COVID-19: Can I travel from India to Dubai if I have taken the Covishield vaccine? DHA clarifies
Dubai: If you are planning to travel to Dubai from India, will you be eligible to travel if you have received the Covishield vaccine? On June 19, the Dubai Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced new protocols for passengers travelling from India, South Africa and Nigeria. As per the protocol, passengers from India can enter Dubai if they fulfill the following requirements: • Only passengers with a valid residence visa, who have received two doses of a UAE-approved vaccine, are allowed to travel to Dubai. • Passengers must have received a negative test certificate from a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test taken 48 hours before departure. UAE nationals are exempted from this requirement. • Only QR-coded negative PCR test certificates are accepted. • Passengers are also required to undergo a rapid PCR test four hours prior to departure to Dubai. • They must also undergo another PCR test on arrival in Dubai. • Following their arrival, passengers from India need to undergo institutional quarantine until they receive their PCR test result, which is expected within 24 hours. UAE citizens and diplomats are exempted. Dubai Health Authority (DHA) took to its social media channels to respond to queries from people on the details of vaccinations that are approved in the UAE. A social media user asked DHA to clarify on the list of UAE-approved vaccine and whether any Indian administered vaccine was on the list. In response, DHA tweeted on June 20 at 2.09pm that Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sputnik were approved in the UAE. Another user asked: “Please clarify on the criteria for UAE-approved vaccines. As in India, we have the Covishield vaccine of Serum Institute in collaboration with AstraZeneca. Will this vaccine be considered as UAE-approved vaccine?” In response, DHA responded, tweeting on June 20 at 2.37pm: “Thank you for contacting us. Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Covishield are the same vaccine.”
UAE: How to strike a balance between saving too much and too little
Dubai: Many people struggle to save anything for retirement, so the idea of saving too much may seem absurd. However, there is a movement known as ‘Financial Independence, Retire Early’, or FIRE, that promotes saving enough to gain control over how you spend your days long before typical retirement age. Some FIRE bloggers retired in their 30s from well-paying jobs by dramatically cutting their expenses and saving 50 per cent or more of their incomes. Saving for a 20-year retirement is difficult enough. Planning for one that lasts 50 years or more often requires extreme frugality both before and after retirement, as FIRE adherents try to make their money last. also read ‘FIRE movement’: How viable is this extreme form of penny-pinching? Some people save prodigious amounts so they can retire early or because they're worried they won't have enough for a comfortable retirement. But aggressive saving can have significant and sometimes unexpected costs, which is why it's important to strike the right balance between saving for the future and living your life today. While saving too much might not seem like a bad thing, it can actually lower your quality of life during your working years and cause undue financial stress. Many people struggle to save anything for retirement, so the idea of saving too much may seem absurd. These are some of the reasons why you may be saving too much and how to strike the right balance. #1 reason you may be saving too much: Not personalising retirement planning One major reason matter experts give that you may be saving too much is that retirement planning has become too generalised. With the advent of online calculators and personal finance software, tech providers have built too many general assumptions into their technology. However, not all assumptions work for all people. Everyone has a different life situation that cannot be easily packaged into a smartphone app or represented by a few numbers that you enter into an online calculator. For example, it's unlikely that any automated program will be able to accurately predict how much of your pre-retirement income you will need, otherwise known as replacement rate, and what the return rates, inflation, and spending will be throughout your retirement years. #2 reason you may be saving too much: Overestimating your replacement rate Overestimating your replacement rate can cause you to save much more than you need for retirement. Simply put, the retirement income replacement rate is a percentage of the pre-retirement income you will need to maintain your standard of living in retirement. The perils of saving too much for retirement include causing unnecessary financial stress, such as struggling to pay your home loans or for one of life's unexpected and costly emergencies. A general rule that is often cited by researchers is to estimate that you will need 80 per cent of your current income to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in retirement. However, financial planners are of the opinion that replacement rates vary when a number of other factors are also considered, including different income levels and life expectancy. Several research has concluded that the actual range of replacement rates is between 54 per cent and 87 per cent. If you are planning for 80 per cent and really only need 55 per cent, you'll likely end up saving a sizable amount of money that you probably won't need. Where you live during retirement is one of the biggest costs you will face. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News #3 reason you may be saving too much: Incorrect housing cost forecasts Where you live during retirement is one of the biggest costs you will face. How you plan for and manage this aspect of your life will have a big impact on how much you need to save for retirement. Spending on housing in retirement is extremely difficult to estimate. Most retirees will spend most of their retirement in their own home. If you plan to stay in your home as long as possible, your costs will be lower than moving elsewhere. This is especially true if your mortgage is paid off. The cost of housing ranges from 30.7 per cent to 35.9 per cent of annual income, multiple global statistics show. Assuming your household earns Dh150,000 a year and spends 30 per cent of that annually on housing, you would reduce your costs by about Dh45,000 in retirement if your home loan is paid off. If you factor that in over 30 years in retirement, you'll need to save a lot less money than you had planned. So how do you know if you are saving too much or not enough? Taking these steps will help you save the right amount. #1 step to take to save the right amount: Figure out your retirement timeline The first step is to determine how far from retirement you are. If you are more than 10 years out, it's likely best to save a generic percentage. That's because the further away from retirement you are, the harder it is to get the numbers exactly right. Experts often recommend 10 per cent to 15 per cent. If you are within 10 years of quitting work for good, you can do some more detailed planning that will shape how much you need to save in the years just before you retire. Financial planners add that the easiest starting point is to assume the same standard of living in retirement as in one's working years. Chances are, most will not spend that much money since they will no longer have to save for retirement and also have certain costs like transportation go down significantly. UAE dirhams Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News #2 step to take to save the right amount: Don't use the standard replacement rate Don't just use the 80 per cent of income as a replacement rate. Calculate how much you spend now, subtract expenses that you will no longer have, and add in new expenses that will occur in retirement. For example, you may plan to relocate or, in the early years, travel more than you currently do. Once you have a realistic estimate of expenses, you can use that to figure out how much you need to save to be able to pay for them. #3 step to take to save the right amount: Plan for healthcare costs, tally retirement income Research and create plans for healthcare expenses. Since this is the biggest unknown in your budget, understanding your options will help you estimate the right amount to save. Research long-term care insurance and in-home care costs. Finally, tally up what you expect to receive from pensions, if you have one. The more you have from these resources, the less you will need to save in retirement accounts. Key takeaway Planning how much you need for retirement is not an easy task. There are many variables to consider. With a little extra time and effort, you can figure out the amount to save that's right for you. And keep in mind that if it turns out that you're saving too much, you could consider retiring sooner or using some of that money now instead. Make sure you're also saving enough for emergencies.
Travelling to India? Here are the state-wise COVID-19 rules to follow
Dubai: Travelling during COVID-19 is not easy. It involves keeping abreast of ever-changing rules, taking steps to protect oneself and the family from the coronavirus, and of course, ensuring that the bags are packed. With the holiday season just a week away, here’s a look at the rules you should be aware of if you were flying to the major cities / states in India. As always, checking with the airline or the travel agent for the latest regulations before flying will help avoid last minute surprises. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager While there are some rules that are specific to certain states, there are a few criteria that are common. According to the Guidelines for International Arrivals by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all travellers should: (i) Submit self-declaration form on the online Air Suvidha portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) before the scheduled travel Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager (ii) Upload a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report, with the test conducted within 72 hours before the journey. (iii) Submit a declaration staying authenticity of the report (iv) Give an undertaking that they will abide by the decision of the appropriate government to undergo home quarantine/ self-monitoring of their health for 14 days, or as warranted. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Arrival in India without negative report is allowed only for those travelling in the emergency case of death in the family. Those seeking such exemptions, should apply to the online portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) at least 72 hours before boarding. The decision taken by the government as communicated on the online portal will be final. Air Suvidha portal All passengers travelling on international flights to India need to submit a health declaration form and a negative report of the RT-PCR test on the Air Suvidha portal (www.newdelhiairport.in). Air Suvidha is a contactless solution by Ministry of Civil Aviation and Delhi Airport for all international passengers coming to India. It is a Self Declaration and Exemption Form Portal for International arriving passengers. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Passengers with approved exemption requests on Air Suvidha are exempted from institutional quarantine. In case of rejection, the passenger will have to undergo institutional quarantine as per the state government guidelines at the first airport of entry. Aarogya Setu app All passengers are advised to download Aarogya Setu app on their mobile devices. Aarogya Setu uses contact tracing to record details of all the people you may have come in contact with. If any one of them, at a later point in time, tests positive for COVID-19, you are immediately informed and medical intervention is arranged for you. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager During travel to India While on board the flight, required precautions such as wearing of masks, environmental hygiene, respiratory hygiene and hand hygiene are to be observed by all passengers. Measures like social distancing are to be ensured at all times. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager On arrival in India Thermal screening will be carried out by health officials present at the airport. The self-declaration form filled online should be shown to the airport health staff. The passengers found to be symptomatic during screening shall be immediately isolated and taken to medical facility as per health protocol.
Does yoga really help heal your body and mind?
