Ramadan 2021: UAE sends plane carrying 50 tonnes of food supplies to Bangladesh
Ramadan|Asia|: Abu Dhabi: The UAE on Thursday sent a plane carrying 50 metric tonnes of food supplies to Bangladesh as part of its Ramadan initiatives. Abdullah Ali Al-Hammoudi, Chargé d’Affaires to the UAE Embassy in Dhaka, said: “The UAE shares historical ties with Bangladesh characterised by friendship and cooperation in various fields. “Today’s aircraft was sent to help address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as these circumstances require solidarity and international cooperation, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.” He added: “In April 2020, the UAE sent a plane containing 7 metric tonnes of medical supplies to Bangladesh to support the country in containing the spread of COVID-19. These supplies benefited more than 7,000 healthcare workers in their efforts to combat the pandemic.”
Fresh pizza vending machine prompts horror in Rome
Europe|Offbeat|: Rome: Raffaele Esposito, the 19th century Neapolitan credited with inventing Italy's most famous type of pizza, may be turning in his grave: Rome has a new vending machine that slides out freshly cooked pizzas in just three minutes. Buyers using the flaming red "Mr. Go Pizza" machine can choose from four different kinds of pizzas costing from 4.50 to 6 euros ($5.2-7.2; Dh19.92-26.56). The machine kneads and tops the dough and customers can watch the pizza cook behind a small glass window. Reviews by customers on Thursday of the machine, one of the first in Rome, ranged from "acceptable if you're in a hurry" to outright horror. "It looks good but it is much smaller than in a restaurant and there is less topping," said Claudio Zampiga, a pensioner. People have been eating forms of flat bread with toppings for millennia, but it is generally accepted that pizza was perfected in Naples, where it was a street food for the poor. Tradition holds that Esposito created the classic "Pizza Margherita" on June 11, 1889 to honour the queen consort, Margherita of Savoy, during her visit to Naples with King Umberto I. He used tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves to represent the colours of the flag of a just united Italy - red, white and green. A plaque is affixed to a wall in Naples saying "Pizza Margherita was born here." Fabrizia Pugliese, a Naples native and university student in Rome, gave the machine-made pizza a try and gave it a thumbs down, saying it tasted more like a "piadina", an ultra-thin soft unleavened bread wrap popular in northern Italy. "It's OK but it's not pizza," was her verdict. Gina, a pensioner who declined to give her surname, rejected the concept outright. "Terrible. Pizza really needs to be eaten hot, immediately. This doesn't work for me," she said. In fact, for many Italians, the classic pizza experience includes watching a "pizzaiolo," (pizzamaker) knead the dough and cooking it in a wood-burning brick oven within sight of your table. In its current location, at least, the "Mr. Go Pizza" machine will face stiff competition getting a slice of the market. Nearby is the Napolitano restaurant, which uses a brick oven. "I wouldn't even think of eating a pizza made by a machine," said Giovanni Campana, biting into one. Esposito, who made a pizza fit for a queen 132 years ago, would likely agree.
Why patents on COVID vaccines are so contentious
Americas|: Washington: The Biden administration's call to lift patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help poor parts of the world get more doses has drawn praise from some countries and health advocates. But it has run into resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and others, who say it won't help curb the outbreak any time soon and will hurt innovation. Here's a look at what patents do and why they matter: How do drug patents work? Patents reward innovation by preventing competitors from simply copying a company's discovery and launching a rival product. In the US, patents on medicines typically last 20 years from when they are filed, which is usually done as soon as a drugmaker thinks it has an important or lucrative drug. Because it often takes a decade to get a drug approved, companies typically end up with about a dozen years of competition-free sales. But drugmakers usually find ways to improve their product or widen its use, and they secure additional patents that can extend their monopoly for another decade or more. Why is patent production so important to drugmakers? Medicines are incredibly expensive to develop. Most experimental drugs fail at some point during what can be years of laboratory, animal and finally human testing. Averaging in the cost of all those flops, it typically costs more than $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) to bring a drug from discovery to regulatory approval. Without the prospect of years of sales without competition, that work is all the more risky. Why is the US backing efforts to lift protections on COVID-19 vaccines? The Biden administration has been under intense pressure, including from many Democrats in Congress, to get more COVID-19 vaccines to the rest of the world. Support for the waiver idea floated by India and South Africa in October has been growing in other countries while the outbreak worsens in some places, especially India. Why have the US and others opposed lifting protections in the past? The US and some other wealthy countries lead the world in many areas of research and innovation. That's particularly true for medicines. Aside from the prestige they confer, pharmaceutical companies provide millions of jobs that pay very well, pay