Naftali Bennett takes oath as Israel's new Prime Minister
Israel's parliament has narrowly voted in favor of a new coalition government, ending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's historic 12-year rule. Naftali Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu turned bitter rival, becomes prime minister, presiding over a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight parties with deep ideological differences.
US President Joe Biden lauds G7, heads to Brussels for NATO talks
President Joe Biden has closed his first Group of Seven leaders' summit, saying it was an "extraordinary, collaborative and productive meeting." Biden on Sunday praised agreements to help the world combat Covid-19 and to set a global minimum tax for corporations everywhere. He spoke at a news conference in England, after the conclusion of a three-day summit.
Naftali Bennett: Tech millionaire and Israel's new prime minister
Mena|World|: Jerusalem: Naftali Bennett, a multi-millionaire former tech entrepreneur, will be Israel's new prime minister after parliament approved a new government on Sunday. The 120-member Knesset voted in favour of an improbable coalition put together by centrist Yair Lapid, with a razor-thin majority but enough to end veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 unbroken years at the helm. The coalition deal sees Bennett, an estranged former protege of Netanyahu, serve first as prime minister in a rotation deal, before Lapid takes over after two years. A 49-year-old former defence minister and one-time special forces commando, Bennett leads the right-wing Yamina party, which has called for Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. He will be Israel's first premier to lead an openly religious lifestyle, and the first to sport the kippa, the small skullcap worn by religious Jewish men. The son of American-born parents who speaks perfect English, he is ultra-liberal on the economy and takes a hard line against Israel's arch-foe, Iran. He shares this ideology with Netanyahu, having served in several of the Likud leader's governments. But in recent years tensions between intensified and Netanyahu made little effort to hide his disdain for Bennett. In late May, two months after Israel's fourth inconclusive election in two years, Bennett reached a deal with Lapid that paved the way for the improbable eight-party coalition approved by parliament on Sunday. Personal life Bennett lives with his wife Gilat and their four children in the central city of Raanana. He entered politics after selling his tech start-up for $145 million in 2005, and the next year became chief of staff to Netanyahu, who was then in the opposition. After leaving Netanyahu's office, Bennett in 2010 became head of the Yesha Council. He took politics by storm in 2012, taking charge of the hard-right Jewish Home party, which was facing annihilation. He increased its parliamentary presence fourfold. Beyond holding the defence portfolio, Bennett served as Netanyahu's economy minister and education minister. He re-branded Jewish Home as the "New Right" party, before forging the Yamina ("Rightward") bloc in 2018, and was part of Netanyahu's coalition which collapsed the same year. But he was not asked to join a unity government in May 2020 - a move seen as an expression of Netanyahu's personal contempt towards him. In 2020, in opposition and with the coronavirus pandemic raging, Bennett put aside his right-wing rhetoric to focus on the health crisis. He moved to broaden his appeal by releasing plans to contain Covid-19 and aid the economy. 'Natural successor' Former supporters and critics have accused Bennett of betraying his nationalist voters by joining a coalition that includes dovish Meretz and support from the Arab Israeli Islamic conservative party Raam. But Bennett has said he is on a mission to restore Israel's governance and avoid a fifth election in little more than two years. In an interview with Channel 12 news, he justified his decision to join the "change" coalition despite explicit campaign pledges to not be part of a government headed by or formed with Lapid. "The core promise of these elections was to extract Israel from chaos," he told. "I chose what's good for Israel." While risking alienating his traditional right-wing base by breaking a campaign promise in order to topple Netanyahu, Bennett's move could enable him to broaden his support in the long run. "The chance to serve as prime minister is a huge opportunity for Bennett to present himself as prime ministerial material," said Toby Greene, a political scientist at Bar Ilan university near Tel Aviv. Bennett could thus "present himself to (the) Israeli mainstream as the natural successor to Netanyahu, as the candidate of the Right who has shown he can run the country", he said.
