News, July 7th

“America first” attitude draws worldwide backlash as US buys up COVID-19 drug

The US has bought up virtually all the stocks for the next three months of remdesivir, which can help patients recover from COVID-19, leaving none for most of the rest of the world, reported The Guardian on June 30.

Remdesivir is the first drug approved by licensing authorities in the US to treat COVID-19, and as it is under patent to Gilead, no other company in wealthy countries can make it. The Trump administration has now bought more than 500,000 doses, which is all of Gilead’s production for July and 90% of August and September, the report said.

The deal was announced as the pandemic spirals out of control in the US. According to Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading public health expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, coronavirus cases are expected to go up to 100,000 a day if the trend isn’t turned around.

Alex Azar, US health and human services secretary, said President Trump has struck “an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19”.

The move, made with an “America first” attitude, immediately met with a strong international backlash, with critics saying the US move to buy up so much stock from Gilead itself hinders international cooperation on COVID-19.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned there could be unintended negative consequences if the US continued to outbid its allies, said the report.

Thomas Senderovitz, head of the Danish Medicines Agency, told Danish broadcaster DR that the move could endanger Europeans and others down the road. “I have never seen anything like that. That a company chooses to sell their stock to only one country. It’s very strange and quite inappropriate,” he said.

“The trial that gave the result that allowed remdesivir to sell their drug wasn’t just done in the US. There were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places,” Oxford University’s Prof Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the emergencies chief of the World Health Organization, said the agency was looking into the implications of the U.S. deal for remdesivir.

“There are many people around the world who are very sick …. and we want to ensure that everybody has access to the necessary, life-saving interventions.” Ryan said the WHO was “fully committed” to working toward equitable access for such treatments, according to a report by France 24.

The effectiveness of remdesivir has long been a controversial issue. A study published by The Lancet on April 29 found that treatment with the antiviral drug does not speed recovery from COVID-19 compared with placebos in hospitalised patients who are critically ill.

Data published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the drug’s mortality rates were negligible, but it did show modest effects, shortening average recovery time to 11 days from 15 in hospitalized patients with the coronavirus.

While scientists are continuing to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the drug, it is now regarded by many as a beacon of hope in the pandemic. On July 3, the European Commission granted conditional marketing authorization for remdesivir, making it the first medicine authorized at EU level for treatment against COVID-19. South Korea, Japan, India and Singapore have also approved the drug for emergency use, wrote Reuters.

Meanwhile, countries around the world are actively looking for other safe, effective and economical treatments for COVID-19. On June 19, the Indian government approved Favipiravir, manufactured by Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in the country, the first approved oral medication in India for the treatment of coronavirus.

The initial clinical trial results from the United Kingdom show that dexamethasone can be lifesaving for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19. For patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth.

Bus in China plunges into a lake, killing 21

Authorities say 21 people were killed Tuesday when a bus ran through a roadside fence and plunged into a lake in a southwestern Chinese city.

Surveillance video posted by state broadcaster CCTV on its social media account show the bus suddenly race across six lanes of traffic and through the fence. The cause of the accident was unclear.

The Anshun city government in Guizhou province said in a statement that 15 people were rescued and sent to hospitals with injuries. The bus was hauled out of Hongshan Lake in a large rescue operation.

The passengers included high school students taking nationwide university entrance exams that began Tuesday.

Deadwood’s hotel occupancy rate improves in May

Hotel occupancy numbers in Deadwood fell by 19.13% in May, compared to 2019.

According to a press release from the Deadwood Gaming Association, 14,507 of the 49,755 total rooms available were rented in the month, or were at 29.16% occupancy.

“Deadwood’s hotel business continues to be impacted even more than our gaming revenues by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Executive Director Mike Rodman said in the release.

Hotel and gaming operations gradually resumed after May 7 under Gov. Kristi Noem’s back-to-normal plan.

Deadwood’s May hotel occupancy is 3.94% lower than the nation’s. According to the Hotel News Resource, only 33.1% of hotels were occupied in May, down 51.7% from 2019.

The article noted these are the lowest levels for May on record in the United States, although up from April.

Deadwood’s April hotel occupancy was just at 1.51% and recorded no gaming revenue.

