Japan likely to hit COVID-19 herd immunity in October, months after Olympics: researcher

Japan has arranged to buy 314 million doses from Pfizer, Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc, and that would be more than enough for its population of 126 million. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 January 2021

Japan likely to hit COVID-19 herd immunity in October, months after Olympics: researcher

Japan is likely to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 through mass inoculations only months after the planned Tokyo Olympics, even though it has locked in the biggest quantity of vaccines in Asia, according to a London-based forecaster.
That would be a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who has pledged to have enough shots for the populace by the middle of 2021, as it trails most major economies in starting COVID-19 inoculations.
“Japan looks to be quite late in the game,” Rasmus Bech Hansen, the founder of British research firm Airfinity, told Reuters. “They’re dependent on importing many (vaccines) from the US And at the moment, it doesn’t seem very likely they will get very large quantities of for instance, the Pfizer vaccine.”
Hansen said Japan will not reach a 75% inoculation rate, a benchmark for herd immunity, until around October, about two months after the close of the Summer Games.
Japan has arranged to buy 314 million doses from Pfizer, Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc, and that would be more than enough for its population of 126 million.
But problems seen in vaccine rollouts elsewhere stir doubt that Japan will get those supplies on time.
Taro Kono, Japan’s vaccine program chief, said last week it would begin its first shots in February, starting with 10,000 medical workers, but he walked back on a goal to secure enough vaccine supplies by June.
Japan is particularly vulnerable because its initial inoculation plan is dependent on Pfizer doses, which are at risk of being taken back by US authorities to fight the pandemic there.
“There simply aren’t enough vaccines for all the countries that Pfizer made agreements with,” Hansen said.
“America needs 100 million more Pfizer vaccines to be on the safe side to reach their goals, and a lot of those 100 million would come from the Japan pile.”
Representatives from Pfizer and Japan’s health ministry did not immediately respond to Airfinity’s forecasts. Previously, Pfizer has stated that the company was working with Japanese regulators “to make COVID 19 vaccine doses available as quickly as possible to the people in Japan.”


Queen’s husband Philip moved back to private hospital to recover

Updated 1 min 59 sec ago

Queen’s husband Philip moved back to private hospital to recover

  • The development came nearly three weeks after the former naval officer was first admitted to King Edward VII’s on February 16
  • He was taken to Barts on Monday for tests for a pre-existing heart condition

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II’s 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, was on Friday moved back to a private London hospital after a successful heart procedure, Buckingham Palace said, raising hopes for his recovery.
The Duke of Edinburgh, who turns 100 in June, was transferred from the state-run St. Bartholomew’s Hospital to King Edward VII’s Hospital in central London.
“The duke is expected to remain in hospital for continuing treatment for a number of days,” royal officials said in a statement.
A yellow and green National Health Service (NHS) ambulance with tinted windows was seen driving away from Barts, as it is known, at about lunchtime on Friday.
Philip had been brought to the hospital near St. Paul’s Cathedral in a similar vehicle, with police and royal protection officers blocking the views of waiting photographers and camera crews.
The development came nearly three weeks after the former naval officer was first admitted to King Edward VII’s on February 16 after he reported feeling unwell.
He was taken to Barts on Monday for tests for a pre-existing heart condition.
He had an unspecified procedure on Wednesday, widely believed to be linked to a stent he had fitted in 2011 for a coronary blockage.
His lengthy stay in hospital has raised fears for his health, given his advanced age, but palace officials have been quick to stress it was not related to Covid-19.
The duke and the queen, who is 94, both received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in January at their sprawling Windsor Castle home west of London where they have been isolating for nearly a year.
Prince Philip, who has been married to the queen for 73 years, is Britain’s longest-serving consort and has typically been in robust health throughout his long life.
But despite his latest medical scare, senior royals have been quick to reassure that he was on the mend.
Earlier this week, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who is married to Philip’s eldest son, Prince Charles, said he was “slightly improving.”
His youngest son, Prince Edward, said last week his father was itching to leave hospital.
But royal commentators have expressed concern about the effect of a tell-all interview by his grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan, due to be broadcast in the United States this weekend.
Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, stepped down from royal duties last year, in part due to intrusive media coverage, and moved to North America.
Pre-broadcast clips of the interview with US chat show queen Oprah Winfrey have set off a storm of controversy in Britain, particularly Meghan’s claim that the royal family was peddling lies about them.
Meghan is also reportedly facing an internal palace investigation into claims that she bullied royal household staff during her time in Britain.
She has accused them of character assassination and pushing a “wholly false narrative,” with the row prompting calls for the interview to be rescheduled because of Prince Philip’s health.