G-7's 1 billion pledge for new vaccine doses comes up short
World|: The Group of Seven fell short on fulfilling a pledge of 1 billion additional vaccine doses it will donate to developing nations, revealing gaps in the bloc between vaccine haves and have-nots. The world leaders made the 1-billion-shot pledge on Sunday - and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the G-7 would collectively distribute 2.3 billion vaccine doses to developing countries by next year. "Recognizing that ending the pandemic in 2022 will require vaccinating at least 60% of the global population, we will intensify our action to save lives," the leaders said in their final communique from the G-7 summit in the coastal Cornwall region of the UK. But Merkel's larger figure includes a much wider array of contributions already offered, as well future exports, according to a European official. So far, the G-7 countries have promised 613 million truly new doses - including some funded in part by previously announced aid. If doses already announced in recent weeks by G-7 and EU nations are included, the tally grows to roughly 870 million doses, according to the communique. To reach the 1 billion figure, G-7 officials included pledges made starting back in February. The communique also was the latest sign in a standoff over whether to waive intellectual-property rights as a way to try to increase vaccine production. Big splash The leaders clearly wanted to make a big splash with the promise. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson kicked off the summit by emphasizing the target, and US President Joe Biden hailed his government's commitment to supply half of the 1 billion new doses. The biggest batches come from countries that had cornered the market early on for domestic use. The US and the UK account for nearly all the new pledges - after they steered hundreds of millions of doses produced on their soil for their own citizens, while restricting exports for months. That approach led to stark vaccine disparities globally, even among the wealthy members of the G-7. The US and UK have fully vaccinated nearly half their populations while Japan and Canada have fully vaccinated less than 10%. "It's a good step, but the G-7 should feel far from content," said Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center. "It seems like for an announcement, they went for a nice big round number without a lot of detail around it. Hopefully there is detail around it, as opposed to being figured out after the fact," he said. Intellectual property Health advocates have warned that the world needs billions of doses to quell the pandemic and to halt uncontrolled spread that generates more dangerous variants, against which vaccine protection may be less effective. The pledges come as the bloc grapples with another question - whether and how to lift intellectual-property rights protections for the vaccines. Biden threw his weight behind that idea but it has languished after Merkel opposed it. The communique pledged only to "support manufacturing in low-income countries," but didn't say specifically how. It noted the "importance of intellectual property" and the "positive impact" of voluntary licensing - both clauses that reflect the view of countries opposed to a waiver. "We will explore all options to ensure affordable and accessible Covid-19 tools for the poorest countries," it said. Despite some lingering resentment, the new doses pledged at the summit are a welcome sign to nations without domestic vaccine production that have been desperately awaiting shots. The new and existing pledges include: While some of that was previously announced, the latest measures are also in some cases not entirely new. The 500 million doses pledged by the U.S. will be funded in part by $2 billion that Biden had initially promised for Covax, the World Health Organization-backed initiative aimed at facilitating equitable global distribution. Biden will claw that money back and buy doses directly, then work with Covax to distribute them. Biden also has said he'll share 80 million doses by the end of this month. Those are expected to be a mix of Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc shots. The 100 million UK doses - including 5 million to be distributed by September and a total of 30 million in 2021 - will be a mix of several suppliers and will be based on UK supply. The cost of the doses remains unclear. The Canadian pledge includes 13 million directly donated doses as well as a previously announced C$440 million ($361.9 million) pledge to Covax. Counting that money, Canada framed its donation as up to 100 million doses total, though only the 13 million are new. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's vaccination program initially struggled from a lack of domestic production, leaving it reliant on imports and now facing a belated wave of orders rolling in. Not enough? As part of a recasting the EU's target, the official said the bloc would double the number of vaccines to be exported to 700 million by the end of the year from the current 350 million. Millions of doses have been exported from the EU to other G-7 members, including the UK, Japan and Canada. The speed of donations is as important as the number of shots, Udayakumar said. The pledges "seems to indicate a back-loading of the volume" despite the current pressing need. "That would be the most negative impact, if we actually waited three to six months to get substantial doses out the door," he said. Critics said the promises aren't enough. Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, an UK-based advocacy group, called Johnson's pledge of 100 million doses "crumbs from the table." "Today we're only offering to give 100 million doses to the rest of the world - and only by the middle of next year. It's little more than a PR gimmick," Dearden said in a statement. He called on Johnson and Merkel to back the intellectual property waiver; the communique showed the countries divided on that issue.
In China’s latest outbreak, doctors say the infected get sicker, faster
Asia|: Beijing: As the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads in southeastern China, doctors say they are finding that the symptoms are different and more dangerous than those they saw when the initial version of the virus started spreading in late 2019 in the central city of Wuhan. Patients are becoming sicker, and their conditions are worsening much more quickly, doctors told state-run television Thursday and Friday. Four-fifths of symptomatic cases developed fevers, they said, although it was not clear how that compared with earlier cases. The virus concentrations that are detected in their bodies climb to levels higher than previously seen and then decline only slowly, the doctors said. Up to 12 per cent of patients become severely or critically ill within three to four days of the onset of symptoms, said Guan Xiangdong, director of critical care medicine at Sun Yat-sen University in the city of Guangzhou, where the outbreak has been centered. In the past, the proportion had been 2 per cent or 3 per cent, although occasionally up to 10 per cent, he said. UK, Brazil Doctors in Britain and Brazil have reported similar trends with the variants that circulated in those countries, but the severity of those variants has not yet been confirmed. The testimonies from China are the latest indication of the dangers posed by delta, which the World Health Organization last month labeled a “variant of concern.” First identified this spring in India, where it was blamed for widespread suffering and death, delta has since become the dominant variant in Britain, where doctors suggest that it is more contagious and may infect some people who have received only one of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. China has uniquely detailed data, however, because it has essentially universal testing in the vicinity of outbreaks, allowing officials to gather detailed information on the extent of cases. Delta’s spread in southeastern China focuses more attention on the effectiveness of China’s self-made vaccines. Chinese authorities have not indicated how many of the new infections have occurred in people who had been vaccinated. In some other countries where Chinese-made vaccines are in wide use, including the Seychelles and Mongolia, infections among vaccinated people are rising, although few patients have reportedly developed serious illness. Nearby Shenzhen had a handful of cases last week of the alpha variant, which first emerged in Britain. As some other parts of the world still struggle to acquire and administer large numbers of coronavirus tests, southeastern China has used its local production of scarce chemicals to conduct testing on a remarkable scale. Authorities said that they had conducted 32 million tests in Guangzhou, which has 18 million people, and 10 million in the adjacent city of Foshan, which has 7 million. Guangzhou has also isolated and quarantined tens of thousands of residents who had been anywhere near those infected. The testing and quarantine appear to have slowed but not stopped the outbreak. China’s National Health Commission announced Friday that nine new cases had been found in Guangzhou the previous day. “The epidemic is not over yet, and the risk of virus transmission still exists,” said Chen Bin, deputy director of the Guangzhou Municipal Health Commission.
