Vaccinations only hope against rising COVID spread | Daily News

Vaccinations only hope against rising COVID spread

Clinical trials of all vaccines must first show they are safe and effective before any vaccine can be authorized or approved for use, including COVID-19 vaccines.
Clinical trials of all vaccines must first show they are safe and effective before any vaccine can be authorized or approved for use, including COVID-19 vaccines.

The surge in the spread of Coronavirus in many global regions and countries is the dominant issue of international interest, with more than 81 million confirmed cases in 190 countries, and more than 1.7 million deaths, with increasing hope in the ability of vaccines to fight the pandemic.

The US having the highest infections and deaths from the virus sees the pandemic hugely affecting its politics, with the president-elect Joe Biden saying the fight against the pandemic will be his key policy, when he takes office on January 20. However, President Donald Trump, who has not conceded defeat to Joe Biden, is moving with some Republicans to seek a delay recognizing Biden’s election.

The US has recorded more than 19 million cases and more than 330,000 deaths from coronavirus, the highest figures in the world. Daily cases have been at record levels since early November and there are over 120,000 people in hospital, double the number in either of the two previous waves, with increasing concerns about the lack of hospital bed facilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the virus will continue to spread rapidly in the coming months. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “There will be setbacks and new challenges in the year ahead - for example new variants of COVID-19 and helping people who are tired of the pandemic continue to combat it.”

The biggest vaccination campaign in history has begun. More than 6 million doses in 26 countries have been administered, according to data collected by Bloomberg. Delivering billions more will be one of the greatest logistical challenges ever undertaken.

Several countries have now approved coronavirus vaccines for use, but as populations await their roll-out, cases remain high across many parts of the world.

In December, cases have once again begun to rise in several countries, including France, Germany and the UK. Lockdowns and other restrictions have been reintroduced in some of the worst-affected regions to help bring numbers down.

Many countries have placed temporary bans on arrivals from the UK and South Africa, because of concerns about the spread of new variants of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the anti-COVID vaccines offer the only hope to the millions affected by the virus and concerned by its rapid spread globally. The approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by the UK this week, has given new strength to the fight against the pandemic, as it is considerably cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are already in use, and does not need very cool storage.

Chinese regulators have approved a coronavirus vaccine developed by state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, which after early analysis of clinical trial results showed that it was effective. The Sputnik-V vaccine is being used in Russia, and is expected to be used in other countries too.

Seven Indian pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop a vaccine for coronavirus. The Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute, Zydus Cadila, Panacea Biotec, Indian Immunologicals, Mynvax and Biological E are among the pharma firms working on the coronavirus vaccines in India. The Serum Institute is also expected to produce the Oxford Astra/Zeneca vaccine. India is the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world.

EU - China Trade

In a major move on international trade relations, Europe has finalized an investment agreement with China, designed to rebalance trade with the world’s second largest economy.

Brussels and Beijing have been negotiating the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment for seven years, but talks gathered pace in recent months ahead of a joint deadline that had been established for the end of 2020.

Negotiations were completed on Wednesday during a video conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping and EU officials, according to a statement from the European Commission.

“The European Union has the largest single market in the world. We are open for business but we are attached to reciprocity, level playing field and values,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.

In comments reported by Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, President Xi said the new deal will “strongly stimulate” the world’s post-pandemic economy recovery, while promoting global trade and investment liberalization.

The Commission described the agreement as one of “major economic significance.” It will help promote sustainable development, and improve market access for EU investors across sectors including health, financial services and electric vehicles.

The Commission said the deal, which was a priority pushed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will also lay down “clear obligations on Chinese state-owned enterprises,” which are often heavily subsidized. The agreement also establishes rules against forced technology transfers.

Post-Brexit - UK and EU

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel have separately signed the post-Brexit trade deal.

The U.K.’s post-Brexit trade agreement with the European Union passed into law after receiving royal assent in the early hours this Thursday. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II signified her royal assent for the European Union (Future Relationship) Act, after it passed through both Houses of Parliament.

MPs in the House of Commons voted 521 to 73 to pass the bill at its second reading in the Commons. It enshrines into law the 1,246-page Brexit deal struck by the EU and the U.K. on December 24. The deal covers goods and services trade, but also includes investment chapters, provisions on fish and data protection and arrangements for future cooperation on areas such as R&D and space.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties backed the legislation, despite a rebellion of a limited number of MPs from both camps. These included Tory, former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, who abstained, and former Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott, who explained her decision to vote against the deal saying it falls short on policy areas such as security. The Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland did not support the bill.

PM Boris Johnson said that following the end of the Brexit process, the U.K. will “seize the moment to forge a fantastic new relationship” with the EU “based on free trade and friendly cooperation.”

