South African President Cyril Ramaphosa positive for Covid-19

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa positive for Covid-19
A government statement quoted Ramaphosa as saying his infection served as a warning. (AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2021

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa positive for Covid-19

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa positive for Covid-19
  • All responsibilities have been delegated to Deputy President David Mabuza
  • The highly mutated omicron variant was first detected in South Africa last month

JOHANNESBURG: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday and was receiving treatment for mild symptoms, the presidency said in a statement.
Ramaphosa, who is fully vaccinated, began feeling unwell after leaving a state memorial service for former president FW de Klerk in Cape Town earlier in the day but was in good spirits and being monitored by doctors, it said.
The highly mutated omicron variant was first detected in South Africa last month and sparked global panic over fears that it is more contagious than other variants.
Ramaphosa would remain in self-isolation in Cape Town for the time being and had delegated all responsibilities to Deputy President David Mabuza for the next week.
On a recent visit to four West African states, the president and the entire South African delegation were tested for Covid-19 in all countries, the statement said.
“The president also tested negative on his return to Johannesburg on 8 December.”
The statement quoted Ramaphosa as saying his infection served as a warning of the importance of getting vaccinated and remaining vigilant against exposure.
“Vaccination remains the best protection against severe illness and hospitalization,” the statement said.
People who came in contact with the president were advised to watch for symptoms or get tested.
“I am very sorry to hear you tested positive for Covid-19, my brother Cyril Ramaphosa. I wish you a swift recovery. Stay strong! Together!,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted.
Despite cases of omicron being found in countries worldwide, it has not yet become fully clear if it causes more severe illness or if, or to what it extent, it can evade vaccines.
In a tentative judgment, the EU Medicines Agency said on Thursday that omicron may cause milder disease after the WHO said earlier in the week that there was some evidence that omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, the currently dominant variant.
Cases of coronavirus in Africa nearly doubled over a week as omicron spread, but hospitalizations in South Africa remain low, the UN added on Thursday.
In a weekly online press briefing, the WHO’s Africa branch said the continent had recorded 107,000 extra cases in the week to last Sunday, compared with 55,000 in the previous week.
omicron “is reaching more countries in Africa,” it said, adding that research was being stepped up to see whether the new variant was specifically behind the sharp rise.
The biggest surge in numbers — 140 percent on average — was in the south of the continent.
The agency reiterated its objections to travel restrictions, which it said had been issued by more than 70 countries and were overwhelmingly aimed at southern Africa, even though countries in the region had been “transparent with their data.”
It also called on countries to step up vaccinations — only 7.8 percent of the continent’s roughly 1.2 billion people have been jabbed.
The biggest laggards in immunization are Chad, Djibouti and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A new vaccine supply system is being set in place to help African countries distribute them more easily.


US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport -TASS

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport -TASS
Updated 03 December 2022

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport -TASS

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport -TASS

MOSCOW: Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported on Friday.
“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.
“This is still a criminal investigative matter,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday, referring any questions about the report on Snowden to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
US authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies.
“I’m in Russia because the White House intentionally canceled my passport to trap me here. They downed the President of Bolivia’s diplomatic aircraft to prevent me from leaving, and continue to interfere with my freedom of movement to this day,” Snowden, 39, said on Twitter on Friday, referring to events from 2013.
Snowden was referring an incident in July 2013, when Bolivia complained that its presidential jet carrying Evo Morales from Russia to Bolivia had been rerouted and forced to land in Austria over suspicion that Snowden was on board.
Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of US spying and alleged violation of privacy. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants.


Labour beats Tories in by-election

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid
Updated 03 December 2022

Labour beats Tories in by-election

Sajid Javid
  • Polling experts said the scale of the Conservative defeat in the Chester by-election was in line with national polls giving Labour a 20-point lead

