Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’
Germany will ban people who haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19 from large parts of public life, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday after a meeting with the country’s regional leaders. (AFP)
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Updated 04 December 2021

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’
  • Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message
  • The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores

BERLIN: Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday made what is likely her final appeal before leaving office next week for Germans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message two days after federal and state leaders decided on a series of measures meant to break a wave of coronavirus infections.
The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores, restaurants and sports and cultural venues. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.
At least 68.9 percent of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government’s aim of a minimum 75 percent vaccination rate. The number of unvaccinated residents has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.
Official figures suggest that the infection rate may now be stabilizing, but at too high a level.
The national disease control center on Saturday reported 64,510 new daily cases and a 7-day infection rate of 442.7 new cases per 100,000 residents. Another 378 deaths in 24 hours brought Germany’s total in the pandemic to 102,946.
“Every one of them leaves behind families or friends, stunned, speechless and helpless,” Merkel said in her video message. “This is so bitter because it is avoidable. With the effective and safe vaccines, we have the key to this in our hands.”
She renewed a plea to Germans to take the virus seriously, adding that the new omicron variant “appears to be even more contagious than the previous ones.”
“Get vaccinated, no matter whether it’s a first vaccination or a booster,” Merkel said. “Every vaccination helps.”
Merkel is expected to leave office on Wednesday and be replaced by Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democratic Party, who is currently vice chancellor. Scholz said Saturday that his government’s “most important first task” is to “fight the corona pandemic with all the strength that we have.”
“There would be a different situation now if just a few more citizens had also made the decision to get vaccination,” he said at a convention of the Social Democrats. “We must again make a whole new effort, set in motion a whole new campaign” to get more shots in arms, Scholz said.
Senior members of the party denounced a Friday evening protest outside the home of Saxony state’s health minister, Petra Koepping, a Social Democrat. About 30 people gathered with torches and placards outside the home in the eastern town of Grimma.
The demonstrators chanted against coronavirus policies before fleeing in cars when police arrived.


UN: ‘Extreme lack of food’ for many in Tigray

A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
Updated 29 January 2022

UN: ‘Extreme lack of food’ for many in Tigray

A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
  • WFP calls for all parties in Ethiopia’s war to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire

NAIROBI: More than a third of the people in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region “are suffering an extreme lack of food,” the UN World Food Programme said in a new assessment of a region under a months-long government blockade.

“Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive,” the WFP said in its report, noting increases in begging and relying on just one meal a day.
It called for all parties in Ethiopia’s war to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire and “formally agreed transport corridors” for aid after 15 months of war.
The UN said no aid convoy has entered the Tigray region of some 6 million people since mid-December. Separately, the UN humanitarian agency said less than 10 percent of the needed supplies, including medicines and fuel, have entered Tigray since mid-July.
All international NGOs operating in Tigray have depleted their fuel, “with their staff delivering the little remaining humanitarian supplies and services on foot, where possible,” the agency said in its Friday update.

BACKGROUND

Ethiopia’s government has been wary of allowing aid to fall into the hands of the Tigray forces who once dominated the national government and have been battling the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since November 2020.

Ethiopia’s government has been wary of allowing aid to fall into the hands of the Tigray forces who once dominated the national government and have been battling the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since November 2020.
The government in part has blamed problems with aid delivery on insecurity it says is caused by Tigray forces, including new fighting in the neighboring Afar region near the only approved road corridor for aid.
Aid workers, however, also blame bureaucratic obstacles including intrusive personal searches and confiscation of items including personal medications before visits to Tigray.
The new WFP report, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 980 households across accessible parts of Tigray, cited “extraordinary operation challenges.”
The war has shifted in recent weeks, with the Tigray forces retreating into their region after attempting to advance on the capital, Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia’s military saying it would not pursue them further. That opened the way for fresh mediation efforts by the United States and the African Union, with humanitarian access a key goal.
Aid has begun reaching people in the Amhara and Afar regions after Tigray forces’ incursions there displaced hundreds of thousands. But the new WFP report said that some 9 million people need food assistance across the three war-affected regions.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry this week said it was working with aid partners to facilitate daily cargo flights to Tigray “to transport much-needed medicines and supplies.” It is not clear when the daily flights will begin, though the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday announced that it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Tigray since September, calling it “a huge relief.” A second flight followed on Thursday.
The UN has said time is running out. “Aid organizations have warned that operations could cease completely by the end of February in Tigray,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.
Tigray’s health bureau this week reported that nearly 1,500 people died of malnutrition in just part of the region over a four-month period last year, including more than 350 young children. It cited more than 5,000 blockade-related deaths in all from hunger and disease in the largest official death toll yet associated with the country’s war.
Ethiopia’s government has sought to restrict reporting on the war and detained some journalists under the state of emergency, including a video freelancer accredited to the AP, Amir Aman Kiyaro.
The country’s Council of Ministers this week proposed ending the state of emergency now, citing the changing security situation. That needs lawmakers’ approval.