“With this bill, we are going to become a friendly neighbour, the best friend and ally the EU could have, working hand-in-glove whenever our values and interests coincide with fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected parliament,” Johnson said.

Not everything in the trade deal was well received in the UK. For one, British fishermen accused the government of selling them out. Secondly, services, which account for 80 percent of the UK economy, were largely omitted, and the City of London faces an anxious wait to learn on what basis it can continue dealing with the European Union in the future.

India - farmers’ protests

The protests by the Indian farmers continue after the latest round of talks between the Centre and protesting farmer unions saw consensus was reached on issues related to the Environment and Electricity Act. Talks will continue between the two sides as farmer leaders insist on the repeal of the three farm laws recently enacted by the BJP Government, and legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price MSP. The next round of talks will be held on January 4.

This was the sixth round of talks after a three-week hiatus. After the talks, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he requested the farmer leaders to send home the elderly, women and children, who are associated with the protests.

Union Minister Som Prakash — who has been part of the government’s three-member team for negotiations with the farmers — said, “Today’s meeting with farmers will be decisive”. “We want them to celebrate New Year at their homes, with their family and we are going into the meeting with an open heart and mind. The government will try to resolve the issue so that people can go back to their homes,” Som Prakash was quoted as saying by news agency ANI. The Centre has reaffirmed that it has no intention of scrapping the minimum support price (MSP) regime, with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stressing that no “ma ka lal (no one)” can take away land from the farmers.

But in its letter on Tuesday, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella organisation which represents the farmer unions, said the modalities for repealing the three contentious laws and a legal guarantee on minimum support price (MSP) must be part of the agenda. The Morcha further said the agenda should also include amendments to be made and notified in the Commission for the Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 to exclude farmers from its penal provisions.

Argentina - Abortion Law

Argentina’s Senate approved a bill to legalize abortion on Wednesday in an historic vote seen as a major victory for abortion rights advocates in the Catholic-majority country. It voted 38-29 to give millions of women access to legal terminations under a new law supported by President Alberto Fernández.

The law will legalize abortion in all cases up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion in Argentina, South America’s third-most populous country, is currently only permitted when a pregnancy results from rape or endangers the life or health of the woman. In all other circumstances, abortion is illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Massive crowds of abortion rights activists and anti-abortion campaigners gathered outside the Palace of the Argentine National Congress to await the results, which came in the early hours of the morning after an overnight debate. Supporters of the bill greeted the news with loud cheers -- and, in some cases, tears of joy.

The pro-abortion law was recently passed in the lower house with a good majority. In recent months, the abortion rights movement received a huge boost from the support of President Fernández, who came to power last December. In a recorded address shortly before his inauguration, Fernández pledged to “put an end to the criminalization of abortion.”

Abortion advocates hope Argentina’s decision will spur similar movements in Latin America’s other Catholic-majority states. Across Latin America and the Caribbean region, only Cuba, Uruguay, French Guiana and Guyana allow for elective abortions, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. In Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca, abortions are also available on request, but are severely restricted throughout the rest of Mexico.

By contrast, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname ban abortions in nearly all circumstances. Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama allow for abortion only if it’s to preserve the woman’s health or help save her life.

Israel- polls again

Israel has moved into a fourth round of elections within the space of two years after efforts to keep a fractious coalition government intact failed.

Beset by infighting and distrust, the government was unable to pass a budget, triggering a snap election next March and lurching the country back into a protracted political crisis.

Benny Gantz, the former head of the opposition who joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party for a coalition in May, has been unable to get the prime minister to agree to a budget.

Under their power-sharing deal, Netanyahu serves as prime minister for the first 18 months, after which Gantz would take the leadership role for the remainder of the three-year term.

Political analysts in Israel have speculated that Netanyahu might want to torpedo the government prematurely rather than hand over power, especially as the 71-year-old is engaged in a lengthy corruption case that he would rather fight as prime minister.

Gantz’s party, Blue and White, accused Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party of “dragging the country” into another costly national vote. “If there wasn’t a trial, there would be a budget and there wouldn’t be elections,” Blue and White said on Tuesday night.

A general election, likely to take place on March 23, could lead to a significant shift in the makeup of Israel’s political parties – one that may hurt Netanyahu’s chances.

A key figure from his Likud party, Gideon Saar, broke from the faction earlier this month. He has now created a new party, New Hope, which is expected to boost its ranks with Likud defectors, which will be a threat to Netanyahu in the coming polls.

Even if Netanyahu’s Likud party emerges as the largest faction in parliament, it will need to forge alliances with rivals to form a 61-seat majority. That could be complicated, with several religious and nationalist parties that have surged in popularity, suggesting they will not join a Netanyahu-led government.

India - ‘Love- Jihad’

Lawmakers in a central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party have approved legislation that would make pressuring a woman to convert to their husband’s religion a crime punishable with imprisonment.

