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.”


Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
Updated 3 min 20 sec ago

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
  • Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules
ROME: People in Italy unvaccinated against COVID-19 can no longer go to the theater, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events under new rules that came into force Monday.
Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules, which represent a significant tightening of restrictions in the face of rising infections.
New measures are also being enforced on public transport, with a so-called Green Pass showing proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative COVID-19 test now required even on local services.
A man in his 50s was fined $452 (€400) for not having his pass on Monday morning as he got off a bus near Piazza del Popolo in Rome, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“I don’t have it because I wanted to get vaccinated in the next few days,” he was reported as saying.
A record 1.3 million Green Passes were downloaded on Sunday ahead of the change.
Meanwhile in Rome at the weekend, new rules requiring face masks to be worn outdoors in the busiest shopping streets came into effect.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus in early 2020 and has one of the highest death tolls, at more than 134,000.
However, it is currently faring better than many of its neighbors, with 15,000 cases out of a population of 60 million reported on Sunday.
Almost 85 percent of over 12s have been vaccinated, a booster campaign is in full swing and jabs will soon be available for younger children.
The Green Pass was introduced in August for access to theaters and cinemas, museums and indoor dining, and extended to workplaces in October — a move that sparked widespread protests.
From now until January 15, a new “Super Green Pass,” which can only be obtained through vaccination or recent recovery, will be required for cultural activities — although not museums — and inside restaurants.
However, having a coffee at the bar of a cafe and eating outside is allowed without a Green Pass.
The restrictions will be further tightened in regions at higher risk of coronavirus.
Currently most of Italy is classed as the lowest of four levels, which range from white to yellow, orange and red.
Two regions are yellow — Friuli Venezia Giulia and Bolzano, which both border Austria, a country in partial lockdown over the number of cases there.

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
Updated 58 min 8 sec ago

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
  • India has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent
  • Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad

NEW DELHI: Cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have risen to 21 in India over the weekend and people must step up for vaccination, officials said on Monday.
The western state of Rajasthan reported the most number of omicron cases with nine, followed by eight in Maharashtra, two in Karnataka and one each in Gujarat and the capital New Delhi.
“The people of Delhi must get fully vaccinated, wear a mask and maintain social distancing,” its health minister Satyendar Jain said on Twitter.
He said the city’s first omicron patient was being treated at a state-run hospital. Some 94 percent of its adults had received at lease one dose, he added.
The country has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent. Tens of millions of people, however, are overdue for their second dose despite ample vaccine supplies, government data shows.
India reported its first two omicron cases in the southern state of Karnataka on Thursday, in one person with no recent travel history.
Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad, but doctors said the mutated virus was already spreading in the local population as well.
“omicron is here, community spread is underway,” surgeon Arvinder Singh Soin, who has been treating COVID-19 patients, said on Twitter. “Mask up. Get FULLY vaccinated.”
India reported 8,895 new COVID-19 cases for the past 24 hours, taking the total to 34.64 million. Deaths rose by 211 to 473,537.
Since a record surge in infections and deaths in April and May due to the Delta variant, new cases have hovered around 10,000 in the past few weeks.


27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
Updated 06 December 2021

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
  • Mount Semeru spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rain

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia: Rescuers dug out the body of 13-year-old boy with their bare hands on Monday, as improved weather conditions allowed them to resume their search after the highest volcano on Indonesia’s Java island erupted with fury, killing at least 15 people with searing gas and ash and leaving 27 others missing.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rain. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed by tons of volcanic debris.
Searing gas raced down the sides of the mountain, smothering entire villages and killing or seriously burning those caught in its path.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been hospitalized, mostly with burns. He said rescuers were still searching for 27 villagers reported missing. Nearly 3,000 houses and 38 schools were damaged, Muhari said.
The body of the 13-year-old boy was recovered in the worst-hit village of Sumberwuluh, where houses were buried to their rooftops and cars were submerged. Crumpled roofs, charred carcasses of cattle and broken chairs covered in gray ash and soot dotted the smoldering landscape.
Search and rescue efforts were temporarily suspended Sunday afternoon because of fears that heavy rain would cause more hot ash and debris to fall from the crater.
The eruption of the 3,676-meter-high mountain eased pressure that had been building under a lava dome in the crater. But experts warned that the dome could further collapse, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
More than 1,700 villagers escaped to makeshift emergency shelters after Saturday’s powerful eruption, but many others defied official warnings and chose to remain in their homes to tend their livestock and protect their property.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted many times in the last 200 years. Still, as on many of the 129 volcanoes monitored in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people live on its fertile slopes. It last erupted in January, with no casualties.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.


Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says
Updated 06 December 2021

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

LONDON: Future pandemics could be even more lethal than COVID-19 so the lessons learned from the outbreak must not be squandered and the world should ensure it is prepared for the next viral onslaught, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine said.
The novel coronavirus has killed 5.26 million people across the world, according to Johns Hopkins University, wiped out trillions of dollars in economic output and turned life upside down for billions of people.
"The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both," Sarah Gilbert said in the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, the BBC reported. "This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods."
Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said the world should make sure it is better prepared for the next virus.
"The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost," she said.
Efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic have been uneven and fragmented, marked by limited access to vaccines in low-income countries while the "healthy and wealthy" in rich countries get boosters, health experts say.
A panel of health experts set up by the World Health Organisation to review the handling of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has called for permanent funding and for greater ability to investigate pandemics through a new treaty.
One proposal was for new financing of at least $10 billion a year for pandemic preparedness.
The COVID-19 outbreak was first detected in China in late 2019. Vaccines were developed against the virus in record time.
Gilbert said the omicron variant's spike protein contained mutations known to increase the transmissibility of the virus.
"There are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with omicron," Gilbert said.
"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant." 


Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman
Updated 06 December 2021

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman
  • For inciting dissent against the military and breaching COVID-19 rules
  • Former president Win Myint was also jailed for four years under the same charges

YANGON: A Myanmar court on Monday jailed ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for four years for inciting dissent against the military and breaching COVID-19 rules, a spokesman for the ruling junta SAID.
Suu Kyi “was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under section 505(b) and two years’ imprisonment under natural disaster law,” junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said.
Former president Win Myint was also jailed for four years under the same charges, he said, adding that they would not yet be taken to prison.
“They will face other charges from the places where they are staying now” in the capital Naypyidaw, he added, without giving further details.
The 76-year-old Suu Kyi has been detained since the generals ousted her government in the early hours of February 1, ending Myanmar’s brief democratic interlude.
The junta has since added a slew of other indictments, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud. The Nobel laureate faces decades in jail if convicted on all counts.
Journalists have been barred from proceedings in the special court in the military-built capital, and Suu Kyi’s lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media.
More than 1,300 people have been killed and over 10,000 arrested in a crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.