Archive for May, 2021

WHO proposes using Greek alphabet to label Covid-19 strains to avoid ‘stigmatizing’ countries with namesake variants

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on WHO proposes using Greek alphabet to label Covid-19 strains to avoid ‘stigmatizing’ countries with namesake variants

The World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled what it called “easy-to-say” Greek labels for coronavirus variants, set to replace designations based on the country of origin that are commonly used in the media.

The new labels would not substitute the scientific names of the variants – typically an intricate succession of characters and numbers – but rather would “help in public discussion” of the new Covid-19 strains, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, announced on Monday. 

Per WHO’s proposal, the Covid-19 mutation known as ‘the UK variant’, or B.1.1.7, should be referred to as ‘Alpha’, while the strain widespread in South Africa is rebranded as ‘Beta’. Two Brazilian variants, known as P.1 and P.2, become ‘Gamma’ and ‘Zeta’, respectively, while two subliniages of the so-called ‘Indian variant’, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2, are listed as ‘Kappa’ and ‘Delta’.

Two further coronavirus variants, first reported by the US in March, are designated as ‘Epsilon’ and ‘Iota’ by the WHO.

The rebranding is ostensibly aimed at removing the stigma from countries where certain strains are believed to have originated.

“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” Van Kerkhove said, noting also that the numbering system used by researchers, but shunned by non-scientific publications, “can be difficult to follow.”

The move comes amid growing outrage from India over the description of the B.1.617 viral mutation as the ‘Indian variant’. India’s Health Ministry said last month that the label used across the media is misleading, since the WHO has not designated the strain as such. New Delhi has reportedly asked social media platforms to remove all posts that refer to the strain as the ‘Indian variant’, as the designation is harmful to the country’s image.

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A medical worker takes care of a patient suffering from Covid-19, inside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward at the Government Institute of Medical Sciences (GIMS) hospital, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, May 21, 2021.
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India is not alone in its distaste for country-based Covid-19 classification. In February, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, then co-chair of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, told CNN in an interview to stop calling the strain widespread in his country the ‘South African variant’, referring to it instead by its scientific name, 501Y.V2. 

The idea of having ‘easy-to-say’ Greek labels to avoid stigmatization immediately courted controversy online. While some people argued that the Greek labels might not be as easy to remember, others said the WHO risks running out of letters at some point, since the Greek alphabet only has 24 letters.

“Zeta-Eta-Theta? Easy to say (?), easy to mix up. And what are we doing when we are running out of letters? Sorry, not going to use this. PANGO was fine,” Florian Krammer, microbiology professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tweeted.

Another person noted that there is already an existing classification of human coronaviruses, where they are divided into alpha, beta, gamma, and delta sub-groupings, and the rebranding will only add to the confusion.

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Jewish extremists plotted FIREBOMB attack on Palestinians…but failed to find hidden weapons stash, local media report

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Jewish extremists plotted FIREBOMB attack on Palestinians…but failed to find hidden weapons stash, local media report

A group of Jewish far-right extremists planned to attack Palestinians earlier this month by pelting them with Molotov cocktails but ultimately failed to find their own hidden weapons stash, the Israeli media have revealed.

Back in mid-March, when tensions between Arabs and Jews spilled into clashes and riots all over Israel and particularly in the cities with mixed populations, a group of Jewish radicals congregated on Telegram. There, the group shared hate messages against Arab Israelis and Palestinians in a chat titled “Death to the Arabs, Afula Branch,” Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Sunday.

Most participants were apparently coming from the town of Afula located just north of the occupied West Bank. At some point, one of the chat members wrote that they “need to slaughter these Arabs today.”

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The plot eventually morphed into a plan to attack a local bus stop frequented by Palestinians from the West Bank as they were traveling to their jobs. The chat members called on fellow participants to bring anything that can be used as a weapon to the bus stop when one of them came up with the idea of using Molotov cocktails to firebomb the place. The person behind the idea also complained he had only 30 bottles while arguing that they would need many more.

