Villarreal stunned Manchester United after a marathon penalty shoot-out, with goalkeeper David de Gea missing the last spot-kick, in the Europa League final to lift their first-ever major trophy on Wednesday in Gdansk.
It finished 1-1 after 120 minutes as Gerard Moreno put the unfancied Spaniards ahead in the 29th minute before Edinson Cavani levelled early in the second half.
But Villarreal won a remarkable shoot-out 11-10, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still waiting for his first trophy as United manager.
US drugmaker Pfizer on Wednesday confirmed that suspect doses of its coronavirus vaccine that were seized in Mexico and Poland were indeed fake, with doses going for as much as $1,000 a shot, according to US media.
At a clinic in Mexico some 80 people received bogus doses of the drug, which appeared to have been physically harmless, though offering no protection against the potentially deadly disease ravaging the country, a report in the Wall Street Journal said.
The vials were found in beer coolers and were initially identified by fabricated lot numbers and expiration dates, Mexican officials said.
The liquid in the confiscated vials in Poland was a cosmetic substance, thought to be anti-wrinkle cream, the company said.
“We are cognizant that in this type of environment — fueled by the ease and convenience of e-commerce and anonymity afforded by the internet — there will be an increase in the prevalence of fraud, counterfeit and other illicit activity as it relates to vaccines and treatments for Covid-19,” a Pfizer spokesperson told ABC News.
In February, health authorities in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon warned about “clandestine” sales of “alleged Covid vaccines” and urged people not to take them.
In March, the World Health Organization also warned of “falsified” Pfizer vaccines found in Mexico and warned that the shots “may still be in circulation in the region.”
Pfizer tested the bogus vials and found they did not contain the two-shot vaccine it developed with BioNTech.
Lev Kubiak, Pfizer’s head of global security, said the desperate need and the shortfall in vaccines had led to the scams.
“We have a very limited supply, a supply that will increase as we ramp up and other companies enter the vaccine space. In the interim, there is a perfect opportunity for criminals,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
Mexico is also examining a shipment of 6,000 doses of what is claimed to be the Russian vaccine Sputnik that were seized on a private plane headed for Honduras last month, the newspaper said.
US tech giant Google on Wednesday launched a new cloud data hub in Warsaw — its first in Central and Eastern Europe — with an investment of nearly $2.0 billion (1.7 billion euros).
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hailed the new hub saying it would ensure “better service from private and public entities” and strengthen security because the data would be stored in Poland.
“We hope that the new Google Cloud region will… help in recovery from the pandemic and will contribute to a thriving digital economy in Poland and the neighbouring countries,” Magdalena Dziewguc, Google Cloud’s country manager, said in a statement.
US embassy charge d’affaires Bix Aliu said US companies have invested around $60 billion in Poland and Google “is adding close to $2 billion to that number by expanding cloud services”.
Poland’s economy last year went into recession for the first time since the fall of communism three decades ago because of the coronavirus crisis but it is expected to bounce back this year.
The government has put an emphasis on developing the tech sector.
Microsoft announced last year that it would invest one billion dollars in Poland to expand its operations, including the creation of a new regional cloud-computing data hub.
Google and Microsoft are among the global leaders in providing cloud services — an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
As well as charging for the service, cloud operators are able to harvest huge amounts of data and open up many other revenue streams.
Poland on Wednesday reported a total of 17,260 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours — a record for this year — and said there had been 398 more virus-related deaths.
Health ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz blamed the increase on the spread of the British strain as well as “increased looseness” among Poles in respecting virus restrictions.
The spokesman said an additional 1,500 beds for Covid-19 patients would be opened up around Poland in the coming days, including in some temporary hospitals.
Government spokesman Piotr Muller said there had been a slight decrease in the rate of increase “but there is still a long way to go before we can say that the third wave has calmed down”.
Poland locked down at the start of the pandemic last year and was initially spared the worst, but it has been badly affected by a second wave at the end of last year and again this year.
The government last month eased restrictions, including reopening shopping centres, museums, hotels and theatres but it has been forced to reverse those changes in two northern regions in the past couple of weeks because of soaring case rates.
Officials are not ruling out further nationwide tightening.
The European Commission on Thursday told five EU countries — Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland and Sweden — to quickly put a 2008 EU law against racism into their statutes.
The five need to “fully transpose” into national law the EU rules that criminalise “serious manifestations of racism and xenophobia”, the commission said in a statement, explaining it had sent formal letters to the respective capitals.
The EU executive already, in October last year, sent similar letters on the same matter to Estonia and Romania.
The commission noted that legislation in Belgium and Bulgaria did not identify racist or xenophobic motives as an aggravating element in crimes, and Bulgaria, Finland and Sweden failed to adequately criminalise certain hate speech, including the trivialisation of the Holocaust.
