After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19

After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19
A teenage girl receives the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 at a sports complex in Marikina, suburban Manila on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 October 2021

After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19

After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19
  • New daily cases decreased by 48% in the last two weeks, with healthcare capacity at ‘moderate risk’

MANILA: The Philippines is now “low-risk” for COVID-19, the Department of Health announced on Monday, over a month after the country experienced its peak infection rates fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The country’s daily case count has decreased by 48 percent over the last two weeks, while its healthcare capacity was at “moderate risk,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.

In mid-September, the Philippines was recording over 26,000 new infections daily, as the Delta variant swept the country. On Monday, authorities reported 4,405 new infections, bringing the total number of cases to 2.76 million, with nearly 42,000 deaths.

“Nationally we are at low-risk case classification with a negative two-week growth rate at negative 48 percent and a moderate-risk average daily attack rate of 5.89 cases for every 100,000 individuals,” Vergeire said.

“Along with the decline of our cases, we see that the weekly deaths are also in a downtrend since the start of October.”

As increased mobility will be expected in the coming months ahead of Christmas, Vergeire urged the 110 million-strong public to remain vigilant and continue to observe health protocols. In accordance with tradition, Filipinos flock cemeteries to honor their departed on All Saints’ Day, with authorities on Monday announcing the closure of graveyards and memorial parks from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2.

“We are not saying that we are out of the woods,” Vergeire said. “The fight is not over yet. We cannot be complacent at this time. We can go out but we have to be careful.”


Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
Updated 11 sec ago

Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
  • The agreements were signed during President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s annual leaders’ retreat
  • Lee said they represent a ‘major step forward’ in bilateral relations

JAKARTA: Indonesia and Singapore signed on Tuesday a series of agreements covering extradition, defense and airspace management in what is seen as a “major step forward” in relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

The deals were signed by senior cabinet ministers following a meeting between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Indonesia’s Bintan island as part of their annual leader’s retreat.

“Today, our bilateral relations take a major step forward,” Lee said during a joint press statement aired on Indonesia’s State Secretariat YouTube channel.

Both countries agreed to realign the boundary of their respective flight information regions while further strengthening cooperation and fostering closer interaction between their armed forces through a defense cooperation agreement.

“Going forward, we hope that the cooperation in law enforcement, aviation safety, as well as defense and security of the two countries will continue to be strengthened based on the principle of mutual benefit,” Widodo said.

Fitri Bintang, a researcher at the Center for Strategic International Studies in Jakarta, told Arab News that today’s milestones are “signs of maturing relations” between Indonesia and Singapore.

The two countries also inked an extradition agreement, under which they can grant the extradition of fugitives for a comprehensive list of offenses committed up to 18 years ago.

“The extradition treaty will enhance cooperation in combating crime and send a clear, positive signal to investors,” Lee said.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said in a statement that the extradition treaty will act as a deterrent for criminals in Indonesia and Singapore.

“If the two countries ratify the extradition treaty soon, then the law enforcement agencies of both countries can make use of this treaty to prevent and combat transnational crimes like corruption and terrorism,” he added.

Indonesia has already signed similar treaties with other countries in the region, including Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and China.

Indonesia and Singapore must now conclude their respective domestic processes to ratify and bring the agreements into force, which for these three agreements in particular, officials agreed must occur simultaneously.


London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
Updated 55 min 6 sec ago

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
  • Yasmin Chkaifi was stabbed to death Monday
  • Her ex-partner who stabbed her was also killed when a passing car struck him

LONDON: Police had named a woman who died Monday as a result of a brutal stabbing on the streets of London as Yasmin Chkaifi.

Mother-of-one Chkaifi died alongside her ex-partner, Leon McCaskre, 41, who was hit by a car.

Police have said McCaskre stabbed Chkaifi to death and was then hit by a car, killing him.

There are reports that the car hit McCaskre in an attempt to stop the attack on Chkaifi.

Police confirmed they were both from Maida Vale, London, and had previously been in a relationship.

A 26-year-old man arrested at the scene was arrested by police on suspicion of murder, but is said to be cooperating with authorities and has been released on bail.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Rawlinson, of the force’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “We are gaining a clearer idea of what happened at the scene thanks to information supplied by the public and by reviewing CCTV.

“Firstly, it is apparent that members of the public bravely tried to intervene to stop the attack and their actions were very courageous.

“We are speaking to the families of those concerned and doing all we can to support them at this terrible time.

“We can now confirm that both the deceased were previously known to each other and there are no outstanding suspects.

“A man, who was the driver of a car, has been arrested and bailed for a very serious offense and we must carry out a full investigation, looking at all the circumstances.”


Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
  • The campus, hosting mainly science departments, started classes in September 2020
  • It was completed with funding from the Saudi Development Fund worth $51 million

MUZAFFARABAD: A Saudi-funded campus of the biggest university in Pakistan-administered Kashmir is fostering science education in the region and encouraging female enrollment into the male-dominated field, as nearly half of its students are women — higher than the global average.

The multimillion-dollar King Abdullah Campus in Chhatar Kalas, 22 km from the regional capital Muzaffarabad, was financed by Saudi Arabia, which has funded several development projects in the region, helping it return to normalcy after a devastating earthquake in 2005 destroyed most of its infrastructure, including the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Built on nearly 100 hectares, the campus was completed in late 2019 and started classes in September 2020.

“King Abdullah Campus was completed with financial help from the Saudi Development Fund worth 9 billion rupees ($51 million),” Raja Abdul Qayyum Khan, director of the campus, told Arab News.

