South Korea health agency: One dose of Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine highly effective

South Korea health agency: One dose of Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine highly effective

Officials say two doses still needed to maximize protection

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South Korean Olympic judo team player An Ba-ul receives the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the National Medical Center Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has begun administering fast-track COVID-19 vaccines to … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A single dose of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca was highly effective in staving off infection among people aged 60 and older, South Korea said Wednesday, adding to the bank of data that show the shots are working in the real world.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said people who received the Pfizer vaccine were 89.7% protected two weeks after the first dose, while the first dose of AstraZeneca was 86.0% effective.

The analysis covered 3.5 million residents 60 and older, including 521,133 people who received one dose of either vaccine. Only 29 out of 1,237 COVID-19 cases were from the vaccinated group, according to Reuters.

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“Around 95 percent of people who died from the coronavirus in our country were senior citizens aged 60 or older, and the vaccines will sharply lower risks for those people,” Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said, according to the wire service.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said seniors fully vaccinated by COVID-19 shots from Pfizer or Moderna were 94% less likely to land in the hospital from the virus than people over age 65 who were not immunized. 

The agency said people who were “partially vaccinated” were 64% less likely to be hospitalized.

Recent U.S. data show 8% of people aren’t showing up for their second shot in the U.S.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health says it is important for people to return for the second appointment to ensure maximum protection against the disease and thwart aggressive variants that are circulating.

Likewise, South Korean officials on Wednesday urged people to complete the two-dose course of the vaccines despite the robust protection offered by the first dose.

WTO chief seeks text to advance debate over COVID-19 vaccine

WTO chief seeks text to advance debate over COVID-19 vaccine

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FILE – In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, New Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, left, walks at the entrance of the WTO, following a photo-op upon her arrival at the WTO headquarters to take office … more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

GENEVA (AP) – The World Trade Organization chief appealed to member countries on Wednesday to quickly present and negotiate over a text that could temporarily ease trade rules that protect COVID-19 vaccine technology, as a way to ramp access to doses at a time of urgent need.

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spoke to a closed-door meeting of ambassadors from developing and developed countries that have been wrangling over the issue, but agree on the need for wider access to COVID-19 treatments, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said.

The WTO’s General Council – made up of ambassadors – was taking up the pivotal issue of a temporary waiver for intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines and other tools that South Africa and India first proposed in October. The idea has gained support in the developing world and among some progressive lawmakers in the West.

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“What was striking about today was this very strong declaration by all members on this shared objective – which is ramping up production and distribution of these vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics in the developing world, where there is a great inequity in terms of of distribution,” Rockwell told reporters, summarizing the debate.

The United States, among other rich countries that have hesitated about or outright opposed the idea, is shaping up as a potential lynchpin – with the Biden administration seemingly on the fence about the matter.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted Wednesday that Biden had expressed support for similar waiver ideas during his campaign, but as president is running “a process … that includes all stakeholders in the administration.”

“And that process will take a series of months, and requires a unanimous point of view to move forward,” she told reporters in Washington. “We take intellectual property incredibly seriously, and we also, though, are in the midst of a historic global pandemic, which requires a range of creative solutions.”

“We’re looking at it through that prism,” Psaki added. “I expect we’ll have more, now that the WTO meetings are underway, we’ll have more to say very soon on this.”

Rockwell said most member states “would say this is the most important issue facing our organization today.”

“I’m not going to put odds on on how likely it is to find an agreement,” he said. “But when people begin to voice very clearly their shared objectives, it makes it easier to get to ‘yes.’”

The pace of efforts at the Geneva-based trade body have been outstripped by the speed of the spread of the pandemic. The World Health Organization across town said earlier Wednesday that weekly case counts have been at record highs in the last two weeks.

Rockwell said a WTO panel on intellectual property was set to take up the waiver proposal again at a “tentative” meeting later this month, before a formal meeting on June 8-9.

No consensus — which is required under WTO rules — was expected to emerge from the ambassadors’ two-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. But Rockwell pointed to a change in tone after months of wrangling.

“I would say that the discussion was far more constructive, pragmatic. It was less emotive and less finger pointing than it had been in the past,” Rockwell said, citing a surge in cases in places like India. “I think that this feeling of everyone-being-in-it- together was being expressed in a way that I had not heard to this point.”

Authors of the proposal, which has faced resistance from many countries with influential pharmaceutical and biotech industries, have been revising it in hopes of making it more palatable.

Okonjo-Iweala, in her remarks posted on the WTO Web site, said it was “incumbent on us to move quickly to put the revised text on the table, but also to begin and undertake text-based negotiations.”