June 21 is International Yoga Day. A day when the world celebrates a fitness form that has captured the imagination of people. Yoga, which originated in India, now has numerous variations and styles with large followings. Women clad in bright leotards and men in sports gear sweat out in fitness studios forking out large amounts in fees. Yoga, they say, helps them keep in shape. Some say the postures help them shed weight. Some say it has helped them achieve mental peace. What’s clear from all these is that yoga has taken the world by storm. Yoga practised today is a far cry from the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, which dates back to 250 BCE and is one of the six orthodox philosophies of Hinduism (Nyaya, Sankhya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta are the others). Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (one of the earliest proponents of yoga) travelled around India to popularise yoga, his disciple B.K.S. Iyenger was instrumental in bringing it to the West. Paramahansa Yogananda, Bikram Chowdhury and other yoga gurus too endeared to Americans as yoga travelled the world as a fitness form. Celebrities, who grappled with fame and fortune, found yoga as a route to relieve stress. K Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga attracted Madonna, Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow, while Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s transcendental meditation found a following in Beatles. Yoga studios today are found in almost every city. The practitioners are called yogis these days, although yogis of old are required to have reached a higher level of consciousness. That tells us yoga now is a fitness routine. It has shed its spiritual trappings along the way. UAE-based yoga practitioners narrate their experiences: Meet the India gurus who popularised yoga Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, one of the earliest proponents, travelled around India popularising yoga. Image Credit: Centre for Yoga studies B.K.S. Iyenger, who developed Iyengar yoga, played a major role in introducing yoga to the West. Image Credit: Wikipedia Yoga helped shed 25kg and calm me: Tweenypher Maddela-Hilotin After I delivered our third child in 2013 in Dubai, I started putting on the pounds. Our lifestyle and my job (which I rejoined 45 days after delivering our baby Toff) pushed me to take comfort in food. This was when panic attacks/anxiety disorder started to creep in. Juggling motherhood and shifting work hours made life doubly exhausting. Spending time with my new baby became a luxury. After a long, stressful day at work, followed by a full house with children running around, attending to their school needs, and leaving a mess in their path, it took a toll on my physical and emotional state. Moreover, the lack of sleep made my days miserable. Back in 2016, I was desperate for a solution to my weight problem. I was tipping the scales at more than 86kg. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the energy to go back to my pre-pregnancy weight of 56kg. What did I do? First, I quit my job of nine years. We decided living is not about money or the Facebook definition of “good life” alone. Then, I started yoga and chose healthier food, which meant devotion to vegetables — raw bitter gourd (karela), okra (soaked overnight), moringa, sweet potato leaves (tops), apple cider vinegar alternately with lemon juice, brown rice, fish, hot water all the time— and less red meat. As for yoga, I did a starter’s regimen. YouTube tutorials were helpful. By this time, I had to fight back exhaustion, perhaps the effect of popping panic attack pills. First, I did stretching — simple head, neck and shoulder, limb exercises — during the daily one-hour sessions. Keeping at it is no walk in the park. It became easier in the following week. Then, I chunked up my yoga sessions to 30 minutes thrice a day — midday, mid-afternoon and early evening. I did a few minutes of boxing with my two older sons and 30-minute walks in the mornings, too. My day wouldn’t feel right if I skipped these. Then I did a bit of advanced yoga. Was it physically taxing? It didn’t feel that way, as it was the only suitable regimen, given my condition. Did it work? It sure did. After nine months, I shed up to 25kg, though weight loss was not the end in itself. One payoff was boosting my health and self-image. Life is never easy. Nothing is. But when mind and body cooperate, a feeling of well-being is immeasurable. — As told to Jay Hilton, Senior Assistant Editor How yoga messed up my back: Akhil Hassan I’ve had intermittent back problems for most of my life; losing weight and staying fit had fended off much pain over the years, and so when I started to notice a growing tummy, I decided to do something about it. I have a sciatica problem; this involves a nerve ache that can extend all the way from the lower back down the buttocks and all the way into the base of the foot. Sometimes, I find I walk lopsided. After seeing my family members benefiting from some demanding yoga classes a few years ago, I decided to take part in it too, after, of course, reiterating over — and over — that the issue exists. For a while, the bending and pushing helped. The stretches eased the pain and untied the knots; sleeping became easier, balance became easier. Then came that fateful day. I was bending, trying to get my arms to reach my toes, and my yoga teacher pushed, pushed, pushed. Crunch. The sound was muffled only by my cry of pain, and I lay down, unable to move. That week I limped and sat gingerly on cushions, tears stinging my eyes. Each sneeze and cough stabbed at my back, and even sleep couldn’t dull the sensation. The hurt would ebb and wane and rush back in inopportune moments. The pain became unbearable. Months of physiotherapy later, I found out that I actually had a slipped disc. Yoga may work wonders for some — but know your limits and make sure the instructor too knows it, for there is no going back. — As told to Karishma H. Nandkeolyar, Assistant Online Editor Yoga helped me survive the toughest phase of my life: Zahi Saba Ayon Zahi Saba Ayon I am a Lebanese musician and fitness trainer who has been living in Dubai since 2013. My childhood was very peaceful, but when I turned 16, I started questioning my existence, purpose in life, my studies, my duties, and my friendships. I began thinking about all those duties that were imposed on me. Those questions and concerns created a storm in my head. And I resorted to taking painkillers and put myself in harm’s way. During this dark phase, one of my friends — who manages an NGO in Lebanon and conducts camps on theatre, music, drama, breathing, and yoga — nudged me to