Taiwan to mandate COVID-19 vaccination proof for entertainment venues

Taiwan to mandate COVID-19 vaccination proof for entertainment venues
More than 70 percent of people in Taiwan have received two vaccine doses and booster shots are currently being rolled out. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2022

Taiwan to mandate COVID-19 vaccination proof for entertainment venues

Taiwan to mandate COVID-19 vaccination proof for entertainment venues
  • The center said the move was needed to minimize the risk of community transmission as Taiwan deals with a small number of domestic infections of the omicron variant

TAIPEI: Taiwan will mandate the use of passes that provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry into entertainment venues, the government said on Thursday, as it seeks to reduce infection risks while tackling a small rise in domestic omicron cases.
The Central Epidemic Command Center said that from Friday entry into venues including bars and night clubs would require proof of full vaccination, either by showing a physical vaccine card or a new digital card.
The center said the move was needed to minimize the risk of community transmission as Taiwan deals with a small number of domestic infections of the omicron variant.
More than 70 percent of people in Taiwan have received two vaccine doses and booster shots are currently being rolled out, though only around 10 percent of residents have had their third shot so far.
Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to strict border measures enacted early on and a highly efficient tracing system.
It has reported 18,041 cases to date out of a population of 23.5 million.


UNHCR chief arrives in Bangladesh to meet Rohingya refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference at the U.N. in Geneva.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference at the U.N. in Geneva.
Updated 10 sec ago

UNHCR chief arrives in Bangladesh to meet Rohingya refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference at the U.N. in Geneva.
  • Filippo Grandi will meet with the Rohingyas ‘to discuss their needs, challenges and hopes for the future’
  • Repatriation of the Rohingyas is the highest priority, activists said

DHAKA: UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi arrived in Bangladesh on Saturday to meet Rohingya refugees amid expectations that the visit will help to restart talks over their repatriation.

Bangladesh is host to more than 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar, the majority of whom have been living in congested camps at Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port in the country’s southeast.

To ease pressure on the overcrowded border camps, officials want to eventually transfer 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char — an island settlement in the Bay of Bengal several hours’ journey away from the mainland — and have moved about 30,000 Rohingyas since the end of 2020.

Though Bangladesh and Myanmar promised in April 2018 to proceed with safe, voluntary, and dignified repatriations of the Rohingyas, the commitment has yet to become a reality.

Grandi, whose last visit to the South Asian country was in 2019, will meet with Rohingya refugees “to discuss their needs, challenges and hopes for the future,” the UNHCR said in a statement. He will also “highlight the need for sustained international support” during his meetings in Bangladesh.

“Back in Bangladesh on a comprehensive visit including exchanges with the government, partners and civil society, as well as field missions to Rohingya refugee sites,” Grandi said in a tweet.

His visit is expected to reorient focus on repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, discussions of which have been stalled further since Myanmar’s military took power in a coup in February 2021. Though talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar finally resumed in late January, they have yet to come to an agreement.

“At the moment repatriation for the Rohingyas is our highest priority,” Nur Khan, a prominent human rights activist in Bangladesh, said.

“We need to resume the repatriation discussion soon and the UNHCR may play a vital role here to bring all the stakeholders to the table as soon as possible.”

Bimal Chandra Sarkar, executive director of local NGO Mukti, said financial expenses to address the refugees’ needs are becoming a concern for humanitarian workers.

“Repatriation of the Rohingyas is the most burning issue for us,” Sarkar, whose organization also works in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

“Bangladesh is suffering a lot for allowing these Rohingyas to live here on humanitarian grounds.”


Switzerland reports first monkeypox case

Switzerland reports first monkeypox case
Updated 1 min 28 sec ago

Switzerland reports first monkeypox case

Switzerland reports first monkeypox case
GENEVA: Swiss health officials on Saturday reported the country’s first case of monkeypox in a person living in the canton of Bern but who was exposed while abroad.
Bern’s health authority said the patient had been treated as a walk-in case and was now isolating at home. Everyone who had come into contact with him had been informed, it added in a statement.
“As far as we know, the person concerned was exposed to the virus abroad,” the statement added.
Health officials became aware of the case on Friday, and it was confirmed as monkeypox the following day.
Switzerland thus joins several western countries, including Britain, Germany, Spain, Sweden the United Kingdom and the United States in reporting cases, raising fears the virus may be spreading.
Symptoms of the rare disease include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions or droplets from a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding or towels.
Monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks, according to the World Health Organization.
The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge warned on Friday that cases could accelerate in the coming months, as the virus spread across Europe.
Most initial cases of the disease have been among men who have sex with men and sought treatment at sexual health clinics, Kluge said, adding “this suggests that transmission may have been ongoing for some time.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is investigating the fact that many cases reported were people identifying as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.

