News, December 10th

China flight attendants advised to wear diapers for virus protection

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, transportation officials around the world have been looking for ways to keep passengers and crew safe on board planes.

On Nov. 25, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) released new guidelines for the country’s airline industry, which it oversees.

The document, titled Technical Guidelines for Epidemic Prevention and Control for Airlines, Sixth Edition, contains advice about the best hygiene practices to carry out on aircraft and in airports.

But one of those suggestions — that personnel like flight attendants wear disposable diapers so they don’t need to use the bathroom — has raised some eyebrows.

A section on PPE advises cabin crew on flights to and from high-risk countries to wear “medical masks, double-layer disposable medical gloves, goggles, disposable hats, disposable protective clothing, and disposable shoe covers.”

The next sentence reads: “It is recommended that cabin crew members wear disposable diapers and avoid using the lavatories barring special circumstances to avoid infection risks.”

While such advice may seem dramatic, it’s no secret that lavatories can be the germiest place on an airplane. In August, a woman traveling from Italy to South Korea contracted coronavirus during her trip, and a visit to the bathroom, the only place where she didn’t wear an N95 mask, was named as the possible source of her infection.

Airplane bathroom design was already a hot topic before COVID-19, but the pandemic has focused efforts to come up with new solutions.

Japanese airline ANA announced earlier this year that it was testing out a prototype of a new hands-free lavatory door. Meanwhile, Boeing successfully applied for a patent on a “self-cleaning lavatory” that would use UV light to clean 99.9% of bathroom germs after every use.

Finland: boost employment and productivity growth to avoid lasting scars from COVID-19 crisis

10/12/2020 – The COVID-19 crisis has plunged Finland into its deepest recession since the early 1990s even though swift government support has cushioned the shock, making for a smaller output drop than in many other OECD countries. To limit the scars from the pandemic and sustain the recovery, Finland should address underlying challenges such as boosting employment and productivity, according to a new OECD report.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of Finland notes that the COVID-19 crisis hit against a background of slowing economic growth and rising financial stability risks. The government should stand ready to provide further support to firms and workers if necessary, then focus on getting people back into viable jobs and restoring public finances. Enhancing education and skills, improving wage flexibility and reducing barriers to competition in sectors like transport, energy and retail, would help to spur productivity growth and bolster the recovery, the Survey says.

“Finland’s effective management of the pandemic is to be commended. It is now vital to support economic activity and reduce unemployment to pre-crisis levels to avoid lasting social and economic scars,” said Alvaro Pereira, Director of Country Studies in the OECD Economics Department, presenting the Survey. “Increasing the employment rate, particularly among seniors, and boosting productivity through enhancing the supply of skilled workers and reforming regulations that hamper competition, would prevent a long-term erosion in relative living standards.”

Finland’s GDP shrank by 5% in the first half of 2020, a historic contraction, but among the mildest of OECD countries thanks to targeted confinement measures that limited loss of mobility, and financial support that prevented mass bankruptcies and saved jobs. Job losses and bankruptcies will likely increase in the short run, as relief measures run out. The Survey projects Finland’s 2020 GDP will shrink by 3.3% and recover only gradually with growth of 2.1% in 2021 and 1.8% in 2022, led by private consumption and exports.

The temporary layoff scheme played a key role in protecting jobs and incomes, and Finland has long enjoyed low income inequality and relative poverty by international standards. However, 15% of workers aged 15-74 have been temporarily or permanently laid off since the crisis. The impact has been hardest on lower-income households who tend to be less able to switch to teleworking and have less secure contracts. Furthermore, some 25% of temporarily laid-off workers were not eligible for earnings-related unemployment benefits because they were not members of unemployment insurance funds. The Survey thus recommends creating a government unemployment insurance fund into which all workers – or all workers who are not members of another fund – would be automatically enrolled.

Prior to the crisis, Finland’s employment rate was already low by Nordic standards, reflecting the low employment rate of older workers. They still have access to early retirement routes, in contrast to their Nordic counterparts. Phasing out extended unemployment benefit for older workers would help to increase the employment rate of seniors.

Productivity growth is low in Finland compared with other European economies, owing to skills shortages and high regulatory barriers to competition in some sectors. The Survey recommends encouraging more school leavers to enter tertiary education by reforming the highly selective admission system and increasing the number of study places. Softening the country’s restrictive product market regulations and coordinating wage bargaining across sectors could help to gain competitiveness.