In June, the Journal reported that Deadwood’s gaming industry saw a $1.4 million loss in May and an $11.4 million loss in gaming revenue since its shutdown due to COVID-19.

At the time, Rodman said occupancy numbers weren’t in for May, but he believed occupancy didn’t rebound quite as fast as gaming and guessed there was more local business for gaming rather than out-of-state.

Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan warn Israel over annexation

The foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan on Tuesday urged Israel to abandon plans to begin annexing settlements in the West Bank, warning such action could have “consequences” for relations.

“We concur that any annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be a violation of international law and imperil the foundations of the peace process,” the ministers said in a statement after a joint video conference.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had set July 1 as the date when it could begin to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

The move was endorsed by a Middle East plan unveiled by US President Donald Trump in January.

Netanyahu’s office made no announcement on July 1 as expected, but said talks were continuing with US officials and Israeli security chiefs.

“We would not recognise any changes to the 1967 borders that are not agreed by both parties in the conflict,” the ministers warned in the statement issued by the German foreign ministry.

“We also concur that such a step would have serious consequences for the security and stability of the region, and would constitute a major obstacle to efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive and just peace,” they said.

“It could also have consequences for the relationship with Israel,” they added, underlining their commitment to a two-state solution based on international law.

The EU has in recent weeks mounted a diplomatic campaign against annexation, highlighted by a visit to Jerusalem by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to raise concern about the prospective plans.

But the bloc cannot threaten Israel with formal sanctions without unanimous support among members.

After occupying the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel began establishing a network of settlements the following decade. Construction continues to this day.

Despite being viewed as illegal under international law, the settler population has jumped by 50 percent over the past decade.

Fresh evidence of war crimes committed by all sides in Syrian conflict, probe finds

Hospitals, schools and homes have all been targeted during Syria’s brutal and long-running conflict, said UN-appointed investigators, who on Tuesday condemned likely fresh war crimes committed by all parties.

In its latest report, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria highlighted the military campaign launched late last year in Idlib Governorate by pro-Government forces, to retake the last remaining areas under armed groups’ control.

The Commissioners also maintained that UN-designated terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) indiscriminately shelled densely populated civilian areas, “spreading terror” in Government-held areas.

“It is completely abhorrent that, after more than nine years, civilians continue to be indiscriminately attacked, or even targeted, while going about their daily lives”, said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro.

“Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital…entire families were bombarded even while fleeing”, he continued. “What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians.”

Alongside the Russian air force, Syrian Government troops “carried out air and ground attacks which decimated civilian infrastructure, depopulated towns and villages”, killing hundreds of women, men and children, said the commissioners, who report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Numerous locations protected by international law in the country’s northwest were destroyed in aerial and ground attacks, some involving cluster munitions, according to their report.

It details how from November 2019 to June this year, 52 attacks by all parties included 17 on hospitals and medical facilities; 14 on schools, 12 on homes and nine on markets.

If proven in court, such acts would amount to the war crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks, and deliberate attacks on protected objects, the investigators maintained.

Beginning in the second half of December and mid-February, “widespread and indiscriminate” bombardment carried out by pro-government forces on Ma’arrat al-Nu’man and Ariha in Idlib governorate, as well as Atarib and Darat Azza in western Aleppo, led to mass displacement, according to the report.

Civilians had no choice but to flee, the Commissioners said, adding that this may amount to the crimes against humanity of forcible transfer, murder and other inhumane acts.

When people fled, HTS terrorists pillaged their homes, the investigators continued, and “as battles waged, they detained, tortured, and executed civilians expressing dissenting opinions, including journalists”.

Female media workers were doubly victimized, as the terrorist group continued to discriminate against women and girls, including by denying their freedom of movement.

“Women, men and children that we interviewed faced the ghastly choice of being bombarded or fleeing deeper into HTS-controlled areas where there are rampant abuses of human rights and extremely limited humanitarian assistance”, said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “The acts by HTS members amount to war crimes.”  

In an appeal for the nearly one million highly vulnerable civilians displaced by the conflict in Idlib governorate who now face added threat of COVID-19, Commissioner Hanny Megally urged all parties to the conflict to cease attacks on civilians and civilian objects.

