UK Government Reassures Public Of AstraZeneca Vaccine Safety


THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP

 

Britain moved Thursday to reassure the public over the safety of its coronavirus vaccine campaign, after deciding to offer alternatives to an AstraZeneca jab amid blood clot concerns.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people to keep getting inoculated, a day after Britain’s medicines regulator said the vaccine developed by the British-Swedish firm was linked to 79 cases of rare clotting and 19 deaths.

But those under 30 are to be offered alternatives the AstraZeneca vaccine, more than 20 million doses of which have been administered since early December.

Hancock emphasised the serious side effects were “extremely rare”, adding that all three of the vaccines so far approved for use in Britain were “safe for all ages”.

Addressing those under 30, an age group in which vaccine hesitancy tends to be higher and is largely yet to be offered the jab, he urged young people to keep faith with the UK’s vaccine drive.

“The vaccines are safe, and if you want to have the Pfizer vaccine or Moderna vaccine instead then that is fine,” Hancock told the BBC, referring to two other vaccines approved by British regulators.

“Covid is a horrible disease and long Covid affects people in their 20s just as much it seems as any other age group and can have debilitating side effects that essentially ruin your life,” he added.

– Herd immunity? –

The decision Wednesday by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), on the advice of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has stoked fears the country’s successful vaccine programme could be derailed.

Officials said the changes would not impact the rollout timetable of offering a first dose to all adults by the end of July, thanks to supplies from US firm Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, a US-German joint effort.

The European Medicines Agency also presented its findings Wednesday on the AstraZeneca jab, saying clotting should be listed as a “very rare” side effect to the vaccine.

Britain, one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic with nearly 127,000 dead, has sped ahead with its vaccination campaign relative to European neighbours.

The UK has administered nearly 32 million first vaccine doses to people — around 60 percent of the adult population.

Hancock emphasised the impact vaccinations have had on Covid deaths in the UK, saying the number of people dying from Covid was cut in half in the last nine days.

According to modelling by a team at University College London, the country could reach herd immunity from the virus by Monday.

The research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, estimates nearly 75 percent of people should have immunity from the virus by next week.

However, some medical experts urged caution over the assessment.

“Unfortunately, the modelling approach used to produce this analysis has a history of making over-confident and over-optimistic predictions,” noted Adam Kucharski, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

-AFP

Body Found In UK Pond Identified As Missing Nigerian Student Richard Okorogheye

Richard Okorogheye, who attends Oxford Brookes, was reported missing on March 24, 2021. Credit: Metropolitan Police

 

The body found on Monday in the search for missing 19-year-old Nigerian student Richard Okorogheye has been formally identified as his.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Richard’s family at this incredibly difficult time,” UK’s Metropolitan Police said in a tweet confirming the tragic news on Wednesday.

“They continue to be supported by specialist officers.”

The body had been found in a pond in Epping Forest on Monday afternoon, 12 days after Okorogheye, who attends Oxford Brookes, was reported missing.

 

READ ALSO: Body ‘Found In Pond’ In Search For Missing Nigerian Student

Okorogheye left his family home on the evening of March 22 in Ladbroke Grove, West London and was reported missing two days later, police have said.

Investigations revealed that he took a taxi to Loughton, more than 22 kilometers from where he lives.

Before his disappearance, Okorogheye who lives with sickle cell disease had been shielding, meaning he was not expected to leave home and minimise face-to-face contact for health reasons.

A Tall, Strong Man’

In an interview with Channels Television, Okorogheye’s father, Christian, described him as a tall and strong teenager who enjoys talking to his friend.

His father blamed his disappearance on depression following the lockdown and long stay at home.

“He is a tall strong man; he enjoys talking to his friends,” he said. “At a point, he got cut off from his friends. Somehow, it happened that he met some people who we were not 100% sure about.

“It has been very devastating. I don’t know how to describe it but it is serious. All we want to do now is how to get him back and tell us his story.