The Survey notes that recovery from the COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to move to a more environmentally sustainable growth trajectory compatible with meeting Finland’s demanding GHG emissions abatement targets.

Lebanese judge charges caretaker PM in Beirut port explosion

Beirut – The Lebanese prosecutor probing last summer’s port explosion in Beirut filed charges on Thursday against the caretaker prime minister and three former ministers, accusing them of negligence that led to the death of hundreds of people, Lebanon’s official news agency said.

The four are the most senior individuals to be indicted so far in the investigation, which is being conducted in secrecy.

Judge Fadi Sawwan filed the charges against Hassan Diab and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, as well as Ghazi Zeiter and Youssef Fenianos, both former ministers of public works. All four were charged with carelessness and negligence leading to death over the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, which killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.

The explosion was caused by the ignition of a large stockpile of explosive material that had been stored at the port for six years, with the knowledge of top security officials and politicians who did nothing about it.

Anger has been building up over the slow investigation, lack of answers and the fact that no senior officials have been indicted. About 30 other security officials and port and customs officials have been detained in the probe so far.

Diab is a former professor at the American University of Beirut who became prime minister late last year. Although he served as minister of education from 2011-14, he is considered to be an outsider to the political ruling class that has run Lebanon since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Diab received the backing of the Hezbollah group and its allies after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in the wake of mass antigovernment protests last year. Diab himself resigned a few days after the blast, which leveled the country’s main port and destroyed large parts of the city. He has continued to function in caretaker capacity while efforts to form a new government have floundered amid political disputes.

Commenting on Thursday’s development, Diab said his conscience is clear and he is “confident that his hands are clean and that he handled the Beirut port blast file in a responsible and transparent manner.”

A statement issued by his office accused Judge Sawwan of violating the constitution and bypassing parliament, adding that Diab has already provided all the information he had to Sawwan.

“This surprising targeting goes beyond the person to the position per se, and Hassan Diab will not allow the premiership to be targeted by any party,” a statement issued by his office said.

It was not clear whether his comments meant he would not accept to be interrogated again. Judge Sawwan said he would interrogate Diab and the three ministers as defendants next week.

Youssef Lahoud, legal representative to 1,500 families affected by the blast, described Sawwan’s move as “essential step toward revealing the complete truth.”

Lahoud, who also represents the Beirut Bar Association working on behalf of the families, said an indictment doesn’t mean incrimination, and that it is the 5-member judicial council that would issue verdicts.

The Aug. 4 blast is considered to be among the largest non-nuclear explosions ever to be recorded.

Zeitar was transport and public works minister in 2014, followed by Fenianos in 2016, who held the job until the beginning of 2020. Khalil was finance minister in 2014 and from 2016 until 2020.

Documents surfaced soon after the explosion showing that at least 10 times over the past six years, authorities from Lebanon’s customs, military, security agencies and judiciary raised the alarm that a massive stockpile of potentially dangerous chemicals was being kept with almost no safeguard at the port in the heart of Beirut.

President Michel Aoun, in office since 2016, said he was first told of the stockpile nearly three weeks before the explosion and immediately ordered military and security agencies to do “what was needed.” But he suggested his responsibility ended there, saying he had no authority over the port and that previous governments had been told of its presence.

Since the material arrived in Lebanon in late 2013, four prime ministers have been in office. It was not clear why Sawwan has singled out Diab among the ex-premiers who have held the post while the nitrates were improperly stored at a port warehouse, a ticking bomb.

Former Prime Ministers Najib Mikati, Tammam Salam and Saad Hariri have reportedly said that they were not aware of the existence of the material. Diab has said he was only informed about the presence of the “explosives” days before the blast and had planned to visit the port. Later, he told reporters he canceled the visit after being told the stored chemicals were fertilizers.

“There is a list to be made of all those who knew and should all be held responsible,” said Elie Hasrouty, whose father died in the port explosion. “Their job is not to refer (the matter) to others, but to stop that ‘bomb’ from going off and to protect people.”

Investigators probing the blast had so far focused on personnel at the Port of Beirut.

Both Khalil and Fenanios were sanctioned by the U.S. in September this year, the first two officials to be subjected to those outside of the militant Hezbollah group.

Mystery metal monolith pops up, this time in Poland

WARSAW: A mysterious metal monolith has popped up on a riverbank in the Polish capital Warsaw, the latest in a string of similar objects that have recently appeared in Europe and the US.