taxes on their income and provide new medicines that can save or improve lives. Drugmakers and their trade groups spend millions every year lobbying governments to maintain the status quo on patents. Why is the industry so opposed to the effort? In a word, money. In the US, pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever they want for their medicines. They can and do raise prices, typically twice a year, so that list prices often double or triple during a drug's patent-protected years. That makes the big, long-established drugmakers among the world's most profitable companies. But a huge amount of innovation comes from startup pharmaceutical and biotech companies. They must constantly raise money from venture capital firms and other investors to fund early research until they can get their medicine approved or, more often, get a big drugmaker to help fund the research and buy rights to that drug or the entire startup. Without the prospect of a big payday for the new drug, it would be much harder to attract the crucial early money. What would be the practical effects of lifting protections on COVID-19 vaccines? That's not entirely clear, but drugmakers and some analysts say waiving their patent rights won't do much to get COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries faster. That's because making the vaccines is far more complex than following a recipe, requiring factories with specialized equipment, highly trained workers and stringent quality control - things that can't be set up quickly. There's little available factory capacity, as the companies with authorized vaccines already have hired many contract drug manufacturers to help them make their shots. In addition, many of the raw materials to make the vaccines, along with vials, stoppers and other components, are in very short supply, and that's not expected to change soon.
COVID-19: Moderna vaccine 96 per cent effective in 12-17 year-olds, study shows
Americas|: Washington: Moderna said Thursday its Covid-19 vaccine is 96 per cent effective among youths aged 12 to 17, according to the results of its first clinical trials. Two-thirds of the 3,235 participants in trials in the United States received the vaccine and one-third were given a placebo. The study "showed vaccine efficacy against COVID-19 of 96 per cent; mRNA-1273 was generally well tolerated with no serious safety concerns identified to date," the company said. Tests detected 12 cases of coronavirus 14 days after the first shot. For these intermediate results, participants were followed up on average 35 days after the second injection. The pharmaceutical company said that any side-effects had been "mild or moderate in severity," most commonly pain at the injection site. With the second shot, side effects included "headache, fatigue, myalgia and chills," similar to those observed in adults who had received the vaccine. "No serious safety concerns have been identified to date," it said. Moderna said it is currently "in discussions with regulators about a potential amendment to its regulatory filings" to authorise the vaccine for this age group. It is currently only certified for people aged 18 and over in countries where it has already been approved. Pfizer and BioNTech have already applied for authorisation of their own vaccine for 12-15 year olds in the United States and Europe. On Wednesday, Canada became the first country to authorise the Pfizer shot for this age group. The vaccination of teens is the next step in the campaign to eventually contain the epidemic. Moderna also began trials of its vaccine in children aged six months to 11 years in March. Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Tuesday that they hope to file an emergency authorisation request for their vaccine for children aged two to 11 in September in the United States. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company could apply for authorisation to inoculate children aged between 6 months and two years "in the fourth quarter."
Former Maldives president injured in suspected bomb attack
Asia|: Mali, Maldives: A suspected bomb blast injured former Maldives president and current parliament speaker Mohamed Nasheed on Thursday and he has been rushed to hospital, officials and residents said. The explosion went off as Nasheed, 53, was getting into his car in the capital, Male, an official from his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), told AFP by telephone. "It looks like some sort of an improvised explosive device, possibly rigged up to a parked motorcycle," the official said adding that an investigation was under way. There were no details of the injuries suffered by Nasheed. At least one of his bodyguards was also taken to hospital. Residents in Male said the blast was heard across the capital. Nasheed became parliament speaker, the Indian Ocean nation's second most powerful position, following his party's landslide victory in elections in April 2019. He became the country's first democratically elected president after winning the first multi-party elections in 2008. He was toppled in a coup in 2012 and was unable to contest the 2018 presidential elections after he was convicted of criminal charges. However, he returned to the country from self-imposed exile after his party won the 2018 presidential elections and then entered parliament. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid strongly condemned the attack. In a statement on Twitter he said: "Cowardly attacks like these have no place in our society. My thoughts and prayers are with President Nasheed and others injured in this attack, as well as their families."