“We need to shake the country,” he wrote, adding later that the Molotov cocktails would be hidden somewhere in the field behind the bus stop. The would-be attackers were also apparently quite conscious about Covid-19 as they called on fellow chat members to wear masks to avoid catching the virus when slaughtering other people.

Fortunately, the plan never came to fruition, even though some of the extremists did arrive at the bus stop, according to the Times of Israel. Channel 12 reported that the whole scheme failed because the would-be attackers couldn't find the Molotov cocktails one of them hid in advance.

However, a Channel 12 reporter Ohad Hemo allegedly managed to find what appeared to be the very same stash filled with bottles, some of which had rags in their openings. The bottles smelled of gasoline, he said.

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Channel 12 also said that the planned attack was reported to the police some two weeks ago but the bottles were still in place when the journalists found them not so long ago. The police then told Channel 12 that they investigated the case and a “similar” incident and arrested nine people. Four of those detained reportedly had weapons in their possession.

Yet, all those detained have apparently since been released, according to the media while the police provided no further comments on their fate. The identities of the would-be attackers were also not revealed by the media.

According to some reports, some chat members might have had links to the extreme-right Lehava organization. Lehava, in turn, is considered a part of the NGO, the Foundation to save the People of Israel. The news prompted an Israeli MP, Omer Barlev, to demand the NGO be dismantled, forcing its head to state that the group in Afula had nothing to do with his organization.

The news came as the Israeli prosecutors charged four Jews with terrorism after they stabbed an Arab man at a Jerusalem market two weeks ago. The victim was working at a burger restaurant at the market when the suspects attacked him and stabbed him 10 times.

The man was rushed to hospital, and has now been discharged. The police prohibited revealing the attackers’ identities, the Times of Israel reported. Their lawyer, however, told Ynet that his clients were “interrogated under very difficult conditions by Shin Bet interrogators,” adding their account of the events is “radically different” from that of the stabbing victim’s and called on the people not to “rush to draw conclusions.”

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Israel saw massive riots and clashes between Jews, Arab Israelis and Palestinians earlier this month sparked by an Israeli court case over the eviction of several Palestinian families from a Jerusalem neighborhood.

The tensions spilled over into a violent conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza that saw the Palestinian group launching rocket attacks at Israel with the Israel Defense Forces responding with massive airstrikes against Gaza. The hostilities ended in a ceasefire last week.

The Israeli Justice Ministry also announced last Sunday that it had so far filed 140 indictments against around 230 people in relation to the clashes and rioting earlier this month. The ministry didn’t reveal the nationalities of the suspects, but the Jerusalem Post reported that only around 20 of them were Jews while the majority were Arabs.

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‘Very complicated matter’: ABC bans term ‘apartheid’ in coverage of Israel/Palestine conflict

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on ‘Very complicated matter’: ABC bans term ‘apartheid’ in coverage of Israel/Palestine conflict

Australian Broadcaster ABC has announced that they will not allow the use of the word ‘apartheid’ in their coverage of Israel and Palestine in an effort to “be as objective as possible.”

The network has also noted the term’s “specific meaning in South African history” as part of its reasoning for the move, according to an “internal advisory note” reported in the Australian. 

While some of the network’s coverage has managed to stay away from using the word, it has still made its way onto the airwaves, recently on ‘Q+A’ when Palestine advocate Randa Abdel-Fattah accused Israel of being based “on a racial apartheid system,” leading to a fiery debate during which the word was used multiple times. 

ABC head David Anderson has said the network is closely monitoring its coverage and insists reporters try to remain neutral on social media. 

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A man looks down at his smartphone as he walks past the offices of the Associated Press in Manhattan, New York May 13, 2013. © REUTERS / Adrees Latif
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“I will say that when there are conflicts such as this, on very complicated matters, there are certainly things that we’ve looked into that have already been published to ensure they’re accurate,” he said. 

