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Phuket Gazette World News: US credit default talks begin; West eyes modernizing nukes; German bishop scandal goes to Pope

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

Western powers talk nuclear disarmament, upgrade what’s left
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons is a quarter of the size it was at its Cold War peak in the 1980s – but the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain are all considering or taking steps to modernise their arms systems.

The number of nuclear warheads globally is about 17,000, estimates the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), down roughly 75 percent over the last thirty years largely because of cuts by the United States and Russia.

U.S. President Barack Obama gave new impetus to the often halting process of disarmament in 2009 when he set out a vision of a world without nuclear weapons in a speech, three months into his presidency, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, Obama’s aim has produced mixed results so far, not least because of a plan by the United States and NATO to build an anti-missile shield around Western Europe that has been seen by Russia to undermine his intent.

Last June the U.S. president proposed further cutting nuclear arsenals by a third but Russia responded that the shield, intended to protect against attack from Iran and North Korea, would require Moscow to hold more missiles or lose its deterrent capability. Russia fears the system’s interceptors could shoot down its long-range nuclear missiles.

Meanwhile, the United States is modifying existing warheads under so-called life extension programmes, Russia is deploying more warheads on each of its missiles, and China is introducing new mobile missiles for its nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) think-tank.

Such activities led Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, to comment in September: “Robust nuclear weapon modernisation programmes… raise legitimate questions over whether these steps are heading toward global zero, or instead to a permanently nuclear-armed world.”

Adds Henry Sokolski of the U.S. Nonproliferation Policy Education Center: “In theory everyone can say the ideal number is zero but in practice no one is willing to take that risk.”

The Obama administration used the U.N. nuclear agency’s annual member state gathering in September to underline its commitment to “pursuing the peace and security” of a world without nuclear weapons, saying it had taken significant steps toward that goal.

The hope now is that the U.S. and other Western nuclear powers can persuade Iran to curb sensitive uranium enrichment after years of tough sanctions failed to do the job. New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s overtures towards the West, while insisting on Tehran’s nuclear “rights”, have raised hopes of a negotiated settlement to the decade-old dispute ahead of talks between the two sides on October 15-16 in Geneva.

The Islamic state denies Western accusations that it is seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons.

Non-proliferation

The fact that more countries are not nuclear armed is widely credited to the central bargain of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that nations without atomic bombs pledged not to seek them and nuclear weapon states agreed to pursue disarmament negotiations.

Compared with U.S. predictions in the early 1960s that the nuclear weapons club could increase to 25 states within a few decades, just nine countries are now estimated to have atomic bombs, including India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

The latter four states are outside the 189-nation NPT. Israel is widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, drawing frequent Iranian and Arab condemnation.

The longer nuclear weapon states hold on to their bombs, the greater the likelihood of tempting other countries to look into the possibility of developing such arms, analysts say.

India and Pakistan, which came close to war in 2001-02, both publicly said they had tested nuclear weapons in 1998. North Korea carried out its third nuclear test in February this year. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied it has nuclear arms.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies has warned that a South Asia arms race and Pakistan’s development of tactical “battlefield” atomic weapons were increasing the risk of any conflict there becoming a nuclear war.

“Without complete disarmament, we will stand to lose the fight against proliferation in the long run,” Austria’s ambassador to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Christine Stix-Hackl, said in a speech last month.

The Federation of American Scientists says U.S. and Russian warheads account for more than 90 percent of the world’s total stockpile. Britain, France and China have between 200-300 each. India has 110, Pakistan 120 and Israel 80, it said.

Both the FAS and SIPRI say the total number of deployed warheads – those placed on missiles or located on bases with operational forces – amount to around 4,400, of which the vast majority are U.S. and Russian.

If “nations conclude that the U.S. and Russia have no intention of ever eliminating their obsolete Cold War arsenals, they will hedge their bets and at least explore developing their own nuclear forces,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.

German Catholics take ‘luxury bishop’ scandal to pope
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The head of Germany’s Roman Catholic Church said on Thursday he would discuss with Pope Francis a scandal over a bishop who has been criticised for splashing out on a luxury residence and accused of lying under oath about a first-class flight.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said he took the situation in the Diocese of Limburg very seriously. His decision to take the matter to the pope may raise pressure on the bishop of Limburg to stand down.

Francis’ response to the case is being closely watched, because it may show how far he will go to promote frugality and simplicity in a church plagued for decades by sexual abuse scandals and questions about opaque financial transactions at the Vatican bank.

State prosecutors said they wanted Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, bishop of Limburg which is near Frankfurt, fined for making false affidavits about a first-class flight to India.

“I am sure that the Bishop is dealing with this thoroughly and with the necessary self-criticism. Next week, I will speak to the Holy Father in Rome about it,” said Zollitsch.

Prosecutors have been investigating whether the bishop lied under oath when he denied a report in Der Spiegel news magazine that he flew first-class to India to visit poverty projects.

Tebartz-van Elst said he flew business class but Der Spiegel has made public a mobile phone video recording of a conversation which triggered action by prosecutors in Hamburg, where the weekly is based.

Revelations this week that the bishop let costs for his new residence run to 31 million euros, over six times the original estimate, triggered calls for his resignation.

Newspapers have splashed pictures of the 53-year-old “luxury bishop” on their front pages and the Vatican sent an envoy last month to investigate protests in the diocese, marking the Pope’s determination that bishops should be closer to congregations.

