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World News: Syrian jets bomb opposition forces near Damascus

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World News: Syrian jets bomb opposition forces near Damascus | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Syrian forces pound Damascus suburbs
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Syrian forces pounded rebel-held suburbs around Damascus with fighter jets and rockets yesterday, opposition activists said, killing and wounding dozens in an offensive to push rebels away from the airport and stop them closing in on the capital.

The army struck hard after a week of rebel advances, including the capture of two military bases near the capital. Rebels had been planning to push into central Damascus from their strongholds on the outskirts and fighting in the past week has been fierce.

Activists said heavy rocket fire struck towns close to the Damascus airport road, where rebels and the army had been locked in three days of clashes. Some described constant shelling, similar to carpet bombing, in towns like Beit Saham.

“It was frightening because it was the first time we heard continuous shelling. Really powerful explosions, one after the other, were shaking the area. I could see fire coming up from the town,” said Samir al-Shami, from the opposition’s Syrian Youth Union, speaking by Skype.

“This was the worst day in those people’s lives.”

In a sign the government had regained some control over the airport, EgyptAir said it was resuming flights to Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo today after a three-day halt in which Damascus airport was effectively closed due to unrest. The airline’s head said conditions were stable.

No comment was immediately available from Emirates Airline, which had also suspended its flights indefinitely.

The army’s assaults appear to have staved off a rebel advance into central Damascus so far. But neither side has gained ground in recent days, and fighting continued along the outskirts of the city despite heavy shelling by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

But rebels said the area around Damascus airport was not secure, with clashes still erupting along the road. It is difficult to verify opposition reports because the government restricts media access into Syria.

Other activists said the road was in army hands but the area was still unstable due to fighting in nearby towns like Beit Saham, about 1 kilometre away.

“No one controls that road. The army has tanks along the road, but the whole area is exposed to rebel attacks and they could fire on it any time,” said one, asking not to be named.

Deadly rocket attacks
Rocket attacks yesterday killed at least 10 in the town of Deir al-Asafir, 12 km east of Damascus, activists said. Video published by activists from the town showed at least five bodies, one of them a young boy and one an elderly man. The other bodies were wrapped in blood-spattered white sheets.

Syrian security officials and diplomatic sources say the army’s goal is to push rebels back and seal off central Damascus from the surrounding suburbs where the opposition is dominant.

Rebels say they want to control the airport because the army has used it to bring in weapons. Western intelligence reports earlier this year said that Iran, Assad’s main backer, had been using civilian aircraft to fly military equipment and personnel through Iraqi airspace into Syria.

U.S. officials say the arms flow into Syria has continued due to Iraqi reluctance to check flights, according to a New York Times article. It said only two inspections had occurred since Iraq agreed to a U.S. request in September and that Iran may have been tipped off about the searches.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad there was no such request.

“There is no ability to inspect all planes destined to Syria and there was no U.S. request to inspect all aircrafts because they know that this is not possible,” he said.

Lebanese troops clashed with Syrian rebels on the border between the two countries on Sunday in what a security source called the first such incident between Lebanon’s army and the rebels.

The clash occurred when a Lebanese border patrol spotted the rebel fighters along the border and the rebels opened fire to prevent the patrol from approaching, said a Lebanese military source. He said there were no casualties.

Car bombings
In Syria’s central city of Homs, a car bomb killed at least 15 people and wounded 24 on Sunday, Syria’s state news agency SANA said. It said the blast in the city’s Hamra district also damaged many nearby residential buildings. The government and the opposition traded blame for the blast.

There has been a rise in the number of car bombs around the country. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across Syria, reported four car bombs on Saturday.

The group gave a preliminary death toll for Sunday’s fighting of 140.

Violence has risen in Syria particularly since rebels began to contest Assad’s control around the capital and Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, but foreign powers remain deadlocked.

Western countries support the opposition but Russia, Syria’s main arms supplier, and China have blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad and reject sanctions.

Assad, whose family has ruled Syria autocratically for four decades, says he is fighting off radical Islamist militants funded by the West and Gulf Arab countries.

State television on Sunday said the army was “eliminating al Qaeda terrorists” in the rebel stronghold of Daraya, a suburb on the southern outskirts of Damascus from which mortar shells have been fired into the capital.

Rebel spokesman Abu Nidal said the army had entered one side of the suburb but that the rebels were still in control of the rest of the area.

— Reuters

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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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