US: 3 injured in Idaho middle school shooting
Americas|: Rigby, Idaho: A shooting at an eastern Idaho middle school has injured three people, and a suspect is in custody. Police and ambulances responded Thursday to Rigby Middle School. Law enforcement told Idaho Falls television station KIFI-TV that two students and one adult had injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. Students were being evacuated to a nearby high school.
Amazon adds Pakistan to its sellers’ list
Pakistan|Business|: Islamabad: Amazon has added Pakistan to its approved list of countries that can directly sell on the world’s biggest e-commerce platform – a moment of celebration for Pakistani small businesses. “We have finally made it,” stated the prime minister’s advisor on commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood on Twitter. “An important milestone of e-commerce policy has been achieved through teamwork”, he said, adding that the ministry has been engaged with Amazon since last year to open up the platform for Pakistanis. “It is a great opportunity for our youth, SMEs and women entrepreneurs,” he said. Amazon will be adding Pakistan to its sellers’ list within a few days after which business owners can create their accounts on the online platform and take their business from Pakistan to the global markets. World is opening up for Pakistani businesses “Amazon opening up its platform for Pakistani businesses is like the world is opening up for Pakistani businesses. It is one of the biggest opportunities for small and medium-sized companies,” Badar Khushnood, e-commerce specialist and member National e-Commerce Council (NeCC), told Gulf News. This move would also transform and diversify Pakistan’s current export focus from B2B (business-to-business) to B2C (business-to-consumer) which offers a “huge benefit for local entrepreneurs, artisans, and small businesses” to help reach Amazon’s 300 million customers globally in 200 countries, said Khushnood who as the co-founder of e-commerce platform Fishry.com is empowering hundreds of popular B2C retail brands. “Direct selling through Amazon can unlock additional revenue for Pakistani manufacturers who were otherwise already making jeans and high-end clothing for big brands such as Levi’s and Zara.” The efforts to convince Amazon to open for Pakistani sellers began in early 2020 after the country’s first e-commerce policy framework was approved in October 2019. Efforts of officials and experts at Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan embassy and consulates in the United States and members of NeCC and Pakistan Software House Association (P@SHA) have been exemplary in achieving the e-commerce milestone for Pakistan, experts said. Help businesses capitalise digital opportunities “This is a dream-come-true moment for Pakistani businesses,” said Mehran Ali, an aspiring entrepreneur. He hopes the launch would expedite digitisation among small and medium businesses and help them capitalise on pandemic-induced e-commerce opportunities. Pakistani e-commerce experts and businesses have described the development as a “game-changer for Pakistani small and medium enterprises (SME) – a dynamic sector of the economy that contributes to an estimated 40 per cent to the country’s GDP and 25 per cent to exports, according to Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA). SMEs in Pakistan comprise some 90 per cent of businesses and its total number is estimated to be 5.2 million. Experts have been calling for enhanced support and incentives for the sector that plays an outsized role in the economy.
Prince Harry, Meghan ask for COVID vaccine donations for Archie's birthday
Europe|HollyWood|: Washington: Britain's Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, on Thursday asked fans to donate money for COVID-19 vaccines as a way of celebrating the second birthday of their son, Archie. He turned two on May 6. "We have been deeply touched over the past two years to feel the warmth and support for our family in honour of Archie's birthday," said the couple, who now live in California after renouncing their royal duties. In a letter posted on the website of their Archewell non-profit foundation, they praised supporters for their charity donations on Archie's birthday. "Many of you donate to charities on his behalf, and mark the occasion by giving back or doing an act of service - all through the goodness of your hearts. You raise funds for those who need it most, and continue to do so organically and selflessly. We remain incredibly grateful." "This year, our world continues to be on the path to recovery from COVID-19. Yet too many families are still struggling with the impact of this pandemic," they said, asking for donations for the purchase of vaccines for "families in the world's most vulnerable places." "We will not be able to truly recover until everyone, everywhere, has equal access to the vaccine," said the couple, who co-hosted a concert to raise funds for vaccines that is due to air on Sunday. Along with US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris will also appear at "Vax Live: The Concert To Reunite The World" where performers will include Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Vedder, J Balvin and HER. Put on by Global Citizen, an international advocacy organisation, the campaign is pushing businesses to "donate dollars for doses," and for G7 governments to share excess vaccines. It also urges pharmaceutical companies "including Moderna to make vaccines available at not-for-profit prices."
