Incoming UNGA president outlines ‘5 rays of hope’ for year ahead

Incoming UNGA president outlines ‘5 rays of hope’ for year ahead
Shahid’s “five rays of hope” for his presidency placed COVID-19 as the undisputed priority for the year ahead. (AFP)
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Updated 15 September 2021

Incoming UNGA president outlines ‘5 rays of hope’ for year ahead

Incoming UNGA president outlines ‘5 rays of hope’ for year ahead
  • Ex-Maldives FM Abdulla Shahid: ‘This is what this moment in time calls for. Hope is never overrated or cliché’
  • Vaccine accessibility, gender issues, climate change among his priorities

NEW YORK: The incoming president of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday said tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, uplifting the lives of women globally and combating climate change will be among the primary objectives of his presidency.

Abdulla Shahid, former foreign minister of the Maldives, outlined his priorities for the year ahead and announced “five rays of hope” in his inaugural speech to hundreds of delegates at the UN’s New York headquarters, attended by Arab News.

“While the pandemic unleashed an unprecedented crisis, we have witnessed incredible acts of kindness and compassion that reaffirmed our common humanity and collective strength. As nations united, let us draw upon that collective humanity now,” he said.

“I have embraced ‘hope’ as the theme for my presidency. This is what this moment in time calls for. Hope is never overrated or cliche.”

Founded in 1945, the General Assembly is the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN.

Delegates from every UN member state have a place and a vote in the assembly. A new leader is elected by the body every year.

Shahid’s “five rays of hope” for his presidency placed COVID-19 as the undisputed priority for the year ahead. “Vaccinating the world is my top focus. We simply must close the gap on vaccine access,” he said of his first hope.

The second is rebuilding sustainably from the pandemic. Shahid said he will preside over a socioeconomic recovery that is “forward-thinking and resilient.”

Third, he promised to address climate change and act on behalf of the planet by pushing for “concrete actions that deliver change” through a series of high-profile global events.

The fourth hope for his presidency is related to gender issues and uplifting the rights and roles of women globally. In this, the new president is leading by example.

Shahid’s staff and Cabinet, he said, are completely gender-balanced, and he pledged to only participate in UN panels that are gender-balanced. He urged delegates in attendance to join him in leading by example on gender issues.

Shahid also made clear that youth participation in decision-making is a key priority for him. He pointed to his decision to launch a youth fellowship program associated with his office as an example of how he will “empower youth” — an initiative that will “strengthen the global multilateral system.”

He concluded by suggesting a series of reforms to the UNGA that would increase civil participation.

Its outgoing President Volkan Bozkir offered a significantly more austere take on the need for institutional change in his final speech.

He reminded delegates that their “primary responsibility is to the world’s most vulnerable people,” but said in some cases they had failed in the prioritization of that goal.

The UNGA, he said, “is the single best platform to mobilize political will and implement collective action to address global crises.

“However, we are not using this platform effectively and efficiently. We are constrained by bureaucratic excuses, and are sidestepping our responsibility out of a misaligned sense of keeping the peace.”

Bozkir received a standing ovation and rapturous applause from the delegates at the end of his speech.

Issuing closing remarks to the first session of the 76th General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, much like the other speakers at the event, made clear that COVID-19, climate, gender and poverty are interrelated issues that require a multilateral response.

“The war on our planet must end. The wars on each other need to end, too. It’s time to focus on fighting humanity’s common enemy: The pandemic,” he said. “The members of this assembly must speak with one voice. We need peace now.”


omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical
Updated 11 sec ago

omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta overthrow it?
Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.
“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.
But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.
“Especially here in the US, where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines.
On the issue of spread, scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may come to overwhelm hospitals.
The new variant rapidly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day in mid-November, to more than 16,000 per day over the weekend. omicron accounts for more than 90 percent of the new cases in Gauteng province, the epicenter of the new wave, according to experts. The new variant is rapidly spreading and achieving dominance in South Africa’s eight other provinces.
“The virus is spreading extraordinarily fast, very rapidly,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute. “If you look at the slopes of this wave that we’re in at the moment, it’s a much steeper slope than the first three waves that South Africa experienced. This indicates that it’s spreading fast and it may therefore be a very transmissible virus.”
But Hanekom, who is also co-chair the South African COVID-19 Variants Research Consortium, said South Africa had such low numbers of delta cases when omicron emerged, “I don’t think we can say” it out-competed delta.
Scientists say it’s unclear whether omicron will behave the same way in other countries as it has in South Africa. Lemieux said there are already some hints about how it may behave; in places like the United Kingdom, which does a lot of genomic sequencing, he said, “we’re seeing what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of omicron over delta.”
In the United States, as in the rest of the world, “there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture emerge: that omicron is already here, and based on what we’ve observed in South Africa, it’s likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and will likely cause a surge in case numbers.”
What that could mean for public health remains to be seen. Hanekom said early data from South Africa shows that reinfection rates are much higher with omicron than previous variants, suggesting the virus is escaping immunity somewhat. It also shows the virus seems to be infecting younger people, mostly those who are unvaccinated, and most cases in hospitals have been relatively mild.
But Binnicker said things could play out differently in other parts of the world or in different groups of patients. “It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when more infections potentially occur in older adults or those with underlying health conditions,” he said. “What’s the outcome in those patients?”
As the world waits for answers, scientists suggest people do all they can to protect themselves.
“We want to make sure that people have as much immunity from vaccination as possible. So if people are not vaccinated they should get vaccinated,” Lemieux said. “If people are eligible for boosters, they should get boosters, and then do all the other things that we know are effective for reducing transmission — masking and social distancing and avoiding large indoor gatherings, particularly without masks.”


