World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable

World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable
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Updated 21 September 2021

World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable

World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable
  • African Union president among those urging rich countries to relinquish vaccine patents
  • Saudi-based institute convened experts to push for ‘tangible solutions’ to global health challenges

NEW YORK: Leaders and trailblazers from the political, corporate and medical worlds gathered at a high-profile event in New York on Tuesday to contemplate the future of medicine and push for equitable, forward-thinking solutions to the world’s health challenges, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic.

To quickly turn the tide against the pandemic, rich countries should waive the intellectual property rights they hold over COVID-19 vaccines, speakers — including the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — told attendees at the Future Investment Initiative Institute’s “Health is Wealth” roundtable.

The event, attended by Arab News and timed to coincide with the UN General Assembly, convened world leaders, experts and figureheads for a series of panels with one goal in mind: Driving tangible solutions to challenges facing the global health system.

DRC President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo told attendees at the Saudi-based non-profit’s event that Africa’s vaccine shortage is of “high importance” to the world.

He offered a radical solution that he said would help to turn the tide against the spread of COVID-19 worldwide: “Rich countries have the moral obligation to transfer the technologies and lift all patents that hold us from using (the vaccine) — that’s the only way we can manage global immunity.”

Vaccines must be considered a “common good” for the world, he said, adding that less than 3 percent of Africans have been fully inoculated against COVID-19.

Tshilombo said addressing this vaccine deficiency is one of the “main pillars” of his tenure as current president of the African Union.

Unlike Africa, the US has been able to mobilize its immense wealth to implement a world-leading campaign that has seen hundreds of millions of Americans fully vaccinated.

Bechara Choucair, the Biden administration’s vaccination coordinator, told attendees that jabs are returning an element of normalcy to American life, so “we have to make sure they’re widely available.” 

This vaccination effort expands beyond US borders, he said, adding: “We know this virus doesn’t respect any boundaries. We’re proud to have donated nearly 150 million vaccines to over 90 countries — more than all other countries combined.

“And we’ve started to ship another 500 million vaccines to 100 lower-income countries in need of vaccines.”

The Biden administration has previously also expressed support for a relaxation of intellectual property rights surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.

Tuesday’s event also saw the FII Institute launch its Global Infectious Disease Index. It is a “unique tool that captures both endemic and epidemic disease” across 204 countries and territories, said Safiye Kucukarraca, director of strategic partnerships at the institute.

The index focuses on five global endemic diseases: HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, lower respiratory diseases and viral diseases.

The tool “reflects the readiness and vulnerability of medical systems,” and the data produced will be used to “inform health ministries worldwide about the gaps that need be filled to tackle endemic and emerging epidemics,” Kucukarraca said.

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, founder of Bangladeshi community bank Grameen Bank, said the global health system is “dysfunctional,” pointing to how despite promises of multilateral solutions at the start of the pandemic, countries quickly became “isolated islands” in their responses. 

He reiterated Tshilombo’s call for rich countries to relinquish their intellectual property rights over COVID-19 vaccines, and said the US has now backed that initiative.

Yunus singled out German resistance to the idea — which requires a global consensus — as a major obstacle to its implementation.

Looking to the future, he warned of a world of “global warming, wealth concentration and massive unemployment created by wealth concentration” if there is no change in course.

But he said the pandemic, for all its ills, has given people a chance to pause, reflect, and push for the creation of a new world characterized by “zero net carbon emissions, zero wealth concentration and zero unemployment.” This, he added, could be achieved by “unleashing the entrepreneurship of the people.”


British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans
Updated 36 sec ago

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans

British far-right groups target hotels housing Afghans
  • Islamophobic campaigns include filming refugees, making baseless accusations, lobbying MPs
  • Extremism monitor: Far right ‘reviving and refining similar attacks used during Syria crisis’

LONDON: Thousands of Afghans housed temporarily in British hotels have faced increasing harassment by far-right groups, according to organizations monitoring the activities of extremists.

Campaigners said the groups are drawing on Islamophobic narratives to whip up hate against the refugees.

