New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out
New Zealand embarked on an all-out effort to get people vaccinated including a televised “Vaxathon” festival on Saturday which saw a record 130,000 people getting shots. (New Zealand Herald via AP)
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Updated 19 October 2021

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out
  • Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago

WELLINGTON: New Zealand counted its most new coronavirus cases of the pandemic Tuesday as an outbreak in its largest city grew and officials urged vaccinations as a way out of Auckland’s two-month lockdown.
Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago. Most of the new cases were in Auckland, but seven were found in the nearby Waikato district.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown rule-breakers were contributing to the spread of infections and noted that many of the new cases had been detected among younger people.
“I know the highs and lows of cases is incredibly hard on people, particularly those in Tamaki Makaurau,” Ardern said, using the Indigenous Maori name for Auckland. “I just wanted to reinforce again that we’re not powerless. We do have the ability to keep cases as low as we can.”
New Zealand had successfully eliminated earlier outbreaks by imposing tough border controls and strict lockdowns, as well as aggressive contact-tracing and isolating those who were infectious. But the approach failed against the more transmissible delta variant. The government has since eased some of Auckland’s lockdown rules, allowing more people to return to work.
Ardern has also embarked on an all-out effort to get people vaccinated. That’s included a televised “Vaxathon” festival on Saturday which saw a record 130,000 people getting shots, more than 2 percent of the New Zealand’s population of 5 million.
Ardern has promised to outline a path out of lockdown for Auckland based on vaccination numbers.
The government has previously talked about the importance of getting 90 percent of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated, including a high proportion of Maori, who have been particularly hard hit by the outbreak.
But that goal remains some distance away, with 85 percent of eligible people having had at least one dose and 67 percent fully vaccinated. The numbers are lower among Maori.
Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said he was concerned that contact tracers in Auckland would soon become overwhelmed. He said lawmakers needed to consider temporarily reimposing stricter lockdown rules as a circuit breaker.
“There are burning embers all over the city,” Baker said. “They have lifted the wet blanket of the strong lockdown, and people are getting lockdown fatigue.”
Baker said he thought it was possible for the government to continue eliminating the outbreak outside of Auckland, provided it kept in place strict border controls around the city.
He said the most important goal in any reopening would be to ensure the health system was not overrun.
Health officials on Tuesday also said they had authorized people with weakened immune systems to get a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine and were recommending they do so.


Australia swears in new Labor PM ahead of Quad meeting

Australia swears in new Labor PM ahead of Quad meeting
Updated 11 sec ago

Australia swears in new Labor PM ahead of Quad meeting

Australia swears in new Labor PM ahead of Quad meeting

SYDNEY: Australia’s Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese was sworn in as the country’s 31st prime minister on Monday, promising a “journey of change” as he vowed to tackle climate change, rising living costs and inequality.
Labor returns to power after nine years in opposition as a wave of unprecedented support for the Greens and climate-focussed independents, mostly women, helped end nearly a decade of rule by the conservative coalition in Saturday’s general election.
While votes are still being counted and the makeup of government has yet to be finalized, Albanese was sworn in so he could attend a key meeting of the “Quad” security grouping in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Albanese, raised in public housing by a single mother on a disability pension, was sworn in by Governor-General David Hurley at a ceremony in the national capital, Canberra.
“It’s a big day in my life but a big day for the country, when we change the government,” Albanese told reporters outside his Sydney suburban home ahead of the ceremony.
“I want to channel the opportunity that we have to shape change so that we bring people with us on the journey of change. I want to bring the country together.”
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles and three key ministers — Penny Wong in foreign affairs, Jim Chalmers as treasurer and Katy Gallagher in finance — were also sworn in, with Wong to join Albanese on the Quad trip.
Albanese said he spoke to US President Joe Biden on Sunday night and was looking forward to meeting him alongside the prime ministers of Japan and India on Tuesday. He will return to Australia on Wednesday.
“This visit aligns with what the Albanese Government sees as the three pillars of Australia’s foreign policy: our alliance with the United States, our engagement with the region, and our support for multilateral forums,” Albanese said in a statement.
Labor’s campaign heavily spotlighted Albanese’s working-class credentials and his image as a pragmatic unifier.
Center-left Labor still remains four seats short of a majority of 76 in the 151 seat lower house with about a dozen races too close to call, according to television channels. Some predicted Labor might get enough seats to govern on their own.
Official results could be several days away, with the counting of a record 2.7 million postal votes underway on Sunday.