WHO advises against blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
Updated 8 min 38 sec ago

WHO advises against blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
  • A US-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Monday advised against using the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat those who are ill, saying current evidence shows it neither improves survival nor reduces the need for ventilators.
The hypothesis for using plasma is that the antibodies it contains could neutralize the novel coronavirus, stopping it from replicating and halting tissue damage.
Several studies testing convalescent blood plasma have shown no apparent benefit for treating COVID-19 patients who are severely ill. A US-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients.
The method is also costly and time-consuming to administer, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.
A panel of international experts made a strong recommendation against the use of convalescent plasma in patients with non-severe illness, the WHO said. They also advised against its use in patients with severe and critical illness, except in the context of a randomized controlled trial.
The recommendation, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is based on evidence from 16 trials involving 16,236 patients with non-severe, severe and critical COVID-19 infection.


Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
Updated 07 December 2021

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
  • Gul Kakar’s collection of 18th, 19th-century timepieces range from small pocket watches to grandfather clocks

QUETTA: Bells, whistles, chimes, and gongs sound every minute. Hands tick, pendulums swing.

Welcome to the museum of Gul Kakar, a 44-year-old Balochistan Levies Force officer, who has collected thousands of ancient clocks from around the world.

Housed in his small museum in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, the collection of 18th- and 19th-century timepieces includes exhibits ranging from small pocket watches to tall free-standing wooden case grandfather clocks accumulated over two decades.

“My passion toward antique clocks started when I found two old clocks in my house, which were in my father’s possession. After repairing them, I started my search for more antique clocks,” Kakar told Arab News.

“The majority of clocks in my museum have been acquired from people in the UK, Germany, Holland, France, and the US.

“I have a rare French-made Morbier grandfather clock, which was produced in 1850, and a pocket watch manufactured in 1820. When I learnt that a French family wanted to sell these rare clocks, I contacted a friend in France who purchased them for me and sent them six years ago.”

Kakar said he had not counted how many clocks he had but reckoned there were thousands in his two-room museum, located on the city’s Joint Road. There are no guided tours, but visitors are always welcome.

“I never thought that I would be able to build a museum. With the passage of time, my antiques including all forms of old clocks started arriving and turned my place into a clock museum,” he added.

HIGHLIGHT

Gathered from around world, Kakar has never counted, calculated value of his museum contents.

In a world increasingly oriented toward technology, Kakar said his museum had become a portal to another time. He also has a number of vintage radios and old gramophones in his collection.

“When I hear the sounds of these clocks or play songs on gramophones, it gives me immense comfort and pushes me into the historical lifestyle of the people back in the 18th and 19th centuries who had used these items. I am able to recognize the chimes of all clocks.”

The models he owns are unfamiliar to Pakistani clocksmiths, so Kakar has to carry out any repairs himself.

“I service them and wind them once a week, and I’m able to repair minor issues with my clocks,” he said.

And he has recently started looking into the history of some of his exhibits.

“I know the background of some of these clocks and I am in contact with some families in England and France and have asked them to share the histories of these clocks used by their great grandfathers during the 18th and 19th centuries. I am hopeful I will get more details in the coming months,” he added.

Kakar has not attempted to calculate how much his collection is worth. “I have never sold items from my collection to anyone. If I started counting the sum, I would not be able to carry on with my enthusiasm.”


Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions
Updated 07 December 2021

Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions

WASHINGTON: Six countries including the US expressed concern on Monday over reports of widespread arrests by Ethiopia of Tigrayan citizens based on ethnicity in connection with the country’s year-old conflict, urging the government to stop acts they said likely violate international law.

The US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands cited reports by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the rights group Amnesty International on widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers with children.

The countries said they are “profoundly concerned” about the detentions of people without charges, adding that the government’s announcement of a state of emergency last month offered “no justification” for mass detentions.

“Individuals are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions. Many of these acts likely constitute violations of international law and must cease immediately,” the six countries said in a joint statement.

They urged Ethiopia’s government to allow unhindered access by international monitors.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum and Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement.

The conflict between Ethiopian’s federal government and the leadership of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation and a regional diplomatic heavyweight, was once an ally for Western security forces seeking to counter Islamist extremism. Relations have soured amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

The joint statement reiterated grave concern over human rights abuses including sexual violence and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by all sides.

“It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we denounce any and all violence against civilians, past, present and future,” the statement said.

Both sides in Ethiopia accuse each other of committing atrocities and both have denied the allegations.

The six countries in the statement called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire, reiterating calls from the United States and others for Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan forces to declare a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to enter Tigray.


UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
Updated 33 min 52 sec ago

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
  • Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday appointed US diplomat Stephanie Williams to lead mediation efforts in Libya after his special envoy quit just weeks ahead of planned elections in the war-torn country.

UN special envoy on Libya, Jan Kubis, is due to step down on Friday. Guterres had informally suggested veteran British diplomat Nicholas Kay as a replacement, but Russia said it would not support Kay, according to diplomats. The 15-member UN Security Council, operating by consensus, must approve a new appointment.

Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval. Williams was the acting special envoy on Libya after Ghassan Salame quit in March 2020 because of stress and before Kubis was approved in January 2021.

Kubis, who has been based in Geneva, said last month there was a need for the head envoy to be based in Libya's capital Tripoli and he resigned to "to create conditions for this".

Williams "will lead good offices and mediation efforts and engagements with Libyan regional and international stakeholders to pursue implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks - political, security and economic - and support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In October last year, the two major sides in Libya's civil war - the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army - agreed a ceasefire.

A UN political forum last year demanded parliamentary and presidential elections take place on Dec. 24 as part of a roadmap to end the war. However, disputes over the planned vote threaten to derail the peace process.

A first-round presidential vote is set for Dec. 24 and the parliamentary election has been delayed to January or February. However, rules for the elections have not yet been agreed.