“Richard has been on some kind of setting at home and I think that got him depressed in some ways. When you keep someone at home for like one month plus, and with all these things happening, it added to it. I think he got really fed up with the whole thing.”

UK Panel Urges Alternatives To AstraZeneca Jab For Under-30s

.Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

 

A British government committee advising on coronavirus vaccinations said Wednesday most people under 30 should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab if possible, due to concerns over blood clots.

“Adults who are aged 18 to 29 years old who do not have an underlying health condition… should be offered an alternative Covid-19 vaccine in preference to the AstraZeneca vaccine, where such an alternative vaccine is available,” Wei Shen Lim of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said at a press conference.

More to follow . . 

Seven Deaths In UK Among AstraZeneca Jab Recipients After Blood Clots – Regulator

A bottle of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (Covishield). Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

 

 

The UK medical regulator said Saturday that out of 30 people who suffered rare blood clots after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, seven have died.

The British acknowledgement of deaths comes as several European countries have paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab over a potential link to blood clots.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said in a statement that “Out of the 30 reports up to and including 24 March, sadly 7 have died.”

The reports of thrombosis, submitted by medics or members of the public via a government website, came after 18.1 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in the country.

Most of the cases (22) were a rare clotting condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Eight cases saw people suffer other types of thrombosis combined with low levels of blood platelets, which help blood clot.

There were no reports of blood clots from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the UK regulator said, adding that “our thorough review into these reports is ongoing”.

But MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine stressed that the benefits far outweighed any risks. “The public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so,” she said.

– Europe update expected –
Both the MHRA and European Medicines Agency (EMA) say no causal link has yet been established between the blood clotting case and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But growing concerns have prompted a number of countries to pause rollout of the vaccine or limit it to older people due to the relatively young age of those who suffered blood clots.

READ ALSO: Libya Takes Delivery Of First COVID-19 Vaccines

Netherlands on Friday halted vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab for people under the age of 60 after five new cases among younger women, one of whom died.

Germany has suspended the use of the vaccine for those under 60 after 31 cases of blood clots, most of them among younger and middle-aged women.

File photo: A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, on December 8, 2020.  Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP

 

A number of other countries including France have imposed a similar age restrictions, while Denmark and Norway have suspended all use of the vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which like the World Health Organization previously declared the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, is expected to announce updated advice on the issue on April 7.

It said Wednesday that there had been 62 cases worldwide of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, 44 of them in the European Economic Area, which includes the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

This figure did not include all Germany’s cases, however.

More than 9.2 million AstraZeneca jabs have been administered in the region.

The EMA said it believes the vaccine is safe and that experts have found no specific risk factors such as age, gender or medical history.

– ‘Weight of evidence’ –
Paul Hunter, a medical microbiologist at Britain’s University of East Anglia, told AFP that he had initially thought the link between vaccination and blood clots was likely to be a “random association”.

As evidence mounts of clusters in separate countries, “the weight of evidence is now looking towards Oxford-AstraZeneca actually being the cause of these adverse events”, he said.

Nevertheless, the risk for the unvaccinated of dying from Covid is “substantially greater,” he said.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca told AFP that patient safety is its “highest priority”.

UK, EU and World Health Organization regulatory bodies have concluded that the benefits “significantly outweigh the risks across all adult age groups”, she said.

AstraZeneca said last month following US efficiency trials that its vaccine is 76 percent effective at preventing the disease. It also said data for the EU and the UK showed no increased risk of blood clots.

The UK has administered more than 31 million first vaccine doses, using both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs. People cannot choose which one they get.

The UK in June 2020 ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and supported its development. It also ordered 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the same year.

AFP

UK To Announce New International Travel Rules

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. – Britain said on Thursday, December 24, 2020 an agreement had been secured on the country’s future relationship with the European Union, after last-gasp talks just days before a cliff-edge deadline. (Photo by Paul GROVER / POOL / AFP)

 

Britain will on Monday set out plans to restart international travel, using a “traffic-light” system as the country cautiously emerges from lockdown.