try one of his camps. I picked music therapy as it was my passion. I had a conversation with the breathing mentor Philippe Guadrat who allowed me to participate even though his class was full. That was the beginning of change. Gaudrat represented an organisation called The Art of Living, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who created a breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya’ When I tried it, something deep inside was stirred. The storm inside me began to settle, and there was less internal resistance. My body automatically began to reject all that the stuff which I used to take daily. Doing yoga was like cleansing myself from all that toxins. I learned how to breathe. After fighting off the addiction I had at the time, I started teaching this breathing technique, in addition to yoga and meditation, which had an enormous effect on my body and mind. I also visited rehabilitation centres in Lebanon, met kids who reminded me of my depression, helped them breathe and let go of the negative emotions and internal conflicts. Those encounters reminded me that small things that we do in our daily lives might contribute to someone’s happiness and peace of mind. Yoga helped me survive the toughest phase of my life. — As told to Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Assistant Editor – Features Yoga taught me how to be happy: Gokul Ram Gokul Ram A yogi once said that yoga is a light that will never dim once it is lit. And I have experienced it. From the day I was introduced to yoga, I have experienced several changes within me. Apart from transforming my body to a new level of fitness, I became stronger emotionally and mentally. At first, I was hesitant to practise yoga, as it was considered slow and not so exciting. But the moment I began to practise in earnest, I realised that all the moves were unlike any other physical exercise I was familiar with. I started losing inches, and I became more flexible through all those complex yoga postures. Yoga doesn’t just make your body fit but also rejuvenates your organs and internal systems. My hormones became balanced, and I felt a deep sense of happiness. Yoga taught me how to be happy, and now I run yoga classes in my centre (Trance Yoga, Dubai) to remind everyone in the UAE about the greatness of yoga. — As told to Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Assistant Editor – Features What’s yoga? It’s an exercise form that uses body postures, breath control and meditation to improve health and relaxation. The author of the classical yoga text, Sage Patanjali, defined yoga as “the stilling of the movement of thought in the mind” to “know the true self”. Unlike other forms of exercise, which work only physically, yoga is also a mental and spiritual practice. At least that was how it used to be. But, unfortunately, some of those values were eroded in the push for popularity. Yoga means union — a union between mind, body and spirit. The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning “to yoke,” or “to unite”. What are the origins? Although there are no records on the origins of yoga, the practice is believed to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions in the Indus valley civilisation around 3000 BCE. There are references to yoga in the Hindu scriptures of Rigveda and the Upanishads. Sage Patanjali codified yoga around 250 BCE, but it took 18 more centuries to reach the West. What are the different styles of yoga? Yoga has transformed into different forms. Each guru or instructor has brought new insights into the classical form, and their interpretations have given rise to newer styles. After yoga went global, more styles proliferated to suit the growing legion of practitioners. Some of the mainstream yoga styles are: Kundalini yoga: The style stresses the spiritual and physical aspects. Its essence is about releasing the kundalini energy in your body, which is said to reside in the lower spine. Iyengar yoga: Developed by BKS Iyengar, it focuses on precise movements and postures, besides breathing control. Ashtanga yoga: Pattabhi Jois popularised this vigorous style similar to Iyengar yoga but different in approach. Each pose is held for only five breaths and could be followed by a half sun salutation. Vinyasa yoga: It mainly stems from Ashtanga yoga but also includes other styles of yoga. Here the flowing style links breath to movement. Hatha yoga: This gentle form lacks the flow of Vinyasa and skips several yoga traditions. It stresses postures and eliminates chants. Bikram yoga: Named after Bikram Choudhury, the postures are practised in a sauna-like room. Jivamukti yoga: Founded in 1984, it infuses the Vinyasa style with Hindu spiritual teachings. Most followers are vegetarians. Anusara yoga: A more modern form, it has echoes of Iyengar, Hatha yoga, and Vinyasa styles. What’s the difference between yoga and workout? In pure terms, yoga is not a workout. It’s not a part of a weight-loss regime either. Yoga employs a series of postures to relax muscles and improve flexibility. It involves slow movements and synchronised breathing that will positively affect organs, muscles, and nerves. A workout or regular exercise involves repetitive movements to tone or build muscles. Unlike yoga which is relaxed, a workout pushes up the oxygen requirements and calorie requirements. What are the benefits of yoga? The reported benefits of yoga include lower blood pressure, increased strength and bone density and reduced anxiety. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, yoga improves strength, balance and flexibility. It can ease the effects of arthritis, besides reducing stress levels that would benefit the heart. Yoga can also help practitioners sleep better, improve energy level and brighten moods. Can I start doing yoga? Anyone can start doing yoga, irrespective of age. You can go to a yoga studio or do it at home. If you do yoga at home, take care to get the postures right because a wrong move could lead to injury or sprains. So, it’s advisable to learn the basics with the help of an instructor. There are many YouTube videos and websites that help you learn yoga. If you prefer to go that route, take care and go slowly. Stop at the first sign of pain. Attempt only simple postures before you gain expertise and experience. Do I need to consult a doctor before starting yoga? Yes, you need to consult a doctor if you have any ailments. People who have a history of heart problems and back pain should certainly seek medical advice before starting yoga. If you have any medical issues, it’s always best to start yoga with the help of a qualified or experienced instructor. Be sure to inform the instructors of your specific health problems.