LONDON: Britain’s opposition Labour Party has secured a resounding victory in a vote for a parliament seat in northwest England, showing the scale of the challenge facing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to win a general election in the next two years.
Adding to the gloom for the Conservatives, who are trailing in nationwide polls and seemingly heading for defeat in a national election expected in 2024, one of the governing party’s most experienced frontline politicians, Sajid Javid, said he planned to stand down.
Javid joins a growing group of Conservative lawmakers who will quit Westminster at the next national election, as the party faces the possibility of being out of power for the first time since 2010.
Polling experts said the scale of the Conservative defeat in the Chester by-election was in line with national polls giving Labour a 20-point lead.
It offered the first electoral judgment since the party embarked on a chaotic bout of infighting, ousting Boris Johnson and Liz Truss as prime minister, the latter after markets took fright at her unfunded fiscal plans.
Sunak became prime minister on Oct. 25, inheriting a divided and fractious party at a time of economic crisis, tasked with tackling soaring inflation and restoring the confidence of financial markets.
Governing parties rarely do well in so-called by-elections, which take place outside the schedule of national elections when a lawmaker leaves their position.
In Chester, Labour candidate Samantha Dixon secured 61 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent for the candidate from the Conservatives. Labour’s outright majority rose to 10,974 from 6,194.
Labour have held the Chester seat since the 2015 national election, when the party scraped through with a majority of just 93 there, the smallest in the country.
Chester was held by the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015.
Charles Walker, one of those Conservative lawmakers who will stand down at the next election, said Sunak was doing the right things against a difficult backdrop, but defeat at the next national election was likely unavoidable.
“It’s almost impossible to see us coming back from this,” Walker told Times Radio. “I hope what Rishi Sunak does is make sure Labour doesn’t wipe the floor with us, so that ... we form a viable opposition.”
Javid said that the Conservatives had asked lawmakers to confirm their intentions for the next election, to allow the party to prepare.
He played his own role in the year’s drama - resigning as Health Secretary in July, minutes before Sunak quit as finance minister, triggering the unprecedented ministerial rebellion that brought down Johnson.
Javid, who had also served as chancellor of exchequer under Johnson, then said he would stand to replace him, but withdrew before the contest began. He also stood to replace Theresa May as leader in 2019, and was eliminated midway through the race.
“After much reflection I have decided that I will not be standing again at the next general election,” Javid said.
British polling expert John Curtice said the 13 percent swing from Conservative to Labour in Chester suggested that Labour would win an outright majority in parliament at the next national election, but noted that local votes were rarely a good guide.
“Rishi Sunak is being reminded by the voters of Chester that he’s got quite a lot of work to do to get his party back in a position where we might consider the prospect of the Conservatives winning the next general election,” he said.
The vote was triggered after Labour lawmaker Christian Matheson resigned.
An independent panel said he had breached parliament’s sexual misconduct policy for making “unwanted and unwelcome” advances towards a junior staff member.

 


China relaxes COVID-19 rules after protests

A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2022

China relaxes COVID-19 rules after protests

A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
  • Social media footage posted on Thursday night and geolocated by AFP showed dozens of people clashing with health workers in hazmat suits outside a school in Yicheng, in central China’s Hubei province

BEIJING: Cities across China further unwound Covid restrictions on Friday, loosening testing and quarantine rules in the wake of nationwide protests calling for an end to lockdowns and greater political freedoms.
Anger and frustration with China’s hardline pandemic response spilled onto the streets last weekend in widespread demonstrations not seen in decades.
China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother the rallies, deploying a heavy police presence while boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
A number of cities have now begun loosening COVID-19 restrictions, such as moving away from daily mass testing — a tedious mainstay of life under Beijing’s stringent zero-Covid policy.
But sporadic localized clashes have continued to flare up.
Social media footage posted on Thursday night and geolocated by AFP showed dozens of people clashing with health workers in hazmat suits outside a school in Yicheng, in central China’s Hubei province.
The author of the post said people in the video were parents of students who had tested positive for the virus and been taken to quarantine facilities.
Parents are seen kneeling in front of the school gate, pleading to take their children home. Another video showed at least a dozen police officers at the scene.
Signs have emerged of a possible shift in the policy of sending positive cases to central quarantine facilities.
An analysis by state-run newspaper People’s Daily on Friday quoted a number of health experts supporting local government moves to allow patients to quarantine at home, which would be a marked departure from current rules.
When called on Friday, some officials in the Chaoyang district of Beijing said people who tested positive there would no longer have to go to central quarantine.
Authorities in the southern factory hub of Dongguan on Thursday also said those who meet “specific conditions” should be allowed to quarantine at home. They did not specify what those conditions would be.
The southern tech hub of Shenzhen on Wednesday rolled out a similar policy.
Central government officials have signaled that a broader relaxation of the zero-COVID-19 policy could be in the works.
Speaking at the National Health Commission Wednesday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said the Omicron variant was weakening and vaccination rates were improving, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
A central figure behind Beijing’s pandemic response, Sun said this “new situation” required “new tasks.”
She made no mention of zero-COVID-19 in those remarks or in another meeting on Thursday, suggesting the approach, which has disrupted the economy and daily life, might soon be relaxed.
The southwestern metropolis of Chengdu from Friday no longer required a recent negative test result to enter public places or ride the metro, instead only demanding a green health code on an app confirming people have not travelled to a “high-risk” area.
Beijing also announced on Friday that using public transport in the city would no longer require a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours.
The day before, the capital’s health authorities called on hospitals not to deny treatment to people without a 48-hour test.
In January, a pregnant woman in the city of Xi’an miscarried after being refused hospital entry for not having a PCR result.
China has seen a string of deaths after treatment was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, including the recent death of a four-month-old baby who was stuck in quarantine with her father.
Those cases became a rallying cry during the protests, with a viral post listing the names of those who died because of alleged negligence linked to the pandemic response.
Many other cities with virus outbreaks are allowing restaurants, shopping malls and even schools to reopen, in a clear departure from previous tough lockdown rules.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people spurred anti-lockdown protests, authorities announced Friday that supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts would gradually be reopened.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from early August.