The campus now hosts most of the university’s 9,000 students and is home to its science departments, including physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, and geology, which see a high rate of female enrollment.

Globally, only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education are women, according to UNESCO data. At King Abdullah Campus, however, women constitute 47 percent of all students.

“Out of a total 5,440 students enrolled at King Abdullah Campus, there are 2,877 males and 2,563 females. That speaks volumes about girls’ participation,” Khan said. “We would like to see that ratio further increase.”

After the earthquake destruction, many students at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir had to travel far to other campuses — some even to Islamabad — to attend courses.

With social norms and safety concerns limiting women’s mobility across Pakistan, traveling alone tens of kilometers from home was nearly impossible for them.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus at Chhattar Kalas has given me, and many other girls, an advantage,” 19-year-old mathematics student Samar Qayum told Arab News, explaining that traveling long distances was a major burden for them.

“The number of female students would have gone down in this region,” she said, “but this facility has made life easier for girls.”

Boys, too, are happy.

Physics student Waqar Younis said the establishment of the campus allowed him to save on transportation and accommodation, as those were major costs for the students.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus has greatly benefited me,” he said.

In the near future, the campus is likely to become even more attractive as $8.5 million computer science labs should be ready this year.

The nine labs will be equipped with 600 computers, allowing for the study of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We are hopeful that by this year in August we may get the equipment,” Dr. Rabia Riaz, head of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, told Arab News.

“This sort of equipment and building structure is not only unavailable in Azad Kashmir but also in all of Pakistan.”

 

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Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
Updated 25 January 2022

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
  • The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial

NEW YORK: Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said on Tuesday they started a clinical trial to test a new version of their vaccine specifically designed to target the COVID-19 omicron variant, which has eluded some of the protection provided by the original two-dose vaccine regimen.
The companies plan to test the immune response generated by the omicron-based vaccine both as a three-shot regimen in unvaccinated people and as a booster shot for people who already received two doses of their original vaccine.
They are also testing a fourth dose of the current vaccine against a fourth dose of the omicron-based vaccine in people who received their third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine three to six months earlier.
The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial.
“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address omicron and new variants in the future,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement.
Pfizer has said that a two-dose regimen of the original vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against infection from the omicron variant, and that protection against hospitalizations and deaths may be waning.
Still, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a third dose of an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has provided 90 percent protection against hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Some countries have already started offering additional booster doses, but a recent study from Israel showed that while a fourth dose of an mRNA vaccine boosted antibodies, the level was not high enough to prevent infection by the omicron variant.
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Reuters in November that regulators would not likely require testing of an omicron-based vaccine on humans because it and Pfizer had already created versions of their established vaccine to target the earlier Alpha and Delta variants, with clinical trials continuing.
However, the debate appears to have shifted as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement on Friday that international regulators now preferred clinical studies to be carried out before approval of a new vaccine.
These studies should show that neutralising antibodies in the blood of participants are superior to those elicited by current vaccines. Another desired feature of an upgraded vaccine would be for it to also protect against other variants of concern, the EMA said.
The omicron variant has replaced the Delta variant as the dominant lineage in many parts of the world and omicron itself is now splitting into different subforms, one of which, BA2, is causing particular concern.


UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers
Updated 25 January 2022

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers
  • Qari Asim, appointed in 2019, criticizes ‘lack of political will’ to define the term
  • ‘From the community’s perspective it’s hugely disappointing and undermines trust and confidence in the government’

LONDON: An imam appointed by the UK government to draw up a definition of Islamophobia has said he has received no “meaningful engagement” from ministers in years.

Qari Asim, who was appointed to lead an official process to define the term in 2019, told The Independent that letters sent to ministers as recently as last month have received no reply.

His intervention came as the government has become embroiled in a controversy surrounding Islamophobia after former Minister Nusrat Ghani said she was fired because her “Muslimness” made colleagues uncomfortable.

Asim said those allegations “once again demonstrate the importance of having a definition of Islamophobia.”

He added that he had been given no office, money, staff or terms of reference to assist him in drawing up a definition of Islamophobia.

“Other than an announcement and conversations (with ministers), there hasn’t been any progress, and that shows a lack of political will to define Islamophobia,” he said.

“I’m perplexed over the reasons for lack of engagement when the government time and again say they have zero tolerance to anti-Muslim hatred.”

Asim, an imam at Makkah Mosque in the English city of Leeds, said several letters sent to successive communities secretaries have gone unanswered, some as recently as November and December 2021, addressed to Michael Gove.

Gove committed to “the importance of countering anti-Muslim hatred” in Parliament in November, alluding to Asim’s efforts and a working group set up to tackle anti-Muslim hatred. A letter sent by Asim following up on those assertions went unanswered.

“I have set out my plan on how I thought a broad-based consensus can be achieved, but there has been a lack of meaningful engagement,” he said.

“Initially I didn’t pursue it during the first year of the pandemic, because I wanted to give the government the space to deal with that, but from the community’s perspective it’s hugely disappointing and undermines trust and confidence in the government. Something needs to happen.”

Asim said the government needs to recognize that Islamophobia is a “real issue” and move forward on defining it.

“Some people don’t like the term Islamophobia because they think that it’s more about protecting the faith itself, but it’s not the case,” he added.

“The faith has been critiqued since its inception — this is about protecting people and deterring those who target people because of their faith.”