COVID-19 vaccine expert in UAE explains efficacy of Sinopharm jab, booster dose
Health|: Dubai: During the peak of the pandemic, G42 Healthcare, a home-grown, Abu Dhabi-based company, facilitated the 4Humanity project that involved the world’s first ever Phase III clinical trials of a deactivated vaccine against COVID-19 - Sinopharm. Over 43,000 volunteers participated in the pan-Arab Phase III trial from over 125 nationalities. This actually set the stage for the rollout of the vaccine in the community. The World Health Organisation (WHO) granted it approval for emergency use last month. As the Arab Health Congress 2021 begins, Gulf News spoke to Dr Walid Zaher, Chief Research Officer and Vaccine Project Leader at G42, to gain an insight into his experience of managing the historic Phase III clinical trials of Sinopharm. Prior to joining G42, Dr Zaher was Corporate Group Clinical Research and Innovation Director at the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha). Besides showcasing the logistics involved in 4Humanity Phase III clinical trial of Sinopharm, Dr Zaher spoke on a range of new projects: Gulf News: Could you share the role G42 played in Phase III Sinopharm vaccine trials? Dr Walid Zaher: The UAE was quick to take the lead in the global fight against COVID-19 and G42 Healthcare has been at the forefront of this battle, focused on finding the right solutions. To support the UAE government, G42 stepped up to facilitate Phase III clinical trials to validate the efficacy of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine amongst the UAE population. The purpose of a Phase III clinical trial was to continue to monitor toxicity, immunogenicity and other factors such as efficacy and safety, amongst a minimum of 15,000 volunteers. G42 leveraged its network and robust medical due diligence and partnered with China’s largest biopharmaceutical company, Sinopharm, to provide access to the inactive vaccines for the Phase III clinical trial in UAE. When were the Phase III trials initiated? How do you think its success panned out for the UAE? The 4Humanity clinical trials started in July 2020 and ran for eight months. It was the world’s first Phase III pan-Arab trials for an inactivated vaccine with over 43,000 volunteers from more than 125 nationalities, supported by UAE’s healthcare authorities. This initiative achieved the highest ethnic diversity amongst other vaccine trials around the world. The clinical trial project was operated by health practitioners from Seha who were provided facilities at ﬁve of their sites in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. In addition, a mobile clinic was also provided, to ensure the trials were readily accessible to volunteers participating in the programme. The success of the trials led authorities to grant Emergency Use Authorisation of the vaccine in UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan, with the subsequent rollout of the national vaccination programme. On May 7, 2021, WHO listed the Sinopharm’s BBiBP COVID-19 inactivated vaccine for emergency use, following a thorough review, giving the green light for this vaccine to be rolled out globally. How was vaccine efficacy computed from the controlled phase III trials? The randomised, double-blinded clinical Phase III trials were conducted among adults, 18 years and older, to evaluate the efficacy and adverse events of the inactivated COVID-19 vaccines. Two intramuscular injections were administered to the participants, 21 days apart. In this Phase III randomised trial in adults, the Sinopharm’s BBiBP whole-virus inactivated vaccine showed efficacy of 78.1 per cent against symptomatic COVID-19 cases. The vaccine had mild and minimal side effects. It was also found to induce neutralising antibodies, like the results in Phase I and II trials. The study concludes that treatment of adults with the inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine significantly reduced the risk of symptomatic COVID-19, with mild and minimal side effects. The results of the Phase III trials have now been peer reviewed and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals. Is there a plan to tweak the current vaccine to be able to manage new variants? The emerging variant strains were not common in the Middle Eastern countries at the time of the Phase III trials. We are conducting more studies to investigate the neutralising capacity as well as the efficacy of the Sinopharm inactivated vaccines against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants with increased transmission. Is your organisation planning any further clinical trials? Trials are on to test the efficacy of the vaccine for children aged between three and 17 years. The trials will monitor the immune response of 900 children in preparation to vaccinate children in the near future. Can you tell us a bit about the Sinopharm booster dose? The UAE health authorities have introduced the Sinopharm booster shot for those who have been vaccinated for over six months. Residents will be assessed to ensure that they meet the criteria through pre-appointment services. The priority, as always, remains for the elderly and those with comorbidities. Countries around the world are conducting ongoing research to study the benefits of the booster dose. We have observed in a select group of people that the booster shot does amplify antibody response even above the levels of the prime dosage – after six to eight months of the initial two doses. How do you see