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Ukraine attacks rebel city, helicopter shot down

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Ukraine attacks rebel city, helicopter shot down | Thaiger

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Ukraine attacks rebel city, helicopter shot down
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Ukrainian forces attacked the rebel-held city of Slaviansk before dawn on Friday and pro-Russia separatists shot down at least one attack helicopter, killing a pilot, in a sharp escalation of the conflict.

Describing the use of anti-aircraft missiles as proof of the presence of Russian special forces in the town that has become the military stronghold of the pro-Moscow movement, Ukrainian officials said Slaviansk was “tightly surrounded” and called on separatist leaders to release hostages and surrender.

Reuters journalists in the city of 130,000 heard shooting from shortly after 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) and saw a military helicopter open fire. Ukrainian troops could be in seen in armoured personnel carriers in a southern suburb.

The SBU security service said one military Mi-24 helicopter gunship had been shot down, killing one airman while a second had been taken prisoner by the rebels.

It said a second Mi-24, which normally would have a crew of two, was flying in tandem and had to make a forced landing. A third helicopter, carrying medics, was hit and a medic wounded.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-declared mayor of the town, was quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency as saying two helicopters had been shot down and one pilot had been detained.

The SBU said one helicopter was hit by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles – evidence, it said, that “trained, highly qualified foreign military specialists” were operating in the area “and not local civilians, as the Russian government says, armed only with guns taken from hunting stores”.

Russia denies involvement but has massed troops on the border and threatened to intervene to protect the Russian-speaking majority in eastern Ukraine from what it calls an illegitimate, Western-backed government in Kiev. Alarmed Western powers believe President Vladimir Putin is set on asserting Moscow’s influence over its former Soviet neighbours.

Armed groups seeking union with Russia have seized a number of government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine. The action in Slaviansk appeared to mark the heaviest military response by Kiev since it tightened a cordon around the city a week ago.

The militants in Slaviansk are holding a number of local people and seven foreign military observers, four of them German, from the European security agency the OSCE.

On his Facebook page, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov posted: “The goal of our anti-terrorist operation and, at the same time, our demands to the terrorists are simple:

“Free the hostages, lay down weapons, vacate administrative buildings and get municipal infrastructure back to normal.”

He urged local people to stay indoors and said Ukrainian forces, from the Interior Ministry, National Guard and the armed forces, had orders not to fire on residential buildings.

Support for the separatist movement is patchier in eastern Ukraine than it was among the majority ethnic Russian population of Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in March. However, many are fearful of the new authorities in Kiev and have little faith in Ukraine after 23 years of post-Soviet independence marked by rampant corruption and poor living standards.

“Shells came into my garden,” said one local man, Gennady. “They say that they have come to defend us. But who from?” he said of the Ukrainian forces. “Civilians must stop them.”

MAY DAY

The clashes around Slaviansk came only hours after Russia staged a huge May Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square on Thursday – its first since the Soviet era – with workers holding banners proclaiming support for President Vladimir Putin after the seizure of territory from neighbouring Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s leaders – who came to power in February when the previous Moscow-backed president was toppled after months of protests – conceded they were “helpless” to counter the fall of government buildings and police stations in the Donbass coal and steel belt. Donbass is the source of up to a third of Ukraine’s industrial output.

Separatists had also stormed the prosecutor’s office in the city of Donetsk on Thursday, throwing rocks, firecrackers and teargas at riot police defending officials they accused of working for the Western-backed government in Kiev.

Rebels in the city, capital of a province of 4.3 million, have declared a “People’s Republic of Donetsk” and called a referendum on secession for May 11, undercutting a planned presidential election in Ukraine two weeks later.

Having seized buildings in the capital of the easternmost province, Luhansk, on Tuesday, gunmen took control at dawn on Wednesday in the nearby towns of Horlivka and Alchevsk.

The International Monetary Fund warned that if Ukraine lost territory in the east it would have to redesign a $17 billion bailout of the country, probably requiring additional financing.

Citing the situation in the east, acting Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov has signed a decree reinstating compulsory military service for men aged between 18 and 25.

The Kiev government, along with its Western allies, accuses Moscow of orchestrating the uprising. The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine.

Kiev ordered the expulsion of Russia’s military attaché on Thursday, saying it had caught him “red-handed” receiving classified information from a colonel in Ukraine’s armed forces on the country’s cooperation with NATO.

A spokeswoman for the SBU said the attaché had been handed over to the Russian embassy and ordered to leave, although she was not sure if he had left yet.

The intervention in Ukraine has been enormously popular in Russia. One opinion poll on Wednesday showed 82 percent support for Putin, his highest rating since 2010.

— 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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