“I am firmly convinced that once we can sit down with an actual text in front of us, we shall find a pragmatic way forward,” that is “acceptable to all sides,” she said.

Co-sponsors of the idea were shuttling between different diplomatic missions to make their case, according to a Geneva trade official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. A deadlock persists, and opposing sides remain far apart, the official said.

Some proponents saw more hope for the proposal after Biden’s top envoy on trade, Katherine Tai, said last month that gaping inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines between developed and developing countries were “completely unacceptable,” and that mistakes made in the global response to the HIV pandemic mustn’t be repeated.

The argument, part of a long-running debate about intellectual property protections, centers on lifting patents, copyrights, and protections for industrial design and confidential information to help expand the production and deployment of vaccines during supply shortages. The aim is to suspend the rules for several years, just long enough to beat down the pandemic.

The issue has become more pressing with a surge in cases in India, the world’s second-most populous country and a key producer of vaccines – including one for COVID-19 that relies on technology from Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical maker AstraZeneca.

Proponents, including WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, note that such waivers are part of the WTO toolbox and insist there’s no better time to use them than during the once-in-a-century pandemic that has taken 3.2 million lives, infected more than 437 million people and devastated economies.

More than 100 countries have come out in support of the proposal, and a group of 110 members of Congress – all fellow Democrats of Biden – sent him a letter last month that called on him to support the waiver.

Opponents say a waiver would be no panacea. They insist that production of coronavirus vaccines is complex and simply can’t be ramped up by easing intellectual property, and say lifting protections could hurt future innovation.

___

Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report from New York.

___

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at:

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

EU summons Russia envoy over blacklisting of its officials

EU summons Russia envoy over blacklisting of its officials

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Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union has summoned Russia’s ambassador after Moscow blacklisted eight EU officials in retaliation for the bloc’s decision to impose sanctions over the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Russian list announced Friday includes European Parliament President David Sassoli and Vera Jourova, a vice president of the European Commission whose brief includes rule of law issues and disinformation.

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said that Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov would meet in Brussels later Monday with senior EU officials who “will convey to him our strong condemnation and rejection of this decision.”

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Stano said the Russian-imposed travel bans are “obviously very politically motivated and lack any legal justification. They are groundless.” He said that “this all shows that Russia is determined to continue the hostile track of confrontation.”

Russia’s foreign ministry has accused the EU of wanting to punish Moscow for its “independent foreign and domestic policies” and of trying to limit its development with “unlawful restrictions.”

EU foreign ministers will discuss tensions with Russia when they meet on May 10. The 27-nation bloc’s heads of state and government will also take up the issue at their summit on May 25.

The EU in March imposed sanctions on six Russian officials involved in the imprisonment of Navalny, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vociferous opponent.

Navalny was arrested in January upon his return from Germany where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin – accusations that Russian officials reject. European labs have confirmed that Navalny was poisoned.

Germany busts international child porn site used by 400,000

Germany busts international child porn site used by 400,000

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Germany’s former national soccer player Christoph Metzelder arrives at the court for the opening of his trial in Duesseldorf, Germany, Thursday, April 29, 2021. The former defender of Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Schalke 04 stands trial on charges of … more >

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By Kirsten Grieshaber

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

BERLIN (AP) — German prosecutors announced Monday they have busted one of the world’s biggest international darknet platforms for child pornography, used by more than 400,000 registered members.

Frankfurt prosecutors said in a statement together with the Federal Criminal Police Office that in mid-April three German suspects, said to be the administrators of the “Boystown” platform, were arrested along with a German user. One of the three main suspects was arrested in Paraguay.

They also searched seven buildings in connection with the porn ring in mid-April in Germany.

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The authorities said the platform was “one of the world’s biggest child pornography darknet platforms” and had been active at least since 2019. Pedophiles used it to exchange and watch pornography of children and toddlers, most of them boys, from all over the world.

Prosecutors wrote that they found “images of most severe sexual abuse of toddlers” among the photos and video material.

A German police task force investigated the platform, its administrators and users for months in cooperation with Europol and law enforcement authorities from the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, the United States and Canada, the statement said.

The three main suspects were a 40-year-old man from Paderborn, a 49-year-old man from Munich and a 58-year-old man from northern Germany who had been living in Paraguay for many years, the prosecutors’ statement said. They worked as administrators of the site and gave advice to members on how to evade law enforcement when using the platform for illegal child pornography.

A fourth suspect, a 64-year-old man from Hamburg, is accused of being one of the most active users of the platform having allegedly uploaded more than 3,500 posts.

