Archive for March, 2021

Finland’s govt backs down on plan to lock city dwellers in their homes as proposed anti-Covid measures deemed unconstitutional

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Finland’s govt backs down on plan to lock city dwellers in their homes as proposed anti-Covid measures deemed unconstitutional

Finland's government has withdrawn a proposal to impose strict lockdowns in five cities, including the capital Helsinki. PM Sanna Marin has accepted the measures were deemed illegal by the country's constitutional law committee.

Due to objections by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, "the government is of the opinion that… the proposal for temporary restriction of freedom of movement and close contacts must be withdrawn from the Parliament," Marin announced in a Twitter post on Wednesday.

The PM added that the Covid-19 situation remained "serious" in Finland, despite it being one of the least-affected nations in Europe. The country has so far recorded just over 76,800 cases of the disease and more than 820 deaths, and has been widely praised for its response to the highly-contagious virus.

Marin called on the public to spend Easter with their families, while avoiding unnecessary contacts and travel. "We still have to work together to make summer brighter for all of us," Marin wrote.

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A healthcare worker shows a vial and a box of the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine (FILE PHOTO) © REUTERS/Massimo Pinca
Finland suspends AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab after 2 thromboembolic events recorded in vaccine recipients

The prime minister's announcement followed a statement by the constitutional law committee, which said that the proposal of the first lockdown in Finland was too vague and didn't comply with the country's constitution.

The Finnish government suggested the restrictions a week ago amid a rise in infections across the country. The draft proposed that the citizens be only allowed to go outside for pre-approved purposes, like buying food or traveling to a second home, and that non-compliance be punishable by fines.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, March 24, 2021.
‘My mistake alone’: Merkel cancels Germany’s draconian Easter lockdown after facing widespread resistance

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany last week cancelled its planned five-day Easter lockdown, which would've closed all businesses, only allowing supermarkets to operate for one day during the period, after the government bowed to public pressure. Chancellor Angela Merkel apologized that such harsh measures were even considered, saying: "this mistake is my mistake alone."

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France shuts schools for three weeks and whole country heads for lockdown amid Covid-19 spike as Macron defends measures

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on France shuts schools for three weeks and whole country heads for lockdown amid Covid-19 spike as Macron defends measures

From Saturday, France will widen regional lockdown measures to the entire country in a bid to halt rising Covid-19 infections, President Emmanuel Macron has said, while defending his government's approach to tackling the virus.

All face-to-face teaching in schools will be suspended from Monday for a week ahead of the two-week spring break, with schools set to return on April 26, Macron announced, in a televised national address on Wednesday evening.

The tougher lockdown measures, which had been in place in 19 areas including Paris, will now be extended to the whole of France for four weeks.

From Saturday evening, travel for the entire population will be limited to within a 10-kilometer radius of home, while longer essential journeys will require a certificate.

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Schoolchildren, wearing protective face masks, attend a lesson in their classroom at the private primary school Jeanne D'Arc in Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, near Paris, amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in France, (FILE PHOTO) © REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
All schools should shut, says Paris mayor, with 20,000 students forced home because of Covid, as Macron set to update nation

Only essential retailers, such as supermarkets, will be allowed to remain open, and curfews will be in place from 7pm to 6am. However, inter-regional travel will be allowed for the coming Easter weekend.

The number of people in France testing positive for Covid-19 has shot up since January, with the number of people in intensive care passing 5,000 on Tuesday, government data shows.

"We will lose control if we do not move now," Macron said, as he unveiled the extended measures.

He also pledged to increase intensive care capacity at hospitals from the existing 7,000 beds to 10,000 beds "in the coming days."

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Nice Port © Wikipedia; (inset) 'Sputnik V' © Sputnik / Alexey Maishev
French city Nice places order for Russian-made Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines, as mayor decides to preempt slow EMA approval process

The president, who is seeking a second term in office next spring, also said he stood by his administration's handling of the pandemic, including its reluctance to impose a national lockdown in response to an uptick of infections from January.

Macron said France had "done well" not to be hit by more restrictive curbs to date, and had gained "precious days of freedom" compared to some of its European neighbors which have opted for stricter health measures.

He added that existing measures like curfews, were "effective" but "too limited" given the threat from the more transmissible UK variant B117 of the virus, which now accounts for most of France's Covid-19 cases.

On Wednesday, French health officials recorded a further 59,038 new Covid-19 cases, as well as another 304 fatalities. The country’s total death toll stands at 95,667 to date in the pandemic, health ministry data shows.

The latest health data also shows that 5,053 Covid-19 patients were in intensive care units on Wednesday, down from 5,072 a day earlier – the record for 2021.