Europeans set two-week deadline to review untenable situation in Mali

France's European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on January 26, 2022. (AFP)
France's European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on January 26, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2022

Europeans set two-week deadline to review untenable situation in Mali

France's European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on January 26, 2022. (AFP)
  • European, French and international forces are seeing measures that are restricting them

PARIS: European allies have agreed to draw up plans within two weeks for how to continue their fight against militants in Mali, Denmark’s defense minister said, after France said the situation with the Malian junta had become untenable.
Tensions have escalated between Mali and its international partners after the junta failed to organize an election following two military coups.
It has also deployed Russian private military contractors, which some European countries have said is incompatible with their mission.
“There was a clear perception, that this is not about Denmark, it’s about a Malian military junta, which wants to stay in power. They have no interest in a democratic election, which is what we have demanded,” Defense Minister Trine Bramse said after a virtual meeting between the 15 countries involved in the European special forces Takuba task mission.
She said the parties had agreed to come up with a plan within 14 days to decide on what the “future counterterrorism mission should look like in the Sahel region.”
The ministers held crisis talks after the junta insisted on an immediate withdrawal of Danish forces despite the 15 nations rejecting its claims that Copenhagen’s presence was illegal.

Given the situation, given the rupture in the political and military frameworks we cannot continue like this.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister

“European, French and international forces are seeing measures that are restricting them. Given the situation, given the rupture in the political and military frameworks we cannot continue like this,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio earlier in the day.
The junta’s handling of Denmark is likely to impact future deployments, with Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania due to send troops this year.
It raises questions about the broader future of French operations in Mali, where there are some 4,000 troops. Paris had staked a great deal on bringing European states to the region.
Col. Arnaud Mettey, commander of France’s forces in Ivory Coast, which backs up Sahel operations, said that the junta had no right to refuse Denmark’s presence given agreed treaties.
“Either they are rejecting this treaty and so put into question our presence or they apply it,” he said.
“France and the European Union will not disengage from the Sahel. Takuba will carry on.”
However, Denis Tull, senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said Paris may ultimately not be left with a choice.
“This is of course contravening the plan that France conceived. Ultimately the question will be whether France is able and willing to stay under any circumstances,” he said.
“If this confrontation continues, there probably will simply be no political context in which the French transformation agenda for (France’s counterterrorism force) Barkhane can be applied and implemented as planned.”


Landmark modern slavery case could open route back to Britain for young Daesh recruits

The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
Updated 28 January 2022

Landmark modern slavery case could open route back to Britain for young Daesh recruits

The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
  • A 16-year-old girl successfully challenged terror charges by arguing she had been sexually exploited online
  • Daesh recruits such as Shamima Begum say they were groomed online before traveling to Syria as teenagers

LONDON: The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could help to revive Daesh recruit Shamima Begum’s own legal battle to be allowed to return to the UK.

The case against the teenage terror suspect, who is the youngest girl ever charged with terrorism in the UK and cannot be named for legal reasons, was dropped this month after she successfully argued she was a victim of modern slavery. It is the first time a terrorism prosecution in the UK has been halted due to a claim of sexual exploitation.

The decision could open the door for teenage Daesh recruits, such as Begum, to go free on the basis that they were groomed online, said Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

“Being both a victim of modern slavery and presenting a risk to the general public are not incompatible,” he said. “If fewer criminal cases are going to be possible, this begs the question whether there are sufficient non-criminal justice measures in place, in particular to deal with the terrorist risk presented by children.”

The unnamed teenager, from Derbyshire, was found to be in possession of a bomb-making video and instructions for assembling a gun, after her mother alerted authorities about the girl’s “fixation” with Adolf Hitler.

She was charged with terror offenses but the case was dropped when the Home Office decided she was a victim of modern slavery after her lawyers argued she had been sexually exploited and groomed online by a US extremist.

That case could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Begum. She traveled to Syria to join the terrorist group in 2015, when she was 15, and has for several years been fighting a legal battle to be allowed to return to the UK from the Kurdish-administered camp in northern Syria where she has been living since she was captured.

Before she went to Syria she had been in contact with Daesh members online. She married and gave birth to three children after arriving in the country, all of whom died.

Her citizenship was revoke by the British government on the grounds of national security. This prevented her from returning to the UK, where she had lived her entire life before going to Syria.

