Coronavirus pandemic to be ‘far more deadly’ this year, WHO warns

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 3, 2020. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 15 May 2021

Coronavirus pandemic to be ‘far more deadly’ this year, WHO warns

  • India starts deploying Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine amid upsurge in coronavirus cases
  • Confusion reigns in US as the vaccinated are allowed to take off their face masks

GENEVA, Switzerland: The World Health Organization issued a grim warning on Friday that the second year of Covid-19 was set to be “far more deadly,” as Japan extended a state of emergency amid growing calls for the Olympics to be scrapped.
“We’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The mood also darkened in Japan where the coronavirus state of emergency took in another three regions just 10 weeks before the Olympics, while campaigners submitted a petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Games to be canceled.
With Tokyo and other areas already under emergency orders until the end of May, Hiroshima, Okayama and northern Hokkaido, which will host the Olympic marathon, will now join them.
Japanese public opinion is firmly opposed to holding the Games this summer.
Swiss tennis great Roger Federer said Friday that “what the athletes need is a decision: is it happening or isn’t it?“
“I would love to play in the Olympics... But if that doesn’t happen due to the situation, I would be the first to understand,” he added.
The pandemic has killed at least 3,346,813 people worldwide since the virus first emerged in late 2019, according to an AFP tally of official data.

Sputnik V vaccines
India, meanwhile, started deploying Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the first foreign-made shot to be used in the country that has been reeling from an explosion in cases and deaths.
The first token batch of Sputnik vaccines — reportedly 150,000 doses — arrived on May 1 and a second delivery is expected in the next few days.
A number of leading India-based drugmakers have agreements for local production of Sputnik V with the aim to produce over 850 million doses of the jab per year.
India has been adding roughly as many new Covid cases daily as the rest of the world put together.
More than 260,000 Indians have died, according to official figures.
In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the arrival of the B1.617.2 variant, one of those believed to be driving the Indian surge, could delay reopening of society and the economy.
“This new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.
Britain’s health ministry has tracked the variant in northwest England and in London.
Germany has already added the UK back onto its list of “risk areas” requiring extra checks — but not necessarily quarantine — for incoming travelers.
Elsewhere around the continent, tourist hotspots are opening up.
Greece kickstarted its tourism season on Friday, hoping to reverse last year’s miserable summer.
“I hope to forget this damn Covid,” said Jil Wirries, a 28-year old student from Hanover, Germany, collecting luggage on the island of Crete.
“Everything is terrible in Germany... people are depressed... I’m so happy to be here.”
France and Spain launched tourism campaigns this week too.

Confusion over masks
But in the United States many were confused a day after the top health agency lifted all mask-wearing requirements for fully vaccinated people.
The move has raised questions about how to implement it — the foremost being, how do you tell if a person is fully vaccinated?
It has led to a patchwork of regulations around the country. Some states never had mask mandates in the first place. Others lifted them well before the new advice. Some were reviewing the idea, but others such as Maryland and Virginia rushed to implement it.
Major companies are also weighing their options. Retail giant Walmart was among those who said Friday it would lift its mask mandate for fully vaccinated staff and customers.
But United Food and Commercial Workers, a union which represents 1.3 million people, came out unequivocally against.
“Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?” it said.
“My initial reaction was supportive, but the more I think about it, I wish they had said, ‘Let’s do this on July 1. If you aren’t vaccinated yet, this is your chance to go do it,’” said airborne disease specialist Linsey Marr.
The WHO also said Friday that even the vaccinated should keep wearing masks in areas where the virus is spreading.
“Vaccination alone is not a guarantee against infection or against being able to transmit that infection to others,” WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.
More than 580,000 people have died in the US of Covid-19. But almost 60 percent of US adults have now received one or more doses, while cases are falling fast, and children are also now being vaccinated.
The WHO, however, urged wealthy countries to stop vaccinating children and instead donate doses to poorer nations.
“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to Covax,” said WHO chief Tedros, referring to the global vaccine-sharing scheme.
In sports, the Turkish Grand Prix, which was only drafted onto the Formula One calendar as a replacement for the canceled Canada GP two weeks ago, was itself axed on Friday.
Formula One chiefs announced they will instead return to the sport’s safe haven of Austria.


1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

Updated 18 June 2021

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

  • Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes

SURPRISE, Arizona: One person was killed and 12 others injured in reported drive-by shootings over a 90-minute span Thursday in three cities west of Phoenix, authorities said.
A suspect was in custody, and authorities said a weapon was found in his vehicle. But it remained unclear if the man was responsible for all of the shootings.
The suspect’s name wasn’t immediately released. Authorities believe he acted alone, although a motive wasn’t immediately known.
“We don’t know the nexus, we don’t know what the motive was, we don’t have an idea of what this person was thinking when he went out and did this,” Peoria police spokesman Brandon Sheffert said at a news conference. “Obviously we want to figure this out because there’s a lot of scared people and people this affected.”
Police departments in Peoria, Surprise and Glendale were investigating the shootings in their cities, along with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes, Sheffert said.
Four people suffered gunshot wounds, and one of those victims died, he said. That person was found dead in a vehicle along a Peoria freeway.
The other victims had a range of injuries such as shrapnel from broken glass or injuries related to a car crash, Sheffert said.
Officials at Banner Health said they received nine patients at three of their hospitals. But the extent of the victims’ injuries and their conditions were not immediately released.
Peoria police got the initial call about a shooting shortly after 11 a.m., and eight more incidents were reported in the following 90 minutes, Sheffert said.
Witnesses provided authorities with a description of the getaway vehicle, and the suspect was detained after a traffic stop in Surprise.


Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Updated 18 June 2021

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

FASTFACT

Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”


Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

Updated 17 June 2021

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

  • The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi
  • Inquiry heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the show’s end

LONDON: Security teams at Britain’s Manchester Arena “should have prevented or minimized” the impact of the 2017 terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people, a public inquiry found Thursday.
The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a Mancunian of Libyan descent.
In a report examining security measures at the venue in northwest England, inquiry chairman John Saunders said Arena operator SMG, security provider Showsec and British Transport Police all missed opportunities to either prevent or mitigate the attack, which took place on May 22, 2017.
“The security arrangements for the Manchester Arena should have prevented or minimized the devastating impact of the attack,” he wrote.
“Salman Abedi should have been identified on 22nd May 2017 as a threat by those responsible for the security of Arena and a disruptive intervention undertaken.
“Had that occurred, I consider it likely that Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device, but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less,” he added.
The inquiry had heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the end of the show, where the bomb was detonated, but nobody was there.
A Showsec security guard also told the inquiry that he had a “bad feeling” when he saw Abedi around five minutes before the attack, but did not approach him for fear of being called a racist.
“I felt unsure about what to do,” said Kyle Lawler, who was aged 18 at the time of the attack.
“I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race.”
Lawler said he had tried to radio the control room, but that he gave up as he could not get through due to radio traffic.
A member of the public had reported Abedi, who was dressed in black and carrying a large rucksack, to security 15 minutes before he detonated the bomb, packed with 3,000 nuts and bolts.
Abedi’s brother was last year jailed for life for playing an “integral part” in the attack, that also injured hundreds.
The Daesh group-inspired suicide bombing targeted crowds of mostly young people.
The youngest victim was aged just eight. Others included parents who had come to pick up their children.

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Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

Updated 17 June 2021

Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

  • Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles
  • To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s minority government could be toppled next week after a group of four parties in parliament announced Thursday they would back a no confidence vote, potentially triggering a snap election.

The far-right Sweden Democrats party announced it was calling for a motion of no confidence for Monday after the Left Party earlier warned it would seek a similar move over a dispute on rent controls for newly constructed apartments.

“There is now a majority in parliament that wants to dismiss the prime minister,” Henrik Vinge, parliament group leader for the Sweden Democrats, told a press conference.

Vinge said they hoped the government would fall a year ahead of the next general election.

Both the conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats followed suit, securing a parliamentary majority for the no confidence motion against the government of Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

“We were against the Lofven government when they took power. We were against the Lofven government then, we are against the Lofven government now,” Ebba Busch, party leader of the Christian Democrats, told a press conference.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson echoed this sentiment in a post to social media.

“Our opinion is very clear, this government should never have taken office,” Kristersson wrote in a post to Facebook.

Speaker of the house, Andreas Norlen, confirmed in a statement the vote would be held on Monday.

Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles to secure support for a government following the 2018 election.

To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties, and was propped up by the Left Party.

The deal included liberal market reforms, including a government inquiry into allowing landlords to freely set rents for new apartments.

Several of these reforms have irked the Left Party, and after multiple calls on the government to abandon the “market rents,” party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said earlier on Thursday that they were looking for support among other parties for a vote of no confidence.

“Someone has to stand up for Sweden’s tenants,” Dadgostar told a press conference adding that it wasn’t an “easy announcement.”

Speaking in parliament, Lofven responded by saying it was “not responsible” to call for the vote.

Lofven has announced a press conference of his own at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT).


France weighs mandatory vaccination for reticent health workers

Updated 17 June 2021

France weighs mandatory vaccination for reticent health workers

  • Vaccination rate among health workers in care homes is lagging behind that of the general adult population
  • New daily virus infections in France are projected to fall to 2,000 within a week

PARIS: COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccinations could become compulsory for health workers if they do not drop their resistance to getting the jab, France’s health minister warned Thursday.

The threat came on the first day that people in France were authorized to be outdoors without wearing face masks, as vaccinations pick up and new COVID-19 cases drop.

The vaccination rate among health workers in care homes, however, is lagging behind that of the general adult population, 60 percent of which have now received at least one COVID-19 jab, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

He made a “solemn appeal” to health workers, especially in care homes, to “take the plunge.”

“If by the end of the summer there is no improvement we will have to consider making vaccinations for those specific groups obligatory,” Veran told BFM television.

“It is necessary and ethical to get vaccinated when you are in contact with vulnerable populations,” he added.

The coronavirus affected elderly people in care homes particularly severely, especially during the first and second virus waves last year before vaccinations became widespread and social distancing the norm.

Veran would not be drawn on a possible similar move for hospital staff, saying that “we’ll wait and see.”

New daily virus infections in France, at just over 3,000 on Wednesday, are projected to fall to 2,000 within a week and to 1,000 by the end of the month, Veran said.

A daily 11:00 p.m. curfew will be lifted on Sunday, a week ahead of schedule.

Although people can now take off masks when outdoors, there are exceptions including when on busy shopping streets or at crowded events. Masks must still be worn indoors and on public transport.