It also deemed that Finland had failed to allow racist crimes to be investigated even without a complaint by a victim.
It singled out Poland for not specifying “gross trivialisation” of international crimes and the Holocaust, and restricting the criminalisation of denial “only to cases where such crimes were committed against Polish citizens”.
The five countries have two months to respond to the letters. If they do not, the commission can start a procedure that could see them taken to the European Court of Justice.
A hospital in Warsaw is under fire for giving out Covid-19 vaccine shots to celebrities and politicians, causing public outrage and sparking a government investigation that began on Monday.
Poland, which like much of Europe began its vaccination campaign on December 27, is currently only supposed to be vaccinating medical workers under a government plan.
But the Medical University of Warsaw hospital last week said it had also vaccinated 18 cultural figures who are intended to serve as ambassadors for the vaccination campaign.
The hospital said it had given out a total of 450 shots, including 300 for its own staff members and 132 for their families and patients.
The list of patients included some politicians.
Among the celebrities were actress Maria Seweryn, who is 45, singer Michal Bajor, 63, and Edward Miszczak, a 65-year-old TV journalist.
The unusual vaccinations first came to light when Leszek Miller, an MEP and former prime minister and regular patient at the hospital, tweeted a picture of a medical record showing he had received the vaccine on December 30.
Some local politicians in other parts of Poland, including members of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, have also been heavily criticised for receiving the vaccine out of turn.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told PAP news agency on Saturday that “observing the rules of the vaccination sequence is an expression of respect for the rules of social solidarity”.
“There is no justification for breaking the rules,” he said, calling it “a real scandal”.
Government spokesman Piotr Muller on Monday said a government investigation had begun adding: “I hope that there will be punishment as early as today for all the guilty parties.”
Sanctions could include financial penalties and disciplinary proceedings, he said.
Poland is due to begin vaccinating seniors, teachers and members of the armed forces later this month. Only after that will the vaccine become available to the rest of the population of 38 million people.
Michal Dworczyk, the government official in charge of vaccinations, said on Monday that just over 50,000 people had been vaccinated in Poland so far and he expected 2.9 million to be vaccinated in the first three months of 2021.
Poland’s first state-backed electric car plant is expected to begin production by 2024 in a region of the EU country that now relies heavily on coal mining for jobs, the ElectroMobility Poland (EMP) carmaker said on Thursday.
Lagging behind its smaller EU neighbours the Czech Republic and Slovakia in making electric vehicles, Poland presented its own SUV and hatchback prototypes earlier this year under the Izera brand name.
Meeting with local officials there, EMP’s president Piotr Zaremba said the plant would be built in Jaworzno, a mining town in the southern Silesian coal basin.
With production targeted to begin in three years, the plant is expected to employ some 3,000 people while an additional 12,000 jobs will be created by suppliers and subcontractors.
The value of the investment in the new plant was not immediately clear.
A key figure in Poland’s plan to transition away from coal, Climate and Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka told local media the investment was “an important element in… creating permanent jobs,” in the region as it shifts away from coal.
Now relying on coal for around 80 percent of its electricity and some 80,000 mining sector jobs, Poland plans to phase out its coal mines by 2049.
The move puts Poland within reach of meeting the European Union’s climate target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, something Warsaw had previously rejected arguing it needed more time to make the transition.
Poland’s populist Law and Justice (PiS) government has vowed to create new jobs in coal regions as mines are phased out.
Employment in the coal sector is a politically sensitive issue in Poland, a country of 38 million people where miners and their families are still a powerful voting bloc.
Launched in 2016, EMP was formed by four Polish state-owned energy companies including PGE, Energa, Enea and Tauron Polska as part of moves to transition away from fossil fuels.
A 45.5-metre (150-foot) deep diving pool with artificial underwater caves and Mayan ruins, the world’s deepest such structure, opened near Warsaw this weekend.
The complex, named Deepspot, even includes a small wreck for scuba and free divers to explore.
It has 8,000 cubic metres of water — more than 20 times the amount in an ordinary 25-metre pool.
Unlike regular swimming pools, Deepspot can open despite coronavirus restrictions in Poland because it is a training centre that offers courses.
A hotel with rooms from which guests will be able to watch divers at a depth of five metres is also planned.
“It’s the world’s deepest pool,” Deepspot director Michal Braszczynski, a 47-year-old diving enthusiast, told AFP at the opening on Saturday.
The current holder of the Guinness world record is in Montegrotto Terme in Italy and is 42 metres deep.
The Blue Abyss pool planned to open in Britain in 2021 will be 50 metres deep.
