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Phuket Gazette World News: State of the Union; China angry; Party pope; Don’t say nay

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Phuket Gazette World News: State of the Union; China angry; Party pope; Don’t say nay | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Legacy, political calendar frame Obama’s State of the Union address
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: President Barack Obama will give his State of the Union address with one eye on the political calendar as time ticks down on his bid to advance an agenda that will help shape his White House legacy.

Just three months after winning re-election on November 6, the Democratic president has a narrow window to push through policy priorities on the economy, immigration reform, and gun control.

Analysts say he has roughly a year before Washington turns its attention to the 2014 mid-term elections, which could sweep more Republicans into Congress and accelerate the subsequent “lame duck” status that defines presidents who are not running for office again.

“He basically has a year for major legislative accomplishments because after the first year you get into the mid-term elections, which will partially be a referendum on his presidency,” said Michele Swers, an associate professor of American government at Georgetown University.

Obama’s speech, due to start at 9am this morning (Phuket time), will be a chance for the president to build momentum within that tight time frame.

“I don’t want to say it’s the last important speech he’s going to give, but the window for a second-term president is fairly narrow,” said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman under former Republican President George W. Bush.

With unemployment still high and massive “sequester” spending cuts looming, administration officials say Obama will use the address before a television audience of millions to press Congress to support his proposals to boost the economy.

The White House is eager to show Obama’s commitment to the economy is as great as it is to immigration and gun reforms, and he is expected to spend most of his speech reviving a theme that dominated his 2012 campaign: helping the middle class.

“You will hear … an outline from him for his plan to create jobs and grow the middle class,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

“His principal preoccupation as president has been the need to first reverse the devastating decline in our economy and then set it on a trajectory where it’s growing in a way that helps the middle class, makes it more secure, and makes it expand.”

Economy, legacy
The likelihood of passing new short-term economic initiatives that require government spending in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is low, said Jeffrey Bergstrand, a finance professor at the University of Notre Dame and a former Federal Reserve economist.

“What will probably surface is something similar to what he proposed in 2011 and never got through,” he said, referring to proposals that would give grants to state and local governments as well as boost spending on infrastructure and research.

Obama is also expected to call for comprehensive trade talks with the 27-nation European Union.

The White House has signalled Obama will urge U.S. investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and education, despite Republican opposition to increased government spending and a political divide over how to tame the U.S. budget deficit.

Obama’s advisers argue that his push for immigration reform is also an economic issue, and momentum for change is stronger there than it is for the president’s other policy priorities.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who is championing immigration reform – albeit with a more restrictive process of legalization than Obama supports – is slated to give his party’s response to Obama’s speech.

The debate over immigration will also play out in the balconies of the House of Representatives, where non-lawmakers will sit to listen to the speech. Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois plans to bring a man who is fighting deportation as his guest to the speech.

Prospects for success on gun control are in doubt, but the president is likely to use his speech to seek more support for proposals he laid out last month after the Newtown, Connecticut, school-shooting massacre.

After giving prominent mention to the fight against climate change and equality for gays in his inaugural address, supporters will be disappointed if he fails to lay out details in those two areas. Obama could advance both issues through executive orders, circumventing Congress and doing more to bolster his legacy.

“A second-term State of the Union is usually written with an eye on history books and I’m sure the president is thinking about what his legacy is going to be,” said Doug Hattaway, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Hillary Clinton.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the festering civil war in Syria may present Obama with the toughest foreign policy tests of his second term, but they are likely to receive little attention in his speech.

He might raise concerns about cyber attacks, which have hit a succession of major U.S. companies and government agencies in recent months.

Obama will travel to three states in the days after his speech to sell his proposals to the public.

North Korean nuclear test draws anger, including from China
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday in defiance of U.N. resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the world, including from its only major ally, China, which summoned the North Korean ambassador to protest.

Pyongyang said the test was an act of self-defence against “U.S. hostility” and threatened stronger steps if necessary.

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting at which its members, including China, “strongly condemned” the test and vowed to start work on appropriate measures in response, the president of the council said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to rule the country, has presided over two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test during his first year in power, pursuing policies that have propelled his impoverished and malnourished country closer to becoming a nuclear weapons power.

North Korea said the test had “greater explosive force” than those it conducted in 2006 and 2009. Its KCNA news agency said it had used a “miniaturised” and lighter nuclear device, indicating it had again used plutonium, which is suitable for use as a missile warhead.

China, which has shown signs of increasing exasperation with the recent bellicose tone of its reclusive neighbour, summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and protested sternly, the Foreign Ministry said.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the test and urged North Korea to “stop any rhetoric or acts that could worsen situations and return to the right course of dialogue and consultation as soon as possible”.

Analysts said the test was a major embarrassment to China, which is a permanent member of the Security Council and North Korea’s sole major economic and diplomatic ally, because it cast doubt on the extent of Beijing’s influence over its ally.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the test a “highly provocative act” that hurt regional stability and pressed for new sanctions.

“The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will also continue to

— 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 its first quarter, marking an 18.3% jump in year over 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 first quarter 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

Maya Taylor

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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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