Opinion

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory COVID-19 jabs

Passengers walk inside a terminal of the Barcelona Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 02 December 2021

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory COVID-19 jabs

  • WHO: It could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible

GENEVA: The WHO issued stern warnings Wednesday on the dangers of vaccination apathy and the European Union put mandatory jabs on the table, as the United States registered its first case of the fast-spreading omicron strain of the coronavirus.
The new variant, first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa a week ago, has quickly popped up across continents, darkening economic forecasts and deepening fears of another difficult winter in the northern hemisphere.
“Globally, we have a toxic mix of low vaccine coverage, and very low testing — a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reminding the world that the delta variant “accounts for almost all cases.”
“We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from omicron,” he said.
The WHO says it could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible, and whether it results in more severe disease — as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against the variant.
Its detection and spread, however, have highlighted that the now nearly two-year global fight against COVID-19 is far from over.
In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the bloc — although only individual member states can impose vaccine mandates.
Austria has already said it will make COVID jabs compulsory next February, Germany is considering a similar approach, and Greece said Tuesday it would mandate vaccines for over-60s.
The United States, officially the world’s hardest-hit country, announced it had detected its first omicron case, a fully vaccinated traveler from South Africa who is recovering from mild symptoms.
Top American infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci stressed that fully vaccinated adults should seek a booster when eligible to give themselves the best possible protection.
“Our experience with variants such as the delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn’t specifically targeted to the delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also recorded their first cases of omicron, making the Gulf the latest region to be affected.

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The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control meanwhile recommended that children aged five to 11 who are at risk of severe COVID-19 should be considered a “priority group” for vaccination.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned omicron threatens the world’s recovery and lowered growth estimates for 2021 from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent.
The Paris-based OECD said the recovery had “lost momentum and is becoming increasingly imbalanced” and would remain “precarious” until vaccines were deployed worldwide.
omicron has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, mostly targeting southern Africa. Japan has suspended new flight bookings into the country.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary Guterres Antonio Guterres added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism against such bans, calling them deeply unfair and punitive” as well as “ineffective.”
Rising infection rates have already seen some European governments reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns in a desperate attempt to limit hospitalizations, but leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.
Portugal, which has Europe’s highest vaccination rate, reintroduced mask mandates in indoor settings, and aims to administer a third COVID-19 jab to almost one-fifth of its population by the end of the year.
From Wednesday, every adult in Italy became eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot, previously only open to those aged over 40.
Despite new restrictions recently introduced in Denmark, the country on Wednesday registered a record number of new COVID-19 cases with 5,120 infections in the last 24 hours.
Even as governments acted unilaterally in imposing travel restrictions, WHO member states came together in Geneva to work on an international accord on handling the next pandemic.
An intergovernmental negotiating body will be established to reach an agreement on responding to future pandemics with a first meeting due before March 1, 2022.
While the European summer of fleeting COVID-19 freedoms may be over, in the southern hemisphere, Pacific nation Fiji ended 615 days of international isolation on Wednesday and reopened to tourists.
Traditional dancers in grass skirts welcomed waving holidaymakers from Sydney, the first of an expected flood of desperately needed tourists in the coming weeks.


British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

Updated 7 sec ago

British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defied growing calls for him to step down on Wednesday, telling lawmakers he would “keep going” following a wave of resignations from his government including those of two key ministers.
Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party who asked if the prime minister thought there were any circumstances in which he should resign.
“Clearly, if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the government to go on and discharge the mandate that we’ve been given, or if I felt, for instance, that we were being frustrated in our desire to support the Ukrainian people ... then I would,” Johnson told parliament.
“But frankly, the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when you’ve been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going,” Johnson said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Updated 4 min 5 sec ago

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

  • Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries

ISLAMABAD: Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — before retaking power — in which they promised to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.
“We assure our neighbors, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in an address ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group captured power again in mid-August, during the chaotic last weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The international community has been wary of any recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, especially after they restricted the rights of women and minorities — measures that harken back to their harsh rule when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
Akhundzada, the spiritual chief of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leader of the Islamist movement in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
After taking over, Akhundzada secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise, calling him “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.
However, in his Eid message Akhundzada said: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides.”
A three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and calls on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.
In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power.
In an hour-long speech at the assembly carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”
A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, igniting yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overstretched aid groups already keeping millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to the quake victims, but most countries responded tepidly to Taliban calls for international help.
The international cut-off of Afghanistan’s financing has deepened the country’s economic collapse and fueled its humanitarian crises.