Joggers noticed the triangular pillar during their morning run along the Vistula river, according to local media reports.

It stands some three metres (10 feet) tall, has a dull silver-coloured surface, is held together by screws and is planted in the sand of the riverbank near a major bridge.

“A mysterious and unusual installation has emerged on the beach on the right (river) bank,” Warsaw’s Vistula district authorities said on their Facebook page.

“If you spend your time actively on the Vistula river, it won’t escape your attention,” they added, without elaborating.

But it has left some Warsaw residents unimpressed.

“I was expecting some kind of metaphysical experience, but it’s not really all that impressive,” a woman visiting the site on Thursday who declined to be named told AFP.

No one claimed responsibility for the installation as of Thursday.

Similar-looking objects were found in the United States, Romania and Britain.

The first structure made news after it appeared briefly in the Utah desert late last month, then two others cropped up in southern California and Romania days later.

Another appeared on a beach on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England on Sunday before hikers came across yet another one in The Netherlands the same day.

The appearance of the Utah object in late November sparked wild rumours of alien visitations because of its resemblance to the black monolith in the Stanley Kubrick science fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

An anonymous art collective has taken credit for the Utah installation but like in Poland no one has yet claimed responsibility for those in Romania, the Isle of Wight and the Netherlands. — AFP

New study finds COVID-19 antibody in blood donations collected in mid-December 2019 in U.S.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) — U.S. researchers have found antibodies against COVID-19 in blood samples dating back to mid-December 2019, weeks before the country’s first officially-confirmed infections of the disease.

In a study conducted by scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), residual archived samples from 7,389 routine blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from Dec. 13, 2019 to Jan. 17, 2020, from donors resident in nine states were tested at the CDC for anti-coronavirus antibodies.

Of the 7,389 samples collected from the states of California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin, 106 were reactive by pan-immunoglobulin. Further confirmation testing of 90 samples suggests the presence of anti-SARS-CoV-2-reactive antibodies.

Specimens collected on Dec. 13-16, 2019, and those collected between Dec. 30, 2019 to Jan. 17, 2020, were summarized separately.

The results of the research were published late last month on the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal.

Official: Maduro allies win 91% of seats in Venezuela vote

CARACAS, Venezuela — Election officials say political allies of President Nicolás Maduro have won 91% of seats in congressional balloting that was boycotted by his adversaries as fraudulent.

Venezuela’s National Elections Council, which is loyal to Maduro, said that as of Thursday, Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela had won 253 of 277 seats in the National Assembly.

Maduro’s allies won 69% of the votes, which gave them the overwhelming share of seats based on distribution system.

In a distant second place, with 11 seats, was Democratic Action, a longstanding opposition party whose leadership was taken over by Maduro allies earlier this year under a ruling by the pro-government Supreme Court.

The takeover of Democratic Action and other parties was among the reasons that the opposition coalition led by outgoing congressional leader Juan Guaidó refused to run in Sunday’s election.

The result leaves Maduro in control of the only branch of government not previously held by his allies.

The term of the outgoing congress ends Jan. 5, but the opposition lawmakers vow to maintain their roles, arguing the election that replaced them was fraudulent.

The U.S. and European Union also have declared Sunday’s results invalid and say they will continue to recognize Guaidó as the country’s legitimate, if interim president, because they say Maduro’s reelection also was unconstitutional.

Guaidó’s opposition is holding its own referendum culminating on Saturday.

It asks Venezuelans at home and abroad to vote through cellphone applications or in person on whether they want Maduro’s rule end so fresh presidential and legislative elections can be held.

Maduro maintains power with military backing and support from allies including Iran, Russia, China and Turkey. He celebrated Sunday’s election as a victory saying it will help him end violence and international interference he blames on his adversaries.

Venezuela’s deepening political and economic crisis has sparked the region’s largest flood of migration, with at least 5 million people in recent years fleeing hyperinflation, unreliable electrical service and shortages of basics like natural gas and gasoline.

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine faces last hurdle before US decision

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine faces one final hurdle as it races to become the first shot greenlighted in the US: a panel of experts who will scrutinize the company’s data for any red flags.

Thursday’s meeting of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel is likely the last step before a U.S. decision to begin shipping millions of doses of the shot, which has shown strong protection against the coronavirus.

The FDA panel functions like a science court that will pick apart the data and debate in public and live-streamed whether the shot is safe and effective enough to be cleared for emergency use. The non-government experts specialize in vaccine development, infectious diseases and medical statistics. The FDA is expected to follow the committee’s advice, although it is not required to do so.