Some 170 endangered seals found dead on Russia's Caspian coast
Europe|: Moscow: At least 170 endangered seals washed up dead over the course of several days on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Russia's republic of Dagestan, researchers told AFP on Thursday. "These are the dead animals that we saw, photographed and whose GPS coordinates we noted," said Viktor Nikiforov of the Moscow Marine Mammals research centre. Images shared with AFP showed several seal carcasses washed up on the beach. The deaths may have been caused by "industrial pollution, fishing or poaching when seals get caught in the nets," Nikiforov said. "Maybe this is the consequence of climate change or several causes at the same time," he added. He said that it would take a year of "serious surveillance" to precisely identify the cause of the disaster. According to the researchers, the seals were found some 100 kilometres south of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, and others washed up 50 kilometres north of the city. Contacted by AFP, the Russian Federal Fisheries Agency in the North Caucasus said it had dispatched inspectors to carry out a new count. The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes in Russia, said it was looking into the incident. The Caspian Sea, the world's largest inland body of water, is bounded by five countries: Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan. The seal population of the Caspian Sea has for decades suffered from over-hunting and the effects of industrial pollution. Experts say there are now about 70,000 Caspian seals, down from more than one million in the early 20th century. Pollution from the extraction of oil and gas there, along with declining water levels due to climate change, pose a threat to many species and put the future of the sea itself at risk. The UN Environment Programme has warned that the Caspian "suffers from an enormous burden of pollution". In December 2020, authorities reported the death of nearly 300 endangered seals on Dagestan's Caspian shore.
Twitter rolls out new prompts to curb bullying on its platform
Media|World|: New Delhi: Twitter has rolled out improved prompts on iOS and Android that will encourage users to pause and reconsider a potentially harmful or offensive reply - such as insults, strong language, or hateful remarks - before tweeting it. In other words, the upgraded feature is better at spotting "strong language" and now takes into account your relationship with the person you're messaging. "For example, if two accounts follow and reply to each other often, there's a higher likelihood that they have a better understanding of preferred tone of communication," Anita Butler and Alberto Parrella from Twitter said in a joint statement on Wednesday. In 2020, Twitter first tested prompts that encouraged people to pause and reconsider a potentially harmful or offensive reply before they hit send. "Starting today, we're rolling these improved prompts out across iOS and Android, starting with accounts that have enabled English-language settings," the company informed. Early tests revealed that if prompted, 34 per cent of people revised their initial reply or decided to not send their reply at all. "After being prompted once, people composed, on average, 11 per cent fewer offensive replies in the future," Twitter said. If prompted, people were less likely to receive offensive and harmful replies back. Since the early tests, here's what we've incorporated into the systems that decide when and how to send these reminders: Twitter said it will continue to explore how prompts - such as reply prompts and article prompts - and other forms of intervention can encourage healthier conversations on Twitter.
Mom who gave birth on flight didn't know she was pregnant
Offbeat|Americas|: Honolulu: Lavinia "Lavi" Mounga had no idea a baby was coming when she went into labor on a flight from her home in Utah to Honolulu last week. "I just didn't know I was pregnant, and then this guy just came out of nowhere," Mounga said during a video interview with Hawaii Pacific Health. The baby boy, Raymond Mounga, arrived early at just 29 weeks while mom was traveling to Hawaii for vacation with her family. Dr. Dale Glenn, a Hawaii Pacific Health family medicine physician, along with Lani Bamfield, Amanda Beeding and Mimi Ho - neonatal intensive care unit nurses from North Kansas City Hospital - were also on the plane and helped the new mother and baby. "Yeah, just overwhelming and just nice that there was three NICU nurses on the plane and a doctor that were able to help stabilize him and make sure that he was OK," Mounga said. When deciding on a name, Mounga's father suggested "Glenn," in honour of the doctor who helped her during the flight. "Names are pretty important in our culture," said Mounga, who is Tongan. "I didn't really want to name him Glenn." Instead she asked Dr. Glenn, who gave his adopted children Hawaiian middle names, for a suggestion. He offered "Kaimana," which is now one of the boy's middle names. The child will have to stay in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit he is full term, about another 10 weeks, Mounga said. "The aloha spirit is definitely felt here," she said about the care she has received in Hawaii. "It's very different from the mainland," Mounga said. "It just feels comforting, and everyone is willing to help."