The network has received complaints from both sides of the argument by viewers, according to Anderson, being accused of having both an anti-Israel stance and anti-Palestine stance. They have received 29 complaints saying they are anti-Israel and 24 alleging they are anti-Palestine in their coverage. 

Anderson also revealed some reporters approached him about signing a petition that would call for more “sympathetic coverage” of Palestine, but he pushed back, saying that reporters “should not do anything that otherwise compromises their ability to be seen to be impartial in reporting any matter.”

News organizations have been struggling with perceived impartiality in their coverage of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Associated Press even recently fired reporter Emily Wilder over past social media posts, leading more than 100 colleagues to defend Wilder and condemn her firing. Wilder herself, who is Jewish, claimed she was “hung out to dry” and “defamed as anti-Semitic.”

Associated Press managing editor Brian Carovillano, however, defended the decision on Sunday, telling CNN that while the process of the firing may not have been handled well, it was a “unanimous” decision in order for the organization to “maintain our credibility” on coverage of Israel. 

“It was a difficult decision, it was not an easy decision, and it was not a personal decision, and we wish her all the best,” he said. 

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Ex-porn star Mia Khalifa accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ after drinking ‘NAZI WINE’ in anti-Israel tweet

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Ex-porn star Mia Khalifa accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ after drinking ‘NAZI WINE’ in anti-Israel tweet

Mia Khalifa, the former porn star who has since become a critic of the adult industry, was accused of anti-Semitism after she posted a photo of herself drinking a 1943 French wine in a tweet which criticized Israeli “apartheid.”

“My wine is older than your apartheid ‘state’” wrote Khalifa in the Twitter post, which showed her drinking a 1943 bottle of Charles Heidsieck champagne from France.

Some social media users, however, responded by accusing Khalifa of anti-Semitism for drinking a “Nazi wine” – noting that France was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1943.

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“You’re drinking wine made in 1943 Nazi-occupied France, while denying thousands of years of Jewish history in our ancestral homeland. Glad you found the perfect pairing for your antisemitism!” commented Israeli writer Hen Mazzig, while American conservative Jack Posobiec questioned, “Who was running France in 1943 when that wine was made?”

Washington Examiner executive editor Seth Mandel accused Khalifa of “taunting the Jewish state” by drinking “Nazi wine made during the Holocaust.”

Though France was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1943, Khalifa’s bottle was in English, contained references to Great Britain, and displayed a “By appointment to H.M. King George VI” label – indicating that the bottle was for the British market.

After receiving criticism, Khalifa denied accusations of anti-Semitism, noting that the wine had “Royal Warrants from His Majesty King George VI” and that Great Britain “was not part of the axis power in 1943.”

Another Twitter user claimed that 1943 “was the harvest year” and “would have been bottled no earlier than January 1944,” where it would have subsequently aged “for no less than 18 months.”

“So a label showing 1943 wasn't attached until late 1945,” the commenter argued. France was liberated from German occupation in August 1944.

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Train traffic disrupted all across the Netherlands after network malfunction leaves drivers incommunicado

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Train traffic disrupted all across the Netherlands after network malfunction leaves drivers incommunicado

The Dutch national train operator suspended services on Monday after a technical malfunction disrupted the work of the radio communication system required for the safe work of the system.

The train operator, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), suspended intercity and local runs across the Netherlands, asking travelers to postpone their trips if possible.

The freeze could last for the rest of the day, according to a spokesman for ProRail, a separate government company that develops and maintains the railway infrastructure in the country.

The problem happened with GSM-R, a specialized radio communication network that, among other things, links train drivers with traffic control and monitors train speed. The Netherlands adopted the format, which is also in use in many other nations, in 2006.

Hours after the disruption started, ProRail said it was able to safely restart some of the stranded trains.

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Vietnam BANS all inbound intl flights to its capital as nation struggles to contain Covid-19 outbreak

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Vietnam BANS all inbound intl flights to its capital as nation struggles to contain Covid-19 outbreak

The Vietnamese civil aviation authority has suspended all inbound international flights to its capital of Hanoi for a week as the nation seeks to contain its Covid-19 outbreak, with new cases doubling over the past month.

