White House says US can roll out COVID boosters next week

The Biden administration’s embattled plan to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to most Americans faced its first key hurdle on Friday as a government advisory panel met to decide whether to recommend extra doses of Pfizer vaccine. (AP)
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Updated 17 September 2021
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White House says US can roll out COVID boosters next week

  • In August, President Joe Biden said the government would provide boosters in the week of Sept. 20
  • Critics have said the Biden administration's booster plan is putting pressure on scientists

WASHINGTON: The United States is ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccine booster shots next week but will do so only if health regulators approve the plan, White House officials said on Friday.
In August, President Joe Biden said the government would provide boosters in the week of Sept. 20 to address waning vaccine immunity and the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“We’ve been working through the last few weeks, intensely with our partners, our governors, state, and local health officials, federal pharmacy programs, the community health centers to ensure that we are ready for next week,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zientz said at a briefing.
While some health officials, other countries and vaccine makers say boosters are needed, many experts disagree, including two top scientists at the Food and Drug Administration who are leaving the agency later this year.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told reporters boosters will be available once the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approve the plan. Critics have said the Biden administration’s booster plan is putting pressure on scientists or getting ahead of their evaluations.
“We have always said that this initial plan would be contingent on the FDA and the CDC’s independent evaluation. We will follow that evaluation and their recommendations. We will make sure our final plan reflects it,” he said.
Murthy was among eight top US health officials including the FDA and CDC chiefs who have said boosters are necessary.
A panel of independent expert advisers to the FDA is debating whether Americans should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and was set to vote later on Friday.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet next week to discuss boosters.


Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

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Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

MOSCOW: Russians on Thursday reported some problems with processing payments at major banks after a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Russian banks, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported.
At least one Russian bank was telling clients that it was having trouble sending messages containing codes to confirm payments, a Reuters reporter said.
The Kommersant newspaper said Russians had reported problems using the websites of major banks, as well as with the Telegram messaging app and with major mobile phone networks.
It cited Russia’s payments cards operator as saying that the disruption had been short-lived and that the fast payments system was now working as usual.
The IT army of Ukraine, a group of volunteers committed to disrupting Russian digital communications, later issued a statement saying it was responsible the Russian bank outages.


US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

Updated 9 min 44 sec ago
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US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

  • French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion

WASHINGTON: American philanthropist Melinda French Gates, the ex-wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, endorsed President Joe Biden on Thursday for November’s US election, arguing that he is the best candidate for women.
“I’ve never endorsed a presidential candidate before. But this year’s election stands to be so enormously consequential for women and families that, this time, I can’t stay quiet,” she said on X.
“Women deserve a leader who cares about the issues they face and is committed to protecting their safety, their health, their economic power, their reproductive rights, and their ability to freely and fully participate in a functioning democracy.”
French Gates, who recently stepped down as president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the contrast between Biden and his Republican opponent Donald Trump “couldn’t be greater, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
“I will be voting for President Biden,” she concluded.
Reproductive rights have been an effective political cudgel for Democrats in the two years since the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutionally protected right.
A comfortable majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases, according to extensive polling, and around half of states have measures in place to protect access.
The issue has been a major theme of the election campaign, with Biden supporting women’s right to choose and Trump failing to stake out a clear-cut position beyond pride in appointing three of the justices who struck down Roe v Wade.
French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion.
She said the Supreme Court ruling on abortion had prompted her to devote herself to defending women’s rights.


Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

Updated 35 min 25 sec ago
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Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

  • The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs

ROME: A sonic boom heard in Tuscany and on the French island of Corsica, initially mistaken by holidaymakers, locals and officials for an earthquake, may have been a meteorite, experts said Thursday.
The town of Campo nell’Elba, on the Italian tourist island of Elba, said on its Facebook page that a nearby tracking station had “captured a seismic, acoustic event felt by everyone” at 4:30pm (1430gmt).
Corsican media reports said it was also felt on the island.
Tuscany regional government president Eugenio Giani initially said it was an earthquake, before backtracking after Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) ruled one out.
The Italian Air Force told Giani it had nothing to do with the sonic boom.
“The type of event which caused the tremor, felt by many as an earthquake over the entire coast of Tuscany and in some inland areas, is currently unconfirmed,” Giani wrote on social media.
The region’s Geophysics Institute and the University of Florence said in a joint statement that whatever caused the boom was traveling at 400 miles per second.
“A meteorite entering the atmosphere seems the most likely and in line with the data registered.”
The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs. The most likely hypothesis is still an airplane.”
It is not the first time mysterious sonic booms have been registered on Elba, the Corriere della Sera said. Similar events in 2012, 2016 and 2023 have yet to be explained, it said.