Pakistan to receive first batch of 1 million vaccine doses under COVAX on May 8
Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan will receive the first batch of 1.238 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine under the COVAX programme and the consignment will arrive on May 8 at the Islamabad International Airport. Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar, Director General, Health, said Thursday that the first tranche was expected in March, but the supply was delayed. Pakistan has now managed to get the vaccine from South Korea to ensure the ongoing vaccination drive continues in the country uninterrupted. Active cases fall Pakistan’s active cases of COVID-19 have fallen from last week’s figure of 91,000 to 84,172 on Thursday, registering a considerable decline. According to the National Command & Operation Centre (NCOC), 108 people died in the last 24 hours while 4,198 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. The national positivity despite fall in the number of fatalities hovered over 9 per cent and the total number of cases in the country surged to 845,833 while the death toll reached 18,537, NCOC’s data revealed. Dr Safdar said the slight decline in number of active cases and fatalities is largely due to strict implementation of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPI) in big cities. Vaccination cover expands Pakistan has increased the number of vaccination centres working six days a week, except Friday, in two shifts during Ramadan. In Punjab alone, so far 1 million people have been vaccinated, while in Islamabad the first dose has been administered to approximately 200,000 people, including those aged 40 and above. Board exams to take place after June 15 Shafqat Mehmood, Federal Minister for Education, in a tweet announced that Board exams — Secondary (Matric) and Higher Secondary — would commence after June 15. “The Intermediate and Matric exams would be given priority so that results can come in before university admissions,” said the education minister in his tweet. Public behaviour during Eid will matter According to Dr Yasmin Rashid, Punjab’s Health Minister, the next 15-20 days are important with regard to curbing the spread of coronavirus. Public behaviour during Eid Al Fitr will play a role in containing the number of cases, she said. She appealed to the people to celebrate Eid in a simple way and restrict their movements during this auspicious occasion.
France sends patrol boats as tensions flare with UK on fishing
Europe|: London: France dispatched two patrol boats Thursday as French fishermen angry over loss of access to waters off their coast gathered for a maritime protest off the English Channel island of Jersey, the flashpoint for the first major dispute between France and Britain over fishing rights in the wake of Brexit. The naval policing boats Athos and Themis were sent to keep watch on waters between France and Jersey, French maritime authorities for the English Channel and North Sea said. The deployment came after Britain on Wednesday directed two Royal Navy vessels, HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, to also patrol the waters around the island, a self-governing British Crown Dependency near the coast of northern France. French fishermen have steamed into Jersey waters to demonstrate against new rules requiring them to submit their past fishing activities in order to receive a license to continue operating in the island’s waters. Dimitri Rogoff, who heads a grouping of fishermen, said about 50 boats from French ports along the western Normandy coast joined the protest Thursday morning, gathering their fleet off the Jersey port of St. Helier. He said the protest over licences for French fishermen was not an attempt to blockade the port but rather a peaceful method of voicing anger over reduced access to Jersey waters. “This isn’t an act of war,” Rogoff said in a phone interview. “It’s an act of protest.” French authorities said their vessels were there to assist in any maritime emergencies. “We would thus be capable of intervening rapidly should the situation worsen, which is not the case at the moment,” they said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. The British government said its Royal Navy vessels were there to “monitor the situation.” Opponents accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of escalating the crisis, and of using the fishing spat as an Election Day stunt. The story dominated newspaper front page on Thursday, as voters go to the polls in local and regional elections in England, Scotland and Wales. But the move was welcomed by Jersey fishermen. Fisherman John Dearing said the scene off St. Helier on Thursday was “like an invasion.” “It was quite a sight,” he told British news agency PA. “It was impressive, I looked from the shore this morning and it was just like a sea of red lights and flares already going off at sea.” Friction There have been numerous bouts of friction in the past between French and UK fisherman. The latest dispute, the first since Britain’s departure from the European Union, came after the island implemented new requirements that make fishermen account for their past work in Jersey waters to be eligible for a licence to continue operating there. Authorities on Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, have accused France of acting disproportionately after Paris threatened to cut off electricity to the island. Jersey and the other Channel Islands are closer to France than to Britain. Jersey receives most of its electricity from France, supplied through undersea cables. French maritime minister Annick Girardin warned Tuesday that France was ready to take “retaliatory measures,” accusing Jersey of stalling in issuing licenses to French boats under the terms of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. Economically insignificant but culturally important, fishing was the thorniest issue in UK-EU divorce talks, and the last to be settled. Under post-Brexit rules that took effect May 1, French boats need permits from the Jersey government to fish in the island’s waters. The French say there have been holdups in issuing some of the licences, and the permits come with unexpected restrictions that could drive many out of business.
