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World News: Syria – Millions in need of aid as winter sets in

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World News: Syria – Millions in need of aid as winter sets in | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Thousands flee Syria in exodus, millions more in need of aid
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Thousands of Syrians fled their country yesterday in one of the biggest refugee exoduses of the 20-month civil war after rebels seized a border town, and the United Nations warned that millions more still in Syria will need help as winter sets in.

In Qatar, the main opposition group outside Syria elected a new leader. However, it will start talks today with other factions, including representatives of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, on forming a wider body that hopes to gain international recognition as a government-in-waiting.

The U.N. said 11,000 refugees had fled in 24 hours, mostly to Turkey. The influx caused alarm in Ankara, which is worried about its ability to cope with such large numbers and has pushed hard, so far without success, for a buffer zone to be set up inside Syria where refugees could be housed.

Rebels overran the frontier town of Ras al-Ain late on Thursday, continuing a drive that has already seen them push Assad’s troops from much of the north and seize several crossing points, a rebel commander and opposition sources said.

“The crossing is important because it opens another line to Turkey, where we can send the wounded and get supplies,” said Khaled al-Walid, a commander in the Raqqa rebel division.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that compiles opposition activist reports, said at least 20 members of the Syrian security forces were killed when rebel fighters attacked a security headquarters in Ras al-Ain.

Thousands of residents poured out of the Arab and Kurd town, in the north-eastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, 600 km (375 miles) from Damascus.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition body outside the country, elected veteran activist George Sabra as its new head in Doha on Friday.

Sabra, a Christian, takes over a body that is under heavy criticism from international allies for being ineffective in the fight against Assad and for being driven by personal disputes.

Sabra appealed for arms to fight Assad’s forces. “We need only one thing to support our right to survive and to protect ourselves: we need weapons, we need weapons,” he told reporters.

Qatar, the United States and other powers are pressing the fractious Syrian opposition groups to come together and the SNC has agreed to open unity talks, although it fears its influence will be diluted in any new body.

Western countries and Syria’s neighbours fear that hardline Islamist groups close to al Qaeda are growing in influence among rebels on the ground in Syria.

An outline agreement could see the SNC and other opposition figures agree on a 60-member political assembly, mirroring the Transitional National Council in Libya, which united opposition to Muammar Gaddafi last year and took power when he fell.

In Geneva, a senior U.N. official highlighted the plight of Syrians still in the country. An estimated four million people would need humanitarian aid by early next year when the country is in the grip of winter, up from 2.5 million now, said John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Every day our humanitarian colleagues on the ground are engaging with people who are ever more desperate, ever more fearful for their lives and for the lives of their families because of this conflict,” Ging told a news conference. “Since this crisis has begun we have not been able to keep pace with the increasing need.”

The latest flight of refugees raised the total recorded by the U.N. to over 408,000 in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and North Africa.

Turkey hits out
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hit out at world powers on the U.N. Security Council over their inaction.

“It is very strange. There are currently atrocities being committed in Syria and these atrocities are being directed by a state leader,” he said. “How far will this go? When will the permanent members of the Security Council take responsibility?”

Turkey has responded in kind to mortar shells hitting its soil from fighting in Syria and is discussing with NATO allies whether to deploy Patriot air defence missiles on the border.

The Turkish state-run Anatolian news agency reported that 26 Syrian military officers had also arrived in Turkey with their families overnight in what it called the biggest mass desertion of senior soldiers from Assad’s forces in months.

Advancing rebels fired mortars at the presidential palace in Damascus this week. Residents in the capital said security was being beefed up there. Assad told Russia Today television on Thursday he would “live and die in Syria”, echoing words of other Arab leaders before they lost power last year.

In the last three months, the mainly Sunni Muslim Arab rebels have captured outposts on the Turkish border, moving towards the north-eastern heartland of Syria’s one million Kurds, many of whom have tried to stay clear of violence.

The Kurdish Council, a coalition of Kurdish parties opposed to Assad, called on rebels to pull their fighters out of Ras al-Ain, saying the clashes and fear of Syrian bombardment had prompted most of its 50,000 residents to flee.

— 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

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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