China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

Updated 06 July 2022

China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

  • Many analysts saw the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr as more favorable to China than the US

MANILA: China’s foreign minister said on Wednesday Beijing was ready to work with new Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to help usher in what he called a “new golden era” in the countries’ relationship.
That relationship “turned a new page” with the election of Marcos, said Wang Yi, who is visiting Southeast Asia at a time when Philippines ally the United States is seeking to boost its influence in the region.
“We highly appreciate President Marcos’ recent commitment to pursuing friendly policy toward China and we speak highly of these recent statements that have sent out a very positive signal to the outside world,” Wang said in a meeting with his Philippines counterpart, Enrique Manalo. Many analysts saw the election of Marcos, the son of the late strongman ousted in a 1986 uprising, as more favorable to China than the United States, but the new president has been clear in public statements that close ties with Beijing will not be at the expense of sovereignty.
China’s assertiveness and conduct in waters off the Philippines has long been a source of diplomatic tension, but Marcos on Tuesday said he wanted their relationship to be about more than a maritime dispute.
Wang said China was one with Marcos in his desire to deepen and strengthen ties.
“We are ready to work toward that same direction with the Philippines and to plan for our cooperation going forward in all areas,” Wang said.
“I’m confident that with the two sides working together, we can surely open a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
Marcos has a tricky balancing act in boosting business ties with China while maintaining a close relationship with defense ally the United States, a former colonial power that still holds considerable sway among the military and the public.


July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

Updated 06 July 2022

July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

  • Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd

HIGHLAND PARK, United States: A 21-year-old man who allegedly opened fire on a July 4 parade in a wealthy Chicago suburb while disguised in women’s clothing was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd.
“There will be more charges,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart told reporters. “We anticipate dozens of more charges centered around each of the victims.”
Police spokesman Christopher Covelli said the death toll rose to seven on Tuesday after one of the wounded victims died in hospital. More than 35 people were injured.
Among the dead were Kevin McCarthy, 37, and his wife, Irina, 35 — the parents of a two-year-old boy who was found wandering alone after the shooting, according to CBS News.
Covelli said no motive had been established for the attack, which sent panicked parade-goers fleeing for their lives.
“We do believe Crimo pre-planned this attack for several weeks,” and that he acted alone, he said.
“We have no information to suggest at this point it was racially motivated, motivated by religion or any other protected status,” he added.
He said Crimo has a history of mental health issues and threatening behavior.
Police had been called twice to Crimo’s home in 2019, once to investigate a suicide attempt and the second time because a relative said he had threatened to “kill everyone” in the family, he said.
Police removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the home but did not make any arrests, he said.
Covelli said Crimo used a fire escape to access the roof of a building overlooking the parade route and fired more than 70 rounds from a rifle “similar to an AR-15,” one of several guns he had purchased legally.
“Crimo was dressed in women’s clothing and investigators believe he did this to conceal his facial tattoos and his identity and help him during the escape with the other people who were fleeing the chaos,” he said.
Covelli said Crimo went to his mother’s nearby home after the shooting and borrowed her car. He was captured about eight hours later after a brief chase.
He also said the authorities were investigating disturbing online posts and videos made by Crimo.
The shooting has left the upscale suburb in shock.
“We’re all still reeling,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told NBC’s Today show. “Everybody knows somebody who was affected by this directly.”
The mayor said she personally knew the suspected gunman when he was a young boy in the Cub Scouts.
“How did somebody become this angry, this hateful to then take it out on innocent people who literally were just having a family day out?” Rotering asked.
Crimo, whose father unsuccessfully ran for mayor and owns a store in Highland Park called Bob’s Pantry and Deli, was an amateur musician billing himself as “Awake the Rapper.”
The younger Crimo’s online postings include violent content that alluded to guns and shootings.
One YouTube video posted eight months ago featured cartoons of a gunman and people being shot.
“I need to just do it,” a voice-over says.
It adds: “It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this. Nothing can stop me, not even myself.”
Crimo, who has the word “Awake” tattooed over an eyebrow, is seen sporting an “FBI” hat in numerous photos and a Trump flag as a cape in one picture.
The shooting is the latest in a wave of gun violence plaguing the United States, where approximately 40,000 deaths a year are caused by firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive.


Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’

Updated 06 July 2022

Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’

  • ‘Diplomatic etiquette does not provide for unilateral leaks of (such) recordings’
  • Sergei Lavrov: Moscow had nothing to be ashamed of from the content of the conversation between the two leaders

HANOI: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the publication of a call between President Emmanuel Macron and Russian leader Vladimir Putin was a breach of “diplomatic etiquette.”
“Diplomatic etiquette does not provide for unilateral leaks of (such) recordings,” Lavrov said on a trip to Vietnam.
The details of the confidential call days before Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine were revealed by the broadcaster France 2 in a documentary on the French president’s handling of the conflict.
Lavrov said Russia had nothing to be ashamed of from the content of the conversation between the two leaders.
“We in principle lead negotiations in such a way that we never have anything to be ashamed of. We always say what we think and are ready to answer for these words and explain our position,” he said.
Lavrov is on a two-day visit to Vietnam, on the tenth anniversary of the two nations’ “comprehensive strategic partnership.”
Vietnam, historically close to Moscow, has so far declined to outright condemn Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.