Germany has requested the extradition of the suspect who was arrested in Paraguay.

No names were given in line with Germany’s privacy regulations.

After the raids in mid-April, the online platform was shut down.

Germany’s top security official thanked the authorities for their success.

“This investigative success has a clear message: Those who assault the weakest aren’t safe anywhere,” German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said. ”That’s what investigators work for day and night, online and offline, globally.”

“We’ll do everything within our power to protect the kids from these disgusting crimes,” he added.

Kenya move to shutter refugee camps puts Somalis at risk

Fate of Somalis who call refugee camp home hangs in balance

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Hundreds of thousands of Somalis at the Dadaab camp entered a voluntary repatriation program in 2017 and 2018, but some born and raised there know no other home. (Associated Press) more >

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By Tonny Onyulo – Special to The Washington Times

Sunday, May 2, 2021

DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP, KenyaAbdalla Osman sits on the ground next to his wife and three children in this sprawling, dusty refugee camp and explains why he wants to stay, even though Kenyan authorities desperately want him to leave.

He has built a good life in the camp since he escaped Somalia 30 years ago by opening a butcher shop, getting married, having children and creating a home, he said. But the Kenyan government said last month that it wants to shut down this massive United Nations-run camp complex and another to the northwest that together host nearly 440,000 people, a majority of them Somali refugees.

Mr. Osman said Dadaab is the only home he has ever known.

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“I had nothing when I arrived at the camp,” he said in a recent interview. “But I have built my life from scratch. I have been able to enroll my children in school using the profits from my business. There’s no way I can accept my children dropping out of school and going back to Somalia.”

Kenyan officials, citing long-standing security concerns, announced plans a month ago to shutter the Dadaab and Kakuma camps for good. The government said it had intelligence reports showing that the two camps had become havens for terrorists and for smugglers and profiteers whose revenue helps bankroll the terrorists.

A meeting of Kenyan officials and representatives of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees produced a statement late last week saying the imminent closure was postponed two weeks to allow them to draw up a plan for “humane management of refugees” in both camps. A joint statement after the meeting revealed that 433,765 refugees were living in the two camps. Of those, 280,000 — 63% — were from Somalia, and the rest were from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi and Congo.

But Kenyan Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i said after the meeting that Nairobi maintained its official position: that both camps would be closed for good by June 30.

The decision is leaving hundreds of thousands of refugees caught in the middle. Some of them were born and raised in the camp or, like Mr. Osman, arrived as a child. Their homeland of Somalia is little safer than it was when they fled years and decades ago with a weak, faction-ridden central government menaced by an increasingly brazen al Qaeda affiliate known as al-Shabab.

Mr. Osman came to Dadaab at the age of 13. Somalia had descended into civil war after the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Power struggles between clan warlords led to the rise of fundamentalist Islam and the birth of the al-Shabab movement, which today controls significant territory and continues to terrorize Somali civilians. The insecurity and political instability have forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

Now, critics say, the Kenyan government wants to send them back into a dire situation.

“Where do they want us to go?” asked Mr. Osman, 43. “There’s no safe place in Somalia. People are being killed daily by terrorists. We can’t go there to die.”

But Nairobi insists it must protect Kenyans and that the presence of the refugee camps is one reason the Somali conflict has spilled over the borders into Kenya. Until the Myanmar repression campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority sent more than 600,000 people fleeing across the border into Bangladesh, the Kenyan complex was often listed as the largest refugee camp in the world.

“We must bring this to an end. Refugee camps are not permanent features. How can we continue shouldering the burden for three decades?” Mr. Matiang’i said.

Another official told the Nation, a leading Kenyan daily, “We can’t continue spending too much money thwarting terror attacks when we can resolve the problem by closing the camps.”

The destabilizing potential of closing the camps has also attracted the attention of the Biden administration. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Robert F. Godec told reporters last week that the U.S. was “very concerned” about reports of an abrupt closing of the camps and that he had spoken directly with Kenyan government officials about their plans.

“The Kenyans have committed to live up to their international commitments with respect to the refugees, and we welcome that commitment,” Mr. Godec said April 26. “We expect them to do it,” though he added that discussions were continuing.

The Kenyan government, citing economic and security reasons, also threatened to close the camps in 2016, but the nation’s high court ruled that the move was illegal and unconstitutional and blocked the plan.

On April 6, Kenya’s high court issued a 30-day stay suspending the closure.

Logistical challenge

It will be no easy logistical feat to close Dadaab, which has grown to be effectively Kenya’s third-largest city after Nairobi, the capital, and Mombasa.