First baby formula shipment, enough for thousands of US infants, arrives from Europe

First baby formula shipment, enough for thousands of US infants, arrives from Europe. (AFP)
First baby formula shipment, enough for thousands of US infants, arrives from Europe. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2022

First baby formula shipment, enough for thousands of US infants, arrives from Europe

First baby formula shipment, enough for thousands of US infants, arrives from Europe. (AFP)
  • President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to stock empty shelves with 1.5 million containers of Nestle specialty infant formulas. Biden last week invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to help increase supplies

WASHINGTON: A military cargo plane carrying the first shipment of infant formula from Europe to help address a critical shortage in the United States landed in Indianapolis on Sunday and the White House said a second flight had been arranged.
A Feb. 17 recall by top baby formula maker Abbott Laboratories and the closing of its manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan during an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration has created one of the biggest infant formula shortages in recent history for US families.
“This is an important step, but it is by no means the only step that must take place. We will continue to work as the president has instructed us to look for every opportunity to increase supply,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who greeted the plane on its arrival.
“This particular formula is for a very, very small percentage of children. Roughly 17,000 children in the country basically are the beneficiaries of this particular formula,” he said.
President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to stock empty shelves with 1.5 million containers of Nestle specialty infant formulas. Biden last week invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to help increase supplies.
The White House said on Sunday a second flight carrying formula would leave from Rammstein Air Force Base in coming days.
Nestle also said more shipments would arrive in the coming days.
Troops used forklifts to unload boxes of the cargo from the plane, which the White House said carried 78,000 pounds (35,000 kg) of specialty infant formula — enough for 500,000 bottles — and onto trucks heading to distribution centers.
Abbott, the biggest US supplier of powder infant formula, closed its Michigan plant following reports of bacterial infections in four infants, worsening a shortage among multiple manufacturers that began with pandemic supply-chain issues.
Chief Executive Robert Ford apologized for the shortage on Sunday and promised to fix it, adding the plant would reopen in the first week of June, and it would take six-to-eight weeks for products to reach store shelves.
“We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” he wrote in a Washington Post column.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday declared a state of emergency to prevent price gouging.
“This emergency executive order will help us to crack down on any retailer looking to capitalize on this crisis by jacking up prices on this essential good,” he said in a statement.


Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende

Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende
Borge Brende with Katie Jensen on Frankly Speaking. (AN photo)
Updated 23 May 2022

Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende

Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende
  • WEF president says violations by Iran and Israel are not comparable to those committed in Ukraine
  • Brende believes current war could end up as Moscow’s “Afghanistan or Vietnam”
  • Davos summit more timely than ever as ‘global challenges require global solutions’

DAVOS, Switzerland: The president of the World Economic Forum has said the Geneva-based organization is sending a strong signal to Moscow by not inviting Russian officials and businesses to this year’s Davos summit while issuing an invitation to the Ukrainian leader to address the gathering.

“When it comes to Russia, we chose not to invite Russian business or Russian officials because there are limits,” Borge Brende told Katie Jensen, the host of Frankly Speaking, the Arab News talk show which features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders.

“Russia has broken basic humanitarian law and international law. They are not sticking to the UN Charter and we have seen so many atrocities.”

