GulfNews World

GulfNews World

How would COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants?

World|: How would COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants? By tweaking their vaccines, a process that should be easier than coming up with the original shots. Viruses constantly mutate as they spread, and most changes aren't significant. First-generation COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working against today's variants, but makers already are taking steps to update their recipes if health authorities decide that's needed. COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are made with new technology that's easy to update. The so-called mRNA vaccines use a piece of genetic code for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus, so your immune system can learn to recognize and fight the real thing. If a variant with a mutated spike protein crops up that the original vaccine can't recognize, companies would swap out that piece of genetic code for a better match _ if and when regulators decide that's necessary. Updating other COVID-19 vaccines could be more complex. The AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, uses a harmless version of a cold virus to carry that spike protein gene into the body. An update would require growing cold viruses with the updated spike gene. The Food and Drug Administration said studies of updated COVID-19 vaccines won't have to be as large or long as for the first generation of shots. Instead, a few hundred volunteers could receive experimental doses of a revamped vaccine and have their blood checked for signs it revved up the immune system as well as the original vaccines. More difficult is deciding if the virus has morphed enough to modify shots. Globally, health authorities will monitor coronavirus mutations to spot vaccine-resistant mutations. They'd also have to decide whether any revamped vaccine should protect against more than one variant. Overall the process would be similar to what already happens with flu vaccine. Influenza viruses mutate much faster than coronaviruses, so flu shots are adjusted every year and must protect against multiple strains.