the role of G42 growing in the vaccination field especially since it has played such a crucial role in roll-out of Sinopharm? G42 Healthcare collaborated with Sinopharm to support the UAE with immediate, effective and easy access to the vaccine. This is in line with our continuous support for UAE’s rigorous approach to managing the pandemic, including mass screening, testing and completion of Phase III clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine. Our organisation is steering the strategy to establish the UAE as a regional powerhouse in bio-pharma research, manufacturing and distribution, in collaboration with regulators, investors and international partners. In line with UAE’s vision to achieve self-sufficiency in essential medicines and therapeutics, an industry consortium has been formed to lead the development of the life-sciences sector in Abu Dhabi. G42 is driving multiple initiatives in this space, to ensure that an excellent bio-pharmaceutical sector is established in Abu Dhabi within the next three years that will also serve as a regional supply hub for the entire MENA region over the next five years. We have been leading strategy development and policy recommendations for the planned life-sciences hub in Abu Dhabi across multiple tracks, including: Overall policy recommendations (investment, legal, intellectual property and governance) Regulatory requirements Pharmaceutical manufacturing Technology and infrastructure Skilled workforce and talent requirements What are your other initiatives? Among our other initiatives, we would like to talk about the Emirati Genome Programme and our efforts at analysing wastewater samples to issue early warnings to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The Emirati Genome Programme [EGP] is the world’s first dedicated programme. The initiative has been approved at federal level with the formation of UAE Genomics Council on June 15, 2021. The world’s first de novo Emirati reference genome was created in December 2020 with the intention of transforming the UAE healthcare to preventive systems. The EGP has already referenced the Emirati genome based on DNA samples from 1,000 UAE nationals using cutting edge next and third generation sequencing with artificial intelligence, and now extending the study to the wider Emirati population making EGP the most ambitious genomic program worldwide. The EGP calls upon all UAE citizens to participate in the largest genomic study of its kind. By mapping the genetic code of as many UAE citizens as possible, this program will enhance the prediction, prevention, and treatment of disease among both present and future generations, while paving the way for further medical research benefiting the nation and humankind. The EGP will aid the prevention of genetic and chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and asthma, as well as the development of personalized treatments according to genetic factors. Like other genomic research studies, the goal of the EGP is ultimately to realize the impact of preventative, precision-based and personalized healthcare. All generations of Emiratis, today and in the future, will benefit from the research being undertaken by the EGP. The success of the programme depends on community as well as individual action. The EGP is advancing healthcare solutions designed by and for the Emirati community, irrespective of a person’s age, income, or gender. Meeting the most rigorous scientific standards, the EGP is emblematic of the UAE’s rapid technological advancement and the steadfast determination of its leadership to make the country the best in the world over the course of the next 50 years. You have also initiated a wastewater laboratory in Abu Dhabi, could you elaborate on that? G42 Healthcare, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy (DoE) has announced the launch of construction of a Wastewater Monitoring Laboratory in Abu Dhabi. The laboratory will analyse wastewater samples and issue early warnings to prevent the spread of infectious diseases or harmful substances, as well as curb any adverse effects on the environment. The laboratory is set to be completed in 12 months by the middle of 2022. Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health and the Environment Agency, among other entities, will be main beneficiaries as the facility. The laboratory will be capable of testing for chemical, physical, and biological hazards, including infectious diseases (viruses/bacteria), parasites, pathogenic yeast and fungi, pharmaceutical compounds, and other lifestyle-related items – all with automated sampling and Artificial-Intelligence-powered data analysis. The state-of-the-art wastewater analysis laboratory will be the first-of-its-kind in the MENA region, positioning Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a pioneer in this space and establishing a benchmark for future projects. Leveraging cutting-edge technologies to analyse wastewater samples for infectious agents and harmful chemicals, application of Artificial Intelligence in this lab will enable an early warning system that will determine with high accuracy the origin of the outbreak or pollutant behaviour, detect the virus in locations with limited monitoring, and track the spread of a disease during an infectious outbreak. The facility will focus its efforts on harmful contaminants, such as radionuclides, bio-toxins, pathogens, biological hazards, and high concentrations of industrial chemicals or illegal discharge.