The camp, which began as a temporary shelter for 90,000 refugees fleeing the Somali civil war, has grown into a complex of three distinct camps. Two others were closed in 2017 and 2018 after hundreds of thousands entered a voluntary repatriation program and returned to Somalia.

Camp residents have set up primary and secondary schools, hospitals, sprawling produce markets and soccer leagues. On the streets, women line up to sell plantains, fish, eggs, vegetables, tomatoes and onions. Others sell clothes, shoes and other merchandise at stalls. Butchers hang meat from goats and chickens under metal awnings.

Fawzia Mohamed, a teacher, in Dadaab, predicts it will prove impossible to close one of the largest camps in the world given the instability in Somalia.

“They will fail again,” she said. “No one is going to Somalia. People have businesses here, children are going to school and families continue to give birth daily. You can’t kill all those dreams in a single day.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Kenya will come up with a solution. “They want to see [a way] forward,” he said.

Bill Frelick, head of the refugee and migrant rights division for Human Rights Watch, wrote last month that U.N. refugee officials have “no quick fix to offer [Kenya] consistent with its protection mandate.”

But simply closing the camps will not solve the problem for the refugees or their host, he said.

“Of course, many refugees would like to go home, indeed anywhere but these remote camps, but declaring the problem solved and threatening to truck people to the border is not a solution; it’s a recipe for further dislocation and suffering,” Mr. Frelick wrote on the rights group’s website.

“Until the situation in Somalia stabilizes, Kenya needs to maintain asylum and consider allowing refugees at long last to integrate …,” he said. “Meanwhile, donor governments need to provide financial support and resettlement opportunities that can keep a glimmer of hope alive for those living in the camps.

But officials in Kenya are clearly losing patience and note that they also have concerns about residents’ relationships with al-Shabab, which has struck Kenya in spectacular fashion several times in the past decade.

In 2013, militants attacked the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi and killed 67 people. A year later, they attacked Mpeketoni and surrounding villages in the northern coastal region and killed more than 60. In perhaps the most horrific incident, terrorists in 2015 staged an attack on Kenya’s Garissa University and killed 148 people, primarily non-Muslims. The militants want to force Kenya to withdraw its soldiers from Somalia, where they are part of an African Union peacekeeping mission.

Analysts said the government is exaggerating the security concerns to have a reason to shut down the camps. The local economies benefit from having the refugees. Some say it is politics that is driving the closure bid.

The security danger is “no longer from Muslim extremists but rather [from] radicals and [criminals] who are out for hire,” said Gerald Majany, a professor of international relations and diplomacy at Presbyterian University of East Africa. “They change their outfits when the need arises. Otherwise, they are the shopkeeper, the lawyer, the doctor, etc. The closure of the camps is a knee-jerk [reaction] but not a way to deal with terrorism.”

He said the government closure order is more likely retaliation for Somalia’s insistence on pursuing a case at the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime border. The two countries’ relationship has deteriorated since Somalia cut off diplomatic relations last year with Kenya, citing what it said was interference in its internal affairs. Now, this move is because of politics, “not necessarily a security, peace and safety agenda,” he added.

For refugees, though, geopolitics don’t matter. Losing everything they have built over decades does.

“I would rather die here than be taken back to Somalia,” said Mr. Osman. “I promised myself never to set my foot in Somalia again.”

Pakistan recalls Riyadh envoy after expat laborers complain

Pakistan recalls Riyadh envoy after expat laborers complain

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Associated Press

Thursday, April 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Pakistan on Thursday recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia following complaints by expat Pakistani laborers working in the kingdom who said their embassy had mistreated them.

Ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz was ordered home pending an investigation into his work and that of six other employees of the Pakistani Embassy in Riyadh. Complaints against them had come from multiple expat laborers over recent months, said Syed Zulfikar Bukhari, an adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Bukhari did not detail the nature of the complaints except to say that the workers alleged the embassy staffers had mistreated them.

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Pakistan‘s foreign ministry said it “attaches high importance to the welfare of Pakistani nationals overseas” who represent one of the country’s “greatest assets.”

“There is zero tolerance for lapses in public service,” the ministry said.

Hours earlier, Khan told a gathering on government plans to introduce new incentives for expat laborers whose remittances are a huge boost to Pakistan‘s economy that he had ordered action against Ejaz. Khan did not elaborate and only said that in some cases, embassy staff had tried to extort money from laborers.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long enjoyed close and friendly relations. The kingdom is also the main supplier of oil to Pakistan.