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Covid-19 variants ‘stronger and faster,’ WHO emergencies chief warns as ‘worrying shift’ shows more young people in intensive care

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Covid-19 variants ‘stronger and faster,’ WHO emergencies chief warns as ‘worrying shift’ shows more young people in intensive care

Global Covid-19 deaths and cases have continued to rise, the World Health Organization has said as health chiefs warn of the threat of stronger variants and the growing number of young people in intensive care with the virus.

“It’s a watershed moment in the pandemic,” the director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, Mike Ryan, said during a televised news briefing on Wednesday. 

“At the very moment that we need to stay the course with [health measures], we’re seeing the numbers starting to rise and governments going back to restrictive measures.”

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(L) Angela Merkel © Reuters / Michael Sohn; (C) Emmanuel Macron ©️ Reuters / JBENOIT TESSIER; (R) Vladimir Putin ©️ Sputnik / ALEXEI DRUZHININ
Germany’s Merkel, France’s Macron & Russia’s Putin use video call to discuss potential cooperation over Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine

His comments come as the number of global deaths increased for the second consecutive week, while new cases rose for the sixth week in a row.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the pandemic, said the “worrying trend” on infections shown by the data is becoming “very, very serious.”

The latest WHO statistics for the week up to March 28 show a 14% increase in global Covid-19 transmission, while in Southeast Asia the figure is 46% and in the Western Pacific it is 32%.

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A worker unloads a box of Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from a Chinese military aircraft at Villamor Air Base in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines, (FILE PHOTO) © REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
WHO says Sinopharm and Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines have efficacy levels compatible with its requirements

Ryan said the emergence of “stronger and faster” variants has facilitated the easier transmission of the virus, and some are more resistant to vaccines.

He also noted a “worrying shift” in the age profile of Covid-19 patients in intensive care beds in many countries, with a growing number of people aged 30 to 60 becoming critically ill with the virus.

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Active hunter-gatherers ‘don’t burn more energy daily than sedentary Westerners’

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Active hunter-gatherers ‘don’t burn more energy daily than sedentary Westerners’

While many in the fitness industry bemoan the sedentary lifestyle which predominates in industrialized nations around the world, as it turns out, even the most active hunter-gatherer ways of life don’t actually burn more calories.

Evolutionary anthropologist and Duke professor Herman Pontzer spent 10 years studying the metabolisms of diverse sets of people around the world, from ultra-marathon runners to average office workers; as well as members of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania, who plant no crops and use no electricity. 

Instead, they set out each day to hunt animals like zebras or antelope, and to forage and gather berries, fruits and tubers to sustain their people.

While this sounds like the perfect calorie-burning lifestyle, especially when compared with nine-to-fivers sitting in a chair all day, evolutionary biology says otherwise, according to Pontzer. 

The Hadza don't actually burn more energy per day than their sedentary counterparts in Europe, North America and Asia. 

Pontzer recently published his findings after coming to the conclusion that, across all populations, total calorie burn rate is pretty much the same. 

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FILE PHOTO.
A low-fat, high-carb diet has been the largest public health experiment in history. As the world gets ever fatter, we MUST rethink

That’s because every process, big or small, in the human body requires energy in the form of calories. "All of it takes energy," Pontzer says.

In fact, Pontzer calculated that each beat of the human heart burns about 1/300th of a kilocalorie. 

"Our metabolic engines were not crafted by millions of years of evolution to guarantee a beach-ready bikini body," Pontzer says, adding that instead, human metabolism is designed to cling to every precious calorie it can, and will adapt to any changes in exercise and diet, as many will know all too well from personal experience.

While a person can shock their metabolism with spikes in activity or major calorie restrictions, it will eventually return to a baseline through adaptation to guarantee a baseload power supply for every single thing the body does.

Pontzer is quick to point out that while the Hazda don't burn more calories than other peoples of the world, their lifestyle does prevent them from developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. 

Echoing many dieticians around the world, Pontzer reiterates that a person can't outrun a bad diet, at least not forever, and that exercise alone is insufficient to keep a human healthy. 

"At the end of the day, our weight is a matter of calories eaten versus calories burned – and it's really hard to change the calories we burn!" Pontzer says.

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EU fights to speed up Covid vaccine rollout, with delivery of 107 million doses by end of March

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on EU fights to speed up Covid vaccine rollout, with delivery of 107 million doses by end of March

The European Commission has said the bloc will receive a shipment of 107 million Covid jabs from three pharma firms before the end of March, significantly below initial targets, as it battles to speed up its vaccine rollout.