Borge Brende with Katie Jensen on Frankly Speaking. (AN photo)

At the same time, Brende said, the WEF will not only have Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky “on video” but also several of his ministers.

“From Kyiv we will have two of his deputy prime ministers. We also have the foreign minister in Davos,” he said, adding that some chief executives will be coming together to form a group of CEOs for Ukraine to “secure the rebuilding of the country.”

Defending the WEF’s decision, he said: “The key for unlocking this is with (President Vladimir) Putin and the Kremlin. We need to see that they are taking steps to again rejoin compliance with international law before they will be reinvited to Davos. We have a strong moral obligation to also send this kind of signal in such a situation.”

Brende appeared on “Frankly Speaking” on the eve of the first in-person WEF annual meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time the event, which kicked off on Sunday, is being held in Davos in May.

He denied that for an organization that prides itself on its impartiality and reputation as a bridge builder, the decision not to invite one side amounts to a failure on the WEF’s part to encourage debate.

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Brende said it is true that for the last 50 years the WEF has always tried to bring leaders together, but “there are limits.”

“It’s an ongoing war in Ukraine, where we see that children are being killed in their schools every day. You see women being raped. We see war crimes taking place and there is no willingness for dialogue,” he said.

“Davos is about willingness to find common solutions, and if countries at least are willing to sit down and discuss the future, then it is something else. But today we see no kind of this willingness from Russia’s side. That’s why we’re very sad that we cannot have this dialogue. Hopefully in the future, but not today.”

Brende, a former foreign minister of Norway, dismissed comparisons between the charges of atrocities Israel is accused of committing against Palestinian civilians and those being leveled against Russia in Ukraine. He also denied that this is because Ukraine is seen as closer to home for many Europeans.

WEF President Borge Brende. (AN photo)

“It is unacceptable what is now happening in Ukraine and the war is ongoing,” he reiterated, explaining why inviting Russia to the annual meeting is not the same thing as, say, inviting Israel or Iran.

“When it comes to Israel and the situation in the Palestinian areas, it is at least some willingness to dialogue. We’ve seen it through the Abrahams Accords, but we also see in Davos that we are bringing together business leaders from both Israel and the Palestinian side in an initiative called ‘Breaking the Impasse.’ And they’re sitting there with global politicians, but also politicians from these areas to discuss if there is a way forward for establishing a two-state solution. At least there is a dialogue going on and we hope for future solutions.”

Asked if he thought the recently imposed sanctions on Russia were enough to end the conflict or whether an expanded NATO was the solution, Brende said: “I think Russia is incredibly surprised by the strength of the Ukrainian army. They were supposed to take Kyiv, the capital, in two, three days. Kharkiv, the second largest city, in two, three days. They have seen the resistance among the Ukrainians that, I am sure, has surprised them and that is why they’re pulling back too.”


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In the months to come, Brende said, it is likely that Russia will continue with its attacks. “But Ukraine can easily turn into the Vietnam of Russia, or Afghanistan of Russia,” he said.

“When more than 40 million people are fighting back so strongly as the freedom-seeking Ukrainians, Russians will have a huge challenge. It shows that even a very modern and a very strong army cannot kill the freedom-fighting people around the world. I think this is a lesson for many countries to bring with them and reflect over.”

The WEF says its annual meeting in Davos provides “a unique collaborative environment” for public figures and global leaders to “reconnect, share insights, gain fresh perspectives and build problem-solving communities and initiatives.” However, critics say the event has become more of a show featuring politicians sticking to pre-prepared scripts. 

Brende countered that this year’s summit would see progress made on many of the most important topics. “We will, for example, have new coalitions when it comes to fighting climate change,” he said.

“We will focus a lot on trade and investments. We know that there will be no real economic recovery without a trade recovery, so that’s why it’s so important that we also have trade ministers, 30 of them together with (World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), saying that no new tariffs, no more protectionism and no more bans on exporting food.”

