Italian company designs anti-omicron COVID-19 vaccine

An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant. (Reuters)
An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Italian company designs anti-omicron COVID-19 vaccine

An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant. (Reuters)
  • Pre-clinical tests ‘within weeks,’ Takis Biotech CEO tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • But lack of funding ‘prevents us from continuing clinical trials’

ROME: An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant.

Takis Biotech added that this new version of the vaccine — developed with Rottapharm Biotech, another Italian company — will be ready for pre-clinical tests “within weeks.”

Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO and scientific director of Takis, told a press briefing in Rome attended by Arab News: “As we seek to defeat the pandemic, it’s imperative to be proactive while the virus evolves. In recent months, we’ve generated almost in real time modifications of COVID-eVax against the alpha, beta, gamma, delta and many other variants.”

He said unlike previous variants, omicron has a high number of mutations so it is difficult to predict whether the current vaccines are still protective.

“This is why we’re moving as fast as possible to adapt our vaccine against this variant. Thanks to what we’ve learned since the beginning of the pandemic, we designed the COVID-eVax vaccine — the omicron version — in a few hours,” he added.

However, Aurisicchio said a lack of funding “prevents us from continuing clinical trials to carry out the development of this Italian vaccine.”

Takis said there is “a lot of promising pre-clinical data” regarding the new version of the vaccine, which “has completed phase 1 in humans, with over 90 percent of the volunteers enrolled for the trial developing a specific immune response against the spike protein.”

Lucio Rovati, president and scientific director of Rottapharm, said: “Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives and on the world economy, Italy can play its part and make its own experience available.”


UK Muslim leader says Islamophobia survey reveals scale of problem in Britain

UK Muslim leader says Islamophobia survey reveals scale of problem in Britain
Updated 11 sec ago

UK Muslim leader says Islamophobia survey reveals scale of problem in Britain

UK Muslim leader says Islamophobia survey reveals scale of problem in Britain
  • More than one-in-four people quizzed agreed that “there are areas in Britain that operate under Shariah law”
  • Mohammed: Important to document Islamophobia and share data with policy makers when asking for change

LONDON: A UK Muslim leader said on Tuesday that the findings of a survey on Islamophobia had highlighted “the pervasive nature of the problem” in Britain.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham, revealed that Islamophobia had passed the so-called dinner table test in being considered suitable for polite conversation and socially acceptable.

Titled, “The Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain,” the survey found that Muslims were the UK’s second least-liked group after gypsy and Irish travelers, with 25.9 percent of the British public feeling negative toward Muslims, and 9.9 percent very negative.

Speaking at the report’s launch, Zara Mohammed, the first female secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Islamophobia was definitely real, contrary to what some people thought, and that it impacted on all aspects of society.

“I think what’s really great about this report and its contribution to the body of evidence is that it shows us not just the pervasive nature of the problem but also that Muslims are some of the least-liked people in the population.

“In my one year so far as the secretary-general of the MCB, what we have seen is unfortunately a very changing landscape for British Muslims and one that is becoming increasingly hostile.

“This is the reality of how Muslims are perceived in everyday Britain, and that is in 2022 as well,” she added.

More than one-in-four people quizzed for the survey, and nearly half of Conservative Party supporters and those who voted to leave the EU, held conspiratorial views that “no-go areas” in the UK existed where Shariah law ruled.

And 26.5 percent of those questioned agreed with the statement that, “there are areas in Britain that operate under Shariah law where non-Muslims are not able to enter,” the study said. Among Conservative Party voters and those who elected to leave the EU, the figure increased to 43.4 percent.

A further 36.3 percent of Brits said they thought that “Islam threatens the British way of life,” and 18.1 percent supported, and 9.5 percent strongly supported, the idea of banning all Muslim migration to the UK.

“British people acknowledge their ignorance of most non-Christian religions, with a majority stating they are ‘not sure’ how Jewish (50.8 percent) and Sikh (62.7 percent) scriptures are taught.

