Coronavirus variants could be dealt with via single jab: UK scientist

Coronavirus variants could be dealt with via single jab: UK scientist
Passengers wearing protective masks walk to the check-in counters at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 22, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 March 2021

Coronavirus variants could be dealt with via single jab: UK scientist

Coronavirus variants could be dealt with via single jab: UK scientist
  • Prof. Andrew Pollard said his team is working on an inoculation that will act as a catch-all for a number of emergent variants
  • Prof. Andrew Pollard: The work at the moment is partly to understand whether a vaccine for one of them, Brazilian and South African variants, might actually protect against both

LONDON: A single booster jab may be enough in future to protect people from the Brazilian and South African variants of coronavirus, a leading British scientist has suggested.

Prof. Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford University group that developed a vaccine in partnership with AstraZeneca, said his team is working on an inoculation that will act as a catch-all for a number of emergent variants, rather than on a case-by-case basis, by targeting similarities in their mutations.

Three main variants — the UK, South African and Brazilian ones — have been identified in recent months, all known to carry the N501Y mutation, which affects transmissibility.

The latter two are known to have a further mutation known as E484K, which makes the virus more resistant to antibodies. 

These mutations have raised fears that current vaccines might prove inefficient against new variants.

But Pollard said the world needs to move on from its “obsession” with variants as they emerge, and with the right amount of research, a new booster could be available by the autumn. 

“There’s some similarities between the Brazil variant and the South African variant, and so the work at the moment is partly to understand whether a vaccine for one of them might actually protect against both,” he told The Times. “New designs of vaccines can be made as and when they’re needed.”

Pollard said both the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines had produced “stunning” results so far, reducing the risk of hospitalization by as much as 80 percent with just a single jab.


Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’
Updated 1 min 39 sec ago

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’
  • Ian Acheson carried out govt-commissioned review into extremism in prisons
  • Justice Ministry spokesperson: ‘A whole range of tools help us to manage extremist offenders’

LONDON: An attack by radicalized former inmates is “in the pipeline” in the UK because of a lack of control over extremism in the country’s jails, a former prison governor has warned.

Ian Acheson, who carried out a government-commissioned review into extremism in prisons, said attacks like those carried out by convicted terrorist Usman Khan and extremist Sudesh Amman were likely to be repeated.

“There are good people doing their best to make sure that another outrage won’t happen,” Acheson said, “but being good isn’t the same as doing well. Another Khan is in the pipeline.”

Khan murdered two people in London in November 2019, less than a year after being released from jail.

Amman carried out a knife attack in the capital three months later, a few days after he was released.

There was an attack on a prison officer by an extremist cell at HMP Whitemoor, and in June 2020 Khairi Saadallah, another released prisoner, murdered three people in an attack in a park in Reading. 

Acheson’s review, in 2016, led to the creation of three separation centers to remove terrorists and extremists from general prison populations, but only two are currently in use.

An anonymous prison officer working in a high-security facility told The Independent that he was worried about what was happening to extremists in British jails.

“The new ones that come in with an extremist view leave with a stronger one,” he said. “You’re releasing people onto the streets and you dread to think what’s going to happen. No matter what ministers say, everything is not great in UK prisons, it’s appalling.”

Jonathan Hall QC, the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, is undertaking a review of terrorist offending inside jails after concerns were raised that crimes committed inside were not being prosecuted, causing “lost opportunities to mitigate risk.”

An inquest into Khan’s attack on Fishmongers’ Hall in London Bridge found that he had been radicalizing fellow inmates for years, but despite this being known to authorities, he was never moved to one of the separate facilities. He was originally jailed in 2012 for trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Kashmir.

An MI5 officer gave evidence to the inquest to say there “was a suggestion that Khan had become more extreme since entering prison,” and there were fears he could even coordinate terrorist activities from inside jail.

Another officer gave evidence to suggest that Khan had voiced his desire to commit an attack to fellow inmates prior to his release in 2018.

Acheson said: “I find it inconceivable that a man with Khan’s well-understood danger to national security was not even considered for separation let alone isolated.”

While in prison, Khan had direct content with radical preacher Abu Hamza and helped radicalize vulnerable inmates.

Khan also wrote a poem in prison about decapitating non-Muslims, and kept newspaper clippings about terrorist attacks and Daesh

Brusthom Ziamani, an associate of Khan, was found to have access to Daesh propaganda while in HMP Whitemoor.