GulfNews World

Who is Arora Akanksha, the 34-year-old running for UN Secretary-General

Americas|: United Nations: Never mind that Arora Akanksha has worked at the United Nations for only about four years, as an auditor recruited from an accounting firm. Put aside that at age 34, she has no diplomatic experience. And forget that she is less than half as old as the incumbent she wants to replace, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, 71, the veteran Portuguese statesman and former U.N. High Commissioner for refugees. Arora - she uses her family name first and prefers to be called Arora - said that as a grandchild of people who were once refugees, she was acutely aware of difficult odds. But with a $30,000 campaign budget drawn largely from her savings, a website and a social media promotion that begins with, "People in my profession aren't supposed to stand up to the ones in charge," Arora has declared herself a candidate to be the next leader of the United Nations. On Feb. 17, Arora, a native of India and citizen of Canada, submitted a formal letter of application for the 2022-27 term. "We are not living up to our purpose or our promise," the letter stated. "We are failing those we are here to serve." No country has yet formally endorsed her unlikely candidacy. But if nothing else, Arora's boldness has touched a nerve at the 193-member organization and thrown attention on the historically opaque way that its leader is picked. While the process has been made more transparent compared with the backroom bargaining that prevailed years ago, it is nonetheless widely expected that Guterres will win a second term when the selection is made in October. Arora's message, she said, is that the United Nations is sclerotic, wasteful, adrift, paternalistic and patronizing toward many of the younger members of its staff of 44,000 people around the world. According to one of her campaign videos on YouTube, only about 29 cents of every dollar, from the U.N.'s total annual revenue of roughly $56 billion, goes to actual causes. "We spend our resources on holding conferences, writing reports," Arora, an audit coordinator for the U.N. Development Program, said in an interview. "All these frivolous activities that are advertising. We have lost course on why we exist, what we're supposed to do." If the United Nations were a private company, she said, "it would have been, like, out of business." Far from dismissing her ambition as foolish or quixotic, friends and supporters admire her nerve and penchant for speaking her mind. "She's fearless," said Pauline Pamela Pratt, a colleague at the U.N. Population Fund who worked with Arora in 2019. "She's not afraid to be who she is, even among people who have authority over her." When Pratt learned of Arora's plans to seek the secretary-general job, she recalled having expressed surprise "but then thought, 'Why not go for it?'" Some see Arora as naive about the geopolitical forces that have shaped the United Nations over more than 75 years. Others have wondered how, precisely, she would reduce expenses for travel and other costs of running its far-flung operations. While the secretary-general may have a bully pulpit, the position holds little real power, and its occupant is basically beholden to the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - which play a decisive role in who is ultimately chosen. "I'm sure she has no chance and equally sure that she knows that," said Edward Mortimer, a former U.N. official who was the chief speechwriter for Kofi Annan, the secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. "It's a brave way of demonstrating unhappiness, which I've no doubt is quite widely shared by her colleagues." Asked recently about Arora, Guterres' spokesperson, StEphane Dujarric, told reporters, "Let me put it this way. I speak for the incumbent candidate, but we have no comment on anyone else who may wish to put their hat in the proverbial ring." Arora, who has taken a leave of absence from work for her campaign, said she had received many positive messages from co-workers and more than 2,600 votes on her website, and she is hoping to make her case to U.N. ambassadors in the next few months. "This is not even a place that challenges, because they go through countries politically and negotiate," Arora said. "So yeah, this is a straight-on challenge, and I don't want to play games or anything; I just want to run an honest campaign." Not widely known outside her workplace, Arora has committed a number of head-turning firsts. She is the first person known to officially challenge an incumbent seeking a second term and the first millennial-generation candidate. And if she prevailed, Arora would be the first woman to lead the United Nations - a precedent nearly achieved in 2016 when seven prominent women were in the running with Guterres. Arora talked about her life and ambition recently in an interview at the U.N. headquarters, a few blocks from her studio apartment on Manhattan's East Side. She lives frugally; speaks daily with her parents, who are "very supportive," Arora said; and reads Harry Potter books to relax. Her wardrobe of brightly colored dresses, including six acquired from Uganda and Kenya in 2017 while on a field assignment, stands out among the suits in her workplace. As for why she aspired to lead the United Nations, Arora traced the reasons partly to her own refugee family background, to a Manhattan taxi accident that sent her to the hospital, and to her memory of a malnourished child in Uganda. Like many Hindus, her grandparents fled from Pakistan to India after the 1947 partition, a fact that colors her outlook on the world. Asked about the possibility of losing to Guterres, she said, "Refugees have no plan B, hence I have no plan B." Arora was born in Haryana, a northern Indian state, and spent her youngest years in Saudi Arabia, where her parents, both doctors, had relocated. From age 9 to 18 she was back in India attending boarding school, she said, and then decided to move to Canada, where she graduated from York University with honors and worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada as an auditing manager. Hired in December 2016 by the United Nations to help improve its internal financial controls, Arora said her admiration for the organization soon turned to shock. "The system is so amazing on the outside, but there's no coherence for getting things done," she said. Just weeks into the job, she was struck by a taxi after work, and as she lay on a hospital bed with a fractured left knee, she thought, "If I died, what would my legacy be?" That, she said, was "my big awakening moment." That summer while working in Uganda, Arora said, she encountered a child eating mud. "That image stuck in my head," she said, recalling how she told a senior U.N. official back in New York about it. His seemingly callous response stunned her. "He said, 'Mud has iron,'" she said. "That was the first time I was speechless in my life." The exchange, she said, "was one of the big triggers for me." She plunged into learning more about U.N. history and went back to school while she kept working. She attended Columbia University's graduate program in public administration, where she befriended a fellow student, Anne-Carine Frederique, a Haitian American who had once interned at the United Nations and whose extended family in Haiti had suffered from a cholera epidemic that medical experts traced to U.N. peacekeepers - an enduring stain on the organization's legacy. With their shared criticisms of the United Nations, one thing led to another, Arora said, and Frederique, who works at Columbia's business school, now helps manage her secretary-general campaign. While Arora has not received explicit endorsements from powerful U.N. figures, neither has she been discouraged. Mary Robinson, a former High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland who was once considered a contender for secretary-general, said, in an emailed statement, that she welcomed Arora's candidacy as "entirely healthy." "I share many of the concerns raised by Arora Akanksha about the need to promote more women and younger staff members into management and leadership roles," her statement said. Lyric Thompson, senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women - a group that has been grading Guterres' record on gender issues and last year gave him a B - said Arora's candidacy should not be underestimated. "There has been increasing demand for feminist leadership for some time," Thompson said. "From A.O.C. to Jacinda Ardern, we know better than to count out young female voices."