The FDA’s decision comes as the coronavirus continues surging across much of the world, claiming more than 1.5 million lives, including more than 289,000 in the U.S.

Hanging over the meeting is a warning from U.K. officials that people with a history of serious allergic reactions shouldn’t get the vaccine. Government officials there are investigating two reports of reactions that occurred when the country began mass vaccinations.

Still, a positive recommendation and speedy U.S. approval seem nearly certain after FDA scientists issued an overwhelmingly positive initial review of the vaccine earlier this week.

FDA said results from Pfizer’s large, ongoing study showed the shot, which was co-developed with Germany’s BioNTech, was more than 90% effective across people of different ages, races and underlying health conditions, including diabetes and obesity. No major safety issues were uncovered and common vaccine-related side effects like fever, fatigue and injection site pain were tolerable.

The data presented in the briefing report were consistent with what we heard before and are really exciting, said Dr. William Moss, head of Johns Hopkins University’s International Vaccine Access Center. Nothing that I see would delay an emergency use authorization. The meeting also gives regulators an opportunity to try to boost public confidence in the breakneck development process that has produced the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and a string of other upcoming shots in less than a year. The FDA has also faced weeks of verbal abuse from President Donald Trump for not rushing out a vaccine before Election Day.

There have been a lot of questions about why it takes us so long or ‘are we being rigorous enough?’ said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn in an interview. I’m hoping that people will see with our transparency that we have taken a very rigorous stance on this. Hahn said the agency has already teed up the process to authorize the vaccine by filling out all the legal paperwork in advance, regardless of the ultimate decision.

The FDA uncovered no major safety issues in its review of Pfizer’s 44,000-person study, including no allergic reactions of the type reported in the U.K. But such studies can’t detect rare problems that might only affect a tiny slice of the general population.

FDA reviewers noted four cases of Bell’s palsy that all occurred among people getting the vaccine. They concluded the cases were likely unrelated to the vaccine because they occurred at rates that would be expected without any medical intervention. But the agency did say cases of the nerve disorder should be tracked, given that other vaccines can cause the problem.

I think we have to be upfront, without scaring people, that we don’t know yet about any potential, rare, long-term adverse events, Moss said.

The FDA found the vaccine highly effective across various demographic groups.

But it’s unclear how well the vaccine works in people with HIV and other immune-system disorders.

The study excluded pregnant women, but experts will tease apart the data for any hints in case women get vaccinated before realizing they’re pregnant.

A study of children as young as 12 is underway.

Answering some of these questions will require keeping Pfizer’s study going for many more months.

When the FDA panel met in October, experts warned against allowing trial participants who received placebos to switch and get the real vaccine immediately after it receives the FDA’s emergency OK. Doing that could make it impossible to get answers to long-term questions, including how long the protection lasts.

Pfizer and BioNTech say they want to allow such participants to get the vaccine either upon request or, at the latest, after six months of follow-up.

The FDA still hasn’t made clear if it will accept that approach.

FDA is adamant that they want these trials completed, said Norman Baylor, former director of FDA’s vaccine office, adding that its expert panel members “know that too.

US Sends B-52 Bombers to Middle East in Message to Iran

Ratcheting up tensions in the region, the US deployed B-52 bombers to the Middle East in a clear message to Iran. Two B-52s flew a show of force mission in the Persian Gulf on Thursday near Iranian airspace.

According to The New York Times, the B-52s were accompanied by aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar, while in the Gulf.

The warplanes flew a 36-hour round-trip mission from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The provocative manuever was the second time in just three weeks that the US deployed B-52s to the region.

“Potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression,” said Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.

Last month’s B-52 deployment came after a report from the Times said President Trump reviewed options to attack an Iranian nuclear site earlier in November. Since then, Israel has stepped up its provocations in the region, and was likely behind the assassination of Iranian scientist Moshen Fakhrizadeh.

Israel and the US have also been warning of possible Iranian attacks despite Tehran’s clear desire to avoid a wider conflict. The Times said a senior military official told reporters on Thursday that US intelligence analysts have detected “planning going on” for possible rocket attacks on US forces by Iran or Shia militias in Iraq.

Iran has warned its allies in Iraq not to provoke the US into a military conflict, but there are various factions within the Shia militias of Iraq, and some have rejected the warning. In response to Iran’s message, the leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia said, “The Americans occupy our country, not yours. We will not listen to you anymore because our motives are 100 percent nationalist.”

