Putin says he opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations

Putin says he opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised phone-in with the country's citizens "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin" at the Moscow's World Trade Center studio in Moscow. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Putin says he opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations

Putin says he opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations
  • The country is grappling with a spike of infections spurred by the highly infectious Delta variant
  • Officials have been accused of underreporting fatalities

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he opposed introducing mandatory vaccinations in Russia despite a surge in coronavirus infections in the country and sluggish inoculation rates.

“I do not support mandatory vaccinations,” Putin told Russians during his annual phone-in broadcast on television.

Asked if he supported a new nationwide lockdown, he said regional authorities were instead promoting localized mandatory vaccinations and other measures to avoid introducing new quarantines.

Russia earlier Wednesday reported 669 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, a record number of fatalities for the second day in a row, according to a government tally.

The country is grappling with a spike of infections spurred by the highly infectious Delta variant, with authorities struggling to convince Russians to get vaccinated.

One of the pandemic hotspots is the city of Saint Petersburg, which is due to host a Euro 2020 quarter-final on Friday in front of thousands of fans, many of them flying in from abroad for the match.

Putin said Wednesday that some 23 million Russians had received the jab and said the country’s homegrown vaccines were better than foreign alternatives, naming AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

“We are doing fine,” he said.

The 68-year-old leader also addressed widespread vaccine skepticism in the country and urged Russians to listen to “specialists.”

“It is necessary to listen, not to people who understand little about this and spread rumors, but to specialists,” he told Russians, the majority of whom polls show oppose receiving coronavirus jabs.

Putin has in recent months urged Russians to get vaccinated and announced earlier this year he had got the jab, without specifying which one of the country’s four vaccines he had received.

On Wednesday he announced he was inoculated with Sputnik V, the first vaccine registered in Russia.

Officials have been accused of underreporting fatalities, counting only cases when coronavirus was found to be the primary cause of death after autopsy.

Authorities on Tuesday reported 652 coronavirus fatalities, topping a record that was set in December last year.


Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
Updated 32 min 3 sec ago

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
  • UK government cites housing shortages as former Afghan allies denied chance to reunite with families

LONDON: British ministers have been accused of failing to honor their promises to Afghan refugees by refusing to accommodate their family members.

About 12,000 Afghan refugees are still living in hotels paid for by the British taxpayer as ministers blame a housing shortage for the delay.

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year, the UK government told refugees that their family members would be allowed to join them once they were evacuated.

But The Times newspaper said that 10 months after the collapse of Kabul, about 6,500 refugees were still blocked from joining family members in the UK because they had yet to be granted refugee status.

The newspaper quoted government sources saying that ministers were forced to adjust the policy of family reunion because the average family size of those involved is 6.7, and regulations on housing rules meant that bigger homes were needed to shelter them.

By contrast, the average household size in Britain is three, and much of local government housing is developed around this figure.

Hossain Saeedi, 37, told The Times that he was evacuated with his wife and children, but his request to bring in his ex-wife, who is mother to his son, was denied.

He said: “The cases of Afghan family reunion have been overshadowed by the new scheme for Ukrainian refugees.”

The 6,500 Afghans barred from refugee status were brought in on the Home Office’s Pathway 1 scheme. In September, the government indicated that family members would be allowed to join other refugees, but has failed to demonstrate how this would be achieved.

The Home Office said that the 6,500 evacuees from Afghanistan who were unable to travel with their relatives would be given “options” for rejoining them “in due course.”

“Around 6,500 people were brought to safety in the UK during and after the Afghanistan evacuation who are eligible for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and received leave to remain under Pathway 1. While they do not hold refugee status, those who were evacuated were able to bring their immediate family members, including spouse or partner and children under 18 years old,” the government said.

The delay in reuniting families comes as a letter by several leading charity figures accused the government of treating Afghans unfairly compared with Ukrainians, who have received two visa schemes for reuniting family members, warning that this could have severe consequences on their mental health.

The letter, signed by the CEOs of Amnesty International, British Red Cross, Oxfam, Refugee Council, Safe Passage, Student Action for Refugees, UNHCR and Voices Network, said: “Ten months later these families remain separated. This is despite the government indicating, as long ago as September 2021, that family members would be eligible to join people who had been evacuated.

“Prolonged separation is distressing for families and can have a severe impact on mental health.

“We saw how the government acted to bring Ukrainian families together through the Ukraine Family Scheme. They must now act with the same urgency to safely reunite Afghan evacuees with their loved ones.”


UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election
Updated 49 min 39 sec ago

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election
  • Earlier this month, Johnson survived a vote of confidence by Conservative lawmakers
  • Fears that Johnson could have become an electoral liability may prompt lawmakers to move against him

KIGALI: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed on Saturday to lead his Conservative party into the next national election, which could be more than two years away, despite two bruising by-election defeats that have led to renewed calls for him to quit.
Earlier this month, Johnson survived a vote of confidence by Conservative lawmakers, though 41 percent of his parliamentary colleagues voted to oust him, and he is under investigation by a committee over whether he intentionally misled parliament.
On Friday, Conservative candidates lost two elections to the House of Commons held to replace former Conservative incumbents who had to step down, one after being convicted of sexual assault and the other for watching pornography in parliament.
The election defeats suggest the broad voter appeal which helped Johnson win the 2019 election may be fracturing after a scandal over illegal parties held at Downing Street during coronavirus lockdowns.
Fears that Johnson could have become an electoral liability may prompt lawmakers to move against him, at a time when millions of Britons are struggling with rising food and fuel prices.
However, Johnson said he did not expect to face another internal challenge from within his party.
When asked on the final day of a trip to Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit if he would fight another confidence vote, Johnson told reporters: “What? We just had one of those things and I’m very happy to have got a bigger mandate from my parliamentary party than I got in 2019.”
Asked if he felt the question of his leadership was settled, the prime minister said: “Yes.”
Under existing party rules, Johnson’s leadership cannot be formally challenged again for another year.
Asked if he would lead the Conservatives into the next election, which is due no later than December 2024, Johnson said: “Will I win? Yes.”
Johnson blamed the by-election defeats partly on months of media reporting of lockdown parties at the heart of government.
“I think that actually people were fed up of hearing about things I had stuffed up, or allegedly stuffed up, or whatever, this endless, completely legitimate, but endless churn of news,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Johnson told BBC radio he rejected the notion that he should change his behavior.
“If you’re saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, I think that our listeners would know that that ... is not going to happen.”

PARTY TROUBLE
Johnson’s explanation for the defeat may do little to ease frustration in the Conservative Party.
A wave of resignations by senior ministers might force Johnson out before the next national election. The party’s chairman, Oliver Dowden, quit after the by-election defeats.
Former Conservative leaders Michael Howard and William Hague are the latest senior party figures to call for Johnson to go.
Asked what his message was for Conservative lawmakers who fear they could lose their seats at the next election, Johnson said: “We have to focus on the things that matter to voters, get it right on the cost of living, the economy.”
Johnson refused to comment on a report in The Times newspaper that he had planned to get a donor to fund a 150,000-pound ($184,000) treehouse for his son at his state-provided country residence.
The story comes months after his party was fined for failing to accurately report a donation which helped fund the refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment.
“I’m not going to comment on non-existent objects,” Johnson said when asked if he planned to use a donor’s money to build the treehouse. ($1 = 0.8155 pounds)


Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID
Updated 25 June 2022

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID
  • The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented strict COVID-19 measures

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: Beijing on Saturday said it would allow primary and secondary schools to resume in-person classes and Shanghai’s top party boss declared victory over COVID-19 after the city reported zero new local cases for the first time in two months.
The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented curbs to stop the spread of the omicron wave during March to May, with Shanghai imposing a two month-long city-wide lockdown that lifted on June 1.
The efforts, part of China’s adherence to a zero-COVID policy that aims to eradicate all outbreaks, have brought case numbers down but many of the heavy-handed measures have fueled anger and even rare protests and taken a heavy toll on the economy.
Beijing shut its schools in early May and asked students to move to online learning amid a spike in locally transmitted COVID cases. Senior year students at middle and high schools were allowed to return to classrooms from June 2.
On Saturday, with case numbers trending lower in recent days, the capital’s education commission said all primary and secondary school students in the capital can return to in-person classes from Monday. Kindergartens will be allowed to reopen from July 4.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports said separately that sports activities for the young can resume at non-school locations on June 27 in areas where no community cases have been reported for seven consecutive days, with the exception of basement venues, which will remain shut.
The Universal Beijing Resort, which had been closed for nearly two months, reopened on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Shanghai reported no new local cases — both symptomatic and asymptomatic — for June 24, the first time the Chinese economic hub had done so since Feb. 23.
Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang said at the opening at the city’s party congress on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID by implementing the instructions of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that Beijing’s epidemic prevention decisions were “completely correct.” The city, however, remains on edge. Most students have not been allowed to resume in-person classes and dining indoors is still banned. It also plans to continue conducting mass PCR testing for its 25 million residents every weekend until the end of July.


Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police

Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police
Updated 25 June 2022

Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police

Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police
  • Attack is being treated as a possible ‘terrorist act’
  • Motive behind attack remains unclear

OSLO: An overnight shooting in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, that killed two people and wounded more than a dozen is being investigated as a possible terrorist attack, Norwegian police said Saturday.
In a news conference Saturday, police officials said the man arrested after the shooting was a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin who was previously known to police but not for major crimes.
They said they had seized two firearms in connection with the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon.
The events occurred outside a nightclub and in nearby streets in central Oslo.
Police spokesman Tore Barstad said 14 people were receiving medical treatment, eight of whom have been hospitalized.
Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.
“I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”
He said that while the motive was unclear, the shooting had caused fear and grief in the community.
Christian Bredeli, who was at the bar, told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid on the fourth floor with a group of about 10 people until he was told it was safe to come out.
“Many were fearing for their lives,” he said. “On our way out we saw several injured people, so we understood that something serious had happened.”
Norwegian broadcaster TV2 showed footage of people running down Oslo streets in panic as shots rang out in the background.
Norway is a relatively safe country but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a gunman killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.
In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.


What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?

What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?
Rescuers evacuate stranded residents in flood water in Tuojiang Township in central China's Hunan Province on June 22, 2022. (Xi
Updated 25 June 2022

What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?

What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?
  • More than half a million people were evacuated this month because of the flood threat
  • The floods in China last year cost $25 billion — the world’s second-worst flood-related loss after Europe

BEIJING: Record floods in southern China this month displaced more than half a million people, while searing heat buckled roads in other parts of the country.
Authorities have issued extreme weather warnings in multiple regions, while experts warned that these phenomena were more evidence of the impact of climate change.

Summer floods are common in China, especially in the low-lying Pearl River delta region in the south.
This year, however, the National Climate Center forecast that flooding will be “relatively worse” and “more extreme” than before.
Water levels at one location in Guangdong province “surpassed historical records” this week, according to the ministry of water resources, while parts of neighboring Fujian province and Guangxi region also reported record rainfall.
More than half a million people were evacuated this month because of the flood threat.
In the cities of Guangzhou and Shaoguan in Guangdong province, heavy rainfall turned roads into rivers and people had to be taken to safety in lifeboats.
Authorities in the province estimated the economic damage from the floods to be more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

Seven provinces in northern and central China Wednesday warned millions of residents not to go outdoors as temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
State broadcaster CCTV this week showed footage of cement roads cracked under extreme heat in central Henan province.
Meanwhile, power demand surged to record levels in several cities in the north this week as residents cranked up the air conditioning to beat the heat.
In China’s second-most populous province Shandong, home to more than 100 million people, electricity use topped 93 million kilowatts on Tuesday, beating the 2020 high of 90 million kilowatts, CCTV said.

China’s central economic planner estimates that extreme weather will shave off one to three percent of the country’s GDP every year.
The floods in China last year cost $25 billion — the world’s second-worst flood-related loss after Europe, a study published in April by reinsurer Swiss Re showed.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned Wednesday that floods and heatwaves will affect the production of staple grains, vegetables and pork and push up inflation.

“Extreme weather and climate events in the country have become more frequent, severe and widespread,” China Meteorological Administration said Wednesday.
It followed a warning in March from Xiao Chan, deputy director of the National Climate Center: “Global warming and La Nina events are contributing to abnormally high temperatures and extreme rain in China.”
As the Earth’s atmosphere gets warmer, it holds more moisture, making downpours more intense.
La Nina refers to the large-scale cooling of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, causing devastating floods in South China, India and Bangladesh.

China has built a network of massive dams and “sponge cities” with permeable pavements to try and limit the devastation during the annual flood season.
“But the most damaging recent floods have occurred in areas historically less at risk,” said Scott Moore, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania focusing on China’s environmental policy.
“This is a classic climate change effect: increased extreme weather in different regions and at different times of year than the historical average.”
China is the world’s biggest coal-burning nation and top emitter of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.
It aims to become carbon neutral by 2060, but local governments have pushed up investments in both renewables and coal in recent months.
Beijing has also not yet outlined precisely how it intends to achieve its emissions targets.
Environmentalists have warned that without specifying the size of the peak or setting an absolute cap, China can essentially keep increasing emissions until 2030.

A new roadmap for climate change adaptation published by the Chinese government last week says the focus should now shift to predicting extreme weather more accurately using sensors and satellites.
“The usefulness of weather forecasts caps out around 10 days, beyond which their accuracy rapidly drops to that of a coin flip,” think tank Trivium China said in a research note.
“Climate monitoring and forecasting is a whole different ballgame,” helping to predict severe floods and droughts at least a month in advance.