Around a dozen customers came on the first day, including eight seasoned divers who hoped to pass an exam to become instructors.
“There are no magnificent fish or coral reefs here so it is no substitute for the sea but it is definitely a good place to learn and to train in order to dive safely in open water,” said Przemyslaw Kacprzak, a 39-year-old diving instructor.
“And it’s fun! It’s like a kindergarten for divers!”
Jerzy Nowacki, a 30-year-old forestry officer and diving novice, said: “For my first time, we went down five metres but you can see all the way to the bottom — the wreck, the caves — it’s magnificent!”
Braszczynski said the pool “will also be used by the fire brigade and the army. There are many scenarios for training and we can also test different equipment”.
Some 5,000 cubic metres of concrete were used over the two years it took to build the pool and it cost around 40 million zloty (8.9 million euros, $10.6 million).
A Polish cardinal suspected of sexual abuse who had been banned by the Vatican from carrying out his duties has died at the age of 97, the Polish Catholic Church said on Monday.
In the statement announcing the death, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of the Polish episcopate, said Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz had caused “pain” among the faithful.
The Vatican’s embassy to Poland earlier this month banned Gulbinowicz from using bishops’ insignia and said he could not be buried in a cathedral after concluding an investigation.
The cardinal had also been asked to donate to a foundation created by the Polish episcopacy to help the victims of sexual abuse.
Appointed cardinal by late Polish pope John Paul II in May 1985, Gulbinowicz has been accused of abusing a 15-year-old in 1989 and protecting a priest who was branded a paedophile.
He is also accused of not having informed the Vatican about another priest who was found guilty of paedophilia.
The higher echelons of Poland’s ecclesiastical hierarchy have been shaken by a series of scandals this year.
Last month, the Vatican’s ambassador to Poland announced the resignation of Polish bishop Edward Janiak who was suspected of covering up sexual abuse of children.
And in August, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Slawoj Leszek Glodz, the Archbishop of Gdansk known for his high-end lifestyle and love of luxury, following accusations he had bullied priests and remained silent on alleged sex abuse.
The European Union criticised Hungary and Poland in its first report on democratic standards across the bloc on Wednesday, as tensions soar between Brussels and Budapest.
The report on the “rule of law” in all 27 EU countries comes a day after the bloc rejected hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s demand that a senior official resign over criticism of his government.
The assessment prepared by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, voices “serious concern” about judicial independence in both Hungary and Poland.
Budapest and its ally in Warsaw have long been at loggerheads with Brussels over issues like civil freedoms and immigration, with Orban accused of persecuting opposition media and forcing the closure of foreign-owned universities.
On Tuesday, Orban demanded the resignation of Vera Jourova, a commission vice-president responsible for defending EU values and transparency, for calling Hungary an “ill democracy” in an interview.
The commission rejected the call but the row with Budapest sets the stage for a difficult summit of EU leaders on Thursday, where the rule of law debate looks set to poison attempts to fine tune a major coronavirus recovery package.
Asked about Orban’s criticism in an interview with AFP, Jourova refused to be drawn into “personal attacks”.
“But I want to reject strongly one thing: I never offended the Hungarian people,” she said, insisting she respected them and the choices they had made.
“But this does not mean we should not speak, also critically if needed, about actions of governments and elected representatives.”
“No-one’s actions are above criticism.”
The report examines four main pillars of democracy: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and other checks and balances.
It lists a series of concerns over judicial independence in Hungary and warns of a lack of action to tackle graft related to top officials.
“Deficient independent control mechanisms and tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption,” the report says of Hungary.
Polish legal reforms, a major point of contention between Warsaw and Brussels, “have increased the influence of the executive and legislative powers over the justice system and therefore weakened judicial independence”.
– ‘Absurd and false’ –
The EU has an “Article 7” procedure probing whether Hungary is undermining European legal standards and democratic values.
This could ultimately lead to them losing EU voting rights, though the hurdles for this are high.
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga condemned the EU report as “absurd and false”.
“The concept and methodology of the Commission’s rule of law report is flawed, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded,” she said in a statement.
The rule of law dispute has hampered protracted negotiations about the EU’s long-term budget and is likely to spill into this week’s summit.
The European Parliament and several member states want to see funding for countries like Hungary tied to respect for democratic legal values.
But Hungary and Poland, accused of a slide into populist authoritarianism, fiercely oppose this and have threatened to veto Europe’s coronavirus recovery plan.
Germany’s Angela Merkel has been working to negotiate a compromise arrangement to protect EU funds from being misspent, but diplomats warn the debate is “very polarised” and far from settled.
European diplomats representing member states voted to back the German plan on Wednesday and to begin negotiating with parliament, but seven countries opposed it, including Hungary and Poland.