The Latin American roll-out of a potential COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca could be set back after the biotech company announced a pause in tests, the government of Mexico, which is involved in developing the drug alongside Argentina, said Tuesday.
AstraZeneca, which is working on a vaccine in conjunction with Oxford University, said that a volunteer had developed an undiagnosed illness and that, in line with security protocols, it was delaying further tests until an independent panel had studied the case.
Pausing vaccine trials “is not an unusual occurrence… and as a consequence the vaccine’s arrival may be delayed” across the region, said Hugo Lopez Gatell, Mexico’s undersecretary for health, at a press conference on the latest development.
Gatell asked that people avoid speculation about the safety of the vaccine, especially given that it is considered to be one of the most promising projects under development in the western world.
Mexico and Argentina have signed an agreement to work together with the Swedish-British pharmaceutical company.
Under the plan, some 250 million doses of the vaccine would be sold at cost across Latin America, with the exception of Brazil, which has its own agreements.
Mexico will also work with other labs in Europe, China and Russia in vaccine development projects, although AstraZeneca is the only one that has guaranteed distribution across Latin America.
With a population of almost 129 million people, Mexico had suffered 68,484 fatalities from the virus by Tuesday, with 642,860 cases of Covid-19.
Former top Trump aide Steve Bannon was on Thursday arrested and charged along with three others for defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors in a Mexico border wall fundraising campaign — a blow to the Republican incumbent.
The online crowdfunding campaign known as “We Build the Wall” raised more than $25 million, prosecutors said, which the defendants said would be used on construction but was instead used for their own profit.
The arrest is the latest in a string of high-profile legal battles faced by members of Trump’s inner circle as the Republican runs for re-election in November.
Manhattan federal prosecutors said Bannon, the organization’s founder Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.”
The initiative began in 2018 as a GoFundMe campaign to raise money organizers said would go towards the border wall Trump had promised during his 2016 campaign, which Bannon orchestrated.
Kolfage, a 38-year-old based in Florida, had vowed that all funds raised would go to the wall and he would not take compensation — but according to the indictment, he took more than $350,000 for his own use and worked to hide his actions.
After calling the effort a “volunteer organization,” Bannon, 66, received over $1 million of the donations which he funneled through a non-profit he controlled, using some of it for his personal expenses, prosecutors said.
All four men are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
“Not only did they lie to donors, they schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth,” said Philip Bartlett, head of New York’s division of the US Postal Inspection Service which worked on the investigation.
Prior to leading Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, Bannon — a brash, aggressively conservative voice of US nationalism — headed the far-right outlet Breitbart News.
Once a prominent voice in the president’s ear, Bannon was behind some of Trump’s most controversial moves, including his ban on some travelers from abroad and the decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement.
After frequent clashes with others in the White House including Trump, Bannon was pushed out in August 2017.
A staggering 900-plus girls and women are missing and feared dead in Peru since COVID-19 confinement began, authorities said Monday.
The Andean nation home to 33 million people long has had a horrific domestic violence problem.
But COVID-19, which has compounded home confinement combined with job losses and a health crisis, has seen an already scary situation grow worse in just 3-1/2 months, according to Eliana Revollar, who leads the women’s rights office of the National Ombudsman’s office.
Seventy percent of that figure are minors, she added.
“During the quarantine, from March 16 to June 30, 915 women in Peru were reported missing,” and feared dead, said Revollar.
Before COVID-19, five women were reported missing in Peru every single day; since the lockdown, the number has surged to eight per day.
Revollar said Peru’s situation was grim because the lack of a national missing persons registry made it hard for authorities to keep track of the crisis.
Walter Gutierrez, the ombudsman, told RPS Radio: “We need to know what has happened to them.”
Revollar said she would push for the creation of a missing persons registry.
Women’s rights groups and NGOs however say that very often police refuse to investigate domestic violence, make fun of victims, or claim that the missing have left their homes willingly.
But that doesn’t address the fact that Peru has a problem with domestic violence and other violence against women, as well as human trafficking and forced prostitution.
