WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency

A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, June 6, 2022. (REUTERS)
A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, June 6, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 26 June 2022

WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency

A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  • “The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting

GENEVA: The World Health Organization’s chief said Saturday that the monkeypox outbreak was a deeply concerning evolving threat but did not currently constitute a global health emergency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened a committee of experts on Thursday to advise him whether to sound the UN health agency’s strongest alarm over the outbreak.
A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since early May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.
More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from more than 50 countries this year.
“The emergency committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak,” noting many unknowns about the spread and gaps in the data, Tedros said.
“They advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is the highest level of alert WHO can issue, but recognized that the convening of the committee itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of monkeypox.”
Tedros said the outbreak was “clearly an evolving health threat” that needed immediate action to stop further spread, using surveillance, contact-tracing, isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines and treatments are available to at-risk populations.

“The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting.
While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise Tedros that at this stage, the outbreak was not a PHEIC.
“However, the committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread of outbreak requires intense response efforts.”
They are on standby to reconvene in the coming days and weeks depending on how the outbreak evolves.
The committee recommended that countries improve diagnostics and risk communication.
It noted that many aspects of the outbreak were unusual, while some members suggested there was a risk of sustained transmission due to the low level of population immunity against pox virus infection.

The committee that considered the matter is made up of 16 scientists and public health experts and is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, a former director of the WHO’s Vaccines and Immunization Department.
Thursday’s five-hour private meeting was held in person at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters and via video conference.
The committee discussed current observations of plateauing or potential downward trends in case numbers in some countries; difficulties in contact tracing due to anonymous contacts, and “potential links to international gatherings and LGBTQI+ Pride events conducive for increased opportunities for exposure through intimate sexual encounters.”
They were also concerned that the potential stigmatization of affected groups could impede response efforts.
There are knowledge gaps on transmission modes, the infectious period, as well as over access to vaccines and antivirals and their efficacy, they said.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.
Initial outbreak cases had no epidemiological links to areas that have historically reported monkeypox, suggesting that undetected transmission might have been going on for some time.
Few people have been hospitalized to date, while 10 cases have have been reported among health care workers.
The WHO’s current plan to contain the spread focuses on raising awareness among affected population groups and encouraging safe behaviors and protective measures.
There have been six PHEIC declarations since 2009, the last being for Covid-19 in 2020 — though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still rankles at the WHO HQ.
A PHEIC was declared after a third emergency committee meeting on January 30. But it was only after March 11, when Tedros described the rapidly worsening situation as a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.


Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine

Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine
Updated 1 min 45 sec ago

Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine

Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine
  • Britain to send more multiple-launch rocket systems and precision guided M31A1 missiles
  • Denmark will increase its financial aid to Ukraine by $114 million

COPENHAGEN: Britain and Denmark will provide more financial and military aid to Ukraine, they said on Thursday as European defense ministers met in Copenhagen to discuss long-term support for the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion.
Britain, which has already donated advanced weapons systems to Ukraine and given thousands of its troops military training, said it would send more multiple-launch rocket systems.
It would also donate a “significant number” of precision guided M31A1 missiles that can strike targets up to 80km away.
“This latest tranche of military support will enable the armed forces of Ukraine to continue to defend against Russian aggression and the indiscriminate use of long-range artillery,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.
“Our continued support sends a very clear message, Britain and the international community remain opposed to this illegal war and will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, providing defensive military aid to Ukraine to help them defend against Putin’s invasion.”
Denmark will increase its financial aid to Ukraine by 110 million euros ($114 million), Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a conference in Copenhagen hosted by Ukraine, Denmark and Britain.
“This is a war on the values that Europe and the free world are built upon ... Today we reaffirm our commitment to support of Ukraine,” she said.
The new measures will take Denmark’s total aid to Ukraine since the start of the war to more than $417 million (3 billion Danish crowns).
Just over half of the financial aid announced on Thursday will be spent on weapons procurement and support of weapons production. The rest will be spent on supplies of Danish weapons and military equipment, as well as military training.
The announcements come after the government in Kyiv repeatedly pleaded with the West to send more weapons, including long-range artillery, as it tries to turn the tide on Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Earlier this month, Ukraine said it had received another delivery of high-precision heavy weapons from Germany and the United States.
Moscow, which has accused the West of dragging out the conflict by giving Ukraine more arms, says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine aimed at safeguarding Russia’s security against NATO expansion.


Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame

Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame
Updated 11 August 2022

Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame

Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame
  • Regional analysts expect US Secretary of State to privately exert pressure to stop Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebel group

KIGALI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a visit to Kigali less than a week after it emerged United Nations experts had found “solid evidence” Rwanda has been interfering militarily in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Regional analysts expect Blinken, who arrived on Wednesday evening, to privately exert pressure to stop Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebel group without immediately implementing sanctions or blocking military aid, as the United States did in similar circumstances in 2013.
A confidential report sent to the United Nations Security Council last week said Rwandan troops have been fighting alongside the M23 rebels in Congo, and that Kigali has been providing the group with weapons and support since November.
Rwanda’s government has said the UN findings, based on evidence including witness testimony and drone images, were false, and that the M23 was Congo’s responsibility.
The United States is a longstanding ally of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, but Blinken told reporters on Tuesday in Kinshasa he was very concerned about “credible reports” Rwanda has provided support to M23.
Last year the US administration gave Rwanda $147 million in bilateral assistance, and $500,000 for peace and security.
“Rwanda’s most important export is its reputation; that’s what attracts Starbucks, that’s what attracts Bill Gates and that reputation is being battered at the moment,” said Jason Stearns, director of New York University’s Congo Research Group.
Blinken’s visit “will lead to a re-evaluation of what’s happening on the ground,” Stearns told Reuters by telephone.
A statement from Rwanda’s foreign affairs ministry on Blinken’s visit said the country was committed to addressing security challenges in the Great Lakes Region.
Rwanda has earned recognition for its stability, ease of doing business and developmental gains since the 1994 genocide, but Kagame has also drawn criticism for cracking down on opponents at home and abroad.
The US top diplomat has said he would raise the fate of Paul Rusesabagina, a US resident who was sentenced by Kigali court to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges.
Rusesabagina refused to take part in what he called a “sham” trial, saying he had been kidnapped and brought to Kigali against his will.
Rwanda’s foreign affairs ministry said Rusesabagina’s arrest and conviction were lawful under Rwandan and international law.


South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation

South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation
Updated 11 August 2022

South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation

South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation
  • Disagreement over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system emerged after South Korea’s foreign minister China visit this week

SEOUL: China and South Korea clashed on Thursday over a US missile defense shield, threatening to undermine efforts by the new government in Seoul to overcome longstanding security differences.
The disagreement over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system emerged after an apparently smooth first visit to China by South Korea’s foreign minister this week.
China, contending THAAD’s powerful radar could peer into its airspace, curbed trade and cultural imports after Seoul announced its deployment in 2016, dealing a major blow to relations.
South Korea’s presidential office said on Thursday the system stationed in the country is a means of self-defense, according to a briefing transcript, after Beijing demanded Seoul not deploy additional batteries and limit the use of existing ones.
President Yoon Suk-yeol, seeing the system as key to countering North Korean missiles, has vowed to abandon the previous government’s promises not to increase THAAD deployments, participate in a US-led global missile shield or create a trilateral military alliance involving Japan.
On the campaign trail, the conservative Yoon pledged to buy another THAAD battery, but since taking office in May, his government has focussed on what officials call “normalizing” the operation of the existing, US-owned and operated system.
South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, meeting on Tuesday, explored ways to reopen denuclearization negotiations with North Korea and resume cultural exports, such as K-pop music and movies, to China.
A Wang spokesman said on Wednesday the two had “agreed to take each other’s legitimate concerns seriously and continue to prudently handle and properly manage this issue to make sure it does not become a stumbling block to the sound and steady growth of bilateral relations.”
The Chinese spokesman told a briefing the THAAD deployment in South Korea “undermines China’s strategic security interest.”
Park, however, told Wang that Seoul would not abide by the 2017 agreement, called the “Three Nos,” as it is not a formal pledge or agreement, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
China also insists that South Korea abide by “one restriction” — limiting the use of existing THAAD batteries. Seoul has never acknowledged that element, but on Wednesday, Wang’s spokesman emphasised that China attaches importance to the position of “three Nos and one restriction.”
During Park’s visit to the eastern port city of Qingdao, the Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times praised Yoon for showing “independent diplomacy and rationality toward China” by not meeting face to face with visiting US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But the newspaper warned that the THAAD issue is “a major hidden danger that cannot be avoided in China-South Korea ties.”


Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats
Updated 11 August 2022

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats
  • Taiwan accused China of using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit as an excuse to kickstart drills
  • Military played down Taiwan's exercises’ significance, saying they were not in response to China’s war games

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s army held another live-fire drill Thursday after Beijing ended its largest-ever military exercises around the island and repeated threats to bring the self-ruled democracy under its control.
Beijing has raged at a trip to Taiwan last week by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the highest-ranking elected American official to visit in decades — staging days of air and sea drills around the island that raised tensions to their highest level in years.
Taiwan has accused China of using the Pelosi visit as an excuse to kickstart drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.
Lou Woei-jye, spokesman for Taiwan’s Eighth Army Corps, told AFP its forces fired howitzers and target flares as part of the defensive drill on Thursday morning.
The exercise in Taiwan’s southernmost county Pingtung began at 0830 am (0030 GMT) and lasted about an hour, he said.
Artillery tucked in from the coast was lined up side by side, with armed soldiers in units firing the howitzers out to sea one after the other, a live stream showed.
Taiwan held a similar drill on Tuesday in Pingtung. Both involved hundreds of troops, the military said.
The military has played down the exercises’ significance, saying they were already scheduled and were not in response to China’s war games.
“We have two goals for the drills, the first is to certify the proper condition of the artillery and their maintenance condition and the second is to confirm the results of last year,” Lou said, referring to annual drills.
The latest exercise came after China’s military indicated its own drills had come to an end Wednesday, saying its forces “successfully completed various tasks” in the Taiwan Strait while vowing to continue patrolling its waters.
But in the same announcement, China added that it would “continue to carry out military training and prepare for war.”
In a separate white paper published Wednesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing would “not renounce the use of force” against its neighbor and reserved “the option of taking all necessary measures.”
“We are ready to create vast space for peaceful reunification, but we will leave no room for separatist activities in any form,” it said in the paper.
China last issued a white paper on Taiwan in 2000.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Thursday joined its top policymaking body on China in rejecting the “one country, two systems” model that Beijing has proposed for the island.
“China’s whole statement absolutely goes against the cross-strait status quo and its reality,” ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told a press conference.
“China is using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to destroy the status quo and taking the opportunity to make trouble, attempting to create a new normal to intimidate the Taiwanese people.”
“One country, two systems” refers to the model under which Hong Kong and Macau were promised a degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
Taiwan routinely stages military drills simulating defense against a Chinese invasion, and last month practiced repelling attacks from the sea in a “joint interception operation” as part of its largest annual exercises.
In response to the Chinese military revealing it was bringing drills to an end Wednesday, Taiwan’s army said it would “adjust how we deploy our forces... without letting our guard down.”
Since the late 1990s, the island has transformed from an autocracy into a vibrant democracy, and a more distinct Taiwanese identity has solidified.
Relations between the two sides have significantly worsened since Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s president in 2016.
Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party do not consider Taiwan a part of China.
Their platform falls under China’s broad definition of Taiwanese separatism, which includes those who advocate for the island to have an identity separate from the mainland.


Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police
Updated 11 August 2022

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police
  • The man was reported to have been arrested after landing at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey, where he had been serving a prison sentence for terrorism offenses

LONDON: A British man accused of being part of a Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” has been charged with terrorism offenses after returning to the UK, police said Thursday.
“A 38-year-old man has been charged with various terrorism offenses following an investigation by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command,” police said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Police, which leads anti-terror investigations in the UK, officially named the man as Aine Davis and said he has been remanded in police custody.
They said they arrested Davis after he landed at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey.
The suspect, who does not have a fixed address, was set to appear at a court in central London on Thursday morning.
He was allegedly a member of the Daesh cell, which held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.
The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.
They were all allegedly involved in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
The quartet allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and Daeshreleased videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.
Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the UK to the US in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.
El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the US at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.
The other “Beatles” executioner, Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.
Elsheikh and Kotey were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain.
They were eventually flown to Virginia in 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Davis served a seven-and-a-half-year sentence in Turkey for membership in the terrorist group, according to reports.
In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh militants after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.
She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before he went to Syria to fight with Daesh.