Referring to the dropping of the case against the 16-year-old this month, Begum’s lawyer said: “Shamima has been arguing this from the beginning. This just strengthens her case.”


Philippines reopening to vaccinated foreigners next month

A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2022

Philippines reopening to vaccinated foreigners next month

A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
  • Southeast Asian country had planned to reopen in December but suspended the decision over omicron fears
  • Government is also lifting mandatory quarantine for both returning Filipinos and foreign visitors

MANILA: The Philippines will start accepting fully vaccinated travelers from Feb. 10, the government announced on Friday, after closing its borders for nearly two years to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Southeast Asian country had planned to reopen in December, but the decision was halted due to concerns over an outbreak of the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles told reporters the government will suspend its risk classification list for countries starting Feb. 1, and vaccinated travelers from all 157 countries that have visa-free entry to the Philippines will be allowed entry.

“By Feb. 10, we will allow entry of fully vaccinated foreign nationals for business and tourism purposes as long as they come from countries belonging to the list as provided under Executive Order 408 or non-visa required countries,” Nograles said.

The government is also lifting its mandatory quarantine requirements for both returning Filipinos and foreign visitors as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19.

Officials are hopeful that the reopening will help boost the recovery of the Philippine tourism industry and economy. “[This] will contribute significantly to job restoration, primarily in tourism-dependent communities and in the reopening of businesses that have earlier shut down during the pandemic,” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a statement.

The Philippines follows in the footsteps of other countries in the region. Thailand will also resume its quarantine-free travel for vaccinated visitors in February, while Singapore and Malaysia have relaxed the border between their countries since November.

“We are confident that we will be able to keep pace with our ASEAN neighbors who have already made similar strides to reopen to foreign tourists,” Puyat added.

Home to white sand beaches, famous diving spots, lively entertainment, diverse cultural heritage and wildlife, the Philippine economy is dependent on tourism, which in 2019, generated 2.51 trillion pesos (about $50 billion), contributing nearly 13 percent to the country’s gross domestic product, according to Philippine Statistics Authority data.

As the pandemic hit the country in March 2020, most tourism destinations were forced to shut down, dealing a major blow to the sector as its revenues plummeted to 973 billion pesos, with foreign tourist arrivals slumping 82 percent and local travel almost 78 percent.

 


Rwanda to reopen border with Uganda as relations thaw

People ride a bike in Kiwanja, about 60 kilometres north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, which borders on Rwanda and Uganda. (AFP file photo)
People ride a bike in Kiwanja, about 60 kilometres north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, which borders on Rwanda and Uganda. (AFP file photo)
Updated 29 sec ago

Rwanda to reopen border with Uganda as relations thaw

People ride a bike in Kiwanja, about 60 kilometres north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, which borders on Rwanda and Uganda. (AFP file photo)
  • Rwanda and Uganda have long harbored mutual suspicions and hostilities, partly stemming from historical ties between both countries’ politics and security

KIGALI: Rwanda on Monday will reopen a border crossing with Uganda that was shuttered nearly three years ago, even as tensions rise between the central African neighbors, fueled by accusations of espionage and support for each other’s dissidents.
Rwanda had repeatedly accused Uganda of supporting rebel groups planning to topple the government in Kigali while Kampala accused Rwanda of carrying out illegal espionage activities in Uganda.
In a statement on Twitter on Friday, Rwanda’s Foreign Ministry said the country would reopen the common border on Jan. 31.
“Rwanda has taken note that there is a process to solve issues raised by Rwanda, as well as commitments made by the government of Uganda to address remaining obstacles,” it said in the statement.
Various attempts, including mediation efforts by Angola, to restore normal relations and open the border had yielded little.
The border closure in March 2019 had severely disrupted the trade links in the region.
For its external trade, Rwanda primarily relies on a transport corridor that runs from the Indian ocean port of Mombasa through Kenya and Uganda.
The same road also funnels goods through Rwanda to Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

FASTFACT

The move to reopen the border followed a meeting in Kigali last week between Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

Rwanda and Uganda have long harbored mutual suspicions and hostilities, partly stemming from historical ties between both countries’ politics and security.
Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current leader, grew up in Uganda and participated in the a guerrilla struggle that brought Uganda’s Pesident Yoweri Museveni, 77, to power.
The move to reopen the border followed a meeting in Kigali last week between Kagame and Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba who is also a general in the military and who the public widely believes is being prepared to take over from his long-serving father.
A resumption of normal trade at the two countries’ border crossing is potentially a much needed impetus for jump-starting regional economies battered by effects of COVID-19 containment measures.
Rwanda and Uganda are members of regional trade bloc East African Community alongside Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan.