Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130

A picture taken on July 15, 2021, shows cars piled up by the water at a roundabout in the Belgian city of Verviers, after heavy rains and floods lashed western Europe, killing at least two people in Belgium. François WALSCHAERTS / AFP

 

 

Devastating floods have torn through entire villages and killed at least 128 people in Europe, most of them in western Germany where stunned emergency services were still combing the wreckage on Friday.

Unsuspecting residents were caught completely off guard by the torrent dubbed the “flood of death” by German newspaper Bild.

Streets and houses were submerged by water in some areas, while cars were left overturned on soaked streets after flood waters passed. Some districts were completely cut off.

“Everything was underwater within 15 minutes,” Agron Berischa, a 21-year-old decorator from Bad Neuenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate state, told AFP.

“Our flat, our office, our neighbours’ houses, everywhere was underwater.”

Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130
A man takes pictures of cars and rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, on July 16, 2021.
Christof STACHE / AFP

 

 

In nearby Schuld, Hans-Dieter Vrancken, 65, said “caravans, cars were washed away, trees were uprooted, houses were knocked down”.

“We have lived here in Schuld for over 20 years and we have never experienced anything like it. It’s like a warzone,” he said.

Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rheinland-Palatinate, told Bild the death toll was likely to rise as emergency services continued to search the affected areas over the coming days.

“When emptying cellars or pumping out cellars, we keep coming across people who have lost their lives in these floods,” he said.

With five more dead found in the state by Friday evening, the nationwide death toll mounted to 108.

Adding to the devastation, several more people were feared dead in a landslide in the town of Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) triggered by the floods.

In neighbouring Belgium, the government confirmed the death toll had jumped to 20 — earlier reports had said 23 dead — with more than 21,000 people left without electricity in one region.

Calling the floods “possibly the most catastrophic our country has ever seen,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared Tuesday a day of national mourning.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also hammered by heavy rains, inundating many areas and forcing thousands to be evacuated in the city of Maastricht.

People stand in a devastated street in an area completely destroyed by the flood in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 16, 2021. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Fearing the worst

In Germany’s hard-hit Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate, several houses collapsed completely, drawing comparisons to the aftermath of a tsunami.

At least 24 people were confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-affected towns.

“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said late Thursday from Washington, where she met with President Joe Biden.

“My empathy and my heart go out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing.”

In Ahrweiler, around 1,300 people were unaccounted for, although local authorities told Bild the high number was likely due to damaged phone networks.

Lewentz told local media that up to 60 people were believed to be missing, “and when you haven’t heard from people for such a long time… you have to fear the worst”.

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr search for flood victims in submerged vehicles on the federal highway B265 in Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 17, 2021 (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Billions in damage

Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, said the cost of the damage was likely to run into “billions of euros”.

In Belgium, the army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue and evacuations.

The swollen Meuse river “is going to look very dangerous for Liege”, a nearby city of 200,000 people, warned Wallonia regional president Elio Di Rupo.

In Switzerland, lakes and rivers were also swelling after heavy overnight rainfall. In Lucerne in particular, Lake Lucerne had begun to flood the city centre.

Some parts of western Europe received up to two months’ worth of rainfall in two days on soil that was already near saturation, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

But there was some improvement Friday as the water level began to fall back.

Aerial view taken on July 15, 2021 shows the flooded village of Schuld, near Adenau, western Germany. Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP

Climate change?

The severe storms have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Speaking in Berlin, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany would “only be able to curb extreme weather situations if we engage in a determined fight against climate change”.

The country “must prepare much better” in future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that “this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change”.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.

North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet, the conservative running to succeed Merkel, called for “speeding up” global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.

AFP

Over 60 Migrants Feared Drowned Off Tunisia In Three Days

 

More than 60 migrants of sub-Saharan origin have been lost at sea off Tunisia since Saturday, after two Europe-bound vessels sank, local authorities and the Red Crescent have said.

Tunisia and neighbouring Libya are key departure points for migrants who attempt the dangerous crossing from the North African coast to Europe, particularly Italy.

So far this year more than 880 migrants have died trying to reach Europe from North Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Since the start of the summer the number of crossings have increased as migrants take advantage of the good weather and calmer seas, but the numbers of those lost at sea has also risen.

The Tunisian coastguard retrieved the bodies of 21 migrants after their boat was shipwrecked on Sunday off the port city of Sfax, authorities said on Monday.

“Twenty-one bodies of migrants were recovered after their boat was shipwrecked on July 4, and 50 were rescued” off Sfax, National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli told AFP Monday.

He said the migrants, all from sub-Saharan Africa, had been trying to reach Europe.

On Saturday, the Tunisian Red Crescent had reported that 43 migrants were missing when a boat carrying more than 120 sunk off the southeastern coast in waters near Zarzis.

Tunisia’s defence ministry said eighty-four were rescued from that stricken vessel, which the Red Crescent said had set off from Libya’s coast.

The National Guard said Monday four boatloads of migrants had sunk since June 26 after setting off from Sfax, with the bodies of 49 people recovered and 78 rescued.

– ‘Fail to prioritise lives’ –

The number of migrants departing Tunisia for European shores last year hit its highest level since 2011.

During the first quarter of 2021, more than half of those arriving in Italy from Tunisia were citizens from sub-Saharan African countries, according to the Tunisian rights organisation FTDES.

The number of migrants attempting to cross from neighbouring Libya rocketed to 11,000 between January and April this year, according to UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The UNHCR says that “deteriorating” conditions of migrants in Libya and Tunisia are pushing many to risk the crossing.

The migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking has rescued 203 people, including 67 minors, in recent days, its owner SOS Mediterranee said Sunday.

The migrants came from Egypt, Gambia, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Tunisia, the non-governmental organisation said in comments posted on Twitter.

A UN Human Rights Office report in late May urged Libya and the European Union to overhaul their search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

It found that existing policies “fail to prioritise the lives, safety and human rights” of people attempting to cross from Africa to Europe.

AFP

Pregnant Woman, Child Among Dead In Canaries Migrant Boat Tragedy

Spain,-Canary-Islands,-Lanzarote-Island,-Famara-beach
Spain,-Canary-Islands,-Lanzarote-Island,-Famara-beach.

 

At least four people died, including a woman thought to be pregnant and a child and another four were missing after a migrant boat overturned off Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, rescuers said on Friday.

The vessel was carrying 49 people when it hit a rocky area just off the island’s northern shores, with rescuers pulling 41 people to safety, emergency services said.

“Three people died, among them two women, one of whom we believe was pregnant,” Enrique Espinosa, head of Lanzarote’s emergency services, told AFP.

Rescuers searching for five survivors later found another body, he said: “It was a boy, about eight years old.”

Among the survivors were 20 men, 17 women, two children and two babies, the emergency services said.

The boat overturned close to the shore near Orzola, a village on the northern tip of the island, in a stretch of sea that is dangerous to navigate, he said.

“It is a very rocky area and… if you don’t know it well, you will crash straight onto the reef.”

The incident happened late on Thursday when there were a lot of people out in the streets who all rushed to help.

“It was at 10:00 pm on a summer evening and a lot of people were in the street. Thanks to that, everyone jumped into the water to try to rescue them,” he said.

Espinosa said the migrants were sub-Saharan Africans who told rescuers they had set off two days ago from the Moroccan town of Tantan, which lies 250 kilometres (160 miles) east of Lanzarote.

Rescue efforts resumed earlier on Friday but were being hampered by rough seas, he said.

Overnight, another two boats carrying 110 migrants managed to reach two other islands in the Canaries, the emergency services said.

Among them were 96 men, eight women and six minors.

Migrant arrivals on the Atlantic archipelago have surged since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings to the continent via the Mediterranean.

10 boats missing at sea

At its shortest, the sea crossing from the Moroccan coast is around 100 kilometres (60 miles), but it is a notoriously dangerous route because of strong currents. Vessels are also typically overcrowded and in poor condition.

Last year, the International Organization for Migration said 850 people had died en route but Caminando Fronteras, Spanish NGO which monitors migrant flows, said it was twice as many, giving a figure of 1,851.

On May 31, the NGO, which serves as a crucial contact for alerting the coastguard to vessels in trouble at sea, raised the alarm about 10 boats that had set sail from Western Sahara and Senegal carrying 481 people.

“They have disappeared,” a spokeswoman for the NGO told AFP on Friday, saying there had been no trace of the boats, four of which set sail from Dakhla, five from Laayoun and one from Senegal.

“We have spoken to relatives and even in some cases with the boats which are missing at sea. We know the weather in the last few weeks has been quite rough in the area and that many boats have disappeared.”

Last year 23,023 migrants reached the Canaries, a figure eight times higher than in 2019, interior ministry figures show.

So far this year, 5,734 migrants have survived the perilous journey to the Spanish archipelago, more than double the number for the same period last year, figures to June 15 show.

Africa Will Learn From Europe And Launch Super League, Says Motsepe

South African businessman Patrice Tlhopane Motsepe, the new president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), looks on during a press conference after his election as president during the 43rd CAF General Assembly in Morocco’s capital Rabat on March 12, 2021. FADEL SENNA / AFP

 

CAF president Patrice Motsepe believes Africa can succeed where Europe failed and launch a Super League, according to a statement released by the continental organisation on Sunday.

“We have been following attempts by some top European clubs to form a Super League and will learn from their experience and pitfalls,” said the South African.

“In this regard, we are assessing and in preliminary discussions to start an inclusive, broadly supported and beneficial African Super League.”

Negative supporter reaction prevented Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus launching a Super League recently.

But Motsepe is pushing forward after FIFA president Gianni Infantino told CAF officials last year that he favoured 20 permanent African Super League members and additional competitors through qualifying.

Infantino did not give details as to how the Super League might work and whether it would complement or replace the current marquee club competition, the CAF Champions League.

He did suggest, however, that each permanent member should contribute $20 mn annually — a target even the richest African clubs would find hard to meet.

The Champions League and second-tier CAF Confederation Cup prize money was supposed to increase for the 2021/2024 cycle, but Motsepe made no mention of increases.

Champions currently pocket $2.5 million (2.1 mn euros) and Confederation Cup winners $1.25 mn and even clubs who go all the way have complained that they do not break even, with travel a huge expense.

Motsepe said TV rights are receiving “serious attention” with Johannesburg-based pan-African station SuperSport not screening CAF national team or club games since mid 2019 because of a cancelled contract.

CAF ditched a $1 billion TV and marketing deal with France-based company Lagardere Sports two years ago after two courts ruled that it was improperly awarded.

AFP understands that many African officials were angered that CAF got $1 bn for a 12-year deal while Asia received $4 bn for an eight-year contract that did not involve Lagardere.

Motsepe reiterated that the poor state of some stadiums was another priority with CAF recently telling nine nations that proposed venues for 2022 World Cup qualifiers were not up to international standards.

AFP

Over One Million Europeans Have EU COVID-19 Certificate

File: (Photo by NARINDER NANU / AFP)

 

More than one million Europeans have received the new EU Covid health certificate being rolled out to unlock travel within the bloc, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders announced the figure to the European Parliament ahead of a vote to enshrine the document in law in time for the continent’s all-important summer tourism season.

It is expected to be passed by a big majority after agreement between MEPs and the EU’s 27 member states on details, with the vote result known early on Wednesday.

The certificate — showing the bearer’s immunity to Covid-19 either through vaccination or previous infection, or their negative test status — is to be used for intra-EU travel from July 1, obviating the need for quarantine or further testing for travellers.

But the commission wants as many EU countries as possible to start earlier.

“The more certificates we can already issue, the easier the process will be during the summer — otherwise, we risk a big bang on the first of July, which we cannot afford,” Reynders said.

– Nine countries –

As of Tuesday, nine EU countries were already issuing the documents — including the sunny tourist destinations of Greece, Spain and Croatia, as well as the bloc’s major source of tourists, Germany.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Poland were the others.

“More than a million citizens have already received such certificates, and many more will follow in the next weeks and months,” Reynders said.

The EU Digital Covid Certificate can be presented either in online form, on a smartphone for example, or printed out on paper.

It features a QR code for verification, which border officials and venue staff can use to check against digital signatures stored securely in Luxembourg servers.

Only minimal data of the bearer are included on the certificates, to prevent identity skimming, and the EU legislation surrounding their use is due to expire after a year, so that they do not become a fixture with potential Big Brother uses in the future.

EU lawmakers and capitals also agreed that, when it comes to proof of vaccinations, only the jabs authorised by the European Medicines Agency — so far those from BioNTech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — would be accepted in all EU countries.

But individual countries can also decide to accept, for their territory only, others, such as one produced by China, or Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

– Money and concessions –

To prevent discrimination against the unvaccinated — particularly younger Europeans who have not yet been able to access jabs given in priority to the elderly — much emphasis has also been put on testing.

The parliament failed to make Covid tests for travel free of charge, but extracted money and concessions from the European Commission to make them more affordable.

Reynders said work was ongoing to also expand the use of the EU Digital Covid Certificate so that it is accepted beyond Europe.

Talks have been under way with the United States, for some sort of mutual recognition of vaccination status.

But have run up against the problem that there is no single federally backed certificated in the US, only a myriad of state and private vaccination cards almost impossible to authenticate abroad.

AFP

Europe Vaccine Rollout ‘Unacceptably Slow’ – WHO

A picture of the billboard of the World Health Organization (WHO)

 

The World Health Organization on Thursday slammed Europe’s vaccine rollout as “unacceptably slow” which it said was prolonging the pandemic as the region sees a “worrying” surge in coronavirus infections.

“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic… However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow,” WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.

“We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now,” he said.

To date, only 10 percent of the region’s total population have received one vaccine dose, and four percent have completed a full vaccine series, the organisation said.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories and includes Russia and several Central Asian nations.

The organisation said the slow rollout was “prolonging the pandemic” and described Europe’s virus situation as “more worrying than we have seen in several months.”

Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, but “last week saw the increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region, with 1.6 million new cases,” it said.

The total number of deaths in Europe “is fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million,” it said, noting that Europe was the second-most affected region after the Americas.

– Worrying new variants –
The UN body warned that the rapid spread of the virus could increase the risk of the emergence of worrying new variants.

“The likelihood of new variants of concern occurring increases with the rate at which the virus is replicating and spreading, so curbing transmission through basic disease control actions is crucial,” Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe’s regional emergency director, said in the statement.

New infections were increasing in every age group except in people aged 80 years and older, as vaccinations of that age group begin to show effect.

The WHO said the British variant of the virus was now the predominant one in Europe and was present in 50 countries.

“As this variant is more transmissible and can increase the risk of hospitalisation, it has a greater public health impact and additional actions are required to control it,” it said.

Those actions included expanded testing, isolation, contact tracing, quarantine and genetic sequencing.

Meanwhile, the WHO said lockdowns “should be avoided by timely and targeted public health interventions”, but should be used when the disease “overstretches the ability of health services to care for patients adequately.”

It said 27 countries in its European region were in partial or full nationwide lockdown, with 21 imposing nighttime curfews.

Global Vaccine Jabs Exceed 500 Million As Europe Feuds Deepen

In this file photo taken on March 09, 2021, a medical worker holds a syringe and a vial of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine during a vaccination campaign at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci. Miguel MEDINA / AFP

 

Health officials have rolled out more than 500 million coronavirus vaccine doses around the world, according to an AFP tally on Friday, as European rows over hoarding and supply issues escalated dramatically.

Despite the huge effort to get jabs into arms, the pandemic is still surging in Europe and Latin America — where Brazil has now passed 300,000 deaths and Mexico 200,000.

And the rollout of vaccines is chronically unequal, with the United States accounting for more than a quarter of the global total and poorer nations lagging far behind richer ones.

EU countries are also still struggling to get their inoculation drives off the ground, prompting angry outbursts from the top of French officialdom.

Following an EU summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said there was a “new type of world war”, adding: “We are looking in particular at Russian and Chinese attacks and attempts to gain influence through the vaccine.”

His foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, later chimed in to accuse Britain of “blackmail” in its vaccine dealings with the EU.

READ ALSO: Gunmen Kidnap Eight RCCG Members In Kaduna

However, Moscow — whose Sputnik V shot is being rolled out in numerous countries across the world — quickly rebuffed Macron’s outburst, Kremlin officials saying they “absolutely disagree”.

And in a sign of Europe’s deepening divisions, Germany said it would be happy to use Sputnik V if it gets approval from EU regulators.

Germany also said it has classified France as a high-risk zone, which means travellers need to show a negative Covid test and quarantine upon arrival.

With more than 2.7 million people dead from a virus that first emerged in China in late 2019, leaders everywhere are under pressure to get jabs into arms.

An AFP tally of global vaccinations showed more than 508 million had been administered by Friday, with 133 million in the US and 91 million in India.

But infections continue to rise at a worrying rate, with more than half a million cases recorded worldwide in just the last week, according to AFP data.

 

– ‘Biggest genocide’ –

Vaccines cannot come quickly enough to Brazil, which is suffering unsparingly from an outbreak that has now killed more than 300,000 from 12 million infections.

The political heat was turned up on President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday when his predecessor accused him of presiding over the “biggest genocide” in the country’s history.

“We must save Brazil from Covid-19,” said former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, adding: “Brazil will not withstand it if this man continues to govern in this way.”

Further north, Mexico is also suffering a brutal third wave, with only a tiny proportion of the population vaccinated so far.

Adriana Meneses remembers vividly when her husband Carlos Hernandez became the country’s first victim of an illness that was unknown and apparently untreatable, almost exactly one year ago.

“We were harassed by neighbours and on social networks. They threatened to burn down our house,” she said.

“Today, unfortunately, we are part of the statistics.”

– Cheesy dilemma –

The virus has governments in all parts of the world to impose drastic restrictions — from curfews and lockdowns to school closures and travel bans.

Much of Europe is living under a regime that restricts travel and economic activity, and Kenya became the latest African country to order a partial lockdown on Friday, shutting schools and bars in and around the capital Nairobi.

“I am convinced that the cost of not acting now would be far greater,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta.

From religious festivals to sporting events, dates in the calendar that were previously regarded as untouchable have succumbed to virus restrictions around the world.

Indonesia said it was banning people from travelling for a festival known as Mudik at the end of Ramadan when millions journey often long distances to be with their families.

Such restrictions have brought economic pain to much of the world and forced governments to pass massive stimulus packages, with German lawmakers on Friday giving their backing to an EU-wide plan worth 750 billion euros ($885 billion).

Any European recovery will depend on the initiative of many millions of small businesses around the continent.

In France, monks at a 900-year-old abbey think they have solved an age-old dilemma of how to dispose of unwanted stock.

Restaurant closures have left them with a glut of the artisanal cheese that they have produced for almost a century, and they have turned to the internet to offload it — aiming to sell a tonne of cheese by Tuesday.

“We tried explaining to our 75 cows that they needed to produce less milk but they don’t seem to have understood,” brother Jean-Claude of the Citeaux abbey in eastern France.

AFP

Europe Resumes AstraZeneca Jabs As US Set To Hit 100m Vaccines

In this file photo, a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table. AFP
In this file photo, a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table. AFP

 

 

Several European countries were resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations Friday after an all-clear from EU regulators, as US President Joe Biden was set to meet his goal of having 100 million Americans inoculated weeks ahead of schedule.

Days of commotion around AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, over fears it may cause blood clots, saw countries from Venezuela to Indonesia pause its use in a major setback for the drive to vaccinate populations against a virus that has killed nearly 2.7 million people.

France, Germany, and Italy — all countries attempting to fight off a third wave of the coronavirus — announced they were using the jab again as of Friday after the European Medicines Agency said it was “safe and effective”.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex is due to get the AstraZeneca jab Friday in a bid to reassure citizens that it is safe as his country fights an infection surge.

Millions across France were preparing to enter a new month-long, limited lockdown from Saturday after the country recorded its highest new caseload in nearly four months.

A health worker prepares an injection of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine on February 7, 2021, at the Mignot Hospital in Le Chesnay near Paris. The top French medical authority Haute autorité de Santé has approved the vaccine for use in France, but only for people under 65, echoing decisions made in Sweden, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland over concerns about a lack of data on the effectiveness of the vaccine for over 65s.
ALAIN JOCARD / AFP

 

 

Non-essential businesses will close in Paris and other areas hit by the new restrictions, mainly in northern France, although schools will stay open.

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain are also ending their suspension of the vaccine.

In Germany, the AstraZeneca jabs were resuming just as health authorities warned that Europe’s top economy is again suffering an exponential rise in infections.

Lars Schaade, vice president of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, told reporters there were grim signs of a return to a situation of “many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed”.

READ ALSO: France Recommends AstraZeneca Vaccine For 55 And Above

In Asia, Indonesia aimed to follow suit as its food and drugs agency said the benefits of the vaccine “still outweigh the risks”.

– ‘Time for optimism’ –

There was brighter news in the United States, however, as it prepared Friday to administer its 100 millionth vaccine dose.

With infection rates falling, there is hope that the country with the highest Covid-19 death toll is headed for a powerful rebound.

“It is a time for optimism,” Biden said in a White House speech. But he also cautioned: “It’s not a time for relaxation.”

Unlike France and other European countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are holding out on resuming AstraZenica inoculations, pending further review.

The World Health Organization is due to publish the conclusions of its own assessment of the safety of the jab on Friday, after repeatedly encouraging countries to continue using it.

AstraZeneca’s shot, among the cheapest available and easier to store and transport than some of its rivals, has been billed as the vaccine of choice for poorer nations.

It is a vital part of Covax, a global drive to ensure that poor countries do not miss out in the race to vaccinate their populations.

Papua New Guinea is among the countries in desperate need of vaccines as it battles a “rapidly escalating” Covid-19 crisis, with authorities approving the use of mass graves and nearly 50 percent of tests coming back positive in some areas.

Some 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccines are being delivered from Australia, but Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia director Jennifer Tierney warned it might be too little, too late.

“What’s needed is a bigger response, now, before the situation gets out of control,” she said. “Papua New Guinea needed these vaccines yesterday.”

– International boost for Sputnik V –
The developer of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine said Friday its shot had been approved for emergency use in the Philippines, making it the 52nd country to give the green light to the Russian jab.

While some Western countries have been wary of Sputnik V over concerns the Kremlin could use it to advance its interests, its developers have been ramping up international agreements to boost its production, including in some European countries.

Indian drugmaker Stelis Biopharma is the latest to sign on, with a deal announced Friday to produce 200 million doses of Sputnik V.

On the warm sands of Florida’s Miami Beach, meanwhile, the 2021 season is off to a banging start, fuelled by “Roaring Twenties” anticipation of post-pandemic life.

The shore is once again packed with revellers — a sight that Americans view either as a proof of long-awaited progress against COVID-19 or of a recklessness that could set back the nation’s recovery.

For James Mitchell, 45, newly-arrived from freezing Chicago, the haters need to lighten up.

“We just got to start back living, man,” he told AFP. “For real.”

UN Seeks $100 Million To Aid African Migrants En Route To Europe

In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

The United Nations appealed Wednesday for $100 million to help it boost support for refugees fleeing escalating conflicts and crises in Africa who embark on risky migration routes to Europe.

The UN refugee agency voiced deep concern over swelling displacement from conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region, as well as in the continent’s east.

This, it said, was driving more people to attempt deadly crossings of the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe, resulting in at least 1,064 deaths along the central and western crossing routes last year alone.

“UNHCR is seeking just over $100 million to enhance refugee protection in African countries en route to the Mediterranean,” the agency said in a statement.

READ ALSO: UK To Impose Hotel Quarantine For Returning Britons

“Offering safe and viable alternatives to the perilous journeys marred by abuse and deaths is the critical priority.”

Violence across the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal through Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan, has forced around 2.9 million people to flee their homes, according to UN figures.

“With no prospects for peace and stability in the region, further displacement is highly likely,” it warned, stressing that “many continue to attempt risky sea journeys to Europe.”

– ‘Alternatives’ –

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the situation in the central Mediterranean, said the insecurity had already contributed to rising numbers of people trying to reach Europe.

“We would like to work more effectively on the alternatives to those dangerous journeys,” he told reporters.

Departures from Algeria, Tunisia and Libya soared by 141 percent last year, as nearly 71,000 people tried to cross the central Mediterranean route.

Only 36,000 made it across though — nearly all of them, more than 34,000, arriving in Italy, which saw arrivals balloon threefold from 2019.

At the same time, more than 23,000 people took the western route to the Canary Islands last year — up 753 percent from a year earlier.

UNHCR pointed to factors driving many to try to make their way towards the Mediterranean, including dire conditions in neighbouring countries where many had already attempted to seek shelter and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

– ‘Harrowing’ –

The sea crossing itself is not the only dangerous part of the journey for many of the refugees and migrants trying to make their way to Europe.

“We hear harrowing firsthand accounts of brutality and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer along the routes towards the Mediterranean,” Cochetel said.

“Many fall prey to traffickers and smugglers and are abused, extorted, raped, and sometimes killed or left to die.”

UNHCR said that the money it was seeking was part of an updated strategy aimed at increasing outreach, identification and assistance to refugees along the migration routes.

“It is almost too late for us to intervene when people arrive in Libya or in the Western Sahara,” Cochetel said, insisting that investment in life-saving protection and support was needed “along the route, not only in coastal states.”

UNHCR also reiterated its call to countries to make it easier for refugees to move legally across borders, including through family reunification, to reduce their need to set off on dangerous land and sea journeys in the first place.

The UN agency has repeatedly lambasted countries which close their doors to desperate refugees and in particular European nations that have left migrants stranded at sea for long periods of time and supported repatriation to chaos-wracked Libya.

The UN Human Rights Committee meanwhile faulted Italy on Wednesday for failing to protect the lives of more than 200 migrants, including 60 children, who died in a 2013 shipwreck.

The case was brought by three Syrians and a Palestinian who survived the sinking of the ship, which was carrying more than 400 people.

The committee of independent experts said Italy had failed to respond promptly to a number of distress calls from the sinking boat.

Hope And Despair In Locked Down European Hospitality Sector

Karin Hildebrand, a doctor in an intensive care unit (ICU) in Stockholm’s Sodersjukhuset hospital walks in a corridor before treating patients with COVID-19 on June 11, 2020, during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

 

As coronavirus lockdowns are extended across Europe, protests have flared in its hard-hit hospitality sector, along with warnings that many businesses are on the verge of extinction.

Four voices from around the continent detail the impact of the crisis on struggling firms.

– ‘Never give up’ –

In Vienna, a recent protest dubbed “five minutes to twelve” was organised to highlight how close many such businesses are to collapse.

One who took part was Christina Hummel, 44, and the third generation of her family to run the Cafe Hummel in Vienna’s Josefstadt district.

Many in the sector feel “fobbed off from week to week” by changes to government policy and are finding it impossible to plan, she says.

As to whether she would consider opening in defiance of the law, Hummel says that’s out of the question.

“First and foremost I’m a mother of a six-year-old son and I’m responsible for 30 families in my business — I wouldn’t do anything which would get me into trouble or mean I would have to pay a fine,” she says.

“I’m no Covid denier or conspiracy theorist, we know it’s a drastic situation at the moment in the hospitals.”

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She rejects the label of “rage restaurateurs” that parts of the press have given protesting cafe and restaurant owners, describing herself instead as someone who is “passionate about hospitality”.

In the long term, Hummel is optimistic, however.

“Viennese cafe culture has already been through crises. This Viennese way of life will never be defeated; as the saying goes: ‘A real Viennese never gives up’.”

– ‘I will never bow’ –

A more militant attitude is found in the Czech Republic with former rightwing politician Jiri Janacek, who now manages the Maly Janek brewery and restaurant in Jince, a small town about 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Prague.

He has organised protests against restrictions together with other pub owners and re-opened Maly Janek on December 9.

It has remained open ever since in defiance of lockdown, despite visits from the police and a fine from the public health authorities.

“I will never bow to government restrictions,” vows Janacek, promising not to “stop until the government stops harming this country”.

Janacek says he “ran out of patience with the government when it changed the rules three times within a single week”.

He dismisses the danger of infections spreading through businesses such as his.

“There is no sophisticated research, no study that would fully prove this,” he insists.

– ‘Already too late’ –

In Geneva, Laurent Terlinchamp, president of the Swiss city’s hospitality industry association, sketches out the dire situation the industry finds itself in.

“We wait for help which never comes, promises which are never kept, and the little help which does arrive is trivial,” he says of the official response.

Terlinchamp describes his members as being in a state of “despair”, adding: “For 30 percent of them, which in Geneva is the equivalent of 600 businesses, it’s already too late.”

He says his members need more concrete information from the authorities to protect their livelihoods.

“The important thing for me is to know when we can open again under viable conditions” and in the meantime to receive help that means “I won’t lose my life… my passion”.

– ‘Help and tolerance’ –

Later this week in Sofia, restaurant and bar owners are planning a “march towards freedom” after the government failed to set a reopening date for them.

One of the organisers is Martin Mihaylov, 41, who has managed some of the Bulgarian capital’s most popular music clubs for more than two decades and currently runs three bars.

“I cannot think of a time when the authorities have given a deadline and then gone on to meet it,” he says. “We can no longer put up with this treatment.

“It is not pleasant for us to resort to breaking the law but at some point we might have to do it because we don’t see any support from the state.”

Government help “has been greatly delayed”, he added.

Mihaylov praised “the help and tolerance” of his creditors, “including our landlords”.

“We continue to amass debt and know very well that whenever we reopen, the recovery will be very slow.”

Europe Seeks To Ease Vaccine Concerns As COVID-19 Curbs Intensify

(Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Officials sought to ease concerns in Europe on Sunday about deliveries of coronavirus vaccines as nations across the world doubled down on restrictions to fight the rampaging pandemic.

The contagion is showing no signs of slowing down, with infections surging past 94 million and more than two million deaths, and Europe among the hardest-hit parts of the world.

Worries have grown that delays in the delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could hamper a European rollout that has already come under heavy fire for being too slow.

US drugmaker Pfizer, which developed the jab in collaboration with Germany’s BioNTech, said it was working to “significantly” scale up production at its plant in Belgium in the second quarter.

READ ALSO: Nations Failing To Fund Climate Adaptation – UN

After a short delay, deliveries should be back to the original schedule to the EU from January 25.

“There’s a dip,” said France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune. “But it’s better that it happens now when we have stockpiles than when the wider vaccination campaign starts.”

He told Franceinfo that a limited delay should not present a huge problem.

– ‘Unacceptable’ –

Nevertheless, several Nordic and Baltic countries have described the situation as “unacceptable”, and Belgium’s vaccination strategy task force condemned Pfizer for failing to consult them.

France, which saw its death toll rise past 70,000 at the weekend, is set to begin a campaign to inoculate people over 75 from Monday. Russia plans to begin mass vaccinations the same day.

The long process of vaccine rollouts mean countries still have few options but to rely on lockdowns, curfews and social distancing to control the spread of the virus.

Switzerland and Italy are tightening their restrictions from Monday and Britain will require all arrivals to quarantine and show negative tests.

Newspaper reports suggested the UK could try to emulate countries such as Australia and New Zealand in requiring travellers to self-isolate in hotels at their own expense.

Foreign minister Dominic Raab said such a system could be difficult to manage but “we need to look at that very carefully based on the experience of other countries”.

Austria, currently in its third national lockdown, said that the current curbs will be extended by another two weeks until February 8 in face of the rise in infections and the spread of virus variants believed to be much more contagious.

– Biden pledge –

As Europe manages its vaccine rollout, the United States is struggling with a contagion that has killed close to 400,000 as president-elect Joe Biden prepares to take the reins of power from Donald Trump.

Biden says he will sign executive orders to tackle the pandemic on the day he is inaugurated next week.

He has pledged to set up thousands of immunisation sites, deploy mobile clinics and expand the public health workforce in a bid to revive the stuttering rollout of vaccines.

India, second to the United States in the number of coronavirus cases, aims to inoculate 300 million people by July in one of the world’s biggest vaccination drives.

It will use two vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot made locally by India’s Serum Institute, and a homegrown jab called Covaxin.

Spain began administering Sunday second vaccine doses to people who had already received the first at the end of December, mostly nursing home residents and care staff.

In Norway, where 13 frail elderly people died after a first vaccine injection, the Medical Medicines Agency, after assessing the cases, suggested last week that the deaths could be linked to side effects of the jab.

But agency official Steinar Madsen told public broadcaster NRK that the there was no cause for alarm.

“It is quite clear that these vaccines present very little risk, with the minimal exception of the most fragile patients”, he said.

– ‘Anti-mask lunacy’ –

With populations across the globe tiring of lockdown measures, protests continue to be held in many countries.

Roughly 10,000 people marched in Austria’s capital Vienna against coronavirus restrictions on Saturday, calling on the government to resign.

Most of them refused to wear masks or respect social distancing rules, and their rally was condemned as “anti-mask lunacy” by a much smaller counter-protest.