Ziamani and fellow inmate Baz Hockton attempted to murder a prison officer at the facility in January 2020, six weeks after Khan’s attack on Fishmongers’ Hall.

A Justice Ministry spokesperson said in a statement: “We are locking up terrorists for longer, and have tough measures in place to prevent them from spreading their poisonous ideology in prison.

“More than 37,000 prison staff have been trained to identify, report and stop such behaviour, and a whole range of tools help us to manage extremist offenders.

“These include separation centres, which were introduced shortly before Khan left prison, but also monitoring communications and financial transactions and ensuring the strictest possible conditions on release.”


Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
Updated 13 June 2021

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
  • Military commends joint task force efforts to nab ASG’s ‘extremely violent’ Yadah

MANILA: Philippine government forces have killed a notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) commander, blamed for a series of kidnappings for ransom in the southern Philippines, along with three other ASG members during an intense battle on Sunday, officials said.

A report from the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the ASG commander as Injam Yadah, who was killed in a joint military and police operation in Barangay Alat, Jolo island of Sulu province.

Two of the other slain members were identified as Al-Al Sawadjaan — reportedly the youngest brother of ASG bomb maker Mundi Sawadjaan — and a man known by the alias “Rauf.”

The identity of the third ASG member has yet to be established.

“Based on the report from the ground, combined elements of the military and police conducted a law enforcement operation to serve a warrant of arrest against ASG sub-group leader Injam Yadah ... around 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 13, 2021,” Wesmincom Commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr. said in a statement.

However, after “sensing the presence of troops” in the area, Yadah and his followers opened fire, which “prompted the government forces to retaliate.”

The Joint Task Force–Sulu (JTF) said that all four ASG members were “killed on the spot.”

“We’ve long been on the hunt for Yadah; he has a reputation of being extremely violent — beheading captured innocent civilians and security forces alike. Finally, his hideous acts will now come to a full stop,” a report obtained by Arab News quoted Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, commander of JTF-Sulu, as saying.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Wilfredo Borgonia, Army 35th IB commander, said Yadah was involved in the kidnapping for ransom of several foreign nationals and Filipinos, including the ex-wife and daughter of former Talipao Mayor Tambrin Tulawie in 2018.

“His latest reported activity was the kidnapping of Filipino-American Rex Triplett in Sirawai, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Dr. Moreno in Jolo, in 2020,” Borgonia said, adding that Yadah also played a vital role in the kidnapping of five Indonesian nationals in Malaysia in January 2020.

“These are the kidnap victims rescued in Tawi-Tawi early this year,” Borgonia said.

Meanwhile, Al-Al Sawadjaan, according to Borgonio, was a bomb maker and had been in his early twenties.

“All the forces under JTF-Sulu are doubling their efforts to apprehend Mundi Sawadjaan. His brothers are now dead, and we are optimistic that he will also be neutralized,” Gonzales said.

“When that day comes, we can say that we have achieved total peace in the province. The local government and people here are one with us in this endeavor,” he added.

Operating troops seized an M653 carbine, a .45 caliber pistol, bomb components, and 15 mobile phones from Yadah’s house before detaining his wife, and rescuing their three children.

Since Jan. 2021, 121 ASG members have either been killed, captured or surrendered to government forces in Sulu, according to the military, out of which 18 were killed, 86 surrendered, and 17 were apprehended.

“Congratulations to the troops of JTF-Sulu and our partners for this successful operation,” Vinluan said, adding: “JTF-Sulu continuously implements its all-out campaign to eliminate the remaining ASG personalities in the province.”


India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities
Updated 13 June 2021

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities
  • “The vaccination process is now more convenient,” said Mahendra Chudasma, a 45-year-old man who is visually impaired
  • Despite being a major producer of coronavirus vaccines, India faces a huge task in inoculating its 1.3 billion people

