As Somalia's Covid-19 cases surge, a variant is suspected
A resurgence of Covid-19 cases is hitting Somalia hard, straining one of the world's most fragile health systems, while officials await test results to show whether a more infectious variant of the coronavirus is spreading.
Hong Kong and South Korea begin vaccination drives
Hong Kong and South Korea kicked off coronavirus vaccination drives on Friday, as momentum builds for inoculation rollouts across the Asia-Pacific region. South Korea plans to inoculate 70 percent of its population within seven months while Hong Kong aims to vaccinate all adults by the end of the year.
I left Britain to escape toxic press, says Prince Harry
Europe|: London: Britain’s Prince Harry has said he stepped back from his royal duties because the “toxic” British press had been destroying his mental health, adding he had not walked away from public service. Last week, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and his American wife Meghan had made a final split with the royal family, and would not be returning as working members and would lose their patronages. Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, sent shockwaves through the monarchy in January 2020 when they announced their intention to step back from royal duties and embark on a new life across the Atlantic. “It was never walking away. It was stepping back rather than stepping down, there was a really difficult environment as I think a lot of people saw,” Harry said in an interview with James Corden, host of the “Late Late Show” in the United States. British tabloids “We all know what the British press could be like, and it was destroying my mental health, I was like this is toxic. So I did what any husband and what any father would do is like, I need to get my family out of here.” Before they moved to California, the couple had complained about the British tabloids’ treatment of Meghan, whose father is white and mother is African-American, some of which they said amounted to bullying or racism. Earlier this month, Meghan successfully sued one tabloid for breaching her privacy by printing extracts of a letter she wrote to her father while last month Harry won a libel case against the same paper over a story which said he had turned his back on the military. Critics of the couple, who announced this month they were expecting their second child, have said they are keen for publicity but only on their own terms. An in-depth interview they have given to U.S. chat show host Oprah Winfrey is due to be aired on March 7. There was also disapproval of Harry and Meghan’s response to last week’s split when they said they were committed to a life of service. Some commentators contrasted their life with the duty shown by the 94-year-old queen during her 69-year reign. “And as far as I’m concerned whatever decisions are made on that side, I will never walk away,” said Harry, who commentators have said was unhappy with losing his treasured royal patronages, particularly those connected to the military in which he served for 10 years. Public service “But my life is public service so wherever I am in the world it’s going to be the same thing.” During his interview, carried out on a tour of Los Angeles, Harry told Corden that Netflix’s hit series “The Crown”, a fictional account of the life of the queen and her family, was “loosely based on the truth”. “It gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, what can come from that,” he said. “I’m way more comfortable with the Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family or my wife, or myself, because ... that is obviously fiction, take it how you will, but this is being reported on as facts because you’re supposedly news.” Harry also revealed his one-year-old son Archie’s first word was “crocodile” and said the queen had sent him a waffle maker as a Christmas present.
Russian diplomats arrive from North Korea on rail trolley due to COVID-19 curbs
Europe|Asia|: Seoul: Eight Russian diplomats and family members - the youngest of them a three-year-old girl - have arrived home from North Korea on a hand-pushed rail trolley due to Pyongyang’s coronavirus restrictions. Video posted on Russia’s foreign ministry’s verified Telegram account showed the trolley, laden with suitcases and women, being pushed across a border railway bridge by Third Secretary Vladislav Sorokin, the only man in the group. They waved and cheered as they approached their homeland, the culmination of an expedition that began with a 32-hour train trip from Pyongyang, followed by a two-hour bus ride to the border. “It took a long and difficult journey to get home,” the ministry said in the post late Thursday, speaking of the final stretch. “To do this, you need to make a trolley in advance, put it on the rails, place things on it, seat the children - and go,” it said. “Finally, the most important part of the route - walking on foot to the Russian side.” Sorokin was “the main ‘engine’ of the non-self-propelled railcar”, it said, and had to push it for more than a kilometre. Once on Russian territory, they were met by foreign ministry colleagues and were taken by bus to Vladivostok airport. “Don’t leave your own behind”, the ministry added as a hashtag. North Korea imposed a strict border shutdown in January last year to try to protect itself from the coronavirus that first emerged in neighbouring China and has gone on to sweep the world. The shutdown has cancelled all flights in or out of the nuclear-armed, sanctions-hit country, and cross-border trains. ‘Rigorous and demanding work’ With staff and supplies unable to enter, the restrictions have severely hampered the activities of diplomats and aid workers, and several Western embassies have pulled out their entire staff. But Russia has close relations with the North and maintains a significant diplomatic presence. On Friday, the Kremlin said the journey out of North Korea demonstrated that diplomatic service is no walk in the park. “It seems very pleasant and elegant but in reality this is very complex, rigorous and demanding work,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, himself a trained diplomat, told reporters. “Things like this can happen too,” he added. Stalin’s Soviet Union played a key role in the North’s foundation after it and the US decided to split the peninsula into two zones either side of the 38th parallel following the World War II surrender of Korea’s colonial overlord Japan. Moscow still has a grand embassy in a prime spot in central Pyongyang, close to the North Korean leadership compound. In South Korea, people online reacted gleefully to reports of how the diplomats departed. “I am glad I was not born in North Korea,” one posted on South Korea’s biggest internet portal Naver. Another joked: “Please return your cart to where you found it.”