The pandemic also continues to wreak havoc on the global sporting calendar.

The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, was thrown into disarray Saturday when three people tested positive on two of the 17 charter flights bringing tennis players and their entourages to the country.

A fourth person, a member of a broadcast team on one of the same flights tested positive Sunday.

Quarantine rules mean 47 players will not be allowed out to train but organisers said the tournament was still set to begin February 8.

New Year, New Rules: UK Begins Post-Brexit Future

People watch a fireworks display during New Year celebrations at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang on January 1, 2021. (Photo by KIM Won Jin / AFP)

 

Britain on Friday began a new year and life outside Europe, after leaving the bloc’s single market trading rules to go it alone for the first time in nearly half a century.

Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the Channel since 2016, became reality an hour before midnight, ending the UK’s 48-year obligation to follow Brussels’ rules.

Free movement of over 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states ended.

More rigorous customs checks returned for the first time in decades, despite the hard-fought brokering of a tariff- and quota-free trade deal.

New Year’s Day newspapers reflected the historic but still deeply divisive change, which will have repercussions for generations to come.

The pro-Brexit Daily Express’ front-page photograph showed the White Cliffs of Dover — an enduring symbol of Britishness — with “Freedom” written on a Union flag.

“Our Future. Our Britain. Our Destiny,” its headline said.

The pro-EU Independent, though, was less sure: “Off the hook — or cut adrift?” it asked, reflecting widespread uncertainty at the path the country had now chosen.

 

Frech custom offciers watch the first vehicle entering the Eurotunnel terminal post Brexit, an Estonian lorry driver, on January 1, 2021, in Coquelles, northern France. (Photo by Lewis Joly / POOL / AFP)

 

As dawn broke on 2021, attention turned to Britain’s borders, particularly its key Channel seaports, to see if the end to seamless trade and travel would cause delays and disruption.

But with New Year’s Day a public holiday followed by a weekend, and the government having announced the phased introduction of checks, few immediate problems were envisaged.

“The traffic forecast for the next few days is very light,” said John Keefe, spokesman for Eurotunnel, which transports freight, cars and coaches under the Channel.

Practical changes

From Monday, more truckers transporting goods to and from mainland Europe face the new rules, including permits to even drive on the roads leading to Channel ports like Dover.

The Road Haulage Association, an industry body, estimates that some 220 million new forms will now need to be filled in every year to allow trade to flow with EU countries.

“This is a revolutionary change,” Rod McKenzie, managing director of public policy at the RHA, told The Times newspaper this week.

Other practical changes include how long Britons can visit their holiday homes on the continent, to travel with pets, and an end to British involvement in an EU student programme.

Holidaymakers and business travellers used to seamless EU travel could face delays, although fears Britons will have to get international permits to drive in Europe were averted by a separate accord.

British fishermen are disgruntled at a compromise in the free trade agreement to allow continued access for EU boats in British waters, which has raised fears of clashes at sea.

The key financial services sector also faces an anxious wait to learn on what basis it can keep dealing with Europe, after being largely omitted from the trade deal along with services in general, which account for 80 percent of Britain’s economy.

In Northern Ireland, the border with Ireland will be closely watched to ensure movement is unrestricted — key to a 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence over British rule.

And in pro-EU Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave a clear sign of a looming battle ahead for a new vote on independence.

“Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on,” she tweeted.

 

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to update the nation on the post-Brexit trade agreement, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 24, 2020.  (Photo by Paul GROVER / POOL / AFP)

 

‘Make the most of it’

Despite the uncertainty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is bullishly optimistic, describing the culmination of Brexit as an “amazing moment” for the country.

He vowed that post-Brexit Britain, despite being battered by a surge in coronavirus cases, would be an “open, generous, outward-looking, internationalist and free-trading” country.

“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he added in a New Year’s message.

The divisions over Brexit, both political and social, remain deep and are likely to last for years, despite a muted end to the saga overshadowed by the global health crisis.

Opinion polls indicate that most Britons want to move on and are far more worried about the worsening coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 73,500 dead in Britain alone.

 

A man gives a welcome pack to the second vehicle entering the Eurotunnel terminal post Brexit, a Polish lorry driver, on January 1, 2021, in Coquelles, northern France. – Britain on Thursday finally severed its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe, quitting the EU single market and customs union and going its own way four-and-a-half years after its shock vote to leave the bloc. Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the Channel since 2016, became a reality as Big Ben struck 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) in London, just as most of mainland Europe ushered in 2021. (Photo by Lewis Joly / POOL / AFP)

 

Johnson, who survived several days in intensive care with Covid last April, warned of tough times ahead but said a UK-developed vaccine offered grounds for hope.

But his desire for a prosperous, more globally focused Britain could yet see a resurgence of Brexit wrangling, as the country finds out what its new trading terms mean in reality.