COVID-19: CureVac vaccine offers new hope in fight against coronavirus
A new RNA vaccine will soon join the global fight against COVID-19. CureVac, a German pharmaceutical company, has been working on a vaccine against the coronavirus and is expected to announce the results of its late-stage clinical trials next week. If it’s found to be safe and effective, it will be the third RNA vaccine, after Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna. And it could be a gamechanger. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been successful in reining in coronavirus infection, having provided protection to millions of people in more than 90 countries. The two are pathbreakers in vaccine technology. They use the mRNA (messenger RNA) route to implant genetic information in the human body to produce the coronavirus spike protein, which will provoke a response from the immune system. All RNA (ribonucleic acid) vaccines are generally required to be kept in a deep freeze. That poses problems in transportation and storage. Pfizer had circumvented it by making custom-made boxes to maintain freezing temperature during transit and in warehouses. Here’s where CureVac scores. It doesn’t have to be kept in a deep freeze. Ordinary refrigerators would do, making the vaccines accessible in many parts of the world, especially places hardest hit by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. What’s CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate? CVnCoV is a vaccine candidate made by CureVac that uses unmodified, natural mRNA to trigger the production of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. Its targeted optimisation can induce high levels of protein protection in the cells with low mRNA doses, according to the company website. After the vaccine is injected into the body, it prompts the production of spike proteins. That activates the immune cells to produce antibodies and T-cells to fight it. What’s its dosage? The vaccine is delivered as a muscle injection of two doses administered four weeks apart. How’s CureVac different from other RNA vaccines? All RNA vaccines have to be kept in a deep freeze because they are fragile and degrade quickly. That has been a stumbling block in their storage and distribution. So RNA vaccines haven’t reached much of the developing world, which do not have an uninterrupted power supply. And the lack of funds rules out the purchase of deep freezers. Here’s where CureVac will come in handy if the trial results are encouraging. If it is found to be safe and effective and obtains approvals from health regulators, CureVac could help immensely in the fight against COVID-19. Since it can be stored in standard refrigerators at 36–46°F (2–8°C), the CureVac vaccine can be stored and transported more easily than the other RNA vaccines. How does the CureVac jab remain stable? CureVac’s researchers found a method to put the RNA molecules in fatty bubbles to prevent them from disintegrating, enabling the vaccine to remain stable at relatively warm temperatures. So it doesn’t need a deep freezer; a standard refrigerator would suffice. The vaccine can be kept in a room (outside the fridge) for 24 hours before injecting it. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, encapsulating mRNA in a protective shell will prevent its degradation and improve vaccine effectiveness. more on COVID-19 VACCINES Could nasal spray against COVID-19 help solve the pandemic? What do we know about Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine and rare clots? How and when will the COVID-19 pandemic end? COVID-19: What’s in vaccines? It’s mostly water, says global alliance How soon will it be available? CureVac launched a Phase 3 trial in December 2020, with 36,500 volunteers in Germany. In February, the European Union began a rolling review to speed up approval if the Phase 3 trial results are promising. The results are expected next week, and if they are positive, CureVac can submit requests for approval. Since the approvals are dependent on the health regulators of each country, it’s difficult to put a time frame. Who are CureVac’s partners? CureVac has been a laggard among RNA vaccine developers partly due to funding issues. Germany’s BioNTech benefited from their partnership with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, while Moderna allied with the National Institutes of Health and received a billion dollars from the US government’s Operation Warp Speed. So they were able to speed up vaccine development. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a foundation that supports vaccine research, gave $34 million for CureVac’s research in 2019. In June 2020, the German government invested around $360 million. Other support came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and billionaire Dietmar Hopp, the co-founder of German software giant SAP. Last year, German newspapers reported that US President Donald Trump had offered CureVac $1 billion to move its operations to America. But the company denied the reports. Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News Has CureVac lost the vaccine race? Pfizer and Moderna have snapped up vaccines deals from much of the developed world. But CureVac’s better stability at relatively warmer temperatures will help secure the agreements to provide vaccines to underdeveloped countries. Besides that, they already have contracts with the EU, Tesla and several pharma giants. Bayer, Celonic, GSK, and Novartis have thrown in their support for the production of the CureVac vaccine and for developing new ones to combat newer strains of the coronavirus. These companies will support the production of 150 million doses in 2021 and up to 360 million doses in 2022. CureVac has a deal to provide the EU with 225 million doses of their vaccine. It has also linked up with Elon Musk’s Tesla to create mRNA “micro-factories” that could be set up worldwide to make the vaccine. What are the production and supply targets of CureVac? CureVac says it can manufacture up to 300 million doses this year and ramp it to a billion doses next year. With Tesla’s help, the mRNA “micro-factories” could make billions of doses of the vaccine. The German firm says US export restrictions on key materials are affecting its short-term supply in Europe. “Due to the Defence Production Act, we are not getting certain goods out of the USA,” CureVac Chief Executive Franz-Werner Haas told the German weekly Der Spiegel. “We are not getting all the materials that we need,” he said. The Act gives US federal agencies the power to decide on procurement orders related to national defence, but it has also been used in times of natural disasters. That would slow CureVac’s vaccine production. The world can’t have enough vaccines. Every additional dose would help.
