Anxious Americans go to the polls with faces masked, stores boarded up

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Voters wait in line at the Oakmont United Methodist Church on November 3, 2020 in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a suburban community outside Pittsburgh. (AFP)
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A voter with "I Voted" sticker is seen during the US presidential election in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 3, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 03 November 2020

Anxious Americans go to the polls with faces masked, stores boarded up

MCCONNELLSBURG, Pennsylvania: Millions of Americans will cast ballots on Tuesday in an Election Day unlike any other, braving the threat of COVID-19 and the potential for violence and intimidation after one of the most polarizing presidential races in US history.
In and around polling places across the country, reminders of a 2020 election year shaped by pandemic, civil unrest and bruising political partisanship will greet voters, although more than 90 million ballots have been already submitted in an unprecedented wave of early voting.
Many will wear masks to the polls — either by choice or by official mandate — with the coronavirus outbreak raging in many parts of the country.
Some voters in major US cities will see businesses boarded up as a precaution against politically motivated vandalism, an extraordinary sight on Election Day in the United States, where voting is typically peaceful in the modern era.
The tensions surrounding this year’s presidential election were in the air on Monday in the gun section of the Buchanan Trail Sporters store in the small town of McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania.
“No matter who gets in they have a feeling there will be some civil unrest,” Sally Hoover, the shop’s co-owner, said as half a dozen shoppers browsed the cases filled with weapons and bullets.
Hoover is supporting President Donald Trump, a Republican, as he fights for a second term against the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, a former vice president who is ahead in the polls.
“These people around here aren’t going to go looking for the fight,” Hoover said. “But if the fight comes to them, they are going to defend their property and way of life.”

TENSIONS FROM TIMES SQUARE TO TEXAS
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups said they were watching closely for signs of voter intimidation.
The ACLU’s Georgia affiliate deployed around 300 lawyers across the state at about 50 potential “hot spots” for voting trouble on Tuesday, including 15 polling places in Atlanta.
“We have poll observers who are looking out for any voter intimidation,” Andrea Young, ACLU Georgia’s executive director, told reporters. “We don’t know exactly what will happen, but we want to be as ready as possible.”
The US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is deploying staff to 18 states to monitor for voter intimidation and suppression, including in some battleground counties and in cities shaken by civil unrest this year.
Police and business owners said they were taking precautions to protect property, with memories still fresh of sometimes violent protests over racial injustice in many cities over the summer.
In New York City, the Macy’s department store and the skyscraper that houses the Trump-favored Fox News channel were among the buildings that were boarded up. On Rodeo Drive, one of the most expensive shopping streets in California’s Beverley Hills, staff stripped the display windows at Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels of their jewels.
“Hopefully this is all for nothing,” Kathy Gohari, vice president of the Rodeo Drive Committee, the merchants association, said on Monday as she watched workers nail plywood over luxury storefronts.
Still, fists, eggs and expletives have already flown in New York City’s Times Square in recent days among ardent Trump fans, Democrats and adherents of the anti-fascism movement known as antifa.
An alleged plot by an anti-government militia group to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, uncovered last month, has highlighted the potential for political violence on Election Day. Police in Graham, North Carolina, doused a group of anti-racism activists with pepper spray as they were marching to a polling station on Saturday.
On a Texas highway on Friday, in a spectacle reminiscent of the movie “Mad Max,” a convoy of pickup trucks mounted with billowing Trump flags surrounded a Biden-emblazoned bus filled with campaign staffers in what seemed an attempt to force the bus off the road.
Trump praised the pickup drivers as “patriots,” and expressed impatience with his Federal Bureau of Investigation when the agency said it was looking into the matter.
In the New York City area and elsewhere, convoys of vehicles with Trump flags stopped on highways and bridges, according to local media, snarling traffic in a defiant show of support for the president.
Even once votes are cast, Americans from the president down have expressed anxiety over what could be a protracted ballot count.
As the United States has suffered through the deadliest coronavirus outbreak on the planet, many states have expanded early voting to reduce contagion-spreading crowds at polling stations.
A record-setting 97.7 million early votes had been cast either in-person or by mail as of Monday afternoon, representing about 40% of all Americans who are legally eligible to vote.


Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

Updated 03 March 2021

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

  • Ethnic minorities need support due to additional pressures, researcher tells Arab News
  • Number of Muslim intensive care patients above 50% despite making up 5% of Germany’s population

LONDON: More than 90 percent of severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany have a “migrant background,” a leading doctor has said, amid concerns that minority ethnic groups require more support in the fight against the virus.

Thomas Voshaar, a top doctor at a German lung hospital, said a survey of leading medics had found that many of the most gravely ill patients were what he described as “patients with communications barriers.”

Saloni Dattani, a science writer and researcher at OurWorldInData, told Arab News: “The reasons that ethnic minorities are more likely to develop severe disease are well-understood. In the UK and the US, ethnic minorities are more likely to live in geographical areas that are hard hit, more likely to work in essential services where they come into contact with more people, more likely to live in dense areas, and more likely to live in multigenerational households.”

She added: “In sum, a greater proportion of severely ill patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds because a greater proportion of all COVID-19 patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

The head of Germany’s top diseases institute, Lothar Wieler, said the number of intensive care patients with a Muslim background was “clearly above 50 percent,” despite making up just 5 percent of Germany’s 83 million population.

Voshaar told a conference call of journalists that government warnings about the dangers of the virus are “simply not getting through” to migrant communities.

Jonathon Kitson, a fellow at the London-based Adam Smith Institute, told Arab News: “This shows the need for an acceleration in Germany’s vaccination program to reach all members of society.”

He added: “Although vaccine acceptance rates in the UK amongst BAME (black, Asian and ethnic minority) people have initially been lower than the rest of the population, thanks to outreach and personal testimony this is beginning to change.”

Wieler said doctors had compiled figures from intensive care wards toward the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, the peak months of the second wave.

“According to my analysis, more than 90 percent of the intubated, most seriously ill patients always had a migrant background,” he said.

“We agreed among ourselves that we should describe these people as ‘patients with communications barriers.’ We don’t seem to be getting through to them,” he added.

“There are parallel societies in our country. You can only put that right with proper outreach work in the mosques, but we’re not getting through. And that sucks.”

Minority groups have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 in many countries, including in the UK, where studies have shown a higher mortality rate among black and Asian people.

But Germany does not publish official figures on infection or death rates among different ethnic groups.

“Since it’s more difficult for ethnic minorities to self-isolate and protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19, it’s all the more important to vaccinate and provide support for ethnic minorities,” Dattani said.
 


Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure

Updated 03 March 2021

Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure

  • Macron met four of the grandchildren of Ali Boumendjel and admitted “in the name of France” that the lawyer had been detained, tortured and killed in Algiers on March 23, 1957
  • Boumendjel was a French-speaking nationalist lawyer and intellectual who served as a link between the moderate UDMA party and the National Liberation Front (FLN)

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron has admitted for the first time that French soldiers murdered a top Algerian independence figure then covered up his death in the latest acknowledgement by Paris of its colonial-era crimes.
Macron met four of the grandchildren of Ali Boumendjel and admitted “in the name of France” that the lawyer had been detained, tortured and killed in Algiers on March 23, 1957, his office said Tuesday.
French authorities had previously claimed that he had committed suicide while in detention, a lie that his widow and other family members had campaigned for years to see overturned.
“Looking our history in the face, acknowledging the truth, will not enable us to heal all of the still open wounds, but it will help to create a path for the future,” the statement from Macron’s office said.
As the first French president to be born in the post-colonial era, Macron has made several unprecedented steps to face up to France’s brutal fight to retain control of its north African colony, which won independence in 1962.
In 2018, he admitted that France had created a “system” that facilitated torture during the war and acknowledged that French mathematician Maurice Audin, a Communist pro-independence activist, was also murdered in Algiers.
In July last year, he tasked French historian Benjamin Stora with assessing how France has dealt with its colonial legacy.
Stora’s report in January made a series of recommendations, including acknowledging the murder of Boumendjel and creating a “memory and truth commission” that would hear testimony from people who suffered during the war.
It did not suggest a formal state apology, however, and Macron has said there would be “no repentance nor apologies” but rather “symbolic acts” aimed at promoting reconciliation.
Boumendjel was a French-speaking nationalist lawyer and intellectual who served as a link between the moderate UDMA party and the National Liberation Front (FLN), the underground resistance movement.
Macron praised his “humanism” and his “courage” in his statement, adding that Boumendjel had been influenced by French Enlightenment values in his fight against “the injustice of the colonial system.”
In 2001, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses published a book called “Special Services 1955-1957” in which he described how he and his “death squad” tortured and killed prisoners, including Boumendjel.
Aussaresses wrote that the government, notably the then justice minister Francois Mitterrand, who later became president, was informed about and tolerated the use of torture, executions and forced displacements.
Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle, which had never been officially corrected.
Macron also said on Tuesday that he would continue to open national archives and encouraged historians to continue researching Algeria’s independence war, which saw atrocities committed by all sides.
Paris ruled Algeria for more than a hundred years and the independence war from 1954-1962 left 1.5 million Algerians dead, leaving deep scars and a toxic debate about the legacy of colonization.
During his 2017 election campaign, Macron declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity” and called French actions “genuinely barbaric.”
But despite his outreach efforts, he has been criticized for ruling out a state apology, with the Algerian government calling the most recent report by Stora “not objective” and “below expectations.”
On France’s right and far-right, many politicians object to raking up the past, with French colonialism still defended as a “civilising” enterprise that helped develop occupied territories.
During his presidential run in 2017, Macron’s comments on Algeria were denounced by his defeated right-wing rival Francois Fillon as “this hatred of our history, this perpetual repentance.”