“In the case of Islam, however, people feel more confident making a judgement, with only 40.7 percent being unsure. This is despite the fact that people are much more likely to make the incorrect assumption that Islam is ‘totally’ literalistic. Prejudice toward Islam is not simply ignorance, then, but miseducation and misrecognition,” the study report added.

Mohammed pointed out that Islamophobia had a very real knock-on impact on the everyday lives of Muslims, and she welcomed the academic evidence contained in reports such as the latest one written by Stephen Jones and Amy Unsworth.

She noted that it was important to document the problem and share data with policy makers when asking for change.

“In some ways it empowers Muslim communities to say, ‘don’t think it’s in your heads, actually something needs to be done.’

“The government’s own evidence on hate crime found that 40 percent of all those facing hate crime were Muslims. This is very much a real problem and I’m hoping that on the back of the work that Prof. Jones has done, we will all be able to benefit from it and use it in our campaigns, activism, and conversations.

“Whilst Islamophobia has certainly passed the dinner table test, it’s time for us to be able to move forward and make a real change, and the MCB remains committed to doing that,” Mohammed said.

MP Nusrat Ghani speaks during a session in Parliament in London, Britain. (File/Reuters)

The survey launch has coincided with news headlines about British Muslim Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani’s claims that her faith was given as a reason for her sacking as a government minister in 2020.

She said she was told that her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting and that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable.”

“It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless,” she added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry into the claims.

On Ghani’s allegations, Mohammed said they “highlighted just how systemic and institutional the problem of Islamophobia is. It hits hard, and it hits deep.”

She added that Islamophobia, “isn’t just in our heads, and just over this weekend we have seen at the heart of politics how this also plays out.

“What is actually being done? What is the approach of decision makers to tackling the problem, if any?”

She said the MCB had been working to push for the adoption of a definition of Islamophobia developed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims.

According to the APPG definition, Islamophobia was rooted in racism and was a type of racism that targeted expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness. The definition was widely endorsed throughout Muslim communities, political parties, and civil society.

However, the ruling Conservative Party rejected the APPG definition in 2019 and said it needed “more consideration.”

The late James Brokenshire, Britain’s communities secretary at the time, told the House of Commons that the APPG definition was not in line with the Equality Act 2010, and that two advisers would be appointed to come up with a definition that was.

However, an imam appointed by ministers as a key adviser on Islamophobia, said on Monday he had been ignored by No. 10 and Michael Gove, the UK’s secretary of state for housing, communities, and local government.

Imam Qari Asim, who was asked to help draw up a definition of Islamophobia, told The Times that he had not received replies to emails and letters that he sent to the government over more than two years since he was appointed.


Email contradicts UK PM’s claim over evacuation of animals from Afghanistan

Email contradicts UK PM’s claim over evacuation of animals from Afghanistan
Updated 7 min 19 sec ago

Email contradicts UK PM’s claim over evacuation of animals from Afghanistan

Email contradicts UK PM’s claim over evacuation of animals from Afghanistan
  • According to email, Boris Johnson gave personal authorization despite his vehement denial
  • PM accused of prioritizing pets over Afghans who had worked for British govt 

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson personally authorized the evacuation of 173 dogs and cats from Afghanistan, according to an email released on Wednesday. 

On Dec. 7, Johnson claimed that it was “complete nonsense” that he had intervened to have the animals evacuated, and that he had “no influence on that particular case,” adding: “Nor would that be right.”

Zac Goldsmith, a minister and member of the House of Lords, told parliamentary colleagues that Johnson’s statement was “entirely accurate,” which this email now contradicts. 

The email was sent on Aug. 25 last year by an official at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office during the evacuation from Kabul.

Addressed to the department’s “special cases” team, the official wrote: “The PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated.”

The government and Johnson have come under fire from MPs and a Foreign Office whistleblower for allegedly reallocating military and governmental resources from rescuing Afghans to recovering pets. 

The founder of the Nowzad charity, former Royal Marine Pen Farthing, denies the claims. The charity chartered its own plane and put the animals in the hold, freeing up space for people, but civil servants and MPs said their presence meant that limited military resources were redirected to protect the convoy of animals. 

