and First World Wars,” Harper told the BBC. “So it’s kind of just worth stepping back a bit and saying, ‘This isn’t normal, and it shouldn’t continue, frankly, for a moment longer than it’s absolutely necessary.’”
After meeting the target for reaching the most vulnerable people, UK authorities will progressively expand the vaccination drive to the next five priority groups until everyone over 50 and vulnerable younger people with health conditions that put them at higher risk from the virus have been offered the vaccine.
Public health officials say the top nine priority groups account for 99% of the deaths caused by COVID-19 so far.
While the vaccines currently authorized for use in the UK require two doses to ensure full protection against COVID-19, British authorities say one dose provides a significant level of protection.
Because of this, they have made it their priority to give the first dose to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. To do this, Britain has suggested that the second dose be administered after three months, instead of one month as recommended by the manufacturers.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust health think tank, said the number of COVID-19 infections in Britain is still too high to think about lifting the restrictions.
“We’ve made enormous progress … but the transmission is incredibly high still and we’ve got to get it lower,” he said.
There are other dangers on the horizon. UK government scientific advisers say the COVID-19 variant now predominant in the country may be up to 70% more deadly than previous variants, underscoring concerns about how mutations may change the characteristics of the disease.
The findings from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, published Friday on the government’s website, confirm preliminary research released Jan. 21. The group, known as NERVTAG, includes experts from universities and public agencies across the UK
The new report is based on analysis of a dozen studies that found the so-called Kent variant, named after the county where it was first identified, was 30% to 70% more deadly than other variants. The studies compared hospitalization and death rates among people infected with the variant and those infected with other variants.
“Based on these analyses, it is likely that infection with (the Kent variant) is associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death compared to infection with non-variant of cancer viruses,” the advisory group said. “It should be noted that the absolute risk of death per infection remains low.”


Italy gives COVID green light to six non-EU tourist destinations

Updated 6 sec ago

Italy gives COVID green light to six non-EU tourist destinations

Italy gives COVID green light to six non-EU tourist destinations
MILAN: Italy’s health ministry said on Tuesday it had given the go-ahead for travel to six non-European tourist spots without the need for quarantine as a COVID-19 precaution either on arrival or return.
Italians will be allowed to travel to the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Egypt (but only Sharm El Sheikh and Marsa Alam), Dominican Republic and Aruba on what the ministry called controlled tourist itineraries.
These popular destinations for Italians seeking winter sunshine mark an exception from other places outside the European Union, which require quarantine on return to Italy.
Everyone leaving for the selected countries must have a ‘Green Pass’ showing COVID immunity — either due to vaccination or previous infection — and must also present a negative swab at least 48 hours before departure, according to the order signed by Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
Once back in Italy, people will not be required to undergo quarantine if they have presented another negative test, conducted not more than 48 hours before boarding their plane.
These so-called COVID-free tourist corridors have been set up on an experimental basis, the health ministry said.

Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea

Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea
Updated 28 September 2021

Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea

Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea
  • Scientists said it was impossible to estimate when the black-and-red stream of molten rock would reach the shore.
  • Authorities said the lava had moved on the island of La Palma to within 800 meters (875 yards) of the Atlantic Ocean as of Tuesday morning

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Canary Islands: Lava flowing from a volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands picked up its pace on its way to the sea Tuesday.
Scientists said it was impossible to estimate when the black-and-red stream of molten rock would reach the shore.
Authorities said the lava had moved on the island of La Palma to within 800 meters (875 yards) of the Atlantic Ocean as of Tuesday morning, nine days after the volcano’s eruption. When it eventually meets sea water, the lava could trigger explosions and the release of toxic gas.
By the afternoon, officials said various factors dictated the unpredictable speed of the lava flow, including its departure from a path over an earlier flow that had hardened. The river of cooled lava had helped the moving flow slide along.
“The lava cools down as time passes and it meets uneven ground, which slows it down,” said Miguel Ángel Morcuende, technical director of the Canary Islands emergency volcano response department. “And if it comes off the highway it was going along, that slows it even more because it spreads out wider.”
A small hill and a built-up area also stood in the lava’s way, and the shore area is flatter than the hills the lava has been flowing down.
For days, officials have nervously awaited the time when lava from the Sept. 19 eruption reaches the Atlantic, but the volcano has been erratic. After calming down on Monday, the volcano became more explosive again overnight.
Authorities said they don’t expect the slow-moving lava to create a large disruption on the coast. But Eugenio Fraile, a researcher at the Spanish Oceanography Institute, told Cadena Ser radio that only scientists wearing protective gear will be inside a security perimeter when the flow hits the ocean.
The National Geographic Institute detected six earthquakes Tuesday in the area of the eruption, with the strongest measured at magnitude 3.3.
La Palma, home to about 85,000 people, is part of the volcanic Canary Islands, an archipelago off northwest Africa. The island is roughly 35 kilometers (22 miles) long and 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide at its broadest point.
Lava from the eruption has devoured everything in its path, destroying 589 buildings and 21 kilometers (13 miles) of roads on La Palma. The lava now covers 258 hectares (637 acres), mostly farmland, according to a European Union satellite monitoring agency.
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, thanks to the prompt evacuations of over 6,000 people.
But local people have lost their homes and their livelihoods at the same time. Farming is one of the island’s economic mainstays, along with tourism, and the lava and ash has ruined crops and irrigation systems, endangered aviation and poses a significant health risk to those nearby.
No flights went in or out of La Palma’s airport for a fourth straight day because of a huge ash cloud. Volcanic ash is hazardous for aircraft engines.
The Spanish government announced after its weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday it’s providing an immediate grant of 10.5 million euros ($12.3 million) to buy 107 properties to rehouse local people and also provide them with income aid.
More aid, including for the rebuilding of public infrastructure, will be sent once the current emergency is over, government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez said.
The volcano has so far spewed out more than 46 million cubic meters (1.6 billion cubic feet) of molten rock, according to the Canary Island Volcanology Institute.


Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement

Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement
Updated 28 September 2021

Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement

Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement
  • The Afghans traveled to Greece before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August
  • Another 43 are expected to fly to Portugal in the coming weeks, Greek officials said

ATHENS, Greece:
Authorities in Greece said that 41 Afghan refugees flew from Athens to Portugal on Tuesday, as part of a bilateral agreement to resettle 1,000 people who have been granted asylum.
The Afghans traveled to Greece before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August. Another 43 are expected to fly to Portugal in the coming weeks, Greek officials said.
Athens is seeking to reduce the number of refugees living in the country through bilateral agreements with other European Union members.
Greece has the fifth-highest number of pending asylum applications among EU countries, following Germany, France, Spain and Italy, according to figures from the bloc reported for the end of June.
Athens has toughened its policy on illegal migration in recent years, stepping up controls at its land and sea borders with Turkey.
Earlier Tuesday, 11 unattended migrant minors flew to Paris as part of a separate relocation program.


Pregnant mum, kids among 277 rescued off Spain coast

Pregnant mum, kids among 277 rescued off Spain coast
Updated 28 September 2021

Pregnant mum, kids among 277 rescued off Spain coast

Pregnant mum, kids among 277 rescued off Spain coast
  • Nearly 184 migrants were pulled to safety from boats in waters near the Balearics
  • The woman, who "was eight months pregnant," was one of those who reached the Alicante coastline, a Red Cross spokeswoman told AFP

MADRID: A pregnant Algerian mother and her five children were among 277 migrants rescued off the coast of mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands in the past 24 hours, officials said Tuesday.
Nearly two-thirds of them were pulled to safety from boats in waters near the Balearics, while another 91 were rescued off the coast of Alicante in southeastern Spain.
The sea route to mainland Spain and its Balearic and Canary Islands is fraught with danger, with the International Organization for Migration saying at least 1,025 people have died in 2021 in “the deadliest year on the migratory route to Spain.”
The woman, who “was eight months pregnant,” was one of those who reached the Alicante coastline, a Red Cross spokeswoman told AFP, saying she had been taken to hospital suffering from stomach pains.
Most of them were from Algeria although one boat was carrying refugees from Syria, she said.
“The first boat was found near Santa Pola with four women and six minors on board, including a baby of seven months, while the others were between four and six,” she said.
Of the 23 on board, “most of them were Syrians.”
Spain’s Salvamento Maritimo coast guard said six vessels were rescued, all of which had apparently set sail from the Algerian coast, which at its closest lies around 270 kilometers (170 miles) from Alicante.
Meanwhile, the coast guard also rescued 13 vessels off the Balearic Isles in less than 24 hours, pulling 176 people — including 11 women — to safety, the Spanish government’s delegation in the islands told AFP.
Last week, the bodies of eight migrants, including three women and a child, washed up on the shores of southern Spain near the city of Almeria, the local authorities said. The boats had likely set off from Morocco or Algeria.
Spanish interior ministry figures to September 14 show that a total of 10,701 migrants have managed to reach mainland Spain or the Balearic Islands by sea.
They also show 11,060 people reached the Canary Islands from the coast of west Africa, more than double the 5,090 in 2020.
Figures from Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that monitors SOS calls from migrants at sea, suggest that more than 2,000 people have died or gone missing on the Atlantic route this year.


Man charged with London teacher’s murder to plead not guilty

Man charged with London teacher’s murder to plead not guilty
Updated 28 September 2021

Man charged with London teacher’s murder to plead not guilty

Man charged with London teacher’s murder to plead not guilty
  • Delivery driver Koci Selamaj is accused of killing Sabina Nessa, who disappeared while walking to meet a friend

LONDON: A man charged with the murder of a 28-year-old school teacher in London plans to plead not guilty, a defense lawyer said Tuesday.
Delivery driver Koci Selamaj, 36, is accused of killing Sabina Nessa, who disappeared while walking to meet a friend at a pub a few minutes from her home in southeast London on Sept. 17. Nessa’s body was found in a local park the next day.
Her killing has renewed concerns that women aren’t safe on the streets of Britain’s capital. Selamaj, from Eastbourne in southern England, was arrested in the seaside town on Sunday.
Selamaj made his first court appearance Tuesday at Willesden Magistrates’ Court in London. His lawyer, Aiden Harvey, told the court his client intended to plead not guilty. The court remanded Selamaj into custody. He is scheduled to appear again Thursday for a bail hearing at the Central Criminal Court.
Nessa’s death came six months after the abduction, rape and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in south London by a serving police officer. The Everard case sparked large protests to denounce violence against women and girls.
On Friday, hundreds of people held a candlelight vigil in Nessa’s memory, demanding an end to violence against women.