WHO working on more monkeypox guidance as cases rise — senior adviser

WHO working on more monkeypox guidance as cases rise — senior adviser
Updated 21 May 2022

WHO working on more monkeypox guidance as cases rise — senior adviser

WHO working on more monkeypox guidance as cases rise — senior adviser
  • The WHO's working theory based on the cases identified so far is that the outbreak is being driven by sexual contact
  • Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa

LONDON: The World Health Organization is working on further guidance for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox, amid concerns cases could spike further in the summer months, a senior adviser for the UN agency told Reuters.
The WHO’s working theory based on the cases identified so far is that the outbreak is being driven by sexual contact, said David Heymann, chair of the WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential. He led a meeting on the outbreak on Friday.
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, which means it can be relatively easily contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene once a new case is identified.
The outbreak in 11 countries where it is not endemic is highly unusual, according to scientists. More than 100 confirmed or suspected cases have been reported, most of them in Europe.
Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said experts were likely to give more guidance to countries in the coming days. Health officials in several countries have warned that cases could rise further at major summer gatherings and festivals.
“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” Heymann said.
He said the WHO’s meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation.” The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which currently applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead Heymann said the international committee of experts, which met via video conference, looked at what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who are at most risk, and what the various routes of transmission are.
He said close contact was the key transmission route for the virus as the lesions that are typical of the disease are very infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as well as health workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating the teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox, a related virus.
Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.
Early genomic sequencing of a handful of the cases in Europe has suggested a similarity with the strain that spread in a limited fashion in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” that the virus had since been circulating outside of the countries where it is endemic, but had not led to major outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.
He stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it does not transmit as easily. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or who are showing symptoms, including the typical bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is, you can protect yourself,” he added.


Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs

Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs
Updated 21 May 2022

Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs

Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs
  • Trapani judge Samuele Corso must rule whether or not to proceed to trial after a five-year investigation mired in controversy
  • The charities are accused of coordinating their actions with smugglers just off Libya

ROME: Charities running migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean faced a pre-trial hearing in Sicily Saturday over alleged collusion with people traffickers after a controversial probe that involved mass wiretapping.
Twenty-one suspects, including crew members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Save the Children and German NGO Jugend Rettet rescue ships, are accused of “aiding and abetting unauthorized entry into Italy” in 2016 and 2017.
“Our crews rescued over 14,000 people in distress from unseaworthy and overcrowded boats... and are now facing 20 years in prison,” Kathrin Schmidt, who sailed with Jugend Rettet’s ship Iuventa, said ahead of the hearing.
Trapani judge Samuele Corso must rule whether or not to proceed to trial after a five-year investigation mired in controversy for the mass wiretapping of charity workers, lawyers and journalists in what critics say is a politically motivated bid to stop sea rescues.
Italy has long been on the front line of seaborne migration from Africa to Europe, with a record 180,000 arrivals in 2016, dropping to 120,000 in 2017.
It has registered some 17,000 arrivals so far this year, according to the interior ministry.
Prosecutor Brunella Sardoni told AFP she expected the preliminary hearings process to last “several months, considering the complexity” of a case file with some 30,000 pages and hundreds of CDs.
Corso set the date for the next hearing as June 7.
Supporters of the rescue charities held a sit-in at the port in Trapani featuring large paper boats bearing the date and location of shipwrecks, and the number of victims.
The charities are accused of coordinating their actions with smugglers just off Libya, returning inflatable dinghies and boats to them to be reused, and picking up people whose lives had not been in danger.
The rescuers say anyone attempting the central Mediterranean crossing to Europe — the “world’s deadliest” according to the UN — on rickety boats or unseaworthy dinghies is at risk, and should be saved.
At least 12,000 people have drowned on this route since 2014. Many shipwrecks go unrecorded.
The charities also deny ever communicating with smugglers, who are sometimes armed and can be spotted loitering near rescues in the hope of retrieving valuable engines from migrant boats.
Save the Children told AFP it “strongly rejects” the accusations, as did MSF, which slammed a “period of criminalization of humanitarian aid” it hoped would soon end.
The Iuventa was impounded in 2017 shortly after Jugend Rettet and others refused to sign a new and contentious interior ministry “code of conduct” accord, and as the European Union scaled up surveillance and policing in the Mediterranean.
“Despite the fact that mobile phones and computers were seized and analyzed, not a single contact with Libyan smugglers... has been found,” said Nicola Canestrini, lawyer for the Iuventa crew members.
Pre-trial hearings are held behind closed doors, but representatives from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Amnesty International have requested the judge allow them to sit in for transparency.
ECCHR senior legal adviser Allison West has condemned “improper investigative practices” in the investigation, led by a prosecutors’ office more used to exposing Mafia crimes.
The probe was launched after ex-policeman Pietro Gallo, working as a security contractor on Save the Children’s Vos Hestia ship, sent allegations against the charities in October 2016 to Italy’s secret services, Canestrini told AFP.
He and a fellow ex-policeman also sent them to the head of the anti-immigration League party, Matteo Salvini, before reporting their suspicions to the police.
Gallo has since said in an interview that he regrets it. Asked if he ever saw any contact between the charities and traffickers, he replied “no, never.”
The damage was done. Police placed an undercover agent on the Vos Hestia in May 2017, who would provide information including elements used to charge the four Iuventa crew members, Canestrini said. Those included alleged hand signals between the crew and smugglers.
Iuventa’s case has been studied by Forensic Architecture, an agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, which uses advanced reconstruction techniques to investigate police, military and state facts.
It discredited the police theories for all three Iuventa rescues in question.


Russia declares travel ban on 963 Americans including Biden and Blinken

Russia declares travel ban on 963 Americans including Biden and Blinken
Updated 21 May 2022

Russia declares travel ban on 963 Americans including Biden and Blinken

Russia declares travel ban on 963 Americans including Biden and Blinken
  • Travel bans have only symbolic impact but form part of a constant downward spiral in Russia’s relations with the US

LONDON: Russia said on Saturday it was banning entry to 963 Americans including US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA chief William Burns
The travel bans have only symbolic impact but form part of a constant downward spiral in Russia’s relations with the United States and its allies since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.