GulfNews World

SUV with explosives near Ambani’s house was stolen

India|: Mumbai: The vehicle with explosives, which was found near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence here in south Mumbai, had been stolen last week and its owner had even lodged a complaint about it, police said on Friday. The vehicle with gelatin sticks and apparently a fake number plate was found parked on Carmichael Road near Antilia, the multi-storey residence of Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, on Thursday evening. “The owner of the vehicle, Hiren Mansukh, visited the police commissioner office in south Mumbai this afternoon after he saw visuals of the SUV found near Ambani’s house, which was similar to his vehicle,” an official said. The suspicious car carrying gelatin sticks found outside Mukesh Ambani residence Antilia in Mumbai on Friday, February 26, 2021. Image Credit: ANI “His statement will be recorded by the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the Mumbai crime branch,” he said. Mansukh, who is a resident of Thane, later told reporters that he had parked his SUV near Airoli Mulund bridge on February 17 after its steering got jammed while he was on his way to attend a family function. “The next day, when I went to get my car, it could not be found at the spot. After a search of about four hours, I realised that it had been stolen, following which I lodged a complaint at Vikhroli police station and an offence was registered in that connection,” he said. Earlier in the day, the police said that an FIR has been registered in connection with the seizure of the vehicle at the Gamdevi police station against unidentified persons. Police have registered the case under Indian Penal Code sections 286 (negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance), 465 (punishment for forgery), 473 (making or possessing counterfeit seal), 506(2) (criminal intimidation, if threat be to cause death or grievous hurt), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy), the spokesperson said. Section four of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908, (punishment for attempt to cause explosion, or for making or keeping explosive with intent to endanger life or property) has also been included in the FIR, the official said, adding that the vehicle has been seized.

GulfNews World

Pakistan: 150,000 health workers get COVID-19 vaccine

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Vaccinations are picking up across Pakistan with 150,000 health workers getting their first dose. According to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan, the government was considering to make vaccinations mandatory for all front-line workers to break the chain of infection. He got his first dose a couple of days ago. He asked health professionals who had been immunized to share their experience with their colleagues who were a bit hesitant to be convinced and inoculated against the deadly virus. He warned that vaccine hesitancy could lead to a rise in the number of coronavirus cases. The special assistant said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had approved the vaccines in use not only in Pakistan but nearly 35 countries. Herd immunity Dr. Sultan explained that in first phase, two categories of people would be administered the vaccine – front-line healthcare workers and people over 65 years of age. “We have set a target to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 70 million people by the end of the current year, however, we are hopeful of achieving the target by November,” he added. Everyone above the age of 65 would be able to get COVID-19 vaccine from March for free at governmental facilities, he said. Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho has warned healthcare workers of termination if they refuse to get themselves vaccinated against coronavirus. The provincial minister said this while presiding over a meeting on the establishment of adult vaccination centres across the province. “We have started the process of COVID-19 vaccination in Sindh where all healthcare workers are being registered for the vaccination. New cases All those healthcare workers who do not take part in the process of vaccination and get themselves vaccinated would be terminated,” she said. Pakistan on Friday reported 32 fatalities in a period of twenty-four hours. In the same period, 1,541 new cases of COVID-19 registering a total of 577,482. With 32 deaths the country’s toll has surged to 12,804. According to official portal of the National Health Ministry in the last 24 hours, 41,849 were conducted according to which there are 22,285 active cases in the country. In last one day 2,505 patients were also recovered from COVID-19 taking the total number of recoveries to 542,393.