Abu Dhabi fines health care facility for altering price of COVID-19 PCR test
UAE|: Abu Dhabi: The Department of Health — Abu Dhabi (DoH) has fined a health care facility in the emirate for changing the price of a COVID-19 PCR test, which has been fixed at Dh65 for a single run. The Dh65 price in the emirate includes collection and testing of the sample, according to circular No 35 of 2021, the health care regulator announced on a tweet on Monday. “The DoH accordingly called on all health care facilities to adhere to the fixed prices of the COVID-19 OCR test, and warns those who impose any additional fees or [offer] discounts on the test,” the authority added. Who bears cost The DoH further explained that the cost of the PCR test must be borne by individuals who are asymptomatic when requesting the test. The cost of the test is covered under government-funded programmes for other people who present with symptoms, it added. Seha alert Last week, the emirate’s public health provider, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) confirmed that the price of the COVID-19 PCR test had not changed across its facilities. It further urged residents to rely on official channels for their information, stressing that any changes in the price of the PCR test would be officially announced.
What Raisi’s election in Iran means for Middle East
Mena|: Damascus: There was little surprise in the election Ebrahim Raisi as the new president of Iran. Raisi is a hardline cleric, judge, and now the eighth President of the Islamic Republic. Iran-watchers were almost certain he would win, given the support he received from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many wondered, however, what his election would mean for the plethora of Iran-related issues open across the region and on the world stage. Some believe that being a hardliner, he will be reluctant to offer any compromise. Others claim, however, that he has no say on foreign policy, and that domain will continue to be handled exclusively by Ayatollah Khamenei. Nuclear talks High on the list of pending issues are the nuclear talks underway in Vienna, aimed at returning to the 2015 nuclear deal from which former US President Donald Trump famously withdrew in 2018. That withdrawal only further radicalised Iran, however, and contributed to the muzzling of reformists throughout the country. It also seems to have had a direct effect on the election of Raisi as president this week. The sixth round of talks took place on Sunday, attended by Russia, China, Germany, France, the UK, and Iran. EU Coordinator Enrique Mora spoke to reporters saying: “We are close to a deal, but we are not still there.” Diplomatic sources said that another round will be held within the next 10 days, and an agreement could be finalised by mid-to-late July. The crux of the Vienna talks are sanctions, timetables, and what to do with the knowledge that Iran acquired during the months in which the nuclear talk were suspended (including its enrichment of uranium to 60 per cent purity). Raisi says he supports returning to deal, only if US sanctions are fully lifted, both those on the Iranian state and on government officials (himself included, since he was sanctioned by the US in 2019). During the sixth round of talks took place on Sunday, attended by Russia, China, Germany, France, the UK, and Iran. EU Coordinator Enrique Mora spoke to reporters saying: “We are close to a deal, but we are not still there.” Image Credit: Reuters The Biden Administration is saying that sanctions on the IRGC will stand, however, since they are related to terrorism and not to nuclear non-proliferation, claiming that they predate the 2015 nuclear deal. The President-elect is saying that sanctions on the Supreme Leader have to be removed, since they were imposed by the US in 2019. Otherwise, there will be no deal. He is also seeking guarantees that the US will not walk out on the deal, like it did in 2015. For its part, the Biden Administration remains worried about what Iran will do with the knowledge, and technology, it acquired from 2015 to 2021. “Raisi’s election will not affect the nuclear negotiations” said Elijah Magnier, a veteran Iran commentator. Speaking to Gulf News, he explained that the benchmark for those talks had been previously set by Khamenei, and Raisi will not concede “an inch on what had been decided upon by the Supreme Leader.” Many believe Raisi has been chosen by 81-year-old Khamenei to replace him as Supreme Leader one day. Khamenei’s health is one of the most tightly guarded secrets in Iran, however, and so is the name of who will succeed him. Many have erroneously predicted his demise, although he has outlived men who are younger and healthier than him. Raisi's views on nuclear issue Although having supported the deal in 2015, Raisi came out with criticism during his 2017 presidential bid, saying that he wanted to expand Iran’s nuclear programme. Raisi the president will be different from Raisi the candidate, however. The president of Iran has no say on whether the deal is restored or aborted, since this is fully in the hands of the Supreme Leader. In this regard, many believe that he will simply sign off legislation and approve higher state policy dictated by Khamenei. The bottom line, says Magnier, is: “Lift all sanctions, or no deal.” Syria At a regional level, Raisi’s election means continued Iranian support for non-state players across the region, like Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Occupied Territories, Al Houthis in Yemen, the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) in