“Many of the challenges that we are faced with cannot be sold without business. So, with the 1,400 CEOs and chairs in Davos, I am pretty sure we are going to make progress,” Brende said, adding that “25 percent of the participants are women — it should have been 50, but we are making progress.”

Brende disputed the claim that the WEF summit in Davos has a perception problem, made most recently by the Financial Times newspaper, which said this week that the organization does not project the right image.

“I think we definitely are able to bring together leaders from all walks of life. It’s easy to be critical, but I think the past has also shown that the World Economic Forum has a positive impact,” he said.

“It was in Davos, for example, where the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) was launched (in 2001). It was here where (the anti-apartheid icon) Nelson Mandela came to Europe for the first time and launched the economic plan for South Africa.

“This time around, it is really about how to make sure that the weak recovery does not end in a new recession. It is to make sure that we walk the talk from COP26 in Glasgow. Business leaders, 120 of them, will commit to going net zero by 2050. So, this is really the place where corporate and governmental leaders are coming together, making a difference.”

Watch the full Frankly Speaking episode below:

 

 

As 2,500 members of the global elite descend on Davos, Brende said this year’s meeting could not be more timely because “global challenges need global solutions.”

“Unfortunately, because of the polarized world, we don’t see as much collaboration to really solve wars, climate change and also a weakening recovery,” he said. “But we will try in Davos to get leaders together, and at least mobilize the private sector to support in these very critical areas.”

Brende also acknowledged the reality of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, saying that it is “very important to be preparing for the next one, because we will see new diseases and pandemics unfortunately in the coming decades too.

“We moved much closer to nature. In just the last 10 years, we have lost wilderness across the world the size of the country of Mexico, so animals and human beings are much closer. And then we will also see more diseases like this.

“And we should not forget that we’re not out of the woods yet. China, the second largest economy in the world, is partly locked down now in some of the biggest and largest cities in the country, and this will also have an impact on the global economy because China is growing slower and the demand from China will of course go down.”

Looking to the future, Brende said: “We have to learn from this pandemic, that we have to have medicine, we have to have medical equipment much closer than before. We can’t wait for weeks for this to arrive. We have to be able to step up vaccination fast. We know that we have paid a huge price: 15 million people have lost their lives so far in this pandemic.”


Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member

Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member
Updated 22 May 2022

Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member

Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member
  • Kashmiri Pandits pointed to lack of security in the region as they call for relocation
  • Protests mark the first time the community organized simultaneous demonstrations in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Hindus in Indian-administered Kashmir took to the streets for the tenth day in a row on Sunday, demanding relocation from the region and saying the government had failed to provide them security following the killing of a community member.

Scores of minority Hindus in India’s only Muslim-majority region, locally known as Pandits, have been staging protests after militants allegedly killed Rahul Bhat, a Hindu government employee, inside an office complex in Chadoora on May 12. 

Police said two militants had entered Bhat’s office and fired at him. He was then taken to hospital, where he later died. 

The protests began a day after the fatal incident, and mark the first time Pandits have organized simultaneous demonstrations in the disputed region. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the territory in full and ruling it in part.

“Our main demand is that the government should relocate us outside Kashmir,” Sanjay Tickoo, head of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, told Arab News. 

Around 6,000 Kashmiri Pandits employed by the government need to be relocated, Tickoo added. 

“The government has failed to secure the lives of the people in Kashmir. All these big talks by the Indian government have failed to bring any positive change in the valley.” 

Hundreds of thousands of Pandits were forced out of Kashmir when a revolt erupted against Indian rule in 1989. Many lost homes and livelihoods, and later lived in camps across India. 

Officials have worked on resettling Kashmiri Pandits, and thousands returned in 2010 under a government resettlement plan that provided jobs and housing.

In 2019, the government under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its semi-autonomy and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. As push for resettlement continues, some say the government is not doing enough. 

“Be it Muslims or Hindus, no one is secure in the valley,” Satish Mahaldar, chairman of Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, told Arab News. 

Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and leader of Peoples Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, said the Kashmiri Pandits “have all the reasons” to protest. 

“The BJP had claimed that with the abrogation of special status the situation will become normal and Pandits could return safely. But the opposite has happened,” Mufti told Arab News, referring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

She said the government must “initiate steps for reconciliation” to improve the situation in Kashmir. 

Srinagar-based Sandeep Koul, whose family lived for generations in Kashmir and stayed throughout the 1990s violence, said the feeling of insecurity has only deepened in his community. 

“We feel more insecure in the valley now than in the 1990s,” Koul told Arab News. “This new Kashmir is not secure for us, it is not secure for anybody.”

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, a Kashmiri-based BJP leader and a member of the Kashmiri Pandit community, told Arab News: “It is not possible to provide security to each person and every hour.” 

But he said he is “with the Kashmiri Pandits at this time of distress.

“Many things have changed in Kashmir valley, but the situation of Kashmiri Pandits has not changed much.”


UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP

UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP
Updated 22 May 2022

UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP

UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP
  • Humanitarian aid in 2021 stripped back by 51%, hammering countries including Yemen, Somalia
  • Charities call for change in policy as Ukraine war puts 1.7bn worldwide at risk of hunger

LONDON: The UK’s humanitarian aid budget was slashed by 51 percent last year, disproportionately affecting some of the world’s neediest countries, including Yemen and Somalia, at the “worst moment in history,” according to a senior MP with the main opposition Labour Party.

The government had pledged to cut total overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent in November 2020.

Figures show that the cut saw the UK send £744 million ($929 million) overseas last year in humanitarian aid, down from £1.53 billion the previous year.

The total overseas aid spend was £11.5 billion, down 21 percent from the £14.48 billion in 2020.

War-torn Yemen suffered one of the deepest cuts, with its pool of aid falling 63 percent to £82 million, from £221 million in 2020.

The UN estimates that as many as 24 million people, including 13 million children, require aid of some kind across the country.

Somalia, also devastated by conflict, saw its humanitarian aid from the UK slashed by 41 percent to £71 million, from £120 million the previous year.

Both countries have been hit hard by acute food shortages, exacerbated in recent months by spiking prices as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Eastern European neighbors represent almost a third of global wheat exports, and are vital producers of agricultural fertilizers. 

The UK has dipped into its finances to find an additional £220 million in aid for Ukraine, but the UN says the war could put as many as 1.7 billion people worldwide at risk of poverty and starvation.

Yemen in particular faces famine, with the UN estimating that 17.4 million people are already food insecure. East Africa is also affected by drought, with 23 million people requiring food aid.

Sarah Champion, chair of the House of Commons international development committee, told The Observer: “It would be hard to consider a worse moment in history for the government to be cutting its foreign aid budget.

“We are the only member of the rich country G7 grouping to be doing so. It is having a damaging effect on our international standing — and the survival chances of some of the poorest people on the planet.”

Sam Nadel, head of government relations at charity Oxfam, told the paper: “The government is cutting aid at a time we have war in Ukraine, the Covid pandemic and millions of people in Africa on the brink of starvation. 

“It’s the most horrific timing. It’s also shortsighted because aid helps tackle global challenges, which helps the UK in the long term.”

Another charity, Action Against Hunger, is calling for an additional package of £750 million in aid for African countries affected by war, drought and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Kate Munro, the charity’s head of advocacy, told The Observer: “It saves money to act early in a crisis.”

Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced a new international development strategy to target British aid more directly at areas around the world that needed it. 

The Foreign Office said in a statement: “Stepping up our life-saving humanitarian work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering around the world is one of the top priorities the foreign secretary laid out in the UK’s international development strategy this week.

“We will prioritize humanitarian funding levels at £3 billion over the next three years, to remain a global leader in crisis response, including in Africa.”