The inbound flight suspension to Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport will affect all international flights “from June 1 at midnight until June 7,” the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) said in a statement on Monday. Outbound flights will continue as normal. The CAAV did not specify in its statement whether domestic flights would be affected by the measure.

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Vietnam’s southern business hub and largest city, Ho Chi Minh, had previously introduced a similar measure banning all foreign arrivals to its Tan Son Nhat International Airport. The suspension was expected to remain in place until June 4, but the CAAV said on Monday that it would be extended until June 14.

Even before the latest decision was announced, Vietnam had been limiting foreign arrivals to the country, with anyone arriving from abroad having to enter a mandatory 21-day quarantine.

Ho Chi Minh, a city with a nine-million-strong population, also introduced strict social distancing rules, including bans on large gatherings and dining in restaurants, as well as closing down casinos and beauty salons. The city authorities also urged all residents over 60 to stay home.

The measures were taken amid news of a new Covid-19 strain, combining characteristics from both the UK and the Indian variants, being found in Vietnam. The British and the Indian variants are considered to be two of the most transmissible ones, and there are also concerns about the Indian strain potentially being more resistant to vaccines.

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The spread of the Indian variant on British soil prompted Germany and France to introduce tougher quarantine rules for travelers from the UK earlier this month.

Vietnam has previously been lauded for its relatively successful response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as the nation has been containing the spread of the disease for most of the last year. In total, the nation of 98 million has registered over 7,200 cases and 47 deaths to date. Its vaccination campaign has been limited so far, though, with only around 28,000 people fully vaccinated against the virus at present.

The number of new cases nearly doubled over the past month, however, prompting the authorities to take stricter measures to contain the virus’ spread. The government also encouraged local authorities and companies on Monday to import Covid-19 vaccines on their own, adding that it can be done through a health ministry procedure or through one of 27 licensed importers.

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Bitter rivals Greece and Turkey agree on plan to boost economic ties, recognize each other’s Covid-19 vaccine certificates

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Bitter rivals Greece and Turkey agree on plan to boost economic ties, recognize each other’s Covid-19 vaccine certificates

The Greek and Turkish foreign ministers have agreed to move towards a normalization in relations, outlining a roadmap for economic cooperation during a face-to-face meeting.

"Turkey is ready for dialogue without any preconditions to improve bilateral relations with Greece," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias in Athens on Monday.

Cavusoglu added that the neighbors agreed to resolve differences "within the framework of good neighborly relations, international law and respect for mutual interests."

The Turkish minister earlier told Greek newspaper To Vima that the two countries were "destined to live in the same geography as two neighbors," and should define their relations "with cooperation rather than confrontation."

Dendias said he aims for "gradual normalization" with Ankara. He recognized that the historic rivals have "different and, on certain serious issues, diametrically opposed positions."

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The countries outlined 25 areas in which they plan to improve cooperation, including tourism, transportation, and trade. They also agreed to recognize each other’s Covid-19 vaccination certificates.

Cavusoglu said that defense delegations are scheduled to meet in Ankara in the future. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on June 14.

Ankara and Athens have clashed in recent years over Turkey’s exploration of natural resources near Greek territorial waters. Last year, Erdogan warned that Greece will pay "a heavy price" if a Turkish geological survey vessel was attacked. Athens accused Turkey of whipping up military tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece also accused Turkey of using Navy and Coast Guard ships to push the boats carrying Middle Eastern migrants into Greek waters. Ankara, meanwhile, heavily criticized the Greek police for using violence to stop migrants crossing from Turkey into Greece.

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‘Key issues’ unresolved in nuclear deal discussions but progress made, Iran spokesman says

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on ‘Key issues’ unresolved in nuclear deal discussions but progress made, Iran spokesman says

Though progress has been made and negotiations are not in a stalemate, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said key issues remain unresolved in the country’s discussions to return to the conditions of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a press conference on Monday that the United States – which withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 under former President Donald Trump – “has to decide once and for all whether it wants to continue the legacy of the previous administration.”

