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Phuket Gazette World News: Pacific Islands tsunami alert; Syrian talks, Vatican abuse; Obama in Israel

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Phuket Gazette World News: Pacific Islands tsunami alert; Syrian talks, Vatican abuse; Obama in Israel | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Solomon Islands 8.0 quake triggers Pacific tsunami warning
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: An earthquake measuring 8.0 magnitude struck southeast of the Solomon Islands on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The shallow quake was only 5.8 km deep and the epicentre was 81 kilometers west of Lata in the Solomon Islands.

A tsunami warning is in effect for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati and Wallis and Futuna. A tsunami watch is in effect for numerous other areas. There were no immediate reports of damage or fatalities.

Syria opposition ponders course as leader offers talks
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition have called for an emergency meeting to discuss a controversial proposal by its head to negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, opposition sources said.

Sheikh Moaz Alkhatib, the moderate Islamic cleric who leads the 70-member assembly, said he would be ready to meet Assad’s ceremonial deputy, Farouq al-Shara, if Assad fulfils conditions including the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners.

“The Coalition needs to convene to chart an urgent strategy after the reverberations of the initiative and seize on the momentum it has created, regardless of the reservations of some members,” one Coalition official said.

While some opposition figures have criticised Alkhatib’s offer to talk to Assad’s representatives, others say it could expose Assad’s proposals for dialogue as hollow.

“The initiative is proving to the international community that Assad is not willing to compromise one millimetre and we need to take advantage of that,” the official said.

Thirty members of the Coalition have sent a letter to its leadership demanding an emergency meeting for the whole assembly, according to Coalition sources.

Ahead of surprise meetings last weekend between Alkhatib and the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran, Assad’s main backers, the Coalition abandoned its policy of refusing to talk with the Assad regime unless Assad stepped down first.

The Syrian National Council, a powerful block dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood inside the Coalition, said Alkhatib made an “individual decision” by launching the initiative, which contradicts the Coalition’s charter calling for “the downfall of the regime with all its symbols and components.”

The statement said Alkhatib’s meeting with the Iranian foreign minister was a “stab to the revolution.”

But an official in the Council said it was reluctant to call for the removal of Alkhatib because his initiative had support in the street.

“Alkhatib seems to be in tune with popular mood but the Council feels that the initiative is all over the place and it needs to be defined in writing,” the official said.

“The Council will sit tight and wait for the initiative to hit a wall when it becomes clear that Assad is not implementing anything and the prisoners are still languishing in his jails.”

French troops to begin Mali pullout in March – foreign minister
Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: PARIS (Reuters) – France plans to begin pulling troops out of Mali from March and will focus its operations on flushing out Islamist rebels in the north of the country, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday.

“We will continue to act in the north where some terrorist havens remain,” he said in an interview for Wednesday’s Metro newspaper.

“I think that from March, if everything goes according to plan, the number of French troops should fall.”

France has deployed nearly 4,000 ground troops, as well as warplanes and armoured vehicles in its three-week-old Operation Serval that has broken the Islamist militants’ 10-month grip on northern towns.

It is now due to gradually hand over to a U.N.-backed African force of some 8,000 troops, known as AFISMA, of which around 3,800 have already been deployed.

Paris and its allies want to prevent the Islamists from using Mali’s desert north as a base to launch attacks on neighbouring African countries and the West.

“The narco-terrorist groups have been stooped thanks to our strikes,” Fabius said. But there can still be individual acts. We have to stay on our guard.”

Vatican official thanks media for uncovering Church abuse
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The Vatican’s new sexual crimes prosecutor on Tuesday acknowledged that the U.S. media “did a service” to the Catholic Church through its aggressive reporting on child abuse that helped the Church “confront the truth”.

The rare acknowledgement came from Father Robert Oliver, a canon lawyer from the U.S. diocese of Boston, speaking at his first public appearance since becoming the Vatican’s “Promoter of Justice” last week.

“I think that certainly those who continued to put before us that we need to confront this problem did a service,” he said in response to a question on whether the role of an aggressive American media was, in hindsight, a blessing for the Church.

“They (the media) helped to keep the energy, if you will, to keep the movement going so that we would, honestly and with transparency, and with our strength, confront what is true,” he told a news conference.

Since the abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002 and spread around the world, some Church and Vatican officials have accused the media of irresponsible journalism and exaggeration.

Oliver, whose Vatican department investigates cases of abuse, is the successor to Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who held the post for 10 years before being named a bishop in Malta.

Last year’s landmark symposium brought together some 200 people including bishops, leaders of religious orders, victims of abuse and psychologists.

Officials said about 600 cases of abuse – most of which took place from 1965 to 1985 – are being reported each year.

Obama to visit Israel in spring in possible Mideast peace push
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: President Barack Obama plans to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring, the White House said on Tuesday, raising the prospects of a new U.S. push to restart long-stalled Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.

Obama’s trip, his first to Israel since taking office, signalled that he intends to make the volatile Middle East – where Iran remains locked in a nuclear standoff with the West and Syria is caught up in a bloody civil war – a top priority in his second term.

While the White House gave no exact dates for the trip, Israel’s Channel 10 television station cited unnamed sources in Washington saying Obama would visit the Jewish state on March 20.

The choice of Israel for Obama’s first foreign travel since his January 21 inauguration will give the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance to repair their notoriously fractious relationship and seek common ground on confronting the region’s troubles.

Netanyahu is now occupied with the task of forging

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine

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Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Denmark has announced that it is abandoning the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first European country to do so, amid concerns about very rare but serious blood clots. The rollout of the vaccine has run into problems in several countries, with its use either temporarily suspended or restricted to older age groups.

When concerns first arose over the vaccine’s rare side-effects, Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend its use. In Thailand, use of the vaccine was suspended last month, before officials judged it safe to proceed, with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul going on to confirm it would become the Kingdom’s primary Covid-19 vaccine.

Both the European drugs regulator and the World Health Organisation are standing by the jab, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. However, health officials in Denmark have now decided to ditch it for good.

“Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Denmark has reported 2 cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of which proved fatal. The blood clot incidents arose after 140,000 people had received the jab. The Bangkok Post reports that 8% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated and 17% have received their first dose.

The country plans to continue its rollout using the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Officials say they are confident that the availability of other jabs, coupled with the fact that Covid-19 is relatively under control in Denmark, means the country’s mass inoculation can continue without issue.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has released a statement acknowledging the decision taken by Danish health authorities.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by the Danish Health Authority. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”

SOURCE: Euro News | Bangkok Post

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