“Now more than ever, civilians need sustained and unfettered access to humanitarian assistance which must neither be politicised by Member States nor instrumentalised by parties to the conflict. Pandemics know no borders, neither should life-saving aid,” Mr. Megally said, while also urging Member States to pursue accountability for crimes outlined in the report.

The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 14 July to the Human Rights Council during its current 44th session.

Hong Kong grappling with future under national security law

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam offered scant reassurance Tuesday over a new national security law that critics say undermines liberties and legal protections promised when China took control of the former British colony.

A year ago, Hong Kong residents felt secure enough in their freedoms under the territory’s one-country, two-systems regime to bring their children to mass protests.

Now, after the June 30 implementation of the security law, some are worrying they might be punished for what they post in their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

The legal system left in place when the British left Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, allowed the city’s 7 million residents a free press and other freedoms forbidden in the communist-ruled mainland, for at least 50 years.

Many of Hong Kong’s older generations fled political upheaval on the Chinese mainland. Younger Hong Kongers grew up expecting to achieve more democracy in their lifetimes.

All are struggling to understand the implications of the new law, which prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs.

I didn’t have a strong view against formalizing a national security law but the way it was implemented is intrusive and disrespectful, said Jen Au, who works in the banking industry. It’s basically just bullying. Hong Kong has come a long way in the last 20 years to warm up to China and this really just backfired.

Lam, the city’s Beijing-backed chief executive, said Tuesday the work of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security she chairs, which oversees enforcement of the law, will not be made public. So implementation rules giving police sweeping powers to enforce it won’t be subject to judicial review.

Asked if she could guarantee that media can still report freely in Hong Kong without facing censorship, Lam said, If the Foreign Correspondents Club or all reporters in Hong Kong can give me a 100 per cent guarantee that they will not commit any offences under this national legislation, then I can do the same.

Hong Kong was convulsed with massive, sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations for much of last year.

Initially, the protests were against extradition legislation, since withdrawn, that might have led to some suspects facing trial in mainland Chinese courts. But they expanded to encompass calls for greater democracy and more police accountability.

Critics see the security law as Beijing’s boldest move yet to erase the divide between Hong Kong’s western-style system and the mainland’s authoritarian way of governing.

The new law criminalises some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time, which the Hong Kong government says has separatist connotations.

Under the new law police can order social media platforms, publishers and internet service providers to remove any electronic message published that is likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security. Service providers failing to comply could face fines of up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ( 12,903) and jail terms of up to six months.

Individuals who post such messages may also be asked to remove the message, or face similar fines and a jail term of one year.

Under the new law, the Hong Kong chief executive can authorise police to intercept communications and conduct surveillance to prevent and detect offences endangering national security.

Police can conduct searches for evidence without a warrant in exceptional circumstances and seek warrants requiring people suspected of violating the national security law to surrender their travel documents, preventing them from leaving Hong Kong.

In Seattle, people not intimidated, keep marching

Since May 29, people in Seattle have engaged in the nationwide uprising against racism every single day. The horrific car attack on the Black Femme March on July 4 that killed Summer Taylor and gravely injured Diaz Love has not stopped protests nor has the shooting death of Lorenzo Anderson or the police sweep and closure of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone. In the more than a month since this uprising began, over 200 protesters have been arrested in Seattle. Police have used patently brutal and unsafe practices on demonstrators, such as kneeling on people’s necks and deploying tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets.

In summary, despite the united efforts of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best to make people go home and stay home, the protests, often several in a day,  show no signs of abating. In fact, a re-occupation has started of the Colman school site spearheaded by elder and organizer Omari Tahir.

The uprising has already yielded some concrete gains in Seattle:

The Seattle Police Department has been under a consent decree since 2012 for unconstitutional policing and excessive force. The city has tried to create enough cosmetic changes to warrant the lifting of federal oversight; the onset of the uprising led the city to withdraw this request on June 4. This followed the filing of some 12,000 complaints about police abuse related to the May 30 protest in which police peppersprayed a small child in the face, deployed flashbangs and repeatedly kneeled on the necks of arrestees among other abuses. (ACLU)

On June 12, a federal court imposed a temporary restraining order banning the use of chemical weapons on protesters for 14 days in response to a suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of King County Black Lives Matter. SPD again used these weapons in sweeping the CHOP on June 29.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild was expelled from the King County Labor Council. This was a stunning rebuke to the notion that cops are workers or have any place in the labor movement.