In January, the case of a university student and activist for women’s rights and safety, Solsiret Rodriguez, was in the headlines here — but only when her body was found three years after she went missing.
Last year there were 166 killings of women in Peru; just a tenth of those were cases of a person first being reported missing. And there were just under 30,000 calls to report domestic violence, according to the Women’s Ministry.
And coronavirus hasn’t spared Peru: it has had more than 384,000 coronavirus cases and 18,229 deaths. It is the third-hardest hit country in Latin America behind Brazil and Mexico.
Two Chinese nationals have been indicted for seeking to steal COVID-19 vaccine research and hacking hundreds of companies in the United States and abroad, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.
Li Xiaoyu, 34, and Dong Jiazhi, 33, also targeted human rights activists in the United States, China and Hong Kong, Assistant Attorney General John Demers said.
Li and Dong, who are believed to be in China, acted in some instances “for their own personal gain” and in others for the benefit of China’s Ministry of State Security, Demers said at a press conference.
“China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran, and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cybercriminals,” Demers said.
The Justice Department said Li and Dong, who were classmates at an electrical engineering college in Chengdu, have been engaged in a hacking campaign for the past 10 years.
They have targeted companies in the United States, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, it said.
“Targeted industries included, among others, high tech manufacturing; medical device, civil, and industrial engineering; business, educational, and gaming software; solar energy; pharmaceuticals; defense,” it said.
“More recently, the defendants probed for vulnerabilities in computer networks of companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, testing technology, and treatments,” it said.
Justice Department officials said that Li and Dong targeted biotech companies in California, Maryland and Massachusetts but did not appear to have actually compromised any COVID-19 research.
The Justice Department said the hackers also targeted “non-governmental organizations, and individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States and abroad, including Hong Kong and China.”
According to the indictment, they supplied the Ministry of State Security with passwords for personal email accounts belonging to Chinese dissidents, a Hong Kong community organizer, the pastor of a Christian church in Xi’an and a former Tiananmen Square protestor.
Among the material allegedly stolen were emails between a dissident and the Dalai Lama’s office.
They were accused of stealing source code from software companies, information about drugs under development from pharmaceutical firms and weapons designs and testing data from defense contractors.
Targeted foreign companies were not identified by name.
But according to the indictment they included a Dutch electronics firm, a Swedish online gaming company, a Lithuanian gaming company, a German software engineering firm, a Belgian engineering software company, an Australian defense contractor, a South Korean shipbuilding firm, a Spanish electronics and defense firm and a British artificial intelligence and cancer research company.
Li and Dong allegedly stole information from defense contractors regarding military satellite programs, military wireless networks and communications systems and microwave and laser systems.
The indictment was returned by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Washington state on July 7 but was only unsealed on Tuesday.
Li and Dong were charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, wire fraud, unauthorized access of a computer and identity theft.
China accused the United States last month of smearing Beijing following allegations that Chinese hackers were attempting to steal coronavirus research.
The claims have added fuel to tensions between the global superpowers, which have traded barbs over the origin of the pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 people since it emerged in China late last year.
“China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to such smearing,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
“Judging from past records, the US has carried out the largest cybertheft operations worldwide,” Zhao said.
Mexican president Manuel Lopez Obrador on Sunday vowed to improve health standards in the nation, which has the fourth-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, as the number of fatalities rose to nearly 39,000.
“We want to remember those who died from the COVID-19 pandemic, and send a loving, fraternal hug to their relatives, to their friends,” Lopez Obrador said in a video released on social media.
Mexico, with 127 million inhabitants, had recorded 38,888 deaths from the new coronavirus, according to health authorities on Saturday, with additional suspected coronavirus deaths lifting the total to more than 40,000.
Mexico has the second-highest death toll in Latin America after Brazil, which has 78,772 deaths.
“There will be time later to pay tribute with all the protocol and ceremonies — a solemn tribute to those who have lost their lives due to this terrible pandemic,” added Lopez Obrador, flanked by a Mexican flag and two soldiers.
He read out 10 commitments to protect those vulnerable to COVID-19, including tackling “diseases caused by hunger and poverty,” launching “a permanent campaign” to promote healthier eating and lifestyles, and treating hypertension, diabetes and obesity as a priority.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday hailed his “outstanding relationship” with his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as he welcomed him to the White House for the leaders’ first one-on-one meeting.
“We’ve had a very outstanding relationship… The relationship between the United States and Mexico has never been closer than it is right now,” said the billionaire Republican, who was elected in 2016 after campaigning heavily on a promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
At the time he branded Latino immigrants “bad hombres” and accused the Mexican government of sending criminals and rapists to the United States.
“Each of us was elected on the pledge to fight corruption, return power to the people and put the interests of our countries first,” he told Lopez Obrador, who was elected president in 2018. “I do that and you do that,” he added.
For his part, Lopez Obrador adopted a particularly conciliatory tone towards Trump.
“I want to thank you for your understanding,” he said, adding that there was no reason for the “very good political relations” between the two countries to deteriorate.
He noted that the US had not tried to treat Mexico “as a colony,” instead honoring its status as an independent nation.
“That’s why I’m here. To express to the people of the United States that their president has behaved with us with kindness and respect,” Lopez Obrador said.
The Oval Office event, their first face-to-face meeting, was officially a celebration of the newly-launched US-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal.
Authorities in Mexico found 14 bodies dumped on the side of a road in northern Zacatecas state, where notorious criminal gangs operate, the regional government said on Friday.
Images on local media showed the bodies by the side of a road, wrapped in blankets and tied with adhesive tape.
Zacatecas public prosecutor, Francisco Murillo told the press that four of the bodies had been identified and were from Juan Aldama, a town 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the north of Fresnillo, where they were found.
“They are people who disappeared from that region a few days ago,” said Murillo.
Zacatecas is on one of the main drug trafficking routes into the United States and, according to experts, the territory is being fought over by at least three local criminal gangs with links to the two most powerful drug cartels in Mexico: Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation.
On Wednesday a battle between rival Sinaloa factions left 16 people dead in this northwestern state.
Earlier on Friday, Mexico City’s security chief, Omar Garcia Harfuch, was wounded and two of his bodyguards killed in an ambush by gunmen. A woman who was driving past the scene was also killed.
Garcia Harfuch blamed the attack, in which he was hit by three bullets, on the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
Since December 2006 when the then-government launched a military operation against drug trafficking criminal gangs, more than 290,000 people have been murdered, according to official figures.
Experts believe this strategy split up the cartels into smaller and more violent cells.
Despite large parts of Mexico being semi-paralyzed by coronavirus lockdown measures, violence has not abated.
March was the second most violent month since records began in 1997 with 3,000 murders in the country of 127 million.
A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico on Tuesday, leaving one person dead but an initial tsunami warning was later reversed.
The epicenter was near Crucecita, in the southeastern state of Oaxaca, with shock waves felt as far away as Mexico City, some 700 kilometers (430 miles) distant, where it sent frightened residents rushing into the streets.
The US Geological Survey reported that the quake struck with a magnitude of 7.4, at a depth of 23 kilometers. After initially publishing a reading of 7.1, the Mexican Seismological Service revised its figure to 7.5.
“It’s confirmed it was a 7.5 magnitude. Fortunately there’s no damage, in any case we’re going to continue to call for caution as there may be aftershocks and we must all take care without worrying,” said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a video published on social media.
“Strategic installations didn’t suffer any damage, that is to say, ports, airports, refineries, hydroelectric plants, everything is in a good condition,” said Lopez Obrador after speaking to David Leon, the national coordinator of Mexico’s Civil Protection force.
Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat told Milenio TV station that “there was a small collapse, one person was injured and another died,” adding that the state suffered minor damage.
Mexican Oil said its refinery in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca had been shut down as a precaution after a fire broke out “that was immediately stifled.”
One person was injured while other refineries in the state are operating as normal.
