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World News: Monkey back in space; Arms intercepted; Italian plane probably downed by missile

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World News: Monkey back in space; Arms intercepted; Italian plane probably downed by missile | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Iran launches monkey into space, showing missile progress
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Iran said yesterday it had launched a live monkey into space, seeking to show off missile systems that have alarmed the West because the technology could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.

The Defence Ministry announced the launch as world powers sought to agree a date and venue with Iran for resuming talks to resolve a standoff with the West over Tehran’s contested nuclear programme before it degenerates into a new Middle East war.

Efforts to nail down a new meeting have failed repeatedly and the powers fear Iran is exploiting the diplomatic vacuum to hone the means to produce nuclear weapons.

The Islamic Republic denies seeking weapons capability and says it seeks only electricity from its uranium enrichment so it can export more of its considerable oil wealth.

The powers have proposed new talks in February, a spokesman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Monday, hours after Russia urged all concerned to “stop behaving like children” and commit to a meeting.

Iran earlier in the day denied media reports of a major explosion at one of its most sensitive, underground enrichment plants, describing them as Western propaganda designed to influence the nuclear talks.

The Defence Ministry said the space launch of the monkey coincided “with the days of” the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, which was last week, but gave no date, according to a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.

The launch was “another giant step” in space technology and biological research “which is the monopoly of a few countries”, the statement said.

The small grey monkey was pictured strapped into a padded seat and being loaded into the Kavoshgar rocket dubbed “Pishgam” (Pioneer) which state media said reached a height of more than 120 km (75 miles).

“This shipment returned safely to Earth with the anticipated speed along with the live organism,” Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi told the semi-official Fars news agency. “The launch of Kavoshgar and its retrieval is the first step towards sending humans into space in the next phase.”

There was no independent confirmation of the launch.

Large arms shipment intercepted off Yemen, Iran eyed as source
Reuters /Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Yemeni forces intercepted a ship on January 23 carrying a large cache of weapons – including surface-to-air missiles – that U.S. officials suspect were being smuggled from Iran and destined for Yemeni insurgents, officials said yesterday.

Yemen’s government said the arms intercepted aboard the ship off the country’s coast also included military grade explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and bomb-making equipment, according to a statement by its embassy in Washington.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the operation was coordinated with the U.S. Navy and that a Navy destroyer was nearby.

A second official told Reuters the intercepted shipment was believed to have been from Iran and destined for insurgents, likely Houthis.

“This demonstrates the ever pernicious Iranian meddling in other countries in the region,” said the second U.S. official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Iran denies any interference in Yemen’s affairs.

Italy 1980 plane crash probably caused by missile, court says
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: An Italian court said yesterday the cause of one of the country’s most enduring aviation mysteries, a plane that broke up over the coast of Sicily 32 years ago killing 81 people, was most probably a missile hitting the aircraft.

The case has divided Italians since the plane went down on June 27, 1980, when Italy was still the scene of both Cold War tensions and domestic militancy from the left and the right.

The court, in what is seen as the final ruling of many, said the state must pay damages to the victims’ families because the safety of the passengers had not been guaranteed.

There were “ample and congruent” indications that a missile was the cause of the disaster, the court said in its decision.

A court in 2004 said the plane went down in a “war-like scenario”. But numerous investigations failed to determine whether the plane, a DC-9 of the now-defunct domestic airline Itavia, was destroyed by a bomb or a missile.

It broke up over the southern Mediterranean near the island of Ustica, whose name has become synonymous with the incident.

Media reports based on radar monitoring data said fighter aircraft from several NATO nations were in the area at the time of the crash, possibly following a Libyan MIG that was trying to evade radar control by flying close to the civilian plane.

Another theory was that the plane had entered a military exercise area and was hit by a missile launched by a fighter jet that had mistaken it for an enemy intruder.

Most Italians believe the cause of the crash, which has been the subject of a film and numerous books, was covered up for security or military reasons.

During investigations, documents disappeared and air traffic voice recordings were found to have either been erased or tampered with.

In 2007, an appeals court upheld an acquittal handed down in 2004 of two former air force generals who had been accused of giving false information about the disaster.

That ruling had been considered the end of the case but the investigation was reopened in 2009 after former President Francesco Cossiga said he was sure the plane had been hit by a missile. Cossiga died in 2010.

Italian courts publish the reasonings behind their rulings weeks or months after they are made public. No further details were available about the latest ruling.

— 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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