US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

Updated 20 June 2024
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US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

  • The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters

WASHINGTON: The United States expressed deep concern Thursday over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to supply North Korea with weapons, warning such a move would “destabilize” the Korean peninsula.
Putin, during a rare visit to Pyongyang, signed a mutual defense pact on Wednesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged his country’s “full support” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Thursday in Vietnam, Putin said Moscow would not rule out sending weapons to Pyongyang, calling it repercussions for the West supplying Ukraine.
The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“It would destabilize the Korean peninsula, potentially, depending on the type of weapons, and might violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself has supported,” Miller said.
Washington and its allies have previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia with missiles and artillery that it has used to attack Ukraine.
Putin warned Seoul on Thursday not to supply Ukraine with weapons, after South Korea said it was reconsidering its current ban.
Seoul has a longstanding policy that bars it from selling weapons into active conflict zones, which it has stuck to despite calls from Washington and Kyiv to reconsider.
Miller said such a decision was “for every country to make in terms of whether they’re going to supply weapons to Ukraine.”
“We welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he added.
 

 


Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

Young Sikh migrant workers walk on a street in the Agro Pontino area, south of Rome. Picture taken May 19, 2019 (REUTERS)
Updated 20 June 2024
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Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

  • “These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, in comments relayed by her office

ROME: The death of an Indian farm laborer in a gruesome accident in which his right arm was severed by machinery has put a spotlight the conditions of migrant agricultural workers in Italy, whom trade unions say are often employed illegally and exploited.
Satnam Singh, 31, died in a hospital in Rome on Wednesday, two days after being injured while working in a melon greenhouse in the Agro Pontino, a rural area south of the capital.
According to media reports, Singh was left outside his home after suffering injuries to his arm and legs, with his severed limb placed in a fruit crate.
“We heard shouting outside, the guy’s wife threw herself at me saying, ‘call an ambulance, call an ambulance’,” a neighbor told RAI public television.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni deplored the tragedy as she chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” she said, in comments relayed by her office.
The owner of the farm, Renzo Lovato, expressed his sorrow over the accident, but said Singh had been warned not to get close to the machine that injured him.
“The worker did it his own way. It was carelessness, unfortunately,” Lovato told RAI.
An investigation into Lovato’s son, who allegedly left Singh outside his home, has been opened over potential charges of manslaughter and failure to assist a person in danger, the lead prosecutor in the case, Giuseppe De Falco, said in an email.
“He spontaneously went to the judicial police an hour after the events, as any decent person would do,” Lovato’s family lawyer told Reuters. He added that his client was waiting for the charges to be formalized to defend himself.
Responding to the allegation that Singh had been abandoned without calling an ambulance, the lawyer, Valerio Righi, said: “You will see during the proceedings that maybe help was called sooner than people think.”
Some politicians and trade unions said the tragedy highlighted the broader issue of “caporalato,” the illegal gangmaster system of hiring migrant workers common in the Agro Pontino and other parts of Italy.
Righi declined to comment on reports that Singh and his wife were employed illegally. Other details of the conditions in which he worked were unclear.
Maria Grazia Gabrielli, from Italy’s largest trade union Cgil, decried an “event of unprecedented brutality,” linking it to what she said were slave-like conditions endured by many farm hands.
“Exploitation in the fields very often results in starvation wages, unsafe and inhuman working rhythms and conditions, psychological and physical violence,” she said in a statement.
According to 2021 data from national statistics office Istat, about 11 percent of Italian workers were employed illegally, rising to more than 23 percent in agriculture.
The Lazio region, which includes the Agro Pontino, offered to cover Singh’s funeral costs.
Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, responding to the furor over Singh’s death, said the government was “first in line on all fronts to counter any form of exploitation at work.”