Although no religion is specified in the legislation, critics say it is aimed against the country’s Muslim minority. Hardline Hindu groups have accused Muslim men of waging a campaign, dubbed a “Love Jihad”, to lure Hindu women to Islam with promises of marriage.

The Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020 will be enacted in Madhya Pradesh once it receives approval from the state’s governor, a leader in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“This law will prevent innocent girls being forcefully converted on pretext of marriage,” said Narottam Mishra, home minister in the state’s BJP-led government.

Virtually identical legislation was passed last month in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, a northern state also controlled by the BJP. Thirty Muslim men were arrested there earlier this month under the new law for allegedly compelling women to change their religion after getting married.

Other Indian states - Haryana, Karnataka and Assam - have said that they are planning to bring in similar anti-conversion laws.

Under the new law, a man and woman belonging to different religions will have to give at least two months notice to the district magistrate before they get married and they will be given permission if there are no objections.

Politicians in Madhya Pradesh have also campaigned for years against Christian missionaries, accusing them of offering financial aid and free education to persuade people to convert to Christianity.

Ethiopia polls

Ethiopia will hold a parliamentary election on June 5, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to quell political and ethnic violence in several regions.

Abiy’s Prosperity Party, a pan-Ethiopian movement he founded a year ago, faces challenges from increasingly strident ethnically-based parties seeking more power for their regions. Africa’s second most populous nation has a federal system with 10 regional governments, many of which have boundary disputes with neighbouring areas or face low-level unrest.

In the northern Tigray region, thousands of people are believed to have died and 950,000 have fled their homes since fighting between regional and federal forces erupted on Nov. 4. Tigray held its own elections in September in defiance of the federal government, which declared the polls illegal.

The National Electoral Board said next year’s calendar for polls did not include an election in Tigray. It said the date for a Tigray vote would be set once an interim government, which was established during the conflict, opened election offices.

For nearly three decades until Abiy’s appointment, Ethiopia was ruled by a coalition of four ethnically-based movements dominated by the party from Tigray. That administration ruled in an increasingly autocratic fashion until Abiy took power in 2018 following years of bloody anti-government street protests.

The initial months after Abiy’s appointment saw a rush of political and economic reforms, including the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners. Abiy merged three of the main regional parties last year to form the Prosperity Party. The fourth, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), refused to join.

Abiy’s peace deal with Eritrea, which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after years of conflict, helped earn him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. But his moves to loosen the Ethiopian government’s iron grip was followed by outbreaks of violence as regional politicians and groups jostled for resources and power.

Yemen blast

A large explosion struck the airport in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, Wednesday, shortly after a plane carrying the newly formed Cabinet landed there. At least 25 people were killed and 110 wounded.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government said the Iran-backed Houthi rebels fired four ballistic missiles at the airport. No one on the government plane was hurt. The “rebel” officials did not answer phone calls from the media.

Later, another explosion took place close to a palace where the Cabinet members were transferred to following the airport attack.

The forming of the new Cabinet was seen as a major step towards closing a dangerous rift between the government of embattled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and the southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates. Hadi’s government and southern separatists are nominal allies in Yemen’s years-long civil war that pits the Saudi-led and US backed military coalition against the Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen, as well as the country’s capital, Sanaa.

Prime Minister Saeed tweeted that he and his Cabinet were safe and unhurt. He called the explosions a ‘cowardly terrorist act’ that was part of the war on ‘the Yemeni state and our great people’.

Croatia - earthquake

At least seven people are known to have died in a magnitude 6.4 earthquake that struck central Croatia on Tuesday.

Five people died in the nearby town of Glina, his deputy said. A seventh victim was found in the rubble of a church in Zazina, state media reports.

Petrinja’s mayor said that about half the town had been destroyed and people had been pulled from the rubble.

Many were too afraid to return to their homes overnight in case aftershocks caused more damage, officials said. Some people slept in their cars or stayed with relatives in other areas. About 200 people sheltered in a military barracks.

The earthquake was felt in the Croatian capital Zagreb, in neighbouring Bosnia and Serbia, and as far away as Italy.

Covid-19 spread as this column was written: World - 82,777,305 infected and 1,806,155 deceased. US - 19,745,734 (342,395), India - 10, 266,674 (14,738), Brazil - 7,619, 200 (193,985), Russia - 3,127,347 (56,271), France - 2,657,624 (64,508), UK - 2, 440, 202 (72,657), Turkey -n 2, 194,272 ( 20, 642), Italy - 2,083,689 (73,604), Spain - 1,910,218 (50,680), Germany - 1,714, 153 (33,231, Iran -n 1,218,753 (55,095), Ukraine - 1,086,997 (19,281), South Africa - 1,039,1 61 (28,033).