GulfNews World

COVID-19 origin probe debate heats up

Asia|: Washington: The controversy over the investigation organised by the World Health Organisation and China about the origins of COVID-19 heated up as a group of scientists called for an independent probe to consider all hypotheses and nail down whether the virus came from an animal. A group of more than 20 signatories said in an open letter published by the Wall Street Journal that the existing mission isn't independent enough and demanded a new probe to consider all possibilities over the origin. Half of the joint team are Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, they said. The criticism comes as the mission considers delaying an interim report, which was expected soon. The investigators may instead publish that summary statement on the same day as the full report, a WHO spokesman said. The organisation expects to have clearer ideas on future studies and missions needed around key hypotheses once it has received the full report and will discuss the next steps with member states, he said. Speculation rejected Last month, the mission rejected speculation that the coronavirus could have leaked from a lab and said instead that it may have jumped to humans through an animal host or frozen wildlife products. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus later said the United Nations agency hasn't ruled out any hypotheses. The WHO has faced criticism since the outbreak of the pandemic that it's been too deferential to China. Former US President Donald Trump advanced the theory that the virus might have escaped from a high-security virology lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus was first detected. The mission followed months of negotiation with China. Stung by criticism that they initially covered up the extent of the crisis, Chinese state media and officials have promoted the theory that the virus didn't start in the country, but was brought in. The scientists who signed the open letter included the lab scenario among the possibilities. Signatories include Steven Quay, chief executive officer at Atossa Therapeutics Inc., which develops treatments for breast cancer and COVID-19, while Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, co-organised the letter. None of the signatories were members of the WHO-backed mission. China reaction China's foreign ministry said Friday in response to a question about the open letter that there had been top Chinese experts on the WHO team that went to Wuhan to look into the virus's origins, and that China hoped other nations could cooperate on similar inquiries. "This open letter by the scientists you talked about, whether they are making suggestions out of professional attitude or they're politicising the issue and making the presumption of guilt, I believe they know this very clearly," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing.

GulfNews Entertainment

John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place 2’ gets new release date

HollyWood|: Good news for fans of ‘A Quiet Place’ as they will get to see the sequel in theatres earlier than expected. ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ is opening early now, on Memorial Day weekend in the US, this year. As per Variety, Paramount Pictures has pushed up the release date of the sequel by several months, moving the film from September 17 ahead to May 28. It took the spot previously occupied by Mark Wahlberg’s action-thriller ‘Infinite’, which was relocated to September 24. Actor John Krasinski, who has helmed the sequel, took to his Twitter handle to confirm the news, writing, “They always say good things come to those who wait. Well... I think we’ve waited long enough. A QUIET PLACE PART II MEMORIAL DAY.” ‘A Quiet Place Part II’, also starring Emily Blunt, has been moved around numerous times amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The movie was originally slated to release last March, but those plans were scrapped at the last minute as COVID-19 first started to spread in the United States. Paramount even held a splashy red carpet premiere for ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ in New York City on March 8 last year, days before the country was forced to almost entirely shut down. The schedule shift comes a week after Paramount announced intentions to shorten the theatrical window, with plans to put ‘A Quiet Place Part II’, ‘Mission: Impossible 7’ and other upcoming films on the nascent streaming service Paramount Plus after 45 days on in the cinema halls. Apart from directing, Krasinski has also written ‘A Quiet Place II’. It features original cast members including Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. Series newcomers include Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou. In ‘A Quiet Place Part II’, the surviving members of the Abbott family — Evelyn (Blunt) and her children, Regan (Simmonds), Marcus (Jupe), and a newborn baby continue living in silence to hide from creatures that hunt sound, this time while facing the terrors of the outside world. ‘A Quiet Place’, which released in 2018, scored big with critics and went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for best sound editing, along with several Critics’ Choice nominations. The movie went on to gross $340.9 million (Dh1.2 billion) worldwide on a $21 million budget, making it one of the year’s biggest success stories for an original film. The 2018 film revolves around a family forced to survive in a world with monsters that hunt by sound.

GulfNews World

COVID-19: Japan to extend Tokyo area state of emergency to March 21

Asia|: Tokyo: The Japanese government plans to extend a state of emergency to combat COVID-19 for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures until March 21, two weeks longer than originally scheduled, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday. Under the state of emergency, the government has requested restaurants and bars close by 8 p.m. and stop serving alcohol an hour earlier. People are also asked to stay home after 8 p.m.unless they have essential reasons to go out. Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, which make up 30% of the country’s population, sought the extension past the originally scheduled end date of March 7 as new coronavirus cases had not fallen enough to meet targets. Two weeks The government had an early-morning meeting with advisers and they approved the extension, Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s coronavirus response, told reporters.But the measure will put more burden on restaurants. “As long as the government asks us to endure for another two weeks, we will follow its instructions. But that would be a matter of life or death for us,” said Akira Koganezawa, vice president of the association for 55 restaurants that serve monjayaki - a pan-fried batter dish popular in Tokyo area. “Without enough subsidies, some restaurants would go out of business,” he said. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is scheduled to hold a news conference at 9:00 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) after the government officially decides the extension, according to his office. Fuji TV, citing an unnamed government official, reported on Friday that another extension until the end of March could not be ruled out. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is considering setting a criteria that new daily infections stay below 140 on a weekly average basis, to lift the state of emergency, the Nikkei reported. Tokyo’s daily new infection came in at 269 on average for the past week through March 4, according to Reuters calculations. Tame the spread The government is keen to tame the spread of the virus as preparations ramp up for the Tokyo Olympics with just 4-1/2 months until they kick off. Foreign athletes have been barred from entering Japan to train ahead of the Games during the state of emergency. It was not immediately clear if the ban would remain in place during the extension for the Tokyo region while the order has already been lifted for the rest of the country. The current curbs are narrower in scope than those imposed under an emergency in spring of last year when schools and non-essential businesses were mostly shuttered. Still, new case numbers are at a fraction of their peak in early January, when the state of emergency took effect. Tokyo reported 279 cases on Thursday, compared with a record high 2,520 on Jan. 7 Nationwide, Japan has recorded some 433,000 cases and 8,050 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

GulfNews Business

Reliance will bear full cost of COVID-19 vaccination for employees and families: Nita Ambani

Business|: New Delhi: Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) will bear the full cost of COVID-19 vaccination for its employees and their families. Nita Mukesh Ambani, Founder and Chairperson, Reliance Foundation in a letter to members of the Reliance family said, "In our Reliance Family Day 2020 message, Mukesh and I had personally assured you that as soon as any approved Covid 19 vaccine is available in India, we will do our best to plan early vaccination for all Reliance employees and family members. We remain committed to this goal and to contributing to our nation's collective ability to end the coronavirus pandemic as soon as possible." "For those who are eligible to be vaccinated, we strongly urge you to register quickly for the Government of India's vaccination programme currently underway," Nita Ambani said. "As per our earlier commitment, Reliance will bear full cost of vaccination for you, your spouse, your parents and vaccine eligible aged children. You and your family's safety and well being is our responsibility. Mukesh and I truly believe that cherishing the health and happiness of our loved ones is what it means to be part of a family-Reliance family," Ambani said. "With your support, we will soon be able to put the pandemic behind us. Until then, please do not let your guard down against the scourge of the coronavirus just yet. Continue to maintain utmost safety and hygiene precautions. We are in the last stage of the collective battle. Together we must win and we will!" Ambani said.