GulfNews World

Indians allowed to choose COVID-19 vaccination sites as government seeks faster roll-out

India|: New Delhi: India said on Friday it will let people choose their coronavirus vaccination centres when the campaign expands next week, effectively letting beneficiaries pick either a home-grown shot or the AstraZeneca one, unlike now. The country will halt vaccinations this weekend to upgrade software used to coordinate its campaign, as it prepares to widen coverage beyond the 11.5 million health and front-line workers immunised since Jan. 16. But the inoculation campaign has progressed slower than expected due to a reluctance of health and front-line workers to take the home-grown COVAXIN shot that was approved without late-stage efficacy data. Only 11% of vaccinated people have opted for the product developed by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research. With the world’s highest tally of infections after the United States, India wants to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people by August. The decision to give people a choice of vaccines could now speed up the roll-out, officials believe. “The fundamental shift in this phase is that citizens in the identified age groups, as also those healthcare workers and frontline who have been missed out or left out of the present phase of vaccination, can select vaccination centres of their choice,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement. Vaccination cover expanded From Monday, India will start covering people aged 60 and those over 45 with medical conditions. They can register through the government’s Co-Win 2.0 portal or walk into vaccination centres; states will also actively mobilise people. Bharat Biotech has said efficacy data from a late-stage trial on nearly 26,000 volunteers who took COVAXIN shot will be out soon. The company, along with India’s drug regulator, says COVAXIN is safe and effective, based on early and intermediate studies. More vaccines are likely to be approved for use in the world’s second most populous country in coming months, including Russia’s Sputnik-V and Cadila Healthcare’s ZyCov-D. Apart from vaccine hesitancy, initial glitches in Co-Win had also slowed India’s immunisation drive, forcing many states offline. The software forms part of a government contact-tracing app “Aarogya Setu”, or Health Bridge, downloaded so far by nearly 170 million people. India’s infections rose 16,577 in the past 24 hours to stand at 11.06 million, health ministry data show, while the death toll rose 120 to reach 156,825.

GulfNews World

Bihar health official flees with 4,000 COVID-19 test kits

India|: Patna: A health official has fled with 4,000 Antigen test kits to be used for COVID-19 testing from a government hospital in Bihar. The cost of the kits in his possession is estimated at Rs2.16 million. Officials said the lab technician Sharad Kumar received 4,000 kits from the storeroom of the health department in Jamui town to deposit them with a local referral hospital located in Chakai block in the same district. The kits were procured over two days on January 22 and February 4 but soon after receiving them, the man mysteriously went missing. The health department failed to locate him despite all efforts. “We have registered a case against the missing technician and also begun the process to dismiss him from the service,” local civil surgeon Dr Vinay Kumar Sharma told the media on Friday. No contact Another health official Ramesh Prasad said the technician posted with the referral hospital had been missing for the past five day without any information. “We tried to contact him so many times but are unable to get near him. His mobile is also switched off,” Prasad added. Jamui, an eastern Bihar district, has come under fire for the second time in a fortnight. Earlier this month, the state government fired seven health officials after they were found guilty in the COVID-19 testing fraud and the matter figured prominently in the Parliament. The government acted swiftly after the local media uncovered the large-scale fraud in the testing of COVID-19 cases across the state, highlighting how fake names were entered in the health department registers to fudge testing data. While four doctors, including a district civil surgeon, were placed under suspension, three health officials were dismissed from service for entering fake information in the hospital registers.

GulfNews World

India: Poll dates for Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry announced

India|: New Delhi: As many as 824 assembly constituencies will go to the polls in four states - Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam - and the Union Territory of Puducherry, Chief Election Commissioner of India Sunil Arora announced on Friday. Elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry will be held in a single phase on April 6. The Assam assembly elections will be held in 3 phases - on March 27, April 1 and April 6. The polls in West Bengal will be held in eight phases - on March 27, April 1, 6, 10, 17, 22, 26 and 29. Counting of all votes will be held on May 2. "Nearly 186 million electors will vote at 270,000 polling stations for 824 seats in four assembly elections," Sunil Arora said addressing media persons here today. He also said the Bihar Assembly polls last year in November amid the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment and proved to be a litmus test for the Election Commission of India (ECI). Addressing mediapersons Arora said: "In the thick of the pandemic, ECI started test trials with elections of 18 seats to Rajya Sabha. After that, came the challenge of the Bihar elections, it was indeed a watershed moment for ECI. It proved to be a litmus test. Voting turnout was 57.34 per cent exceeding the 2015 Assembly polls and 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the state." He applauded the frontline workers, healthcare workers and ECI officials for performing election duty during the COVID-19 times last year. All poll officials will be vaccinated against COVID-19 before elections," Arora said "Our tributes to the COVID warriors, doctors, paramedics, nurses, researchers, scientists and all our officials on election duty who are located on the frontline," said Arora. Guidelines He also announced guidelines for the upcoming elections. These include restricting door-to-door campaigning to five people including the candidate, Polling officials to be vaccinated and separate norms for suspected COVID-19 patients. The terms of the legislative assemblies of five states - West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry - will come to an end either in May or in June.