The announcement comes as the UK has set a tentative date of May 17 to relaunch international travel.

Travel destinations will be ranked green, amber or red according to virus risk, Downing Street said in a statement late Saturday, with the government to provide more details on Monday.

International travel is currently banned except for a handful of permitted reasons. This has created massive pent-up demand for summer holidays abroad.

“We are doing everything we can to enable the reopening of our country… as safely as possible,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The government said the new system “will help ensure the UK’s vaccine progress isn’t jeopardised and provide clear guidance for travellers”.

People heading to low-risk “green” countries will simply take a virus test before and after they travel, the government said.

But those going to amber or red countries will have to self-isolate or quarantine afterwards.

Currently people arriving in the UK from abroad are required to self-isolate for 10 days.

British nationals who arrive from a banned “red list” of high-risk countries face costly quarantine in government-approved hotels.

The government urged people not to book summer holidays, saying it was “too early to predict” which would be the green-lighted countries.

The government has announced it will allow a number of people to attend public events such as football matches from this month in trials of a virus certification system.

But it has not made clear whether it will issue “virus passports” for international travel, an idea backed by many tourism-dependent countries and airlines but opposed by more than 70 UK MPs.

The UK has already given out more than 31 million first vaccine doses and over 5 million second doses.

The rollout has far outstripped popular holiday destinations such as France.

This has boosted the public mood after more than 126,000 people died from the virus in the United Kingdom, the highest toll in Europe.

From Thursday, those living in England will be able to access two free rapid virus tests per week, a measure aimed at curbing symptom-free virus spread.

This will make such tests far more accessible than currently. “More cases will be detected, breaking chains of transmission and saving lives,” the government said Monday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people to take up the offer, saying “getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly”.

The lateral flow tests will be available at workplaces, community sites, schools and colleges. People will also be able to order delivery of the tests.

Seven Have Died In UK After Receiving AstraZeneca Vaccine – Regulator

 

In this file photo taken on February 12, 2021 a vial containing the Covid-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table in the pharmacy of the vaccination center at the Robert Bosch hospital in Stuttgart, southern Germany. THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP

 

The UK medical regulator said Saturday that out of 30 people who suffered rare blood clots after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, seven have died.

The British acknowledgement of deaths comes as several European countries have paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab over a potential link to blood clots.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said in a statement that “Out of the 30 reports up to and including 24 March, sadly 7 have died.”

The reports of thrombosis, submitted by medics or members of the public via a government website, came after 18.1 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in the country.

Most of the cases (22) were a rare clotting condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Eight cases saw people suffer other types of thrombosis combined with low levels of blood platelets, which help blood clot.

There were no reports of blood clots from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the UK regulator said, adding that “our thorough review into these reports is ongoing”.

But MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine stressed that the benefits far outweighed any risks. “The public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so,” she said.

Europe update expected

Both the MHRA and European Medicines Agency (EMA) say no causal link has yet been established between the blood clotting case and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But growing concerns have prompted a number of countries to pause rollout of the vaccine or limit it to older people due to the relatively young age of those who suffered blood clots.

Netherlands on Friday halted vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab for people under the age of 60 after five new cases among younger women, one of whom died.

Germany has suspended the use of the vaccine for those under 60 after 31 cases of blood clots, most of them among younger and middle-aged women.

A number of other countries including France have imposed a similar age restrictions, while Denmark and Norway have suspended all use of the vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which like the World Health Organization previously declared the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, is expected to announce updated advice on the issue on April 7.

It said Wednesday that there had been 62 cases worldwide of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, 44 of them in the European Economic Area, which includes the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

This figure did not include all Germany’s cases, however.

More than 9.2 million AstraZeneca jabs have been administered in the region.

The EMA said it believes the vaccine is safe and that experts have found no specific risk factors such as age, gender or medical history.

‘Weight of evidence’

Paul Hunter, a medical microbiologist at Britain’s University of East Anglia, told AFP that he had initially thought the link between vaccination and blood clots was likely to be a “random association”.