In another sign of the split between Shia factions in Iran, militias loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani have withdrawn from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The PMF is an umbrella group of mostly Shia state-sponsored militias. When the US assasinated Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani on January 3rd, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the leader of the PMF was also killed.

Regardless of the different factions within the Shia militias in Iraq, any violence against US forces in the country between now and January 20th will likely be blamed on Iran.

Vietnam actively contributing to ASEAN defence cooperation

NDO/VNA – The 14th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), the 7th ADMM Plus (ADMM+), and related events are taking place via videoconference from December 9-10 under the chair of Vietnam.

Vietnam has actively joined in the cooperation mechanisms, making active and important contributions to promoting the development of the ADMM and maintaining peace, stability, and cooperation for the prosperity of the region.

The country has proposed vital initiatives, including a commitment to “not use force first in dispute settlement”, strengthening naval cooperation in the region through joint patrols, and establishing hotlines among regional navies and defence leaders of ASEAN member countries.

Vietnam has also supported initiatives in the spheres of combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, border management, and enhancing ASEAN’s centrality in cooperation with ASEAN partners. These efforts have created a basis for promoting Vietnam’s initiatives and activities in 2020 as the ASEAN Chair.

It has strongly promoted and contributed significantly to setting up ADMM+, and successfully hosted the 1st ADMM+, which approved five priority cooperation areas: maritime security, peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.

The 2nd ADMM+, hosted by Brunei in 2013, approved the sixth priority area for cooperation proposed by Vietnam, related to humanitarian mine action.

Initiated in 2006, the ADMM is the highest defence consultation and cooperation mechanism in ASEAN and an important component of the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC). It provides a framework for defence-security dialogue and consultation on strategic and defence-security issues, contributing to forming a foundation for promoting practical cooperation between the armed forces of regional countries.

The organisation of the ADMM is a new step in the framework of defence-security cooperation, which enjoys particular attention by ASEAN member countries as it relates to peace and stability in the region and the national security of each country.

The first ADMM (ADMM-1) was hosted by Malaysia in 2006. Vietnam chaired ADMM-4 in 2010, focusing on measures to enhance ASEAN defence cooperation for a stable and developed bloc. The most recent meeting was chaired by Thailand in 2019, with the theme “Sustainable security”.

Fifteen initiatives have been implemented within the framework of the ADMM, focusing on promoting military and civil cooperation to cope with non-traditional challenges, defence industry cooperation, defence exchange, logistics support, direct communications infrastructure, military medical and education-training cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and border management support, among others.

WFP chief uses Nobel speech as call for action to avert ‘hunger pandemic’

With 270 million people – more than the entire population of Western Europe – “marching toward starvation”, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) called for greater action to avert a “hunger pandemic”, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the UN agency on Thursday.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned “famine is at humanity’s doorstop”, threatening to destroy lives and undo so much we hold dear.

“Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse —270 million people are marching toward starvation,” he said, speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Rome.

“Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of COVID. And if that’s not bad enough, out of that 270 million, 30 million depend on us 100 per cent for their survival.”

WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize back in October for its work providing lifesaving food assistance to millions worldwide, often in dangerous locations. Last year, it supported nearly 100 million people.

Mr. Beasley underlined that food is “the pathway to peace.” For the agency, it is also sacred, and their work is “an act of love”, he told the online ceremony, citing both the 1964 Nobel laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and The Bible.

“We stand at what may be the most ironic moment in modern history. On the one hand — after a century of massive strides in eliminating extreme poverty, today those 270 million of our neighbours are on the brink of starvation. That’s more than the entire population of Western Europe”, he said.

“On the other hand, there is $400 trillion of wealth in our world today. Even at the height of the COVID pandemic, in just 90 days, an additional $2.7 trillion of wealth was created. And we only need $5 billion to save 30 million lives from famine.”

Mr. Beasley said many of his friends, as well as world leaders, often remark that he has the greatest job in the world, saving the lives of millions. However, he begged to differ:

“Well, here is what I tell them:  ‘I don’t go to bed at night thinking about the children we saved, I go to bed weeping over the children we could not save. And, when we don’t have enough money, nor the access we need, we have to decide which children eat and which children do not eat, which children live, which children die.  How would you like that job?’,” he said, adding “Please don’t ask us to choose who lives and who dies.”

Published by jim

Curator of things...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: