US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers
The Biden administration has faced pressure to lift some restrictions from affected allies. Above, passengers and others walk at Miami International Airport on Aug. 1, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2021

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers

US plans to require COVID-19 shots for foreign travelers
  • Requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is taking the first steps toward requiring nearly all foreign visitors to the US to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, a White House official said.
The requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country. No timeline has yet been determined, as interagency working groups study how and when to safely move toward resuming normal travel. Eventually all foreign citizens entering the country, with some limited exceptions, are expected to need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the US.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday to preview the policy under development.
The Biden administration has kept in place travel restrictions that have severely curtailed international trips to the US, citing the spread of the delta variant of the virus.
Under the rules, non-US residents who have been to China, the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India in the prior 14 days are prohibited from entering the US
All travelers to the US, regardless of vaccination status, are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of air travel to the country.
The Biden administration has faced pressure to lift some restrictions from affected allies, the air travel industry and families who have been kept separated from loved ones by the rules. Many have complained that the travel restrictions don’t reflect the current virus situation — particularly as caseloads in the US are worse than in many of the prohibited nations.
Airlines for America, a trade group for major US airlines, said it was pleased by reports that the administration plans to make it easier for more foreign travelers to enter the country if they have been vaccinated.


US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
Updated 53 min 43 sec ago

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
  • Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners”

PARIS: The most significant rift in decades between the United States and France seemed on the mend Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden got on the phone Wednesday to smooth things over.
In a half-hour call that the White House described as “friendly,” the two leaders agreed to meet next month to discuss the way forward after the French fiercely objected when the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week that cost the French a submarine contract worth billions.
The White House made a point of releasing a photograph of Biden smiling during his call with Macron.
In a carefully crafted joint statement, the two governments said Biden and Macron “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence.”
So did Biden apologize?
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped the question repeatedly, allowing that Biden did acknowledge “there could have been greater consultation.”
“The president is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France,” she said.
The call suggested a cooling of tempers after days of outrage from Paris directed at the Biden administration.
In an unprecedented move, France last week recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia to protest what the French said amounted to a stab in the back by allies. As part of the defense pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
It was clear there is still repair work to be done.
The joint statement said the French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” upon his return to the United States.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” the statement said.
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Washington, didn’t mince words in suggesting it was time for France to move past its anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Johnson’s comments were constructive at a moment when the US was trying to mend relations with France.
The European Union last week unveiled its own new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, the Elysee said, adding that no phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scheduled.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office had said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described last week’s US-UK-Australia announcement as creating a “crisis of trust,” with Macron being formally notified only a few hours beforehand. The move had prompted fury in Paris, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back.”
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
Following the Macron-Biden call, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in New York with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the administration worked to repair the damage done to broader EU-US relations by the deal.
Blinken spoke of the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number issues “quite literally around the world, to include of course Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond.”
Borrell, taking note of the phone call, said he hoped to be able to “build a stronger confidence among us following the conversation that had been taking place this morning between President Biden and President Macron. I’m sure we’ll be working together.”
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
Psaki echoed Johnson’s point that the creation of the new security alliance — which has been dubbed AUKUS — wasn’t meant to freeze out other allies on Indo-Pacific strategy.
“During the conversation, the president reaffirmed the strategic importance of France — French and European nations I should say — in the Indo-Pacific region,” Psaki said.
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
Updated 22 September 2021

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
  • Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the UN General Assembly
  • In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision

UNITED NATIONS: The new rulers of Afghanistan have an uphill battle in their efforts to be recognized in time to address other world leaders at the United Nations this year.
The Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, according to a letter sent to the United Nations.
The decision now rests with a UN committee that generally meets in November and will issue a ruling “in due course,” the General Assembly’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.
UN officials are confronting this dilemma just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power by taking over territory with surprising speed as US forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15.
In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. Letters from Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, who represents the former government, and from Taliban Foreign Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqi, are before the committee, assembly spokeswoman Monica Grayley said.
“Only the committee can decide when to meet,” Grayley said.
The committee’s members are the United States, Russia, China, Bahama, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
Afghanistan is listed as the final speaker of the ministerial meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, and if there no decision by then, Isaczai, Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, will give the address.
When the Taliban last ruled from 1996 to 2001, the UN refused to recognize their government and instead gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. It was Rabbani’s government that brought Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.
The Taliban have said they want international recognition and financial help to rebuild the war-battered country. But the makeup of the new Taliban government poses a dilemma for the United Nations. Several of the interim ministers — including Muttaqi — are on the UN’s so-called blacklist of international terrorists and funders of terrorism.
Credentials committee members could also use Taliban recognition as leverage to press for a more inclusive government that guarantees human rights, especially for girls who were barred from going to school during their previous rule, and women who weren’t able to work.
The Taliban said they were nominating a new UN permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, the UN spokesman said. He has been a spokesman for the Taliban during peace negotiations in Qatar.


Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
Updated 22 September 2021

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
  • Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, spent two months perfecting the South Asian-style performance as their ‘gift’ to the Kingdom

ISLAMABAD: Two young Pakistani musicians who have gone viral in recent years for their tabla skills and are popularly known as the “Czar Brothers” have paid tribute to the founder of Saudi Arabia by singing the Kingdom’s national anthem to the beat of the classical Indian drum.

A video of the performance is to be released on Saudi Arabia’s National Day, which falls on Sept. 23 each year and marks the 1932 renaming of the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the royal decree of King Abdulaziz.

Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, were encouraged by their father, Dr. Shehrezad Zaar, to start learning the words of the anthem and to practice playing it on the tabla at the beginning of this year. Zaar is of Russian ancestry on his father’s side and prefers to spell his sons’ surname as Czar.

“We were a bit shocked when our music instructor asked us to sing the anthem in Arabic,” Riyan told Arab News in an interview this week.

“It was midnight when I wrote down the verses of the Saudi anthem and started memorizing them. It took me a few weeks to commit them to my memory, though the accent required more practice.”

Riyan said that it took the duo two months to get the rhythm and pace of the anthem in sync on the tabla and perfect their vocals. “When the two things synchronized, we felt that we were soaking up Saudi culture,” he said.

The boys’ father, a Lahore-based medical professional, said the performance was “a gift from the people of Pakistan to the people of Saudi Arabia.”

“We decided to dedicate it to King Abdulaziz, the father of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News in an interview, adding that he wanted his children to perform the anthem since the Kingdom occupied a special place in the hearts of Muslims across the world. 

Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki is presenting a souvenir in Islamabad on September 21, 2021, to Pakistani brothers Riyan and Isaac Czar who sang the Saudi national anthem on local instruments and dedicated it to King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Shehrezad Zaar)

The performance was conceived as part of a broader project that Zaar has been working on. He explained that the project, known as the “Imran Khan Leadership Institute of the Founding Fathers of the World,” will see his sons perform the national anthems of various countries with the aim of highlighting the leadership qualities of their respective founding fathers.

The institute has already compiled a booklet on the lives of 93 historical personalities from different countries.

For the musical composition of the Saudi anthem, Zaar consulted with Rustam Fateh Ali Khan, a scion of the famous Patiala Gharana, a school of Indian classical music. Khan is also the music teacher for Zaar and his sons.

Speaking to Arab News, Khan said it was his idea to render the anthem on the tabla, saying the entire team had worked on the project with “love and dedication.”

“It is the first time the Saudi anthem has been sung in a traditional South Asian style,” he said. “No one has ever done it before.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on the Middle East and interfaith harmony, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, said the project reflected the love of the Pakistani people for the Kingdom and its leadership.

“This is a beautiful gift from the Pakistani people on the occasion of the Saudi National Day,” he said. “It shows the love and affection of our people for the Kingdom.”

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Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system
Updated 22 September 2021

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system
  • While Saudi Arabia has scrapped the controversial labor laws, Duterte says millions of OFWs continue to work in ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’ conditions elsewhere

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has renewed his call for the abolition of the kafala or sponsorship system in Gulf countries, saying it was “unjust” and permits the “exploitation” of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

 In his speech at the 76th UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Duterte, who has advocated against the kafala system at the UN for much of his career, maintained that “nothing can justify its continued existence.”

The kafala gives employers in GCC countries plus Jordan and Lebanon almost complete control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status and generally binds them to one employer.

 In 2009, Bahrain became the first GCC country to abolish the kafala system, followed by Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

 “Millions of Filipinos work abroad under the most difficult and inhumane circumstances. We call for the abolition of all structures that allow the exploitation and oppression of migrant workers,” Duterte said.

 “The kafala system is one such behemoth that chains the weak, the desperate, and the voiceless to an existence of unimaginable suffering. While reforms have been made, the kafala system must be dismantled — sooner rather than later — in the name of justice and basic decency,” he added.

 Under the controversial system, migrant workers must have a sponsor in the host country for a visa or worker’s permit to be issued.

 Duterte has previously said that the system led to “inhumane working conditions, nonpayment of wages, movement restrictions, healthcare denial, and sexual abuse of overseas Filipino workers.”

 In March, the Philippines welcomed the Kingdom’s move to end the notorious sponsorship system and replace it with new measures to ensure migrant workers in the private sector have improved job mobility and can switch jobs or leave Saudi Arabia without their employers’ consent.

The labor reforms will also allow OFWs to apply directly for government services, with all employment contracts documented online.

Dexter Garcia, a former OFW who spent a decade working as an office staff member with the Saudi Turf Company, returned to the Philippines in November last year, a few months before the Kingdom’s new laws became effective on March 14.

He said while he had “heard many stories of abuse, that was all in the past.”

“Before I left the Kingdom after my contract with my company ended last year, things were already starting to change. The Saudi government was already starting to relax the kafala,” he told Arab News.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, as of January 2020, there are an estimated 2,221,448 Filipinos in the Middle East.


COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
  • Spray uses “nanobodies” produced by llamas, camels when they get an infection
  • Immunologist: “It’s very promising” and “exciting”

LONDON: A treatment derived from a llama has shown great promise in the fight against COVID-19. 

The product is a treatment made of “nanobodies,” which are simpler versions of antibodies, produced by llamas and camels when they get an infection.

Scientists have said it could be transformed into a simple nasal spray to treat early COVID-19 infection.

Prof. James Naismith described nanobodies as “fantastically exciting,” saying COVID-19-infected rodents treated with the spray had totally recovered within six days.

Public Health England has said it is looking at the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents” it has ever tested, and it could be used in human tests soon. 

The virus-specific nanobodies can attach to viruses and bacteria that invade the human body. It acts as a form of warning, allowing the rest of the body’s immune system to prepare to destroy the nascent infection. 

These nanobodies found by the UK researchers in llamas were shown to bind particularly tightly. “That’s where we had some help from Fifi the llama,” said Naismith.

Fifi was vaccinated with a tiny, non-infectious piece of the viral protein. The researchers then recovered and isolated the strongest nanobodies in a sample of the llama’s blood. 

From the sample of the potent nanobodies, the researchers were able to grow large quantities of its best molecules.

Prof. Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, said the new development is “exciting but still quite early.”

She added: “We need more data on efficacy and safety before we move to human trials. However it’s very promising nonetheless, and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus.

“COVID-19 will be, unfortunately, with us for a while yet, so more treatments will be needed.”

Naismith said: “Not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed. And there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”