AHMEDABAD: Authorities in an Indian city have organized a special drive-through vaccination camp for disabled people in a bid to address low vaccination rates, especially among more vulnerable members of society.
Organizers of the weekend campaign in Ahmedabad, the biggest city in Gujarat state, aim to vaccinate 500 disabled people, who often struggle to book slots and get access to vaccination centers.
People taking advantage of the offer queued up at the center in vehicles, wheelchairs, and on customised mopeds for their free COVID-19 vaccine shots.
“The vaccination process is now more convenient,” said Mahendra Chudasma, a 45-year-old man who is visually impaired.
“It’s a very nice feeling.”
Despite being a major producer of coronavirus vaccines, India faces a huge task in inoculating its 1.3 billion people, partly due to the logistical difficulties of reaching remote areas and also skepticism about the shots.
People with disabilities often face additional problems of being unable to reach vaccination sites due to a lack of transport or no ramps at the centers for easy access, said Bhushan Punani, general secretary of the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad, one of the organizers of the campaign.
Some people have struggled to use a government-mandated smartphone app required to register for shots, he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said it aims to vaccinate all eligible and willing Indians by the end of this year, but only 240 million of the country’s 950 million adults have had at least one shot, according to health data.
India was hit hard by a surge of coronavirus infections in April and May but there are signs the worst could be over.
Authorities on Sunday reported 80,834 new COVID-19 infections over the previous 24 hours, the lowest daily tally in more than two months, according to health ministry data.
There were 3,303 deaths over the same period.


UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes

UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes
Updated 13 June 2021

UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes

UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes
  • Ceiling-mounted gadget 98-100% accurate after early rounds of testing
  • ‘Covid alarm’ can even detect virus in asymptomatic people

LONDON: A team of British scientists has created a monitor that can detect COVID-19 infections in a room within 15 minutes.

The ceiling-mounted “Covid alarm,” created by Cambridge-based developer Roboscientific, detects chemicals secreted by the skin or found on the breath of people with the virus called “volatile organic compounds,” which scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University said creates an “odor fingerprint” that could be identified by the device with 98-100 percent accuracy.

The scientists, whose work has yet to be peer-reviewed, stressed that more studies are needed, but initial analysis from 54 samples has been enough to prompt funding interest in further testing from the UK Department of Health and Social Care.

The monitor can apparently differentiate between COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, and can even detect the virus accurately in asymptomatic people, making it even more accurate than polymerase chain reaction tests.

The breakthrough could prove invaluable in the future of testing for COVID-19, and with modification, for other diseases as well.

The device can be installed in all sorts of environments, from schools to hospitals and aircraft cabins, and can send results instantly to computers and mobile phones.

At £5,000 ($7,050) per monitor, it may also prove more economically viable than frequent disposable testing.

Prof. James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM, said trials could be completed by the end of 2021.

“The fact that devices already exist that we can use will really speed this up. These results are really promising, and demonstrate the potential for using this technology as a rapid, non-invasive test with incredible accuracy,” he added.

“If these devices are successfully developed for use in public places, they could be affordably and easily scaled up.”

Roboscientific, which is also developing a handheld monitor for use on individuals and with a results turnaround time of just two minutes, first developed the technology six years ago to detect infections in farm animals.

It proved so accurate that it was able to detect single cases of salmonella or campylobacter in chicken barns of up to 50,000 birds.


Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running

Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running
Updated 13 June 2021

Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running

Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running
  • Officials have urged people to continue respecting social distancing limits as the country emerges from its third COVID-19 lockdown

PARIS: Paris police said Sunday that three people were detained after officers used tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths gathered for a street party in defiance of COVID-19 social distancing limits and an 11:00 p.m. curfew.
The so-called Project X gatherings, a reference to an American film from 2012, on the vast lawns in front of the Invalides war museum on Saturday was the third since Thursday.
Videos on social media showed largely maskless youths surrounding a car and then climbing and jumping on its roof, while others bombarded police vans with bottles.
Other parties were broken up in the Tuileries gardens near the Louvre and on the banks of the Seine River, police said, as people enjoying warm evenings outside found it difficult to respect the coronavirus curfew.
Many bars across the city remained open after 11:00 p.m. over the weekend, the first since the curfew was pushed back from 9:00 p.m. last Wednesday, according to AFP reporters.
“We had our ‘bac’ [high school exit exam] this year and we really needed to let loose,” said Cedric, 17, who came with friends from the nearby 15th district of the capital.
Officials have urged people to continue respecting social distancing limits as the country emerges from its third COVID-19 lockdown.
Since Wednesday, bars and restaurants are allowed to serve patrons indoors for the first time since October, and the government plans to drop the nationwide curfew entirely on June 30.
Health authorities reported 3,972 new cases over the previous 24 hours on Saturday, while the number of patients in intensive care fell to 2,110, far below the peak of nearly 6,000 during the third wave of cases that began in March.
Thirty-four deaths were reported, bringing the French total to 110,407.