Glacier? Blood? Watermelon? Snow?: Whatever it’s called, snow shouldn’t be so red
Europe|: Paris: Winter through spring, the French Alps are wrapped in austere white snow. But as spring turns to summer, the stoic slopes start to blush. Parts of the snow take on bright colours: deep red, rusty orange, lemonade pink. Locals call this “sang de glacier,” or “glacier blood.” Visitors sometimes go with “watermelon snow.” In reality, these blushes come from an embarrassment of algae. In recent years, alpine habitats all over the world have experienced an uptick in snow-algae blooms - dramatic, strangely hued aggregations of these normally invisible creatures. While snow-algae blooms are poorly understood, the fact they are happening is probably not a good sign. Researchers have begun surveying the algae of the Alps to better grasp what species live there, how they survive and what might be pushing them over the bleeding edge. Some of their initial findings were published this week in Frontiers in Plant Science. Tiny yet powerful, the plant-like bacteria we call algae are “the basis of all ecosystems,” said Adeline Stewart, an author of the study who worked on it as a doctoral student at Grenoble Alpes University in France. Thanks to their photosynthetic prowess, algae produce a large amount of the world’s oxygen and form the foundation of most food webs. But they sometimes overdo it, multiplying until they throw things out of balance. This can cause toxic red tides, scummy freshwater blooms and unsettling glacier blood. Protect themselves from ultraviolet light While it’s unclear exactly what spurs the blooms, the colour - often red, but sometimes green, gray or yellow - comes from pigments and other molecules that the snow algae use to protect themselves from ultraviolet light. These hues absorb more sunlight, causing the underlying snow to melt more quickly. This can change ecosystem dynamics and hasten the shrinking of glaciers. Inspired by increasing reports of the phenomenon, researchers at several alpine institutes decided to turn their attention from algae species in far-flung habitats to those “that grow next door,” said Eric Marechal, head of a plant physiology lab at Grenoble Alpes University and a leader of the project. Because so many different types of algae can live and bloom in the mountains, the researchers began with a census in parts of the French Alps to find out what grows where. They took soil samples from five peaks, spread over various altitudes, and searched for algal DNA. They found that many species tend to prefer particular elevations and have most likely evolved to thrive in the conditions found there. One key genus, fittingly named Sanguina, grows only above 6,500 feet. The researchers also brought some species back to the lab to investigate their potential bloom triggers. Algae blooms occur naturally - the first written observation of glacier blood came from Aristotle, who guessed that the snow had grown hairy, red worms from lying around too long. But human-generated factors can worsen such outbursts and make them more frequent. Extreme weather, unseasonably warm temperatures and influxes of nutrients from agricultural and sewage runoff all play a role in freshwater and ocean algae blooms. To see if the same was true for glacier blood, the researchers subjected the algae to surpluses of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. While they have not found anything significant so far, they plan to continue this line of testing, Stewart said. The limits of DNA sampling mean that even this study gives an incomplete picture of what’s living in and under the snow, said Heather Maughan, a microbiologist and research scholar at the Ronin Institute in New Jersey who was not involved in the study. Still, it revealed the “incredible diversity” of alpine algae - underscoring how little we know about them, as well as their potential to “serve as beacons of ecosystem change,” she said. In the coming years, the researchers will keep track of how species distributions shift over time, which may shed light on the overall health of the ecosystem, Stewart said. They will also try to establish whether temperature patterns correlate with blooms, and begin to compare species compositions in white versus colorful snow. Eventually, they hope to decipher the blood-red message. “There’s so little that we know,” she said. “We need to dig deeper.”