India’s vaccine giant Serum Institute warns of supply hit from US raw materials export ban

Updated 37 min 5 sec ago

India’s vaccine giant Serum Institute warns of supply hit from US raw materials export ban

  • Recent invocation of the US Defense Production Act to preserve vaccine raw materials goes against the global goal of sharing vaccines equitably

NEW DELHI: A temporary US ban on exports of critical raw materials could limit the production of coronavirus vaccines by companies such as the Serum Institute of India (SII), its chief executive said in a World Bank panel discussion on Thursday.
SII, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has licensed the AstraZeneca/Oxford University product and will soon start bulk-manufacturing the Novavax shot.
“There are a lot of bags, filters and critical items that manufacturers need,” Adar Poonawalla said. “The Novavax vaccine, which we are a major manufacturer of, needs these items from the US.”
He said the recent invocation of the US Defense Production Act to preserve vaccine raw materials for its own companies went against the global goal of sharing vaccines equitably.
The White House said this week it had used the act to help drugmaker Merck & Co. produce Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“This really needs to be looked at because if they are talking about building capacity all over the world, the sharing of these critical raw materials, which just can’t be replaced in a matter of six months or a year, is going to become a critical limiting factor,” Poonawalla said.
India’s Biological E has tied up with J&J to potentially contract manufacture up to 600 million doses of its vaccine per year. They have signed an initial deal but production volumes have not been agreed upon.


Swiss mull ‘burqa ban’ in vote centering on security, rights

Updated 37 min 2 sec ago

Swiss mull ‘burqa ban’ in vote centering on security, rights

  • The face-covering measure has come to be known colloquially as the “burqa ban.” It would put Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures
  • The issue strikes at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights

GENEVA: At a time when seemingly everyone in Europe is wearing masks to battle COVID-19, the Swiss go to the polls Sunday to vote on a long-laid proposal to ban face-coverings, both the niqabs and burqas worn by a few Muslim women in the country and the ski masks and bandannas used by protesters.
The issue strikes at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights.
Critics say the proposal “Yes to a ban on covering the face” is an ironic throwback to a time not long ago when violent extremism was a greater concern than global pandemic, and say it would unfairly stigmatize Muslims who wear full face-covering burqas or niqabs, which have open slits for the eyes, in Switzerland.
Proponents, including populist, right-wing movements behind the idea, say it’s needed to combat what they consider a sign of the oppression of women and to uphold a basic principle that faces should be shown in a free society like that of the rich Alpine democracy.
The issue is one of three measures on national ballots in the vote culminating Sunday — most voters in Switzerland cast ballots by mail – as part of the latest installment of regular Swiss referendums that give voters a direct say in policymaking.
Other proposals would create an “e-ID” to improve security of online transactions — an idea that has run afoul of privacy advocates — and a free-trade deal with Indonesia, which is opposed by environmentalists who have concerns about palm oil plantations on the archipelago in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The face-covering measure has come to be known colloquially as the “burqa ban.” It would put Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures. Two Swiss regions also already have such bans.
One campaign poster presented by the Swiss People’s Party — a populist, right-wing party that is the leading faction in parliament and has strongly backed the measure — features a caricatured image of the scowling eyes of a woman in a burqa above the words: “Stop Islamic Radicalism.”
A coalition of left-leaning parties have put up signs that read: “Absurd. Useless. Islamophobic.”
Support appears to have been eroding, but the vote is expected to be tight. An initial poll for public broadcaster SSR by the gfs.bern agency in January found more than half of voters backed the proposal, but a second poll published on Feb. 24 showed the figures had dipped to under half. Some remain undecided.
The Swiss government opposes the measure, arguing that it could crimp economic development: Most Muslim women who wear such veils in Switzerland are visitors from well-heeled Arabian Gulf states, who are often drawn to bucolic Swiss lakeside cities. The justice minister insists existing laws work just fine.
The measure would make it punishable by fines to cover the face in public in places like restaurants, sports stadiums, public transport or simply walking in the street — though exceptions are made for religious, security and health reasons, as well as for the Swiss traditional Carnival celebrations.
A counter-proposal would require people to show their faces if requested to do so by authorities.
It’s another indication how Switzerland is grappling with security issues and cultures and people from abroad. In the past, Swiss voters have approved a ban on the construction of minarets in the Alpine country whose flag carries the cross.
Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, a researcher who heads the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Lucerne, estimates at most a few dozen Muslim women wear full-face coverings in the country of 8.5 million people, and says the issue is really about Switzerland’s take on religion and ability to “cope with diversity.”