GulfNews World

Pakistan aims to exit FATF grey list by June

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistani officials say that the country is committed to compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards after the watchdog announced to keep Pakistan on its grey list for another four months. Pakistan has completed almost 90 per cent of its current FATF action plan with 24 out of 27 items rated as ‘largely addressed’ and remaining 3 items ‘partially addressed’, said Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar. Pakistan’s high-level political commitment since 2018 that led to significant progress has also been acknowledged by the global illicit financing watchdog, he stated. Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad on Friday, Hammad Azhar said that Pakistan is perhaps subjected to the most challenging and comprehensive action plan by FATF. “We are also subject to dual evaluation processes of FATF with differing timelines”. However, “Pakistan remains committed to complying with both FATF evaluation processes” and the remaining three points on the FATF’s action plan would be accomplished soon, he declared. Action plan He also commended the hard work by multiple federal and provincial departments to comply with the FATF requirements “despite a very tough action plan, tight timelines, and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Hammad Azhar, who is the chairman of the FATF Coordination Committee, said Pakistan’s target now is to complete the 27-point action plan to improve its economic indicators and send a clear message to the world that Pakistan’s financial systems secure. Responding to speculations about downgrading to black list, the minister said that “blacklisting was not an option because the country has achieved significant progress” by choking money laundering and terror financing. The Paris-based organization that monitors terrorism funding said on February 25 that Pakistan will continue to be on its watch list until June for three out of 27 unmet action plan despite the country’s progress. Pakistan has been strongly urged to complete its full action plan targets on anti-money laundering and combating financing terror (AML/CFT) before June 2021. The FATF has asked Pakistan to continue to work on implementing these three remaining items: 1. Demonstrating that terrorism financing (TF) investigations and prosecutions target persons and entities acting on behalf or at the directive of the designated persons or entities. 2. Demonstrating that TF prosecutions result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions. 3. Demonstrating effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all 1,267 and 1,373 designated terrorists, and those acting for them or on their behalf. Significant progress The FATF President Dr Marcus Pleyer appreciated that the country had made significant progress. “Pakistan has made progress across all action plan items and has now largely addressed 24 of the 27 action items” since June 2018 with a high-level political commitment to work with the FATF and APG to strengthen its AML/CFT regime and to address its strategic counter-terrorist financing-related deficiencies. Being in the FATF list means the country will face enhanced monitoring procedures. While there are no direct economic consequences but the listing impacts the country’s ability to attract foreign investment as well as the country’s imports, exports, remittances and access to international lenders. FATF kept North Korea and Iran as the only two countries on its black list but added four new places to the grey list including Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal and the Cayman Islands.