As evidence mounts of clusters in separate countries, “the weight of evidence is now looking towards Oxford-AstraZeneca actually being the cause of these adverse events”, he said.

Nevertheless, the risk for the unvaccinated of dying from Covid is “substantially greater,” he said.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca told AFP that patient safety is its “highest priority”.

UK, EU and World Health Organization regulatory bodies have concluded that the benefits “significantly outweigh the risks across all adult age groups”, she said.

AstraZeneca said last month following US efficiency trials that its vaccine is 76 percent effective at preventing the disease. It also said data for the EU and the UK showed no increased risk of blood clots.

The UK has administered more than 31 million first vaccine doses, using both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs. People cannot choose which one they get.

The UK in June 2020 ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and supported its development. It also ordered 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the same year.

 

AFP

AstraZeneca: UK Records 30 Cases Of Blood Clotting After Vaccinating Over 18 Million

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

 

Thirty cases of rare blood clotting have been recorded in Britain among more than 18 million people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccination, the national medicines regulator said Friday.

“The benefits of the vaccines against Covid-19 continue to outweigh any risks,” the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said, urging the public to keep taking the vaccine.

Up to 24 March, 22 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) and eight of other thrombosis events with low platelets were logged.

“The risk of having this specific type of blood clot is very small,” the agency noted.

READ ALSO: Europe Vaccine Rollout ‘Unacceptably Slow’ – WHO

“The number and nature of suspected adverse reactions reported so far are not unusual in comparison to other types of routinely used vaccines,” the MHRA online statement said.

However there were no such reports for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The agency said vaccination was the most efficient way to reduce the number of deaths and serious illness from coronavirus.

The Netherlands on Friday became the latest in a line of European countries to halt vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab for people under the age of 60 amid fears of links to rare blood clots.

The move came after five new cases in the Netherlands affecting women between 25 and 65 years of age, one of whom died.

Germany had taken a similar decision earlier this week.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which has also previously declared the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, as has the World Health Organization, is expected to announce updated advice on the issue on April 7.

The EMA said again on Wednesday it believes the vaccine is safe and that experts have found no specific risk factors such as age, gender or medical history.

Britain, where the vaccine was developed with the University of Oxford, has been one of the countries worst-hit by coronavirus with nearly 127,000 dead.

 

AFP

Buhari To Proceed On Medical Trip To London

File photo of President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential aircraft waving.

 

President Muhammadu Buhari will on Tuesday proceed to London, the United Kingdom for a routine medical check-up.

This was announced in a statement issued on Monday night by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina.

Before departing the country for the UK, President Buhari would meet with the security chiefs in the morning.

He is expected back in Nigeria during the second week of April 2021.

President Buhari had embarked on several medical trips between 2015 and 2019. During one of his trips in 2017, he spent 103 days in London with the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, acting as the president then.

His long absence sparked rumours that he had passed on – speculations which were denied by the presidency.

Buhari’s health became a subject of debate in the last election in February 2020 when the opposition claimed he was not physically fit to govern — but Buhari won a second term.

The president’s state of health became a sensitive subject in Nigeria after former leader Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, died in 2010 and it emerged that his ailment had been kept secret for months.

SEE FULL STATEMENT:

STATE HOUSE PRESS RELEASE

PRESIDENT BUHARI BILLED FOR ROUTINE MEDICAL CHECK-UP IN LONDON

President Muhammadu Buhari proceeds to London, the United Kingdom, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, for a routine medical check-up.

The President meets with Security Chiefs first in the morning, after which he embarks on the journey.

He is due back in the country during the second week of April 2021.

Femi Adesina

Special Adviser to the President

(Media and Publicity)

March 29, 2021

UK Hits Back As China Imposes Sanctions On Lawmakers

 

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 19, 2020. TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 19, 2020. TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP

 

 

Britain’s government on Friday gave its full backing to British lawmakers and others sanctioned by China for speaking out in defence of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

“The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted.