The Seattle School Board has indefinitely suspended its contract with the SPD. The issue of the racist brutality of non-police security guards in schools has not yet been addressed.

After days and nights of curfew-defying protest, police were withdrawn from the East Precinct and the CHOP was established. While the area is no longer a protest zone free of police, its existence represented people’s hopes for a future free of racist police terror.

On July 6,  Seattle City Council passed the “Jumpstart” tax in which companies with annual payrolls of more than $7 million will be taxed on their pay to employees making more than $150,000 per year. The tax rate will range from 0.7 percent to 2.4 percent, with tiers for various payroll and salary amounts. It is estimated to raise more than $200 million a year for COVID-19 relief and affordable housing.

The editorially conservative Seattle Times noted in its coverage of the vote: “This year, the COVID-19 crisis and Black Lives Matter protests have shaken up local politics, deepening inequities and highlighting community needs.”

The movement in Seattle is united behind these basic demands: Defund the police by at least 50 percent; Redirect thesefunds to oppressed communities and services for the most marginalized; Free all protesters and drop the charges. Protesters are also drawing attention to Seattle based cases of police brutality such as the recent killing of Sean Fuhr, the case of Charleena Lyles, Darius Butts and others.

Another demand is emerging for the resignation, removal or recall of Mayor Durkan. A former U.S. Attorney, daughter of a prominent state politician, she is in a co-parenting relationship with an extremely wealthy woman. That she is a lesbian is of no concern to the people in the streets. Thousands marched on her mansion in North Seattle on July 3 led by LGBTQ people. Her arrogant attempts to manipulate the movement and pit groups – especially Black-led groups – against eachother are entirely transparent. In addition to standing behind the brutality of the SPD against protesters, she has approved ongoing “sweeps” against homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, in direct contradiction to CDC guidance.

It is clear that militant protest wins results far beyond those obtained solely through electoral means or through the courts. What seemed impossible yesterday becomes possible today in the context of a nationwide rebellion against racism. The issue is that of power. When police departments blatantly defy the new state police reform law, when they continue to kill Black and Brown civilians, when police use chemical weapons, despite the opinion of a federal court that such use likely violates the 4th amendment rights of protesters, how are the police then held accountable? The perpetrating officers must be fired and then prosecuted and punished for their crimes against the people. The murderous fascist vigilantes must be prosecuted and locked up too. The very beginnings of this level of accountability have only been achieved as a result of the uprising, not through the goodwill of elected officials and prosecutors.

The people are just starting to realize their true power through this rebellion. Racist police terror is the raw edge of systemic racism: the reality that Black and other people of color can’t feel safe to walk down the street or drive a car or even sleep in their own homes! Systemic racism and capitalism are part and parcel one of the other. To dismantle racism we need to dismantle capitalism which was built on the foundations of genocide and slavery and has profited on racism at every turn.

Urgent action needed to stop jobs crisis becoming a social crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic is turning into a jobs crisis far worse than the 2008 crisis. Women, young people and workers on low incomes are being hit hardest, according to a new OECD report and unemployment statistics released today.

The OECD unemployment rate edged down to 8.4% in May 2020, after an unprecedented increase of 3.0 percentage points in April, to 8.5%, the highest unemployment rate in a decade. In February 2020, it was at 5.2%. The number of unemployed people in the OECD area stood at 54.5 million in May. The lack of variation between April and May is the result of contrasting trends. On the one hand, in the United States, as the economy started to re-open, many furloughed workers went back to work, even as other temporary layoffs became permanent. On the other hand, unemployment is increasing or risks becoming entrenched in many other countries.

The OECD Employment Outlook 2020 says that, even in the more optimistic scenario for the evolution of the pandemic, the OECD-wide unemployment rate may reach 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020, exceeding all the peaks since the Great Depression. Average employment in 2020 is projected to be between 4.1% and 5% lower than in 2019. The share of people in work is expected still to be below pre-crisis levels even at the end of 2021.