The US Pacific Tsunami warning center initially said hazardous waves as high as three meters could strike anywhere within 1,000 kilometers of the quake’s epicenter, affecting the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central and South America.
However, a few hours later it said the threat had “largely passed.”
Quake adding to virus woes
Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum also activated response protocols, although she said there had been “no major incidents” reported.
The earthquake was felt in several parts of the capital of 8.8 million people which in 2017 was hit by a 7.1 magnitude quake that left 360 people dead throughout the country.
That same year, 96 people died after an 8.1 magnitude quake struck the south of the country, with Oaxaca the worst affected state.
The quake has hit at a time when Mexico is already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
It has suffered more than 22,500 COVID-19 deaths — the second most in Latin America — and 185,000 cases.
Medical staff were evacuated from some hospitals in the capital alongside patients, although those suffering from the coronavirus remained isolated inside the buildings, alongside their carers.
“All those that are in an area with COVID patients remain inside, only those of us who weren’t there at the time” have come out, said Jaime Gomez, a nurse at a hospital caring for coronavirus patients.
Many of the people that fled into the streets of the capital were wearing face masks.
“With all the virus problems and now the tremors, and I’ve just lost one child and the other is ill, so imagine (how I’m feeling),” a tearful Maria Teresa Duran, 80, told AFP.
The quake took many people by surprise in the capital, including some working from home due to virus lockdown measures.
“We were working in our pyjamas, finishing off breakfast and then we had to get out like this,” said 29-year-old Sonia Flores Cano.
At least 16 bodies and more than two-dozen bags full of human remains have been found outside the Mexican city of Guadalajara, state prosecutors said.
The gruesome discoveries — announced Thursday — were made over the last ten days, in four different regions in the country’s west.
The remains of 14 people were found on the border with the central state of Guanajuato — one of the country’s most violent because of petrol-smuggling criminal groups.
The bodies of three men were found outside a tin mine along with a woman “whose hands and feet were tied,” the prosecutor said, while the bones of nine men and a woman were discovered on a small ranch.
Human remains packed into 26 bags were also found in Guadalajara — one of Mexico’s largest cities, authorities said, though it is not clear how many people that represents.
“The Institute of Forensic Sciences will determine the number of bodies,” said Jalisco state prosecutor Gerardo Solis.
In 2006 then-president Felipe Calderon launched a controversial military offensive against organized crime gangs that experts and human rights groups say is one of the main causes of an escalation of violence in Mexico.
Official figures show almost 287,000 murders have been committed in Mexico since then, though it is unclear how many are directly linked to drug cartel violence
Three police officers have been arrested in the Mexican state of Jalisco over the death of a man taken into custody for allegedly breaking coronavirus restrictions, authorities said Friday.
Among those placed under arrest over the death of 30-year-old Giovanni Lopez last month is a municipal police chief in Guadalajara and another middle-ranking officer, state prosecutor Gerardo Solis told reporters.
The arrests follow riots in the state capital Guadalajara after protesters had gathered to demand justice over Lopez’s death.
At least 28 people were arrested after protesters set police vehicles alight and attacked the headquarters of the state government. One police officer suffered burns.
Authorities said Lopez had been detained for “administrative misconduct.”
They denied claims he had been arrested for not wearing a mask in public.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador mourned the death of the construction worker on Friday and said his government condemned “authoritarian actions.”
“I regret the facts because I am in favor of solving problems through dialogue and without the use of force,” he said in his usual morning press conference.
The president urged Mexico’s national human rights commission to join the investigations into Lopez’s death.
Amnesty International on Friday condemned the incident and said Lopez’s “death in police custody is a serious symptom of the misuse of force used by the authorities and the widespread use of torture.”
Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro, who is from Guadalajara, also condemned the killing.
Jalisco governor Enrique Alfaro accused the federal government of being behind the disturbances on Thursday, but Lopez Obrador denied the allegation.
“If the governor has proof, let him bring it to light,” the president said.
Mexico has recorded over 105,000 infections from the coronavirus with nearly 13,000 deaths.