“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”

China announced sanctions against nine UK individuals and four entities, saying they had “maliciously spread lies and disinformation” over Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said China’s ambassador to London would be summoned to state the government’s stance.

“We will explain in very clear terms the position both in relation to the MPs and the other figures who have spoken out, but also that we will not be silenced in speaking out about these human rights abuses,” he added.

Raab called on Beijing to give the United Nations full access to the region of Xinjiang if it wants to “credibly rebut claims of human rights abuses”.

The sanctions would not stop the government or the individuals targeted from “speaking up about the industrial-scale human rights abuses that are taking place in Xinjiang”, he added.

He warned “international pressure will continue to grow” as long as China resisted UN access to the region.

China’s last ambassador to London Liu Xiaoming left his post at the end of January after 11 years in the position. His replacement, Zheng Zeguang, is yet to be installed and is currently Beijing’s vice-minister of foreign affairs.

Justice Minister Robert Buckland said “we strongly deprecate” Beijing’s announcement, which also targeted a British law firm that has taken up Uyghur rights causes.

Those sanctioned include Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of Britain’s ruling Conservative party, along with four groups that have been vocal in driving rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong higher up Westminster’s agenda.

Duncan Smith said it was “our duty to call out the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and their genocide of the Uyghur people”.

“Those of us who live free lives under the rule of law must speak for those who have no voice. If that brings the anger of China down upon me then I shall wear that as a badge of honour.”

The EU, UK, Canada and US sanctioned several members of Xinjiang’s political and economic hierarchy this week in a coordinated action over allegations of widespread abuse in the northwestern region.

– ‘Direct assault on democracy’ –
At least one million Uyghurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps there, according to rights groups, who accuse authorities of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

Conservative MPs Nusrat Ghani, Tim Loughton, Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien, and peers Helena Kennedy and David Alton, were also on the list announced by China on Friday.

In a joint statement, Tugendhat and O’Brien called the sanctions “profoundly sinister” for targeting elected lawmakers.

“As British legislators this will not actually affect us hugely, but the point of Beijing’s actions is to make others feel threatened, and to have a chilling effect on business people in particular,” they said.

Tugendhat further told the BBC that the move was “a direct assault on British democracy and an attempt to silence the people that the British people have chosen to speak for them.”

Ghani told BBC radio that she “won’t be intimidated”.

“This is a wake-up call for all democratic countries and lawmakers that we will not be able to conduct our day-to-day business without China sanctioning us for just attempting to expose what’s happening in Xinjiang.”

Organisers of a people’s tribunal in London into alleged abuses against the Uyghurs said the sanctions would not affect its work or ruling.

An Extinct Tree-Climbing Kangaroo In A ‘Treeless Plain’

 

This handout image released by Murdoch University on March 23, 2021, shows preservation of hands and feet of the newly identified fossil tree-climbing kangaroo (Congruus kitcheneri) from the Nullarbor Plain of Western Australia. (Photo by Natalie Warburton / MURDOCH UNIVERSITY / AFP)

 

The most remarkable thing about the nearly perfect fossils was not that they belonged to 40-kilo kangaroos that mysteriously evolved to climb trees, though that was remarkable enough.

What really startled paleontologists is that southwestern Australia’s Nullarbor Plain, site of the discovery, is a treeless shrubland and was thought to be that way even when the newly named Congruus kitcheneri hopped — and, apparently, climbed — across its reaches some 50,000 years ago.

The Latin-derived name says it all: “Null” for “none”, and “arbor” for “tree”.

The barren, slug-shaped region — 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) from head to tail — is even bookended by road signs that say, in all capital letters, “END OF TREELESS PLAIN”.

“I remember looking at the bones on the hands and the feet with their big, curved claws and saying to my colleague, ‘You’re probably not going to believe me, but I think it was climbing trees!'” recalled Natalie Warburton, a researcher at the Centre for Climate-impacted Terrestrial Ecosystems at Murdoch University in Perth.