GulfNews World

Jharkhand residents urged to ditch cars for bicycles in bid to reduce pollution

India|: Patna: The government in Jharkhand state, alarmed at the rising pollution level posing serious health hazards, has planned a 'No cars on Saturday' initiative where citizens will only be allowed to ride bicycles on the busy city streets during weekends. The government said the eco-friendly move will not only protect the environment but also promote healthier lifestyle among residents. Scheduled to be launched on March 13, the idea will be implemented in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state. The total population of Ranchi is 1.46 million. A decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of officials held under the chairmanship of Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) commissioner Mukesh Kumar on Thursday. Air pollution “We appeal to everyone to use cycle at least once in a week which will not only keep them healthy but will also significantly contribute to the environment,” Kumar said. He said the move would also help decongest roads and make the surrounding free from air and sound pollution. He urged all the officials as well as the citizens to strictly avoid using vehicles running on fuel and use only cycles on the city streets for nature’s sake as well as their own health. Further, he announced to make the city roads “cycle-friendly” and arrange for sufficient number of cycle stands in the city to help the cyclists park their cycles. The commissioner declared that from now on every builder constructing private/commercial building would have to arrange for “cycle stands” there the way they leave space for car parking. The builders will have to make this commitment in writing right when submitting the maps for the proposed building to the municipal corporation lest their projects won’t be approved, he said. The official also announced that the either side of roads leading to Dhurwa dam, a popular tourist spot in Jharkhand, would be developed as “No vehicle zone”. He also declared to remove all ditches from the city roads and create new designs on the city roads to promote cycling. The authorities decided to go for the idea alarmed at the sudden increase in number of cars. According to an official report, the total number of registered cars has gone up to 206,766 in the past 20 years in Ranchi, with an average 20,000 cars being purchased every year. Last year, a total of 18,627 cars were registered with the transport depart despite the COVID-19 outbreak. In 2019, the number of registered cars stood at 20,611 whereas their number was recorded at 23,762 in 2018. Physically fit “This is indeed a praiseworthy move by the government. This will increase our physical activities and make us physically fit,” a local resident Rajiv Kumar Gupta said. Another resident Kanishk Poddar said the move would indeed prove wonderful as the city streets would remain free from honking and obnoxious fumes at least for a day. According to a Greenpeace report released on February 18 this year, over 120,000 people have died in India in 2020 as a result of air pollution and related problems with the maximum of 54,000 deaths reported from Delhi. “Despite recording relatively better air quality this year due to strict lockdown, air pollution continues to be a serious public health issue which also drastically impacts our economy,” says Avinash Chanchal, Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

GulfNews World

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.

GulfNews World

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.”

GulfNews World

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.

GulfNews World

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

GulfNews World

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

GulfNews World

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.

GulfNews World

Paris city hall suggests 3-week lockdown to combat COVID-19

Europe|: Paris: The Paris city hall suggested a three week lockdown to quell rising coronavirus cases in the French capital but faced swift accusations Friday that such a move was a political stunt with little effect. France has so far avoided a third lockdown to battle COVID-19 but, with case numbers starting to rise, the government of President Emmanuel Macron is beginning to impose restrictions on a local basis. Mayors do not have the power to impose lockdowns which must be approved by the government but Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said a three week measure would give “hope of everything reopening again” including cafes and cultural establishments. “You can’t force yourself to live in a semi-prison for months. Now you have to make courageous decisions,” he told France Info radio late on Thursday, adding the city hall would propose the measure to the government. However right-wing critics slammed the call, saying that the move by the city hall under Socialist Anne Hidalgo was electioneering ahead of a possible presidential bid by the mayor next year. “Anne Hidalgo cannot use Parisians, play with their life and future, for the sake of PR stunts aimed above all at opposing Emmanuel Macron,” said the right-wing Change Paris group in a statement. Its leader Rachida Dati, a former minster who stood against Hidalgo in last year’s local polls, added on Twitter: “A lockdown endangers the economic and psychological life of thousands of people and must not be about 2022” presidential elections. The head of the wider Ile de France region that includes Paris, Valerie Pecresse, also ridiculed the suggestion, telling the Le Parisien daily that “millions of people” travel in and out of the region every day. The controversy comes after the French Riviera around Nice and the northern coastal city of Dunkirk - two coronavirus hotspots - were placed this week under weekend lockdown. Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday placed 20 other territorial areas known as departments, including Paris and its suburbs, under “reinforced surveillance”, meaning they too could soon be placed under partial lockdown. “The health situation in our country has got worse,” he told reporters at a press conference late Thursday, saying that the figure of 31,000 daily infections recorded on Wednesday was the highest since November. He added that the more rapidly-spreading variant that originated in England now accounted for almost half of infections in France. Observers say Macron has gambled by resisting pressure for a third lockdown, with schools and non-essential businesses all open in contrast to France’s neighbours, even if cafes remain shut.