Iran began increasing its enriched uranium stockpile after the Trump administration withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions on the country. Though Biden has signaled his interest in returning the US to the deal, he has called on Iran to go back to its original compliance first.

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It remains clear that how the US lifts its sanctions is one of the biggest “key issues” at play, with Khatibzadeh informing reporters that sanctions should be lifted and then “verified by Iran” before the country walks back on its “nuclear steps.”

Khatibzadeh insisted there was “no deadlock in the Vienna talks,” and added that Iran is “in no hurry to reach an agreement” and “will not allow the negotiations to be attritional.”

“We proceed with the negotiations in Vienna with necessary care and meticulousness. Every round could have been the last,” he said. “But because there remained some issues, they were extended to the next.”

The ministry spokesman also declared that if “the remaining key issues” are resolved, the current round of negotiations could be “the last round.”

Last Tuesday, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said he was optimistic about negotiations and that “general agreements have been reached on major disputes.”

“On the lifting of sanctions, the remaining cases are very minor, and given the negotiation process, we are optimistic about resolving the remaining minor and practical cases,” he added.

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EU Commission advises states to ease border restrictions as Covid vaccination numbers rise

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on EU Commission advises states to ease border restrictions as Covid vaccination numbers rise

The European Commission has proposed that EU member states start to ease their border restrictions for Europeans with Covid-19 vaccine certificates.

“As the epidemiological situation is improving and vaccination campaigns are speeding up all over the EU, the Commission is proposing that Member States gradually ease travel measures, including most importantly for the holders of the EU Digital COVID Certificate,” declared the Commission on Monday.

It also proposed an “emergency brake” system to border travel should new variants of Covid-19 start to rise, which would quickly reintroduce restrictions “if the epidemiological situation deteriorates rapidly.”

The commission advised that those with a “vaccination certificate” – more commonly known as a “vaccine passport” – should be exempt from “travel-related testing or quarantine 14 days after having received the last dose.”

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European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders noted that the past several weeks “have brought a continuous downward trend in infection numbers, showing the success of the vaccination campaigns across the EU,” and expressed his hope that the member states would work together using the vaccine certificate system to make freedom of movement possible again.

European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides also praised freedom of movement between states as one of the EU’s “most cherished rights,” adding, “We need coordinated and predictable approaches for our citizens that would offer clarity and avoid inconsistent requirements across Member States.”

Freedom of movement in the European Union allows residents in one member state to easily travel, work, and live in another state.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, over 234,000,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the European Union and European Economic Area, with Germany, France, Italy, and Spain receiving the most doses from manufacturers.

32,364,274 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the European Union and Economic Area since the start of the pandemic, with 720,358 deaths.

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Germany seeks ‘clarification’ over media report claiming Denmark’s secret service helped NSA spy on Merkel

Posted by RT on May 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Germany seeks ‘clarification’ over media report claiming Denmark’s secret service helped NSA spy on Merkel

Berlin wants an explanation from its partners after several media outlets alleged that Germany’s ally and neighbor Denmark had worked with US intelligence agency the NSA to spy on Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The federal government has taken note of the report and is in contact with all relevant national and international bodies for clarification,” German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters on Monday.

“As a matter of principle… the federal government does not openly comment on matters concerning intelligence activities,” Seibert added.

Several European media outlets, including the Danish state broadcaster DR, reported that the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE) had helped the NSA to spy on national and foreign officials. It was said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier were among those surveilled.

The report has caused outrage in Denmark and abroad. Merkel’s top rival, Peer Steinbruck of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), called the revelations a “scandal.”

Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen released a short statement to the media, saying that “the systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable.”

The proof that the US had spied on European leaders was disclosed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has since remained a fugitive in the US and resides in Russia.

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