READ ALSO: Second French Minister Hospitalised With COVID-19

The “hugely unexpected” tree-climbing behaviour, detailed Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, is certainly significant, she told AFP.

With the exception of distant cousins in the tropical canopy of New Guinea, the 60-odd living species of kangaroos, wallabies and other marsupials in the family macropodidae — all descendents of tree-dwelling, possum-like ancestors — have long since evolved to make their way on terra firma.

– ‘Completely incongruous’ –

But the find, Warburton added, “also tells us that the habitat and environment in the area over the last 50,000 to 100,000 years were really different to what they are now, and perhaps different to what we might have previously interpreted for that time based on geological and botanical evidence”.

The fossils, in sum, are “completely incongruous” with expected behaviour and ecology.

Strictly speaking, Warburton and her colleague Gavin Prideaux, a paleontologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, were not the first fossil hunters to unearth this oddball roo.

But the earlier specimen of the same species has been incorrectly slotted into a taxonomic bracket based on a few partial teeth and the fragment of an upper jaw.

With two full skeletons to work with — one male, one female — Warburton and Prideaux were able to reclassify what had been Wallabia kitcheneri as Congruus kitcheneri, a sub-genus up to now occupied by a single species, also extinct.

Exactly what pushed these big-boned creatures to evolve arboreal skills is unknown.

“Tree climbing would have required a lot of energy and big muscles to hoist itself up,” Warburton said.

– Menagerie of megafauna –

“There must have been some pretty good food resources in the trees to make that worth doing.”

The fossils turned up in the Thylacoleo Caves, named after lion-like marsupial carnivores that lorded over the region for nearly two million years until going extinct at about the same time as the tree-climbing kangaroo.

Exactly why the menagerie of megafauna that populated Australia’s sun-scorched landscape — including giant wombats, one-tonne marsupials and croc-sized lizards — almost all died out at about the same time is a subject of hot debate.

For a long time a dramatic change in climate was thought to be the main culprit, but more recent research tracking the movement of early humans across the continent suggests they are to blame.

The Nullarbor Plain — historically occupied by Indigenous Australian peoples — has a desert-like climate, daytime temperatures in summer close to 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), and winter nights that can drop well below freezing.

Current mammals include the southern hairy-nosed wombat, which shelters from the hot sun by burrowing into the sands, as well as red kangaroos and dingoes.

AFP

UK To Announce Biggest Asylum Overhaul ‘In Decades’

UK To Boost African Partnership With £30m
UK Flag

 

 

The British government on Wednesday launched plans for what it said would be the biggest overhaul of asylum rules in decades, saying the current system was “overwhelmed”.

Interior minister Priti Patel said “The New Plan for Immigration” would be based “on the genuine need for refuge, not on the ability to pay people smugglers”, but drew fire from refugee groups.

The plan is focused on identifying genuine asylum seekers, deterring illegal entry, and changing the rules to make it easier to deport those “with no right” to be in the country.

“We’re looking at a range of options as to how we can reform the entire asylum system, and importantly for people that are fleeing persecution from terrible parts of the world,” she told the BBC.

“We’ve got to break this people smuggling model, we’ve got to put in safe and legal rules, and we’ve actually got to be able to help genuine asylum seekers, not just flee persecution, but be resettled in the United Kingdom.

“Currently our system is overwhelmed.”

Tightening immigration rules and securing Britain’s borders were key promises of those that argued for leaving the European Union in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

– ‘Two-tiered system’ –
Whether people enter Britain legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses under the proposals.

“If people arrive illegally, they will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally, and it will be harder for them to stay,” said Patel.

“If, like over 60 percent of illegal arrivals, they have travelled through a safe country like France to get here, they will not have immediate entry into the asylum system — which is what happens today,” she added.

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, called the plans “inhumane”.

“We should not judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived here,” he said.

“The proposals effectively create an unfair two-tiered system, whereby someone’s case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country and not on their need for protection. This is inhumane.”

The government will also seek to reform the judicial process to speed up the removal process, said the Home Office, and make it “much harder for people to be granted refugee status based on unsubstantiated claims”.