The shipments come amid an ongoing dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca over the biotech firm’s failure to meet its original delivery targets – providing only 30 million doses, down from the initial offering of 120 million vaccines – before the end of the month.

A Commission spokeswoman confirmed the figures at a news conference on Wednesday, stating that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will deliver a combined total of around 77.5 million doses, as the EU turns to other pharmaceutical companies to fill the gaps left by AstraZeneca and help increase the inoculation rate across member states.

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Vial labelled "AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine" placed on displayed EU flag is seen in this illustration picture taken March 24, 2021.
No legal obligations exist to prevent AstraZeneca fulfilling European vaccine deliveries, Commission says pharma giant told EU

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson has said it will start providing its Covid vaccine to the EU from April 19. The bloc will initially order 200 million doses, with an option to purchase a further 200 million. The J&J jab is the first Covid vaccine delivered in just one injection, and is believed to be easier to store than some of the other offerings, allowing swifter distribution.

The EU and AstraZeneca dispute has also boiled over into something of a diplomatic row with the UK over the pharmaceutical company’s failure to meet its targets to the 27 member states, while ensuring a consistent supply to Britain.

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Most of Sweden ‘very vulnerable’ as govt delays easing of Covid measures by 3 weeks after worst infection day this year

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Most of Sweden ‘very vulnerable’ as govt delays easing of Covid measures by 3 weeks after worst infection day this year

The planned relaxation of some of Sweden's Covid-19 measures has been delayed until at least May 3, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has said after the country recorded its highest number of new coronavirus cases this year.

"The situation is serious," Lofven said during a news conference on Wednesday as he appeared with Health Minister Lena Hallengren and the chief of Sweden's health authority Johan Carlson.

The restrictions, which had been set to ease from April 11, forced the closure of hospitality establishments at 8:30pm, allowed only solo shopping and capped total visitor numbers at retailers and gyms.

Confirmation of the delayed easing comes as 8,441 new Covid-19 infections were reported in the last 24 hours – the country's highest daily total of 2021 and one of Sweden's worst days of the entire pandemic, according to health ministry data.

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Screenshot © Twitter / @CatJREdwards
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"We are receiving reports from most regions that healthcare is in a very vulnerable situation now," Carlson told the briefing, while urging Swedes to "avoid dinners and other private gatherings."

Hallengren also said that there would be no easing of health measures at Easter, as this could "worsen the situation further."

On Tuesday, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell also warned that the 14-day virus incidence rate is nearly 700 cases per 100,000 people, while death and intensive care admission rates are also rising.

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FILE PHOTO: A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at the general practice of Doctor Claudia Schramm as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Maintal, Germany, March 24, 2021.© Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach
Danish health authority extends suspension of AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for 3 weeks

Sweden was initially lauded for the apparent effectiveness of its more laissez-faire approach to Covid-19 during the early days of the pandemic.

However, health data shows that infections and intensive care admissions peaked there in winter, before creeping up again from January through to March this year.

In total, more than 804,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Sweden, while nearly 13,500 have died.

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Harmful content not ‘fault of faceless machines,’ Facebook VP Nick Clegg says while blaming users for ‘polarizing’ content

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Harmful content not ‘fault of faceless machines,’ Facebook VP Nick Clegg says while blaming users for ‘polarizing’ content

Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg has blamed users for spreading “polarizing” content on the platform in a blog defending its algorithms, saying the spread of harmful posts is “not simply the fault of faceless machines.”

The former UK deputy prime minister was seemingly prompted by a recent article in the Atlantic that compared Facebook to “a device built with the sole purpose of destroying all human life,” to pen a lengthy defense of his employer via a Medium blog post.

Facebook has been repeatedly criticized for failing to tackle hateful, harmful and polarizing political content on its platform. Using the old saying, Clegg rebuffed detractors by beginning his piece arguing “it takes two to tango,” and later explaining that “your News Feed is shaped heavily by your choices and actions,” rather than just being created by algorithms.

We need to look at ourselves in the mirror, and not wrap ourselves in the false comfort that we have simply been manipulated by machines all along.

Clegg used the example of the spread of “bad and polarizing” content on other messaging services such as Telegram and Facebook’s WhatsApp, pointing out that those apps don’t use content or ranking algorithms to argue Facebook isn’t solely responsible for the phenomenon.

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FILE PHOTO. Facebook and Giphy logos, May 20, 2020
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Accepting that part of the criticism directed at Facebook comes from the public’s limited understanding of the site’s secret algorithm, Clegg admitted the company must work to provide “a better understanding of the relationship between the user and the algorithm.”

However, he did not elaborate on what steps the company could take to achieve that.