 


As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country

As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country
Updated 02 December 2022

As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country

As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country
  • An IMF review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September
  • Pakistan's finance minister, Ishaq Dar, said all targets for the IMF's ninth review had been completed, adding that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan expects to secure $3 billion in external financing from a friendly country in two weeks, its finance minister said on Friday as the South Asian country awaits IMF funding.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September, leaving Pakistan in dire need of external financing.
Pakistan’s finance minister, Ishaq Dar, said on Friday in an interview with Geo News TV that all targets for the IMF’s ninth review had been completed, adding that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense.
Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF), that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year.
“We continue to engage in discussions with the government over policies to address the humanitarian and rehabilitation needs of the floods while promoting macroeconomic and fiscal sustainability,” the IMF’s resident representative in Pakistan, Esther Perez Ruiz, said in a statement.
Dar said Pakistan’s foreign reserves, which have dropped to $7.5 billion, will be shored up with a $3 billion financing from a friendly country in the next two weeks.
That is hardly enough for a month of imports for Pakistan, which has been facing a widening current account deficit and a balance of payments crisis.
“All the requirements for the ninth (IMF) review are completed,” Dar said, adding that the international lender was “behaving abnormal” by not completing the review.
Pakistan will make alternate arrangements in case of any delay from the IMF, he said.
“If the money doesn’t come, we will manage, no problem,” he added.

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NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says
Updated 03 December 2022

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says
  • Manusha Nanayakkara ‘blown away’ by Saudi megaproject on visit to Kingdom
  • Smart city presents opportunities for construction, engineering, IT professionals, he says

COLOMBO: Saudi Arabia’s NEOM smart city offers a great opportunity for Sri Lankan professionals and skilled workers, a government minister from the South Asian nation said on Friday.

Labor and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara visited the site of the megaproject in northwestern Tabuk province last month during an official visit to the Kingdom.

He also met his Saudi counterpart, Human Resources and Social Development Minister Ahmed bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, to discuss ways to boost labor relations and find employment opportunities for skilled Sri Lankan workers on some of the huge infrastructure projects being implemented under Saudi Vision 2030.

Sri Lanka produces world-class engineers, architects and city planners. They can contribute their technical and creative capabilities. Projects will be a lifetime opportunity for most of them.

Manusha Nanayakkara, Labor and foreign employment minister

“NEOM is a futuristic concept and I was blown away by looking at the amount of work that has gone into it,” Nanayakkara told Arab News. “Also, once the project is complete it will trigger a significant transformation in traditional tourism and modern living.”

He added: “NEOM offers a substantial amount of job opportunities in various categories and I am trying to orient as many aspiring migrant workers to capitalize on this.”

Some of the best opportunities were for construction, engineering, IT and urban planning professionals, he said.

“Sri Lanka produces world-class engineers, architects and city planners. They can contribute their technical and creative capabilities. Projects like NEOM are rare in the world and it will be a lifetime opportunity for most of them.”

Sri Lanka is keen to find work overseas for its professionals as it is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence in 1948 and in desperate need of foreign currency.

The island nation of 22 million people officially defaulted on its debts in April and without foreign currency reserves has been left unable to pay for imports. Most of its citizens are facing daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities.

Remittances from Sri Lankans working overseas have long been a key source of foreign exchange for the country.

“(An) Immediate contribution, without a doubt, would be foreign remittance,” Nanayakkara said, adding that involvement in NEOM would also bring long-term benefits for Sri Lankan workers.

“The expertise and experience they gain by being employed by NEOM will add to their credentials as professionals.”