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World News: Assad to speak as Syrian rebels threaten Damascus this morning

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World News: Assad to speak as Syrian rebels threaten Damascus this morning | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

BEIRUT (Reuters): Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will deliver a rare speech today about the uprising against his rule, which has killed 60,000 people and brought civil war to the edge of his capital.

With insurgents fighting their way closer to the seat of his power, state media said in a statement that Assad would speak on Sunday morning about the “latest developments in Syria and the region”, without giving details.

It will be the 47-year-old leader’s first speech in months and his first public comments since he dismissed suggestions that he might go into exile to end the civil war, telling Russian television in November that he would “live and die” in Syria.

Insurgents are venturing ever closer into Damascus after bringing a crescent of suburbs under their control from the city’s eastern outskirts to the southwest.

Assad’s forces blasted rockets into the Jobar neighbourhood near the city centre on Saturday to try to drive out rebel fighters, a day after bombarding rebel-held areas in the eastern suburb of Daraya.

“The shelling began in the early hours of the morning, it has intensified since 11am, and now it has become really heavy. Yesterday it was Daraya and today Jobar is the hottest spot in Damascus,” an activist named Housam said by Skype from the capital.

Since Assad’s last public comments, in November, rebels have strengthened their hold on swathes of territory across northern Syria, launched an offensive in the central province of Hama and endured weeks of bombardment by Assad’s forces trying to dislodge them from the capital’s outer neighbourhoods.

Syria’s political opposition has also won widespread international recognition. But Assad has continued to rely on support from Russia, China and Iran to hold firm and has used his air power to blunt rebel gains on the ground.

With the conflict showing no sign of abating, Syria’s deputy foreign minister visited Iran on Saturday to seek to maintain the support of Assad’s main ally in the region.

Iran’s Fars news agency said Faisal al-Makdad would meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials.

Missile Batteries

Despite the estimated death toll of 60,000 announced by the United Nations earlier this week – a figure sharply higher than that given by activists – the West has shown little appetite for intervening against Assad in the way that NATO forces supported rebels who overthrew Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

But NATO is sending U.S. and European Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries to the Turkish-Syrian border.

The United States military said U.S. troops and equipment had begun arriving in Turkey on Friday for the deployment. Germany and the Netherlands are also sending Patriot batteries, which will take weeks to deploy fully.

Turkey and NATO say the missiles are a safeguard to protect southern Turkey from possible Syrian missile strikes. Syria and allies Russia and Iran say the deployments could spark an eventual military action by the Western alliance.

Syria’s war has proved the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts that arose out of popular uprisings in Arab countries over the past two years and led to the downfall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

The war pits rebels mainly drawn from the Sunni Muslim majority against Assad, a member of the Shi’ite-derived Alawite minority sect, whose family has ruled Syria since his father seized power in a coup in 1970.

Syria’s SANA state news agency said a journalist, Suheil al-Ali from the pro-government Addouniya TV, had died of wounds sustained in an attack by terrorists, the term government media use to refer to rebels. Syria was by far the most dangerous country for journalists last year, with 28 killed.

The opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from Britain through a network of activists on the ground, reported fighting and shelling on Saturday in the eastern Euphrates River town of Deir al-Zor and near the central city of Hama, as well as near Damascus.

Assad’s last formal speech was delivered to parliament seven months ago, in early June. “If we work together,” he said, “I confirm that the end to this situation is near.”

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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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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Transport

Travelling from the UK? Here’s some details on restrictions….

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Travelling from the UK? Here’s some details on restrictions…. | Thaiger
Stock photo of London Heathrow Airport via Flickr

As the summer holiday is just around the corner, many in the UK are wondering if and how they will travel abroad during the Covid pandemic. Despite it being against the law to travel abroad for holiday and leisure in the UK, those who need to travel may want to know what requirements certain countries have in order to enter.

Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Indonesia, are some of the popular places that travellers need to visit, and here we have the latest updates on requirements from those nations.

Australia

After locking down borders early, Australia has spent most of last year living a more normal life than those in the UK have, seeing significantly fewer Covid infections and deaths. But part of why they have been more successful is due to the tough travel measures that are still in place. The country currently is closed to outsiders, except for Australian citizens, permanent residents, or those with an exemption.