UK Supreme Court rejects Daesh bride’s legal bid to return
Europe|: London: Britain’s highest court on Friday rejected a bid by a woman who was stripped of her UK citizenship for joining the Daesh (Islamic State) group to return to challenge the decision. Five judges at the Supreme Court gave a unanimous decision in the case of Shamima Begum, whose legal battles have come to be seen as a test of how countries treat nationals who joined the militants. “Ms Begum’s appeal against the leave to enter decision is dismissed,” the head of the Supreme Court, judge Robert Reed, said in a written judgment. The judges said the right to a fair hearing did not override other considerations such as the safety of the public. “The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation appeal to be stayed until Ms Begum is in a position to play an effective part in it without the safety of the public being compromised,” they added. “That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.” Now 21, Begum left her home in east London at the age of 15 to travel to Syria with two school friends, and married a Daesh fighter. In 2019 she told The Times newspaper that she did not regret travelling to Syria and had not been “fazed” by seeing a severed head dumped in a bin. Britain revoked her citizenship in 2019 on national security grounds amid an outcry led by right-wing newspapers. Polarising case Begum is being held in a camp in poor conditions, while her husband is reportedly in jail in Syria, and her three children have died. She appealed to be allowed back into the UK so that she can legally challenge her loss of citizenship. She argued that the decision was unlawful as it has made her stateless and exposed her to the risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment. Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage but the country’s foreign minister has said he will not consider granting her citizenship. The Court of Appeal ruled in July last year that Begum needed to come back to mount a fair and effective appeal. But the interior ministry in turn appealed against this decision, insisting she remained “aligned” with the proscribed terrorist organisation. A government lawyer told the Supreme Court in November her return would create “an increased risk of terrorism”. Her legal team argued that this did not override the need for a fair hearing. Rights groups have argued human rights principles are at stake and Begum should answer for any crimes in her home country. The tabloid newspaper The Sun has called her a “vile fanatic” who has “no place on our soil”. Begum claims she married a Dutch convert soon after arriving in Daesh-held territory. She was discovered, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019. Her newborn baby died soon after she gave birth. Her two other children also died in infancy under Daesh rule.
COVID-19: Briton jailed for breaking Singapore’s strict quarantine rules
Europe|: Singapore: A Singapore court sentenced a British man to two weeks in jail on Friday after he sneaked out of his hotel room to meet his then fiancee while undergoing two weeks of mandatory coronavirus quarantine in the city-state. Nigel Skea, 52, was also fined S$1,000 ($752.56) for leaving his room three times on Sept. 21 last year, judge Jasvender Kaur said. On one occasion he left his room to meet his Singaporean partner Agatha Maghesh Eyamalai, who was not in quarantine but had booked a room in the same hotel. Skea was also not wearing a mask, which is required in Singapore. Eyamalai, 39, who married Skea in November, was sentenced to one week imprisonment for abetting him. The couple had both pleaded guilty and their lawyer S.S. Dhillon said they would not appeal the sentencing. Local cases The city-state has largely brought its coronavirus outbreak under control, with less than a handful of new local cases a day, due to strict quarantining of arrivals, contact-tracing and social distancing. Singapore requires most arrivals to undergo 14 days of quarantine at government-designated hotels. Quarantine violations can be penalised with a fine of up to S$10,000 or up to six months in jail, or both. The island nation has jailed and fined others for breaking COVID-19 rules, while some foreigners have also had their work permits revoked.