Sindh Governor inspects restaurant on wheels in Karachi
Pakistan|: Karachi: Sindh Governor Imran Ismail recently visited ‘the world’s longest restaurant on wheels’ in Karachi. The mobile restaurant has been providing free meals twice a day. The people are also allowed to take away as many parcels of free meals as they like for their family members who are not able to reach the restaurant. The restaurant is housed in a shipping container specially equipped to be used as a kitchen and dine-in facility. A non-profit JDC Foundation Pakistan has been running this novel charitable venture since the start of Ramadan. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail tries his hand at frying samosas in the mobile restaurant's kitchen. Image Credit: Supplied The mobile restaurant placed on a trailer has been parked outside Karachi’s biggest public sector hospital, the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. There are two other major public hospitals close by - the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases and National Institute of Child Health. The restaurant serves free meals to a large number of people, belonging to other cities of Sindh, who accompany patients to visit these hospitals for treatment. Since the first day of Ramadan, the Sheri and Iftar meals are being given to the needy people. Up to 15,000 people have been getting two meals every day. The restaurant provides seating facility for 35 people at a time to dine in. Since April 26, the restaurant is not providing dine-in facility and has only been giving out food parcels due to the coronavirus-related lockdown restrictions imposed by the government. Syed Zafar Abbass, General-Secretary of JDC Foundation, said that services of expert chefs earlier associated with five-star hotels had been hired. People queue up outside the mobile restaurant in Karachi to get free meals. Image Credit: Supplied He said the meals were prepared in hygienic conditions. Milk shakes, fresh juices, and fruits are part of the free meals service. In all, the JDC Foundation provides such free meal service at 14 different locations of Karachi. Sindh Governor inspected the kitchen facility of the mobile restaurant and took part in the cooking process by frying samosas as a part of the Iftari meal service. Talking to media persons on the occasion, the Sindh Governor said that he would help procure support for the JDC Foundation from the federal and provincial governments to run such charitable ventures. He said the free mobile restaurant had been established by a non-profit on a self-help basis but it matched the vision of the present federal government that stands for not letting any poor person go to bed hungry. He said the government had the resolve to provide utmost support to all such noble philanthropic work in the country.