If travellers do fall into those categories, they must undergo a 14 day mandatory quarantine on arrival at a designated facility, like a hotel. And, even if you are inside Australia wanting to depart, the strict guidelines apply to those leaving the country as well. Only those with an exemption are able to leave Australia and there has been no indication as to when the country will relax the rules for coming and going. Experts do say that the country may not return to pre-pandemic levels of free travelling until 2024.

New Zealand

New Zealand is another country that has succeeded in tackling the pandemic early on, as most residents are living quite normally. Again, the strict guidelines that were in place are still ongoing as the country is closed to almost all arrivals. Those who are allowed in, must present evidence of a negative Covid test within 72 hours of departing their country of residence.

But, good news is coming later this month as NZ will enter a travel bubble with Australia, allowing its people to travel between the 2 nations without needing to undergo a quarantine.

Thailand

Thailand was also considered to be succesful in combatting the Covid virus, until a 2nd and 3rd wave rocked the country, with experts saying it could be the worst yet to come. As the nation is planning to reopen fully in October, with an even earlier opening in July for its tourist-laden island of Phuket, arrivals still must undergo quarantines of up to 10 days. The quarantine time period depends on where you are entering in the country, as well as whether or not you have been fully inoculated against the Covid virus.

Other restrictions include where you are coming from prior to entering the country, as certain nations with Covid variants may still be required to undergo the full length of the original 14 day quarantine, or could be denied entry altogether.

Indonesia

Since the beginning of this year, all non-Indonesian travellers are currently banned from entering the country, with only a few exemptions in place. Any travellers allowed to enter must provide evidence of a negative Covid test and follow mandatory quarantine arrangements once landing.

The country is currently administering China’s Sinovac vaccine, which has faced criticism over its low effectiveness rates. But, Indonesia has lost 75% of its tourism in 2020, a figure that its government is surely to tackle in the near future.

SOURCE: MyLondon.news

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

US pauses use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after “rare and severe” blood clots

Maya Taylor

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US pauses use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after “rare and severe” blood clots | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Health officials in the United States have decided to pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine while they investigate a number of cases of “rare and severe” blood clots. According to a CNN report, a 45 year old woman has died and another patient is in critical condition. In total, there were 6 blood clot incidents, out of more than 6.8 million vaccine doses administered. All of the cases involved female patients between the ages of 18 and 48, with symptoms developing between 6 to 13 days after inoculation.

Speaking to CNN, Dr Carlos del Rio from Emory University School of Medicine says that such side-effects are extremely rare, pointing out that they’re more likely to be observed outside clinical trials, due to the larger number of people involved.

“It’s a very rare event. You’re talking about 1 per million, and when you give millions of doses of vaccines, you will see events like this that you couldn’t see in the clinical trial just because you didn’t have millions of people enrolled.”

He adds that blood clotting may be occurring for the same reason seen with the AstraZeneca vaccine, given that both jabs are adenovirus vector vaccines. The other vaccines in use in the US – Pfizer and Moderna – are mRNA vaccines.

Peter Marks from the US Food and Drug Administration agrees that there appear to be similarities between the incidents of blood clots reported with both the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines.

“The AstraZeneca is a chimpanzee adenoviral vector vaccine. The Janssen is a human adenoviral vector vaccine. We can’t make some broad statement yet, but obviously they are from the same general class of viral vectors. We don’t have a definitive cause, but the probable cause that we believe may be involved here – that we can speculate – is a similar mechanism that may be going on with the other adenoviral vector vaccine. That is that this is an immune response that occurs very, very rarely after some people receive the vaccine and that immune response leads to activation of the platelets and these extremely rare blood clots.”

Janssen is the vaccine arm of Johnson & Johnson. Yesterday, the manufacturer issued a statement confirming a decision to delay the European rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine. The statement goes on to say that anyone who has already received the jab and experiences a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within 3 weeks of being inoculated should see a doctor. However, it adds that such side effects are extremely rare.

Last month, the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine became the third jab to be approved for emergency use in Thailand.

SOURCE: CNN

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