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World News: “Dear Santa” letters answered

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World News: “Dear Santa” letters answered | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

“Dear Santa” letters answered by U.S. Post Office program
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: One 13-year-old boy who sent a “Dear Santa” letter to the U.S. Post Office this year asked only for covers for his bed, “so I can stay warm this winter.”

Another letter from a 12-year-old wanted nothing for himself, just something for his single mother, because she worked so hard.

Heartrending letters like these are sent each year to the Post Office “Letters to Santa” program, now in its 100th year.

Postal employees go through the hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska” to separate out those that express serious need.

Some of the letters are answered by charitable groups, businesses, schools, postal employees and individual anonymous givers, who can come to participating branches, pick letters and go shopping.

The Chicago branch has already seen 18,000 letters come in – with more arriving every day, said communications director and “Chief Elf” Robin Anderson on Tuesday. She expects about 2,500 will be answered. The New York “Operation Santa” program is the country’s largest, receiving more than a half a million letters each season.

Letters this year are reflecting a greater need for necessities, and have included more letters from adults looking for work who need help buying for their children, according to both Chicago postal workers and givers.

“You’re reading letters from six-year-old, eight-year-old kids who aren’t asking for video games, they’re asking for winter coats and food on the table, which is not something you’d think of kids writing to Santa for,” said Kelley Fernandez, 26, who along with her colleague Debbie Schmidt, 53, who work for Toji Trading Group and have answered letters from Santa for three years.

Last year, Schmidt and Fernandez got other colleagues involved, and this year the whole Chicago office plus the Singapore office participated. The employees bought gifts for 26 families this year, including 106 children – at 40 boxes the largest “Santa” shipment this year from the Chicago branch.

Anyone who wants to adopt a letter at a participating branch must fill out a form and show a picture ID. Then the giver comes back with a gift by December 22 to match the letter, and pays for postage.

To protect the privacy of the recipients, the full names and addresses are known only to the U.S. Post Office, which delivers the gifts.

One man who is an annual giver to the Santa program in Chicago used to be a recipient himself, said Anderson.

Schmidt and Fernandez say they bring a box of tissues to read the letters, because they can be so emotional. Fernandez recalled that last year, a little girl wrote, “Dear Santa, we’re staying with our auntie because our mother can no longer take care of us, and we want you to know where we are this year.”

Schmidt said she also sees requests from grandmothers, single moms and single dads.

Schmidt said she and her co-workers are sending handwritten letters back to the families along with the presents, signed by Santa. “We let everything be from Santa,” she said. “The kids are so young, and still believe in Santa.”

— 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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