Pleas for help in India as COVID-19 leaves children without carers
India|: Bengaluru: When an Indian children’s rights group tracked down two boys aged 6 and 8 after it was told that their parents were both severely ill with COVID-19 and unable to care for them, the children had not eaten for days. The case, reported by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) group that located the boys in a small town in India’s rural heartland, was one of a growing number of emergencies involving children affected by India’s devastating coronavirus crisis. The exponential rise in infections and deaths has left some children, particularly in poor communities, without a carer because their parents or other relatives are too ill to cope or have died. “Because the number of deaths has increased, the crisis is that either children are losing their parents, or their caregivers are hospitalised, and there is no one to take care of them,” said Dhananjay Tingal, executive director of BBA. India’s underfunded social services are struggling to cope, and in certain parts of the country there is still stigma surrounding people who contract the virus, leaving some children isolated. “Neighbours and extended family do not want to help because they are afraid of infection, treating these families almost like outcasts,” said Tingal. He did not share further details of the two boys because of concern for their privacy. Tingal said BBA, which is headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Sayarthi, started receiving calls about children in dire situations linked to the COVID-19 outbreak in early April. The volume of calls increased after Sayarthi posted a helpline number on Twitter on April 29. BBA now receives about 70 calls a day seeking help for children whose parents are dead or seriously ill, and a greater number of calls from parents who have tested positive and want to know if the group can take care of their children if their health fails. ‘Need a breast milk donor’ With 3.57 million active cases of COVID-19, India recorded more than 400,000 new infections over the last 24 hours - the highest daily tally reported globally - while deaths rose by a record 3,980. Experts say actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher. Citizens across the country, the world’s second most populous, are struggling to find beds, oxygen, or medicines needed for treatment, and many are dying for lack of treatment. Desperate pleas to help children have been appearing on social media. “Need a breast milk donor for a one-day-old baby in Delhi. Her mother passed away due to COVID,” read one Tweet. The person later said help had been found. Protsahan India Foundation, a children’s rights NGO, said its frontline workers recently attended to children who had gone without food for days after their mother, the main caregiver, passed away. “The father is a daily wage worker and is in a state of shock and trauma himself. We are helping with food and immediate care, education and protection needs of those kids,” said Sonal Kapoor, founder-director at Protsahan. In the state of Karnataka, home to the tech city of Bengaluru and an epicentre of the second wave, the government has appointed an official to identify children orphaned by COVID-19 ensure they receive appropriate support. The state this week also ramped up messaging around children’s safety and appealed to citizens not to seek help online from unknown groups. In the capital New Delhi, the city-state’s child protection arm this week wrote to the police asking them to investigate posts on social media calling for urgent adoptions. “They may also be cases of trafficking and sale-purchase of the children,” the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights warned.
NRIs to be taxed under domestic law while carrying out transaction over Rs20 million (Dh995,994)
Markets|India|: New Delhi: Non-resident Indians (NRI) in transactions with those in India will be liable for tax under the country's law - even if they do not have a physical presence in India and operate digital businesses. The Central Board of Direct Taxes has notified new rules for operation of business by NRIs under which any transaction over Rs20 million (around $27,100; Dh995,994) in respect of goods, services or property carried out by them with a person in India. This also applies to download of data or software in India. The new provisions are applicable with effect from Financial Year 2021-22. It had become fully functional now with CBDT notifying the thresholds for triggering SEP and consequently tax liability in India. Gulf News Tax clarifications have come too late for NRIs stuck in India Setting facts straight on India's recent tax changes for NRIs The provisions of Significant Economic Presence (SEP) will also apply if the number of users with whom continuous business activities are solicited exceeds Rs300,000. These provisions were introduced as legislation in 2018 with an intent to tax non-residents operating online-based businesses that function without a physical presence. It meant that SEP of a non-resident in India shall constitute a 'business connection' in India. According to PwC, the Central government has now made it clear that economic presence in India by NRIs is not limited only to the physical presence in India but also includes a virtual establishment. But non-residents could offset the taxability under these provisions by exploring taking relief under Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements.
Death toll in Indonesian power plant landslide rises to 10
Asia|: Medan, Indonesia: The death toll from a landslide at a hydroelectric dam project on Indonesia's Sumatra island has risen to 10, an official said Thursday, as authorities called off a week-long search for victims. A landslide triggered by heavy rains struck the Chinese-backed Batang Toru hydropower plant on Thursday last week, burying an estimated 13 people. Employees were checking on the area over concerns that heavy rains could trigger landslides when the disaster struck. At least two children are among the victims. The body of a Chinese employee of the plant was identified on Wednesday. Another Chinese employee narrowly escaped as he fled the scene. Local disaster mitigation agency head Hotmatua Rambe told AFP the search for the victims had ended after unearthing 10 bodies. Three victims remain missing. The Batang Toru hydropower project - part of China's trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure project - has raised opposition as it is built in an area of rainforest that is the only known habitat of the endangered Tapanuli orangutan. Fatal landslides and flash floods are common across the country during the rainy season. Last month, more than 200 people were killed in a cluster of far-eastern islands and neighbouring Timor Leste as Tropical Cyclone Seroja turned small communities into wastelands of mud and uprooted trees. Indonesia's disaster agency estimates 125 million people - nearly half of the country's population - live in areas at risk of landslides. The disasters are often caused by deforestation and poor mitigation planning, according to environmentalists.