In December, former Foreign Office worker Raphael Marshall told MPs that the department had received “an instruction from the prime minister” to use “considerable capacity” to help Farthing.

During the airlift, Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chairman and Afghanistan veteran Tom Tugendhat criticized the decision to airlift the animals. 

But Farthing told the BBC: “At no time did any British soldiers leave Kabul airport to get me in, I’m dumbfounded that he’s said this to Parliament.

“As a charity, how many times do we have to tell people the truth? He said the government transported our animals. We left Kabul on a privately chartered flight, there was no government involvement.”


Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them
Updated 41 min 49 sec ago

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them
  • Denmark was expected to announce that it no longer considers COVID-19 as “a socially critical disease” as of next month and will remove most restrictions
  • “We have an extremely record high spread of infection,” Sweden's Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Sweden announced Wednesday that several coronavirus restrictions will be extended for another two weeks.
Meanwhile neighboring Denmark was expected to announce that it no longer considers COVID-19 as “a socially critical disease” as of next month and will remove most restrictions.
“We have an extremely record high spread of infection,” Sweden’s Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said. “The assessment is that existing measures need to remain in place for another two weeks.”
“If the situation allows it, the restrictions will be lifted after that,” she said.
Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of Sweden’s Public Health Agency, said the reasoning for extending the restrictions is that they expect a decline in cases in a couple of weeks. She said the Scandinavian country had 270,000 new infections in the past seven days and that “our assessment is that, during this period, at least half a million can fall ill per week.”
In Sweden which has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., urged people to work from home when possible and said distance learning was an option in higher education to try to combat rising COVID-19 infections.
Denmark, meanwhile, is heading in the opposition direction.
In a letter Tuesday to the Danish lawmakers, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said he wants to follow the recommendations by Parliament’s Epidemic Commission so that the “categorization of COVID-19 as a socially critical disease will be abolished as of Feb. 1.”
The letter said “this is a new epidemic situation in which a high and increasing infection does not to the same extent as previously translate into hospitalizations.” The letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday ahead of a planned press conference with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
It was not immediately clear what restrictions Danes will end but they likely will include the digital health pass, which now must be used to enter museums, nightclubs, cafes, party buses and to be seated indoors in restaurants.
In Denmark, people above 15 must also flash the pass when attending outdoor events where the capacity exceeds 2,000.
In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin tweeted that “the government will assess the necessity of (the) restrictions” and “should consider opening low-risk cultural and sports events with a COVID pass and extending the opening hours of restaurants on a quicker schedule than was previously estimated.”


Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents
Updated 26 January 2022

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents
  • Once the mandate goes into effect, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules

BERLIN: Austria will end its lockdown for unvaccinated residents next Monday — one day before a COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect in the country, the government announced Wednesday, according to Austrian news agency APA.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said the measure, which was introduced in November, was no longer needed because there was no threat of hospital intensive care units being overstretched, APA reported.
For weeks, the lockdown for the unvaccinated has been “a measure that many people complained about, but that was unavoidable for health policy reasons,” Nehammer said.
On Feb. 1, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults — the first of its kind in Europe — will take effect in the small Alpine country. Officials have said the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low. They say it will ensure that Austria’s hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. So far, 75.4 percent of the country’s residents have been fully vaccinated.
Once the mandate goes into effect, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules.
From mid-March, police will start checking people’s vaccination status during routine checks; people who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked to do so in writing, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($676) if they don’t.
If authorities judge the country’s vaccination progress still to be insufficient, Nehammer said earlier this month, they would then send reminders to people who remain unvaccinated. If even that doesn’t work, people would be sent a vaccination appointment and fined if they don’t keep it. Officials hope they won’t need to use the last measure. Fines could reach 3,600 euros if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.


Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack
Updated 26 January 2022

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack
  • ‘At the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border’
KIEV: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday that the number of Russian troops deployed along his country’s border was not enough for a major attack.
“The number of Russian troops amassed along the border of Ukraine and occupied territories of Ukraine is large, it poses a threat to Ukraine, a direct threat to Ukraine,” Kuleba told reporters.
“However, at the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border.”