Israel combats online misinformation as COVID-19 vaccinations lag

Israel combats online misinformation as COVID-19 vaccinations lag
Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has reported over 5,000 new coronavirus cases each day over the past week despite an intensive vaccination campaign. (AP)
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Updated 15 February 2021

Israel combats online misinformation as COVID-19 vaccinations lag

Israel combats online misinformation as COVID-19 vaccinations lag
  • Over a quarter of Israel’s population have been vaccinated a campaign was launched in December
  • ‘Decide whether you are part of the celebration or whether you will be left behind’

JERUSALEM: After surging ahead in the race to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus, Israel is blaming online misinformation for a sudden slowdown in the campaign. Now, officials are fighting back.
Israel’s Health Ministry, which is spearheading the vaccination efforts, is employing both warnings and incentives as it tries to persuade reluctant holdouts to get immunized. It has beefed up a digital task force to counter spurious claims about the vaccines, while local governments are turning to DJs and free food to lure people to vaccination centers. Concerts and museums could soon be off limits to the unvaccinated.
“Decide whether you are part of the celebration or whether you will be left behind,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein declared on Twitter. “Just lend a shoulder to the vaccine.”
Since launching its COVID-19 vaccine campaign in December, over a quarter of the population – 2.5 million people – has received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to the Health Ministry. Over 44 percent have received the first shot.
The vaccination rates are among the highest in the world, and many countries are looking at the Israeli experience to understand what may lie ahead in the future.
But in a cause for concern, Israel has seen a drop in immunization rates since making the vaccine available to everyone over the age of 16 this month. In February, Israel averaged just over 106,000 vaccinations per day, down from January’s daily average of more than 127,000 per day, according to Health Ministry statistics.
The reluctance of some groups in the population to get vaccinated is a key reason why infection rates remain high.
Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has reported over 5,000 new cases each day over the past week, according to the ministry. In all, the country has recorded over 723,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and nearly 5,400 deaths – over 20 percent of them in the past month.
Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has pinned his reelection hopes on the vaccination campaign, said the only obstacle to completing the task was “the fake news and the superstitious and sometimes malicious beliefs that are planted in the public and on the Internet.”
The Health Ministry has reportedly invested millions of dollars in its efforts to educate the public.
The task has been complicated because different segments of society have resisted vaccination calls for different reasons.
Einav Shimron, the Health Ministry’s deputy director for international relations, said the ministry is working with physicians and religious leaders to counter misinformation, such as claims that the vaccine can cause infertility.
The ministry manages a command center with 11 trackers who monitor social media activity for anti-vaccination posts in Hebrew, Russian, Amharic, Arabic and English on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram. The center is adding more staffers in the coming days.
The undertaking is akin to whack-a-mole for conspiracy theories.


Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya
Updated 29 sec ago

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya
  • During a meeting in New York with Mohamed El-Manfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s full support
  • Shoukry praised the efforts of the Libyan House of Representatives in preparing the electoral law as an important step toward holding presidential and parliamentary elections

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has affirmed his country’s keenness to strengthen relations with neighboring Libya.

This follows visits by officials from both sides and last week’s meeting of the Egyptian-Libyan Joint Higher Committee in Cairo.

During a meeting in New York with Mohamed El-Manfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s full support for efforts to meet the aspirations of the Libyan people, stabilize the country and develop its various regions. 

Shoukry praised the efforts of the Libyan House of Representatives in preparing the electoral law as an important step toward holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

He also affirmed Egypt’s firm support for the preservation of Libyan sovereignty and opposition to foreign interference.


Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in few weeks

Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
Updated 33 min 7 sec ago

Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in few weeks

Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
  • World powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the US and Iran in Vienna
  • The talks stopped in June, pending the start of Iran’s new government

DUBAI: Iran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
“Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to IRNA.
The world powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna to try and work out how both can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.
The Vienna talks were adjourned in June after hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iran’s president and took office in August.
Ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia will not meet jointly with Iran at the United Nations this week to discuss a return to the talks, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters on Monday.
But Khatibzadeh said Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian would meet individually with ministers from those countries on the sidelines of the annual UN gathering of world leaders and the nuclear deal and the Vienna talks would be among the main topics under discussion, IRNA reported.


Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government
Updated 21 September 2021

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

TRIPOLI: Libya’s eastern-based parliament said on Tuesday it had withdrawn confidence from the unity government, though it would continue to operate as a caretaker administration.
The vote in the House of Representatives exemplifies the wrangling between rival factions and state bodies that has plagued UN-backed efforts to resolve Libya’s decade-long crisis by establishing a unity government and holding national elections.
In 2014, eastern and western factions split Libya in two in a civil war, with an internationally recognized government in Tripoli and a rival administration backed by the House of Representatives in the east.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s unity government was selected through a UN-sponsored dialogue and his government was installed by the House of Representatives in March.
Dbeibeh has a mandate to unify state institutions, improve government services and prepare for national presidential and parliamentary elections.
However, on Tuesday, after parliament summoned Dbeibeh and his ministers to answer questions this month, 89 of the 113 members present voted to withdraw confidence in him, the chamber’s spokesman and several other parliament members said.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
The UN forum decided that presidential and parliamentary elections should take place on Dec. 24, but disagreements now rage over the legal basis for the votes and the laws that will govern them.
This month, parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh said the House of Representatives had passed a law for the presidential election, though it did not hold a final vote on the bill.
The validity of that law was promptly challenged by the High Council of State based in Tripoli, in the west, which produced its own, alternative election law.
The House of Representatives, which was elected seven years ago but divided when Libya split, has not yet produced a law for a parliamentary election. 


Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit

Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit
Updated 21 September 2021

Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit

Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit
  • El-Sisi’s announcement came during his virtual participation in the Heads of State and Government on Climate meeting

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has announced Egypt’s aspiration to host the UN Climate Change Summit in 2022 on behalf of Africa. Britain will host this year’s summit in Glasgow in November.

El-Sisi’s announcement came during his virtual participation in the Heads of State and Government on Climate meeting on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

During the meeting, he stressed the importance of developed countries shouldering their responsibilities within the framework of the Paris Agreement and the UN Convention on Climate Change.

He also stressed the need to deal seriously with any unilateral measures that contribute to exacerbating the consequences of climate change, including construction of dams on international rivers without agreement with downstream countries.


El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis

El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis
Updated 21 September 2021

El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis

El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi affirmed his country’s support all efforts to reach a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis.

Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Radi said Yemen’s Defense Minister Muhammad Ali Al-Maqdashi conveyed the greetings of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to El-Sisi and praised bilateral cooperation in all fields, especially military and security.

Radi added that El-Sisi asked to convey his greetings to Hadi and stressed the need for a solution that achieves Yemeni stability and unity, meets its people’s aspirations and ends foreign interference in the country.

El-Sisi said Egypt will spare no effort to assist Yemen in achieving these goals.