G7 leaders gather to pledge 1bn coronavirus vaccine shots for world

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday. (AP)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday. (AP)
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Updated 11 June 2021

G7 leaders gather to pledge 1bn coronavirus vaccine shots for world

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday. (AP)
  • The leaders hope the meeting in the resort of Carbis Bay will also energize the global economy

CORNWALL: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday, offering elbow bumps to dignitaries gathering for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus was set to dominate their discussions, with leaders of the wealthy democracies club expected to commit to sharing at least 1 billion vaccine shots with struggling countries.
A commitment from US President Joe Biden to share 500 million doses and one from Johnson for another 100 million shots set the stage for the G-7 meeting under gray skies in southwest England, where leaders will pivot Friday from their “family photo” by the seaside directly into a session on “Building Back Better From COVID-19.”
“We’re going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners,” Biden said. The G-7 also includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
The leaders hope the meeting in the resort of Carbis Bay will also energize the global economy. Despite the moody skies, the group walked away their photo as cheerful as children who had just built a sand castle. Led by Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron threw his arm around Biden’s shoulder. Talks were animated, but inaudible.
On Friday, they are set to formally embrace a global minimum tax of at least 15% on multinational corporations, following an agreement reached a week ago by their finance ministers. The minimum is meant to stop companies from using tax havens to shift profits and to avoid taxes.
It represents a potential win for the Biden administration, which has proposed a global minimum tax as a way to pay for infrastructure projects, in addition to creating an alternative that could remove some European countries’ digital services taxes that largely hit US tech firms. But the endorsement from the G-7 is just one step in the process; the hope is to get many more countries to sign on — a fraught proposal in nations whose economies are based on attracting business with low corporate taxes.
For Johnson, the first G-7 summit in two years — last year’s was scuttled by the pandemic — is a chance to set out his vision of a post-Brexit “Global Britain” as a midsized country with an outsized role in international problem-solving.
It’s also an opportunity to underscore the UK-US bond, an alliance often called the “special relationship” — but that Johnson said he prefers to call the “indestructible relationship.”
Climate change is also a top issue on the agenda, and hundreds of protesters gathered in Cornwall to urge the leaders to take action. Demonstrators deployed a barge off the coast with two large inflatable figures depicting Biden and Johnson on board. At another protest, demonstrators carried flags that read “G7 drowning in promises” and “Action not words.”
The official summit business kicked off Friday, with the customary formal greeting and a socially distanced group photo. Later the leaders will meet Queen Elizabeth II and other senior royals at the Eden Project, a lush, domed eco-tourism site built in a former quarry.
The G-7 leaders have faced mounting pressure to outline their global vaccine-sharing plans, especially as inequities in supply around the world have become more pronounced. In the US, there is a large vaccine stockpile and the demand for shots has dropped precipitously in recent weeks.
Biden said the US will donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and previewed a coordinated effort by the advanced economies to make vaccination widely and speedily available everywhere. The commitment was on top of 80 million doses Biden has already pledged to donate by the end of June.
Johnson, for his part, said the first 5 million UK doses would be shared in the coming weeks, with the remainder coming over the next year. He said he expected the G-7 to commit to 1 billion doses in all.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped the summit would show the world “we’re not just thinking of ourselves," while Macron welcomed the US commitment and said Europe should do the same. He said France would share at least 30 million doses globally by year's end; Germany is also planning on donating that amount.
The US commitment is to buy and donate 500 million Pfizer doses for distribution through the global COVAX alliance to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union, bringing the first steady supply of mRNA vaccine to the countries that need it most.
Biden said the US-manufactured doses will be shipped starting in August, with the goal of distributing 200 million by the end of the year. The remaining 300 million doses would be shipped in the first half of 2022. A price tag for the doses was not released, but the U.S. is now set to be COVAX's largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion commitment.
Humanitarian workers welcomed the donation — but said the world needs more doses and they were hoping they would arrive sooner. Grand statements and promises need to be met with detailed plans backed by timelines for delivery, starting immediately.
“If we have a stop-start supply or if we store all the supply up for the end of the year, it’s very hard for low-income countries with quite fragile health care systems to then really be able to get those vaccines off the tarmac and into the arms of health care workers," said Lily Caprani, the head of COVID-19 vaccine advocacy at UNICEF. “We want a coordinated, time-bound, ambitious commitment starting from June and charting the course for the rest of the year.”
The global COVAX alliance has faced a slow start to its vaccination campaign, as richer nations have locked up billions of doses through contracts directly with drug manufacturers. The alliance has distributed just 81 million doses globally and parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts.
So far, among the G-7 countries, only France has begun shipping vaccines through COVAX, according one of the initiative's leaders, vaccine alliance Gavi. France has delivered a total of 628,800 doses to seven African countries — with Senegal, a former French colony, receiving about 30% of that total.
Biden said Thursday that some of the 80 million doses the US had previously committed to donating — some of them outside of COVAX — were already shipping. The US has also given a few million vaccines to neighbors Mexico and Canada.
White House officials said the ramped-up distribution program fits a theme Biden plans to hit frequently during his week in Europe: that Western democracies, and not authoritarian states, can deliver the most good for the world.
China and Russia have shared their domestically produced vaccines with some needy countries, often with hidden strings attached. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden “does want to show — rallying the rest of the world’s democracies — that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere.”


UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID

UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID
Updated 31 July 2021

UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID

UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID
  • Long COVID includes lingering symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain and problems with concentration
  • COVID-19 levels differ between men and women, according to other UK research

LONDON: People who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine are 50 percent less likely to suffer from long COVID, a UK scientific advisory body has said.
Long COVID includes lingering symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain and problems with concentration.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said UK government statistics found that “in all age groups the odds of experiencing symptoms for more than 28 days after post-vaccination infection was approximately halved by two vaccinations.”
But women, older people and those who are overweight or obese are more likely to have lingering symptoms, with fatigue the most frequently reported, the group said.
SAGE added that the proportion of people suffering from symptoms 12 weeks after COVID-19 infection varied between 2.3 percent and 37 percent depending on studies, leading to uncertainty among scientists.
But the group said it has high confidence in research showing that just 1.2 percent of young adults and 4.8 percent of middle-aged people reported symptoms limiting their daily lives.
COVID-19 levels differ between men and women, according to other UK research. Men are more likely to have shortness of breath, exhaustion, chills and fever, while women are more likely to experience loss of scent, chest pain and a persistent cough.


600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days
Updated 31 July 2021

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days
  • Increase in departures recalls 2011, when 25,000 Tunisians arrived in Italy during Arab Spring
  • Number of Tunisians trying to reach Italy has risen since early 2021 due to economic crisis, COVID-19 spike

ROME: Nearly 600 migrants reached the Italian island of Lampedusa from Tunisia in only two days. 
Countless departures of people fleeing the crisis-wracked North African country and attempting to reach Europe on dinghies and small boats are reported every hour by NGOs and Italian Coast Guard vessels patrolling the Channel of Sicily.
Only on Saturday, by midday, 99 migrants landed in Lampedusa on six different small boats. Before their arrival, 1,137 people were already present at the center in Contrada Imbriacola, well above the facility’s maximum capacity of 250.
“They arrive every hour, like a news bulletin,” Vincenzo Pandolfo, who owns a shop in the port of Lampedusa, told Arab News
“It seems that there is not much control on the Tunisian shores lately. We have not seen so many dinghies coming toward Lampedusa, and now even trying to reach the south of Sardinia, which is a much further and more dangerous trip, as we have since July 26, when the political crisis broke out in Tunisia,” Adm. Roberto Isidori, commander of the Coast Guard in Sicily, told Arab News.
“Our vessels are all out to make sure that no accident happens, but this situation is getting worse and worse”, Isidori added.
Italian security services had estimated at the beginning of the crisis that the ongoing political turmoil and instability in Tunisia may result in a drastic increase in migrants, with numbers potentially reaching up to 15,000 in a very short time.
But Isidori said that “if numbers continue to stay as they have been in the last week, that could be an optimistic forecast.”  
As a rule, Tunisians are not eligible for asylum in Italy, and up to 80 could be flown home each week under a deal reached between Rome and Tunisia last year.
The remainder are often given expulsion orders and released from migrant centers. Many then try to reach France or Germany.
The increase in departures has prompted fears of a repeat of 2011, when 25,000 Tunisians arrived in Italy during the Arab Spring uprising.
The number of Tunisians trying to reach Italy has been on the rise since the beginning of 2021 due to the worsening economic crisis at home, which was exacerbated by a dramatic spike of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and a lack of vaccines.
Good weather conditions have also encouraged migrants to attempt the dangerous crossing.
Nearly 1,000 have died on route between the shores of North Africa and Sicily this year, up from 267 in the same period last year, including around 57 migrants who drowned this week when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast.
The Interior Ministry’s records show that out of a total of 28,515 illegal migrants who arrived in Italy so far this year, a big part came from Tunisia, which far outstrips those from any other country, including Libya. From January to June, 2,962 crossed to Italy, with another 3,796 sailing this month.


UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates
Updated 31 July 2021

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates
  • Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE): “Realistic possibility” future strains could be as fatal as MERS
  • SAGE also warned that COVID-19 can infect common animal species including minks

LONDON: Future COVID-19 variants could have fatality rates of up to 35 percent, top UK government scientists have warned in a new report.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said it is a “realistic possibility” that future variants could prove as fatal as MERS, which has a death rate of 35 percent.
The chance of deadly COVID-19 mutations increases depending on the prevalence of the virus, the report said, adding that rapid vaccine rollouts worldwide will increase immunity levels, thereby forcing variants to mutate at a faster and more deadly pace.
The advisory body warned that future strains could become resistant to vaccines if they originate from the beta variant and combine with the alpha or delta variants, in a process called recombination.
And even with vaccines being expected to neutralize serious disease among COVID-19 patients, the report said a higher death rate is to be expected in the case of new deadly variants given that vaccines “do not provide total sterilizing immunity.”
SAGE also warned that COVID-19 can infect common animal species including minks, which some countries have taken to culling.
In response to the potential threat from animals — including dogs, cats, mice, rats and ferrets — becoming a host for future deadly variants, the group suggested that mass culling or animal vaccination programs should be considered by governments.


Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
Updated 31 July 2021

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
  • Violence has surged across Afghanistan since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive
  • The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province

HERAT, Afghanistan: Afghan and Taliban forces clashed again on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, a day after a police guard was killed when a United Nations compound in the western city came under attack.
Violence has surged across the country since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive as US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal that is now almost complete.
The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province, where the group has also captured two border crossings adjoining Iran and Turkmenistan.
Officials and residents reported renewed fighting on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, with hundreds fleeing their homes to seek shelter closer to the heart of the city.
Herat governor Abdul Saboor Qani said most of the fighting was in Injil and Guzara district — where the airport is located.
“At the moment the fighting is ongoing in the south and southeast. We are moving cautiously and to avoid civilian casualties,” Qani said.
During fighting Friday, the main Herat compound of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire that the UN blamed on anti-government elements.
The militants say they will not target foreign diplomats, but have blatantly violated international protocol before.
Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city of 600,000 in recent days.
Khan, who previously fought the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and then the Taliban during their hard-line regime in the 1990s, has vowed to fight the insurgents again to counter their staggering advances in recent months.


Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
Updated 31 July 2021

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
  • Gen. Lord Richards: “Ungoverned space” will create opportunities for terror groups

LONDON: A former head of the UK armed forces has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to outline the country’s strategy for Afghanistan as the war-torn nation slides into further conflict amid the Taliban’s advance.
Gen. Lord Richards, former chief of defense staff, said he is “fed up” with the government’s lack of planning for the next stage of supporting Afghanistan, where he served as the commander of coalition forces between 2006 and 2007. He lamented the West’s “defeat” in the country. 
With Western forces lined up to be fully removed by Sept. 11, Richards warned of the potential creation of an “ungoverned space” that could be exploited by terror groups for the planning of atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks.
He told the BBC that he takes a “share of the blame” for the West’s calamitous performance in Afghanistan, but that while NATO military force — chiefly from the US and Britain — largely achieved what was expected, politicians had failed to give Afghanistan sufficient economic and political support following the 2001 removal of the Taliban from power. 
“We have invested — as a country, as the West and the US particularly — 20 years of time and much money and many lives in Afghanistan,” said Richards.
“I’m getting a little bit fed up that I’ve not heard from our government — indeed from the prime minister — as to why we have reached this nadir. It’s really not good enough, and I would like to hear from the government — I think it’s a prime ministerial obligation now — as to why we’ve got into this position and what we are now going to do about it,” he added.
“It’s deflecting attention from our defeat. Added to what happened in Iraq, Libya, Syria, it’s a pretty sorry tale of Western failed geo-strategy over the last 20 years. And it’s time we had an explanation of why and what are we now going to do about it, to prevent it from happening in the way we all now fear might occur.”
The decorated former officer complained that following the invasion, the UN conducted a “light-touch” approach masterminded by envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, which meant the West failed to build on the military gains of 2001. 
Richards said the short supply of economic support meant that the Taliban returned as a threat five years later.
“As all soldiers will tell you, we know we can’t win these things by military means alone. What we hoped we were doing was providing an opportunity for governments, the whole of the West, to act in the way they needed, not just militarily but politically and economically,” he added.
“That didn’t happen … At the very moment, in 2002 to 2005, when the West should have poured in assets — and I’m talking primarily non-military by the way — we didn’t do so. The Taliban sensed an opportunity, they came back.”
Richards warned that the Taliban’s capture of Kandahar — Afghanistan’s second city — is “inevitable” without a change in strategy, which would lead to the group sweeping across the south of the country. 
“My biggest worry at the moment is, with the Western forces having pulled out with no adequate explanation of what is going to replace them, we are going to see a potential collapse in Afghan Armed Forces morale,” he said, adding that the resurgence of Taliban control would “almost certainly” facilitate the return of terror training camps.
“There will be ungoverned space … and in that ungoverned space terrorist acts may yet again be planned and executed,” warned Richards.
“I think we all forget too readily the scenes of 9/11, the Twin Towers and the attack in Washington. That is actually why we went into Afghanistan, and we’ve been spectacularly successful in achieving what we aimed to do,” he added.
“That is now being put at risk, along with all the wonderful gains in terms of education, health, and democracy, allowing people to hope for the future. All that is now, I’m afraid at great risk. We don’t have a substitute strategy and I want to hear what it should be.”