Britain First is one of the most notorious and prominent groups involved in the campaign, and according to its own website, it has made more than a dozen unsolicited visits to hotels housing refugees across England in recent weeks.

Right-wing extremism monitor Hope Not Hate said the resettlement schemesfor Afghans have become a focal point for many far-right groups.

It said the arrival of the refugees has led to the far right “reviving, and refining, similar attacks used during the Syria crisis.”

The far right, it added, is using ideas rooted in Islamophobia such as the “Muslim takeover of Europe,” or framing refugees as potential terrorists or sex offenders, to incite hatred against them.

In the videos, far-right activists are seen filming themselves showing up at hotels and trying to find and film refugees, who they incorrectly describe as illegal immigrants.

They usually say they are filming for social media instead of identifying their organization, and are often escorted from the premises by staff.

Banned from traditional social media, some of Britain First’s videos on Telegram of the hotel harassment have accrued views of up to 40,000.

Many of the Afghans who have been evacuated to the UK were taken out of their country because they worked closely with British forces during the two-decade war. Around 8,500 people were evacuated from Afghanistan to Britain in total.

Far-right groups cite the alleged financial burden on the British taxpayer of resettling Afghans, and claim that they will also hurt British wallets because of the increased unemployment costs of new migration.

They have also made baseless accusations in the past that male refugees were harassing local schoolgirls — a claim discredited by police.

One group, Patriotic Alternative — a white nationalist political group — is promoting a “write to your MP” action to its followers to protest the resettlement of Afghans in Britain. They have also unfurled banners with the words “we will not be replaced” to protest the resettlement of Afghans in Britain, including one in Home Secretary Priti Patel’s constituency.

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate told The Guardian: “It’s grimly predictable to see the far-right harassing Afghan refugees where they are living. Immigration has long been a focus of the far-right, but they have capitalized on the Afghan resettlement scheme to bring together Islamophobic tropes with anti-migrant hate.

“They are using Islamophobic narratives of a ‘Muslim takeover of Europe,’ framing refugees as potential terrorists or sexual predators, and underpinning these with a rejection of the political system to offer a hateful alternative.”


Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone
Updated 16 min 30 sec ago

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone
  • An official said it was difficult to say whether Sweden has an unusually high excess mortality due to the virus
  • Denmark has recorded 2,703 deaths, Norway 895 and Finland nearly 1,150

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Sweden which has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has passed the threshold of 15,000 deaths with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to official figures released Tuesday.
Thomas Linden of the National Board of Health and Welfare, told Swedish public radio that it was difficult to say whether Sweden has an unusually high excess mortality due to the virus.
“Internationally, Sweden has not had a higher mortality rate. But if you compare with the other Nordic countries, we are significantly higher,” Linden told SR.
In comparison, Denmark has recorded 2,703 deaths, Norway 895 and Finland nearly 1,150. Each of those countries has slightly over half as many people as Sweden.
According to the Public Health Agency of Sweden, 15,002 people — 6,793 women and 8,209 men — have died with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sweden had opted for keeping large sections of society open. It has not gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections.


Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
Updated 26 October 2021

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
  • "The disruption at the refuelling system of gas stations... in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack," state broadcaster IRIB said
  • The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of a November 19 increase in fuel prices

DUBAI: A cyberattack disrupted the sale of heavily subsidised gasoline in Iran on Tuesday, state media reported, causing long lines at gas stations across the country.
“The disruption at the refueling system of gas stations... in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack,” state broadcaster IRIB said. “Technical experts are fixing the problem and soon the refueling process...will return to normal.”
The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of a November 19 increase in fuel prices which led to widespread street protests in which hundreds were reported to have been killed by security forces.
The oil ministry said only sales with smart cards used for cheaper rationed gasoline were disrupted and clients could still buy fuel at higher rates, the ministry’s news agency SHANA reported.
Videos posted on social media showed apparently-hacked street signs carrying messages such as “Khamenei, where is our gasoline?,” in a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos.
In the past, Iran has been targeted by a series of cyberattacks such as one in July when the website of the transport ministry was taken down by what state media said was a “cyber disruption.”
Iran says it is on high alert for online assaults, which it has blamed in the past on the United States and Israel.
The United States and other Western powers meanwhile have accused Iran of trying to disrupt and break into their networks.


Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’
Updated 26 October 2021

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

TOKYO: Japan signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to provide Libya with 198 million yen ($1.8 million) grant aid for supporting local election programs.

The agreement was reached on Oct. 24 at the Japanese embassy in Tripoli and signed by Yuki Tenji, the Japanese temporary deputy ambassador, the special coordinator of Libya Mark Andre Franche, and the UNDP Libya Office.

According to the foreign ministry in Tokyo, this aid will help conduct smooth, free, and fair national elections scheduled throughout Libya for December and will be the first step in establishing a legitimate unified government representing the Libyan people.   

The aid will provide the National Electoral Commission with ballot boxes and other election-related equipment, thus contributing to the realization of a peaceful and safe society.

Libya covers an area of ​​1.76 million square kilometers, has a population of about 6.78 million and has a per capita gross national income of US $7,640, the ministry said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
Updated 26 October 2021

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
  • Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019
  • The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant

BEIJING: China placed a city of four million people under lockdown on Tuesday, ordering them not to leave home except in emergencies, in a bid to eradicate a COVID-19 cluster of just a few dozen confirmed cases.
Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019, slowing the number of cases to a trickle and allowing the economy to bounce back.
But as the rest of the world opens up and tries to find ways to live with the virus, China has maintained a zero COVID-19 approach that has seen harsh local lockdowns imposed over handfuls of cases.
Tuesday’s fresh restrictions came as China reported 29 new domestic infections — including six in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in the country’s northwest.
The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant, with the tally hitting 198 cases since October 17.
Thirty-nine have been in Lanzhou.
Residents of the city will now be required to stay at home, authorities said in a statement, with the “entry and exit of residents” strictly controlled and limited to essential supplies or medical treatment.
Bus and taxi services had already been stopped in the city, and state media said Tuesday that Lanzhou station had suspended more than 70 trains, including on key routes to Beijing and Xi’an.
A Southern Airlines representative said that all its flights from Beijing’s Daxing airport to Lanzhou were canceled due to public safety, with no resumption date given.
Health officials have warned that more infections may emerge as testing is ramped up in the coming days to fight the outbreak, which has been linked to a group of domestic tourists who traveled from Shanghai to several other provinces.
Strict stay-at-home orders have already been imposed on tens of thousands of people in northern China.
In Beijing — which reported three new cases Tuesday — access to tourist sites has been limited and the prominent Lama Temple was shuttered, while residents were advised not to leave the capital unless necessary.
About 23,000 residents in one housing compound in Changping district have been ordered to stay indoors after nine cases were found there in recent days, local outlet Beijing News reported.
Community mahjong and chess rooms have been closed, and residents have been told to reduce large gatherings.
Organizers on Sunday indefinitely postponed a marathon at which 30,000 runners were expected.
Mass testing is under way in 11 provinces and authorities have suspended many inter-provincial tour groups.
While the country’s case numbers are extremely low compared with elsewhere in the world, authorities are determined to stamp out the latest outbreak with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing just over 100 days away.
As part of China’s strict enforcement of the zero COVID-19 policy, those deemed to have failed in controlling COVID-19 are often dismissed from their posts or punished.
On Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the party secretary of Ejin Banner in the northern Inner Mongolia region had been sacked, “due to poor performance and implementation in epidemic prevention and control.”
Hit by the latest wave, the city locked down about 35,000 residents from Monday.
Around 10,000 tourists were also placed under lockdown in Ejin, according to local media reports.
Six other officials were punished for their “slack response” to the latest flare-up, state media reported, and a local police bureau deputy director was removed from their position.
Beijing police have launched three criminal investigations into alleged COVID-19 safety breaches, deputy director of the city’s public security bureau said Sunday.