Prince Harry hops on a bus for candid interview with James Corden
HollyWood|Europe|: Prince Harry has shown his funny and playful side while on an interview with James Corden, that saw them have tea on an open-top bus and crawl through mud together on an obstacle course in Los Angeles. Harry, who is married to former actress Meghan Markle, also got candid about the “toxic” British press and how despite splitting from the royal family he would never quit public service. “We all know what the British press could be like, and it was destroying my mental health. I was like this is toxic. So I did what any husband and what any father would do is like, I need to get my family out of here,” he told US-based British host Corden on the segment for ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden’. Meghan, who is half African-American, faced a barrage of criticism from the press and the public after marrying Harry; many have said this was due to her race. Earlier this month, Meghan successfully sued one tabloid for breaching her privacy by printing extracts of a letter she wrote to her father while last month Harry won a libel case against the same paper over a story which said he had turned his back on the military. Last week, Buckingham Palace announced that Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, would not return to the Royal Family as working members. In January 2020, the couple had said they would be stepping back from royal duties, and later moved to Los Angeles. “We never walked away and as far as I’m concerned whatever decisions are made on that side, I will never walk away. I will always be contributing, but my life is public service, so wherever I am in the world, it’s going to be the same thing,” Harry said. The ‘Suits’ actress also made an appearance on the show when Corden hopped on a video chat with her. The Duchess is pregnant with her second child after son Archie. (Harry revealed that the one-year-old’s first word was crocodile!) On a lighter note, Harry also spoke about what it was like dating while being a royal. “Dating me or any member of the royal family is kind of flipped upside down. All the dates become dinners or watching the TV or chatting at home,” he said. Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, started dating in 2016 and got married in May 2018 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. — With inputs from Reuters
Dutch parliament: China's treatment of Uighurs is genocide
Activists and UN rights experts say at least one million Muslims are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations.
Indian newspapers ask Google to pay publishers 85% of ad revenues
Business|India|: Dubai: India’s largest media body - representing more than 1,000 newspapers with 71 million copies in circulation in 19 languages - has asked Google to share at least 85 per cent of the digital giant’s advertising revenue with publishers. The demand from the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) came on Thursday in a letter written by its president L. Adimoolam to Google India vice-president and country head Sanjay Gupta. Noting that Indian publishers continued to invest heavily to support “quality journalism with credible news, current affairs, analysis, information and entertainment”, Adimoolam said that the proprietary content generated out of this expensive and rigorous process ultimately provided Google its credibility and authenticity in India. Clear lack of transparency However, in return, Indian media publishers were facing a very opaque advertising system, as they were unable to get details of Google’s advertising value chain, he said. “The Society insisted that Google should increase the publisher share of advertising revenue to 85 per cent, and also ensure more transparency in the revenue reports provided to publishers by Google,” the INS said in a statement made available to Gulf News. “The society has demanded Google should pay for news generated by the newspapers which employ thousands of journalists on the ground, at considerable expense, for gathering and verifying information.” The letter was sent on the same day that Australia’s parliament passed a law to make Google and Facebook pay media companies for content on their platforms. Countries like the UK and Canada are also mulling similar laws. “In the dialogue we are having with Google for the past three months, we are trying to figure out an appropriate monetisation model that would work out in favour of both parties,” Mohit Jain, vice-president of INS, told Gulf News in a phone interview from Mumbai. “Over time, if this approach does not work out, some publishers are also looking at working with the government for legislative support on the same.” Australian government has shown the way in taking on digital media giants and have them pay for part of the content they place on their platforms. Image Credit: Reuters Fast paced growth According to a FICCI-EY 2020 report, India’s digital news readership has grown to more than 300 million users and the country remains the world’s fastest-growing advertising market. Ad revenues of Facebook and Google in India rose to $1.58 billion in FY19, with the two companies garnering nearly 70 per cent market share of India’s online advertising space. According to Dentsu Aegis, India’s online ad spend is expected to reach $3.87 billion by 2022. But beleaguered Indian media companies have seen major layoffs and shut down of operations since the pandemic-triggered lockdown last year, and are now looking up to the government to enact legislation similar to Australia to make Google and Facebook share ad revenues. “It is also noted that Google has recently agreed to better compensate and pay publishers in France, the European Union and notably in Australia,” the INS said. “However, newspaper publishers [in India] are seeing their share of the advertising pie shrinking in the digital space, even as Google is taking a giant share of advertising spends,” the society said. India's news publishing industry is at a critical juncture. While digital readership has shot up significantly, there is limited gains on the revenue side for the content creators. Image Credit: AFP
After months at sea over infection worries, Spanish cattle ship returns to port
Europe|: Cartagena: A shipload of Spanish cattle that had been drifting for months due to concerns over the bovine bluetongue disease docked in Spain on Thursday, the government said, but the fate of the animals remains unclear. The Karim Allah left the Mediterranean port of Cartagena on Dec. 17 carrying 895 cattle destined for sale in Turkey. A second ship, the ElBeik, set sail the next day from Tarragona with a cargo of nearly 1,800 cows. Even though the cattle had clean veterinary certificates, according to Spain’s government, Turkish authorities rejected both vessels and suspended live animal imports from Spain after an outbreak of the insect-borne bluetongue disease was detected in the Spanish province of Huesca. The Karim Allah tried to find another buyer in Libya but was rejected by authorities there and spent weeks drifting through the eastern Mediterranean, struggling for supplies. “We tried to get more feed in Tunisia...but they kicked us out. In the end we managed to get more in Sicily after the animals spent several days with only water,” said Miguel Masramon a lawyer representing Talia Shipping Line, the shipowner. The ship moored at Cartagena’s Escombreras dock. The Agricultural Ministry said specialists have boarded to test the animals. If the cattle are cleared, they can be resold for live export. But if they are slaughtered on landing on government orders, they cannot be sold for food and the shipment would have to be written off. In such a case “the cost could be well in excess of one million euros,” Masramon told Reuters. Shipment owner unclear But who owns the shipment is unclear. The exporter, World Trade, says it is not responsible for the cattle as it already sold them, Masramon said. The exporter for Libya, Pinsus Ursa, said it was not responsible as the cattle did not reach Libya, he said. Reuters was trying to reach World Trade for comment. Pinsus Ursa had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. It was not known who the buyer in Turkey was. The Spanish Agriculture Ministry said it was waiting to board the ship, check the animals and take the appropriate action. Meanwhile, samples taken by a private company have been sent for testing in Madrid and Thalia expects the results within a matter of days. Port authorities have impounded the vessel until a full inspection is carried out. The Togo-flagged ElBeik faced a similar ordeal and is currently moored off the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta, loading animal feed, an official said. “It is highly likely that the ship will set off for Spain after the animal food shipment process is completed,” said Demir Ali Deveci, a senior agricultural official in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Authorities did not determine whether there was an outbreak aboard, he added. Matilde Moro, head of Spain’s ranchers association Asoprovac, accused Turkey of spreading false information and called on the Agriculture Ministry to stop all animal trade with the country. “I don’t want even one more ship to leave for Turkey when Turkey can take such arbitrary decisions,” she said. Animal rights group Igualdad Animal said the case was further evidence of the need to ban live animal exports outright. “These animals came sick from the Spanish ports. Many of them have already died and those still alive are suffering a hellish ordeal” Igualdad Animal’s director in Spain, Silvia Barquero, said in a statement. Masramon said only 15 animals had died on the Karim Allah, which he said was a “success” given the difficult conditions.
Biden's trade pick says she's focused on helping U.S. workers, holding back China
News/Politics: Some cabinet confirmations turn into partisan wrestling matches. By the end of her appearance at the Senate Finance committee Thursday, the confirmation of Katherine Tai as the next United States Trade Representative felt more like a collective laying on of hands.
Biden’s early policy ‘smacks of Trumpism': China state media
The official China Daily said in an editorial Thursday that the Biden administration’s approach so far “affords little optimism.” Many of the new US leader’s policies seem similar to those of former President Donald Trump, according to the English-language newspaper, whose opinion pages are often used to send messages to foreign audiences.