Initial public support has been unprecedented in scale and scope, notably through the expansion of job-retention schemes that allow employers to cut the hours their employees normally work while receiving financial support for these unworked hours. Total hours worked have plummeted, falling ten times faster in the first three months of the current crisis than they did in the first three months of the 2008 global financial crisis, in OECD countries for which data are available.

Speaking ahead of a special OECD Roundtable Ministerial Meeting on Inclusion and Employment policies for the Recovery – chaired by Spain’s Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migrations, Mr. José Luis Escrivá – OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Building on the swift and decisive initial response to the Covid-19 crisis, countries now need to do everything they can to avoid this jobs crisis turning into a full-blown social crisis. Macroeconomic policies must remain supportive through the crisis to minimise the risk of a prolonged slump and a lost generation of young people whose labour market prospects are durably harmed. Meanwhile, reconstructing a better and more resilient labour market is an essential investment in the future of the next generations.”

People on low incomes are paying the highest price. During the lockdown, top-earning workers were on average 50% more likely to work from home than low earners. At the same time, low-income workers were twice as likely to have to stop working completely, compared to their higher-income peers.

Women have been hit harder than men, with many working in the most affected sectors and disproportionately holding precarious jobs. The self-employed and people on temporary or part-time contracts have been particularly exposed to job and income losses. Young people leaving school or university will struggle to find work and face the risk of long-term damage to their earnings potential.

The Outlook provides a series of recommendations for where countries should focus their efforts to help people and firms through the crisis and reduce the long-term impact.

In the short term, continued support for some sectors still affected by containment measures remains vital to protect jobs and well-being. But it is important to target support to those most in need, while fostering the incentives to go back to work safely for those who can and supporting firms hiring new workers. This is vital to avoid the scars of prolonged joblessness and inactivity. Businesses, especially small ones, will need support to implement health and safety practices in the workplace.

As prospects of quickly finding new work will remain poor for many, some countries should extend unemployment benefit durations to prevent jobseekers from sliding too quickly into much less generous minimum income benefits. Emergency support for the self-employed should also be re-assessed to improve targeting, restore incentives and ensure fairness.

In the medium term, countries should address the structural gaps in social protection provisions that the crisis laid bare. This will involve strengthening adequate income support for all workers, including the self-employed, part-time and other non-standard workers. Firms must also repay the trust governments have invested in them during the emergency phase of the COVID-19 crisis by keeping their workers to the extent possible and investing in their skills. To ensure no one is left behind in the recovery, extending support for vocational education and training is crucial, as well as leveraging social dialogue and collective bargaining to enhance the resilience of the labour market.

Who is Keeping Score?  Estimating the Number of Foreign Workers in Malaysia

Malaysia has seen a rise in foreign labor inflows due to steady economic expansion and demographic changes.

The country’s foreign workforce hovers around 15% of the total labor force, concentrated mainly in lower-skilled occupations.

Foreign labor has made important contributions to the labor market and economic growth by addressing labor market imbalances and filling shortages in low-skilled and labor-intensive sectors.

With foreign labor as a key contributor to growth, a better understanding of their numbers can facilitate a more rigorous analysis of their impact on the economy and formulation of evidence-based policies to manage foreign workers and harness the benefits of foreign labor.

A more systematic use of existing administrative data can improve the quality of foreign labor estimates. These approaches include:

The “residual” method, comparing the total non-citizen population with estimates of the lawfully residing non-citizen population, which are based on visa issuance data such as work permits, student passes, expatriates and their dependents, and social passes.

The “build-up” method, counting the various groups of irregular foreign workers based on data related to deportees, amnesty, refugees, visa issuance, and medical examinations required for work permits.

The “remittance data” approach uses outward-remittance transaction data to identify remitters who are potentially irregular foreign workers, mapping remitter information with the foreign worker management system.

Following from this approach, the report estimates that:

The total number of foreign workers in Malaysia ranged from 2.96 million to 3.26 million in 2017.

Among these, the number of irregular foreign workers is estimated to be 1.23 million – 1.46 million.

Going forward, Malaysia should improve interagency coordination and collaboration to narrow gaps in estimating irregular foreign workers. This collaboration would be a building block to create an integrated management information system to better utilize existing administrative data.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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