More stringent age assessment tests will also take place “to stop adult migrants pretending to be children”.

Roughly 8,500 people arrived in Britain having made the perilous crossing of the Channel in small boats last year.

The opposition Labour party’s interior spokesman, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said he feared the plans would do “next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings, and risk withdrawing support from desperate people, such as victims of human trafficking”.

AstraZeneca Hails US trials As EU Rows With UK Over Supplies

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

 

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said Monday that trials showed its Covid-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease, as a row simmered between Britain and the EU over much-needed supplies of the jab.

The AstraZeneca shot is cheaper and easier to store than many of its rivals, but several countries in Europe and other parts of the world last week suspended its use because of isolated cases of blood clots.

It is also at the centre of a row between Britain and the EU, after Brussels threatened to ban exports to the UK unless the company delivers more of the 90 million doses it agreed to supply in the first quarter of 2021.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said such a move would be “a very retrograde step,” while Britain’s leader urged the European Union not to carry out its threat.

READ ALSO: Germany To Enter Strict Easter Shutdown Amid ‘New Pandemic’

“We’re all facing the same pandemic, we all have the same problems,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

The spat is mostly focused on a Netherlands factory that is still awaiting official EU approval, but which both sides claim as a future source of the AstraZeneca jab.

– Exiting the pandemic –

Vaccination drives are seen as crucial to overcoming the pandemic that has killed more than 2.7 million people since first emerging in China in late 2019.

They are also the most likely route out of lockdowns and restrictions that continue to paralyze economies around the world.

A top US health official on Monday warned Americans it was too soon to resume travel despite progress in the battle against the coronavirus, after data showed the country recorded its highest number of airport check-ins since last year.

“Now is not the time to travel,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters, urging people to keep up with measures to stem the spread of the virus as the vaccination rate increases.

More than 430 million jabs have now been rolled out globally, mostly in wealthier nations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday slammed the “grotesque” vaccine gap, calling it a “moral outrage.”

“Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries,” he said.

Even as demand for vaccines remains high, public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab in particular has taken a knock in Europe.

A survey by British pollsters YouGov showed Monday that a majority of people in the biggest EU states — including Germany, France, Spain and Italy — view the vaccine as unsafe.

And on Monday, Iceland said it would not yet be resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations.

The EU’s medicines regulator and the WHO insist there is no evidence of linking the drug to blood clots.

And AstraZeneca said Monday that US tests on more than 30,000 people showed no increased risk of thrombosis.

It said the jab was 79 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in the overall population, 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization and 80 percent effective at preventing the disease in the elderly.

– Putin hits back –

A Russia-made vaccine, Sputnik V, has also met with skepticism in the West, because it was registered last year, before undergoing any large-scale clinical trials.

Some EU officials such as Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton continue snub the jab, saying on Sunday, “we have absolutely no need for Sputnik V”.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin hit back against such comments on Monday.

“We are not imposing anything on anyone,” the 68-year-old said, announcing he planned to get a jab himself this week.

Other countries seem to have no such reservations.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which financially backed the vaccine, said it had signed an agreement with an India-based pharmaceuticals giant for the production of up to 200 million doses of the jab a year.

– Mourning their dead –

Until vaccine programmes are fully up and running, mass gatherings continue to cause governments headaches, with protesters taking to the streets against virus restrictions in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Bulgaria.

In the French Mediterranean port city of Marseille, roughly 6,500 people — mostly young and without masks — took part in a carnival parade, flouting a ban on public gatherings.

While the pandemic continues to rage, some countries are mourning the anniversary of their first deaths from the virus.

Church bells rang out across the Czech Republic Monday to mark one year since the first Covid-19 fatality in the nation, which has the highest per capita death rate in the world, according to data collected by AFP.

And on Tuesday, Britain will mark the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown with a “National Day of Reflection” with parliament observing a minute’s silence in tribute to the more than 125,000 people who have died there.

AFP