Zollitsch, who

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

International travel slow to take off, Covid-19 restrictions evolving

Caitlin Ashworth

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International travel slow to take off, Covid-19 restrictions evolving | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Jetstar

While Thailand is working on safely, and slowly, reopening its borders to foreign tourists after a 7 month border closure, other countries are also adapting to new, pandemic-induced, travel measures and restrictions. Now some are slowly lifting restrictions and resuming flights, while some remain grounded. What’s happening in your part of the world?

In all cases, check your local travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, if any. And if you leave a country, what paperwork or restrictions will await you when you return? Don’t book any flights until you’ve done your homework.

Australia

Qantas Airlines flights from Australia to the US will continue to be grounded until at least January 31, 2021 which includes the destinations New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. The airline will also continue to ground flights to Japan, including Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo.

Singapore

Jetstar Asia, based in Singapore, will resume flights to major destinations in Southeast Asia with flights to Bangkok starting next month. Since flights are always changing due to uncertainties and travel restrictions, flights to select Southeast Asia cities are only being offered from October 25 to November 15. JetStar will then review flights again. Destinations include Clark in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia as well as Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Singapore have agreed on a travel bubble schemed that will allow Hong Kong nationals and Singapore nationals to travel between the 2 countries without going through Covid-19 tests or quarantine periods. But the countries have not announced when the scheme will begin.

Maldives

All incoming tourists and short-term visitors must have a certificate declaring negative Covid-19 test result issued 96 hours before arrival, extending the window from the previous 72 hours.

SOURCE: TTR Weekly

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid19 – US infections “balloon”, world case total surpasses 40 million

The Thaiger

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Covid19 – US infections “balloon”, world case total surpasses 40 million | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Ipsos

“We were really hoping to crater the cases in preparation for a bad winter. We’ve done basically the opposite.”

New Covid-19 cases are again surging in many countries. Globally, the number of infected people exceeded 40 million as of last night with new infections starting to accelerate again. Today the total number of confirmed cases around the world is 40,323,461. The number of total deaths remains at 1,118,826 and recovered patients at 30,135,040 (as of 4pm Thai time).

Covid19 - US infections

Notably, the death rate from Covid-19 is not rising as treatment for complicated cases continues to rapidly improve. The US, India, Russia, Brazil, the rest of South America, and parts of Europe and the UK, are the current ‘hot spots’ (below).

Regionally, the surge of cases in Myanmar is causing headaches for Thai border officials in the north west of the country. The Governor of Tak decided to close the border checkpoints this morning. But the 2,000 kilometre long land border between Thailand and Myanmar has many unofficial “Natural” crossing points.

In the US, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says following public health measures is the way out of the crisis that has hobbled the economy, claimed thousands of lives and sickened millions.

“The predicted fall surge is here, and rising cases across the US appear to bear that out.”

The US is averaging more than 55,000 new cases a day, and 10 states reported their highest single-day cases counts last Friday. As of this morning, US time, there were more than 8.5 million cases and 219,674 coronavirus deaths, according to Worldometers.info

“The Covid-19 crisis would have to be ‘really, really bad’ to implement a national lockdown. Despite the climbing totals, a nationwide lockdown is not the way forward unless the pandemic gets “really, really bad.”

Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University says the worst fears of rising cases, leading into winter, are being realised.

“We were really hoping to crater the cases in preparation for a bad winter. We’ve done basically the opposite.”

After hitting an all-time high in July, cases did drop significantly, but the US never reached a level where the public health system could truly get a handle on the outbreak or describe it as ‘contained’.

Now infections are on the rise again, driven by ballooning outbreaks across the country’s interior, especially in the Midwest, the Great Plains and the West.

Contributing to the rise is the return of students to schools and campuses across the country, puzzling resistance to social distancing and mask wearing recommendations, and more people spending time in restaurants and other indoor settings as the weather starts to cool down.

SOURCE: worldometers.info | nor.org

Covid19 - US infections

TABLE: worldometers.com

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

2 Covid vaccine trials halted in phase 3 over safety concerns

Maya Taylor

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2 Covid vaccine trials halted in phase 3 over safety concerns | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Medical Xpress

After Johnson & Johnson paused phase 3 of its Covid vaccine trials due to safety concerns, a second pharmaceutical company has followed suit. Eli Lilly has halted phase 3 trials of a lab-produced antibody treatment, 24 hours after the Johnson & Johnson decision. The Bangkok Post reports that an unspecified incident led Eli Lilly to call a temporary halt to the trials. The day before, Johnson & Johnson paused its phase 3 trials after a participant fell ill. A spokesperson for J&J says the hiatus is temporary.

The 2 delays follow a similar incident with phase 3 trials of a vaccine being jointly worked on by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca, which was briefly delayed last month due to an unexplained illness in one participant. Trials of that vaccine have now resumed globally, with the exception of the US, for reasons unknown. Such snags are par for the course in the final phase testing of vaccine development, particularly as the number of participants is increased significantly to see if very rare side-effects are presented.

A spokesperson for Eli Lilly says the company backs the Data Safety and Monitoring Board in calling a temporary halt to phase 3 trials.

“Lilly is supportive of the decision by the independent DSMB to cautiously ensure the safety of the patients participating in this study.”

Eli Lilly’s trial began in August, aimed at recruiting 10,000 participants, across 50 sites, including the US, Denmark and Singapore, using a lab-produced antibody treatment, similar to that developed by Regeneron and used to treat US President Donald Trump recently. Eli Lilly has not given any further information about the safety concern which has paused phase 3.

Meanwhile, a J&J spokesman says such breaks are to be expected in large-scale trials and that reported illnesses or side-effects may be unrelated to the vaccine.

“It’s not at all unusual for unexpected illnesses in large studies over their duration. In some cases, serious adverse events may have something or nothing to do with the drug or vaccine being investigated.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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