Afghan suspected of stabbing 7 held in custody in Sweden

Updated 05 March 2021

Afghan suspected of stabbing 7 held in custody in Sweden

  • Suspect an asylum-seeker whose residence permit had expired last year

STOCKHOLM: A 22-year-old Afghan man who is suspected of having stabbed seven men in a town in southern Sweden, leaving three of them in critical condition, was remanded in pretrial custody for at least two weeks on Friday.
The Eksjo District Court added that there was a flight risk, Swedish broadcaster SVT said. The suspect, who was not identified under Swedish rules and who faces seven counts of attempted murder, denied any wrongdoing.
“I have done nothing. I was at home,” the suspected shouted at the beginning of the custody hearing and banged his fist on the table, Swedish media reported.
The man, who has Afghan citizenship, was described by Swedish media as an asylum-seeker whose residence permit had expired last year. Local news reports also have said the man had a history of mental health issues. He is known to police for petty crimes.
On Friday, he entered the court room limping after having being shot in the leg by police Wednesday, some 20 minutes after the first calls of an ongoing incident in the small town of Vetlanda, 190 kilometers southeast of Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Officers who arrested him found a knife in his possession.
Police say there are five crime scenes in the town of 13,000. It appeared that the seven male victims were picked at random. All are stable, according to hospital officials.
At first, police floated the idea that the preliminary investigation could be considered terror-related, but later changed it to attempted murder.


Indian farmers plan major road blockade outside Delhi to mark 100th day of protests

Updated 05 March 2021

Indian farmers plan major road blockade outside Delhi to mark 100th day of protests

  • Tens of thousands have been camped outside New Delhi since December

NEW DELHI: Indian farmers who have been protesting for months against deregulation of produce markets plan to block a major expressway outside New Delhi on Saturday, the 100th day of their campaign, they said.
Tens of thousands have been camped outside Delhi since December, demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal three farm laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies, which the farmers say will make them vulnerable.
Farmers from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh plan to stop all traffic on the six-lane Western Peripheral Expressway that forms a ring outside New Delhi for up to five hours, union leaders said on Friday.
“We believe that after these 100 days, our movement will put a moral pressure on the government to accede to our demands, because the weather will also worsen,” said Darshan Pal, spokesperson for the farmer unions’ coalition Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), or United Farmers’ Front. “It will weaken the government, which will have to sit down with us to talk again.”
The government says the reforms will bring investment to the antiquated agriculture markets, and that new entrants would operate alongside government-regulated market yards, where farmers are assured of a minimum price for their produce.
Several rounds of talks between the government and farm leaders have failed and the movement has gained widespread support, including from international celebrities, posing one of the biggest challenges to Modi since he took power in 2014.
As the harvesting season begins this month, Pal said neighbors and friends back in the villages would help tend to farms while he and other farmers carry on the protests.
The capital typically has harsh summers with temperatures rising up to 45 degree Celsius, but Pal said that won’t hinder the movement.
“The laws are like a death warrant to us,” he said. “We are prepared for the long haul.”