Iraq, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Biden Administration wants a follow-up to the nuclear agreement, when/if it is signed, or an annex related to Tehran’s missile programme and regional ambitions, leading to the clipping of these military groups and reducing their influence in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Gaza. Bashar Al Assad with the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran is Syria's strongest ally in the region. Image Credit: AP Raisi’s victory is a “gift to President Bashar Al Assad,” said Ebrahim Hamidi, senior diplomatic editor at the Saudi daily Alsharq Alawsat. “With Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, whether as president or Supreme Leader, this will only empower the Syrian-Russian-Iranian axis,” added Hamidi. “Undoubtedly there will be a clause in the nuclear agreement related to Iran’s military presence in Syria. We are yet to see how that will play out with Raisi as president although a decision of such magnitude — Iranian presence in Syria — is handled by the Supreme Leader.” Iran was believed to be behind the drone attack on Saudi oil facilities at Aramco in September 2019. Image Credit: AFP Yemen If a deal is struck and Raisi is forced to offer something in Yemen, the Houthis will be asked — or forced — to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement with President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, with threats of ending military support if they do not. Yemen was never a priority for Iran, as many wrote and said since 2015. It was far more important for Saudi Arabia, which sees it as its own backyard. Raisi knows that only too well. Saudi-Iranian talks, which began via Iraqi mediation last May, can greatly reduce tension in Yemen. Raisi is yet to comment on this matter, although he will likely support this track, which is being led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). A missile fired by Al Houthis in Yemen. Iran has been the chief arms supplier to the militia in Yemen. Image Credit: YouTube screengrab What makes these talks all the more important is that they were initiated by the regional powers themselves and not imposed on them by any outside party, whether it’s the Russians, Americans, or the United Nations. That gives them a far greater chance of success, since they are borne out of necessity and pragmatism. Raisi will have to swallow his pride and turn a page with Saudi Arabia, if not now then in the not-too-distant future. The fact that he is a hardliner with a history of stern positions on Saudi Arabia is actually a plus not a minus. He already has his credentials pinned on his uniform and attached to his CV. He has nothing to prove and will not be accused of being too weak or conciliatory towards the Saudis. It’s always been easier for hardliners to make tough decisions, especially those with a long history of no-compromise that shelters them from criticism. The Iranians only used the Houthis to advance their leverage over Saudi Arabia in other countries like Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. In exchange for abandoning Yemen, Raisi would expect reward elsewhere, like a power-sharing formula in Lebanon, similar to the one of the 1990s, where his country co-shared influence in the tiny Mediterranean state with Saudi Arabia and Syria. Lebanon Meanwhile in Lebanon “Hezbollah is ecstatic about Raisi’s victory,” said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB). This enthusiasm, he said to Gulf News, “will put it on an inevitable collision course with Israel, whose next war will not be with Hamas, but with Hezbollah. The only thing that can keep Israel’s new shaky coalition together is war, and Raisi’s election will expedite its inception.” There is little appetite for war in Lebanon, however, as the country slips into economic meltdown and a cabinet formation crisis that has dragged on since October 2019. That can change, however, if Israel were to provoke one or, according to Khashan “should Raisi order Hezbollah to respond to an Israeli attack on Iran.” Hezbollah is a heavily armed and highly trained group in Lebanon that is wholeheartedly backed by Iran in every sphere. Image Credit: AP The counterargument A war with Israel, nudged by Raisi, runs the high risk of tearing the country apart, although it would certainly solidify Hezbollah ranks and increase its support within the Shiite community. Beyond that, it would be a nightmare for Hezbollah. Not many agree with that argument, like Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Programme at the Middle East Institute. Speaking to Gulf News, he explained: “Raisi has nothing to offer in terms of regional policies. This is not his field. His entire 42-year career in the Islamic Republic has been in the judicial branch. He is much more experienced in dealing with sentencing and imprisoning and in some cases ordering the execution of local political prisoners. He has not much to offer in shaping Tehran’s regional policy, at least, not in the short term. He will simply support the vision of Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards.” Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes the same, saying: “Although the malaise of the modern Middle East has many fathers, as long as Iran, one of the region’s largest and wealthiest nations, is ruled by a theocracy that actively uses its sizable energy revenue to fund and train armed militias that espouse its intolerant revolutionary ideology, a more stable, tolerant, prosperous region will remain a distant dream.”