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Germany drops probe against ex-Nazi guard deported from US, after he refuses to be questioned

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Germany drops probe against ex-Nazi guard deported from US, after he refuses to be questioned

The case against a former Nazi concentration camp guard, recently deported from the US to face charges in Germany, has been closed due to lack of evidence, after the 95-year-old declined to be questioned, prosecutors have said.

Friedrich Karl Berger landed in Germany in late February after a US immigration judge ordered his deportation, over his “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place” by the Nazis during World War II.

This prompted prosecutors in the northern German town of Celle to reopen the previously halted investigation into Berger’s complicity in murders.

The former camp guard initially told police that, in principle, he was willing to be questioned about his past deeds in the presence of a lawyer.

Later, however, the attorney assigned to Berger announced that his client was “not available” for questioning as a suspect, prosecutors said in a statement.

The lack of testimony meant that the prosecutors have “exhausted all evidence” and the court  once-again closed the investigation against the man “for lack of sufficient suspicion.”

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Neuengamme prisoners working on a canal of the Dove Elbe, c. 1941-1942 © Wikipedia
US deports 95-year-old Nazi guard to Germany… where he won’t be prosecuted

Berger, who retained his German citizenship, had been living in Tennessee since 1959. But last year a court in Memphis found that he used to serve as a guard for the Neuengamme Concentration Camp complex, within which about 40,000 prisoners died.

The man admitted to US investigators that he had been stationed as a guard at Meppen sub-camp near the German-Dutch border for a few weeks near the end of the war in 1945. However, he claimed he didn’t observe any abuse or killings.

The American judge ruled, nonetheless, that Berger had been involved in guarding prisoners during the camp’s forced evacuation, which took nearly two weeks and led to some 70 deaths among the inmates.

Germany has intensified its hunt for those who played a part in the Nazi killing machine, since the conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk in 2011.

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Berger might’ve escaped prosecution, but more than 200 people have already been tried for their crimes during WWII, according to a report by the New York Times.

Last month, a 95-year-old woman, who'd worked as a secretary at the Stutthof camp, was charged with complicity in the murders of 10,000 people.

Also in February, a 100-year-old former guard at the Sachsenhausen camp was indicted over being involved in 3,518 killings.

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WHO says Sinopharm and Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines have efficacy levels compatible with its requirements

Posted by RT on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on WHO says Sinopharm and Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines have efficacy levels compatible with its requirements

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the data it has been given by Chinese firms Sinopharm and Sinovac suggest that their vaccines meet the WHO’s efficacy requirements for emergency-use listing.

Speaking on Wednesday, Alejandro Cravioto, chair of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), said the body hopes to issue recommendations for the Chinese vaccines before the end of April.

“The information that the companies shared publicly at the (SAGE) meeting last week clearly indicates that they have levels of efficacy that would be compatible with the requirements that WHO has asked for this vaccine,” Cravioto told a Geneva news briefing.

“That means about 50% (efficacy) and preferably close to or above 70% and of course, they have all the safety data to show that this vaccine would cause no harm in humans when used,” the health expert noted.

However, Cravioto warned that “both vaccines lacked data in older age groups and in persons with co-morbidities,” adding further safety and efficacy studies will be needed to understand the impact on sub-populations. 

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A Hong Kong's government minister receives a dose of the Sinovac Biotech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a community vaccination centre in Hong Kong, China February 22, 2021.
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The SAGE chair said the information they have suggests that these jabs are safe, and the final analysis would be used for emergency-use listing. He added that the vaccine would need to be given emergency-use listing by the WHO or another reputable regulatory body before SAGE can recommend its usage.

Earlier in March, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said the two Chinese firms could see their vaccines receive emergency listing “quite soon”. 

Vaccines made by the two companies have been widely used around the world, including in China, where more than 100 million shots have now been administered.

Sinovac claims its jab is around 80%-to-90% effective against Covid-19, but this has been questioned by some experts. In January, its Brazilian partner, the Butantan Institute, published trial data suggesting the vaccine was only 50.4% effective against the virus. The figure is substantially lower than other vaccines and would barely pass the thresholds set by most regulators. Sinovac’s chairman dismissed the comments, claiming the jab is 100% effective in preventing severe Covid-19 cases.

Sinopharm’s jab reportedly showed greater efficacy during trials: 86%.

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News24.com | Equities mostly dip, with Biden spending plan in focus

Posted by Fin24 Markets on March 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on News24.com | Equities mostly dip, with Biden spending plan in focus
Global stocks mostly fell Wednesday with sentiment hit by inflation concerns ahead of President Joe Biden unveiling his latest spending plans, dealers said.
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