COVID-19 vaccines being tested on low-immunity patients

Updated 03 March 2021

COVID-19 vaccines being tested on low-immunity patients

  • Trials have shown that the inoculations have a very high success rate for most adults, including the very elderly,
  • But there is little evidence on their efficacy in immunocompromised patients

LONDON: People with low immunity due to health conditions such as cancer are being recruited to a study to assess if COVID-19 vaccines will give them high protection.
Trials have shown that the inoculations have a very high success rate for most adults, including the very elderly, with antibody levels exceeding expectations. But there is little evidence on their efficacy in immunocompromised patients.
In a new study, up to 5,000 immunocompromised people from around Britain will be vaccinated, with blood tests before and after their inoculations to assess the change in protection against the virus. Some results are expected in a few months, with full conclusions delivered early next year.
“We urgently need to understand if patient populations with chronic conditions such as cancer, inflammatory arthritis and kidney and liver disease are likely to be well-protected by current COVID-19 vaccines,” said lead researcher Prof. Iain McInnes from the University of Glasgow.
“The study will give us invaluable new data to help us answer questions of this kind from our patients and their families.”
The British Society for Immunology said: “While COVID-19 vaccination might provide a lower level of protection in people who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised compared with the rest of the population, it is still very important that you get vaccinated, as it will offer you a certain amount of protection.”
It added: “It is important that you receive two doses of the vaccine to maximize the protection that vaccination offers you.”

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Husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says detention ‘blot on British diplomacy’ ahead of scheduled release

Updated 03 March 2021

Husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says detention ‘blot on British diplomacy’ ahead of scheduled release

  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran since March 2020
  • Her husband said he has spent the years during his wife’s detention “swinging between hope and despair”

LONDON: The five-year imprisonment of a British-Iranian woman in Iran is a “blot on British diplomacy,” her husband said ahead of her scheduled release.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Tehran since 2016 when she was jailed for five years over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. She denies the allegations.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband said he has spent the years during his wife’s detention “swinging between hope and despair,” UK media reported.
“It is shocking that what started off as a mum and a baby on holiday could be allowed to last for five years.
“There’s no ambiguity in that, that’s just staggering. It is a blot on British diplomacy and clearly Iranian hostage-taking is outrageous,” Richard Ratcliffe said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, has been held under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Her original sentence is due to end on Sunday.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told Ratcliffe in January that his efforts to publicize the March 7 date could jeopardize her release from prison.
He responded on Twitter by saying: “If anything happens to Nazanin or her family, or if she is not released to the UK on March 7 — there should be consequences.”
“We continue to believe that transparency is the best form of protection from abuse,” Ratcliffe added.
“We also made clear that the government’s role is to remind the Iranian authorities that Nazanin has the UK’s protection — not to act as a messenger for IRGC mafia tactics and suppression.”
Amnesty International joined Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family in a “countdown to reunion” as the end of the UK national’s five-year prison sentence approaches.
Ratcliffe launched the countdown to freedom last Friday alongside the human rights organization and its supporters who are joining in on social media.

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Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.