International News

Over 8 million COVID-19 tests conducted in the UAE

Abu Dhabi, September 15, 2020— The UAE announced authorizing an emergency use of COVID-19 vaccine for health workers on the frontlines of the battle against the novel pandemic.

During the UAE’s COVID-19 media briefing, Abdulrahman bin Mohammed Al Owais, the UAE’s Minister of Health and Prevention, said making the vaccine available for frontliners was part of the country’s measures to protect health workers in close contact with COVID-19 patients and ensure their safety.

The UAE is currently conducting Phase III clinical trial of Covid-19 inactivated vaccine. Results from the final stages of the third phase confirmed that the vaccine is safe and effective, resulting in a strong generation of COVID-19 antibodies.

Al Owais stressed that the emergency use of the vaccine is fully aligned with the regulations and laws that allow a faster review of licensing procedures.

“The studies related to the safety of vaccination are conducted under the strict supervision of medical teams. Health authorities are following procedures to control the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” said Al Owais.

The vaccine was tested with the help of 31,000 volunteers from 125 nationalities. Volunteers have displayed minor side effects, expected as a result of any vaccine, including headaches, fatigue and slight pain in the injection area. The UAE health authorities confirmed that 1,000 volunteers with history of chronic illness haven’t experienced any complications after taking the vaccine.

The initial successful results of the vaccine mark the UAE’s positive steps in the vaccine development process.

The vaccine is provided optionally to health workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

The UAE’s vaccine trials are part of the extensive measures that the UAE has taken to contribute to the global collective efforts to curb COVID-19 pandemic that has posed the greatest public health emergency in modern history.

So far, the UAE has conducted over 8 million tests and recorded no new fatalities in the last 48 hours.

The vaccine was evaluated based on approval qualification criteria for emergency use, in accordance with the declaration of the global health authorities surrounding an emergency, the availability of scientific evidence on the effectiveness of the product and the benefits outweighing the risks.

The emergency use takes into account the target groups, product characteristics, clinical and pre-clinical study data and population study.

Health authorities are working closely in collaboration with the vaccine developers to monitor the progress of the vaccine and follow necessary safety measures to control the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

Militants in Gaza launched rockets into Israel and Israeli aircraft hit targets in the Palestinian enclave in an explosive backdrop to the signing of pacts for formal ties between Israel and two Gulf Arab countries.

The Israeli military said it launched about 10 air strikes in Hamas-run Gaza early on Wednesday and that 15 rockets had been fired from the territory at Israeli communities near the border, where sirens sounded before dawn.

On Tuesday, a rocket from Gaza struck the coastal Israeli city of Ashdod, wounding two people, at the same time as Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements at the White House to establish diplomatic relations.

“I’m not surprised that the Palestinian terrorists fired at Israel precisely during this historic ceremony,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before his flight returning to Israel.

“They want to turn back the peace. In that, they will not succeed,” he told reporters. “We will strike at all those who raise a hand to harm us, and we will reach out to all those who extend the hand of peace to us.”

Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, view the US-brokered deals as a betrayal of their cause.

No casualties were reported on either side of the Israel-Gaza frontier. The military said eight of the rockets launched on Wednesday were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system.

In a statement, the military said targets in Gaza included a weapons and explosives manufacturing factory and a compound used by Hamas for training and rocket experiments.

Without naming specific factions, Hamas said that in response to the air strikes, the “resistance” fired rocket salvoes at Israel.

KABUL: Afghanistan and Taliban peace talk negotiators will hold their first direct session in Doha, officials said, as the warring sides try to work out an agenda and schedule for how to negotiate a peace deal as the United States withdraws troops. A small group of negotiators from both sides had met in previous days to try to discuss how the substantive negotiations would take place.

“The contact group from both sides’ delegations continued the discussion on rules and procedures and prepared to present it to the general meeting between the two negotiating teams (taking place on Tuesday),” senior Afghan government negotiator Nader Nadery said. The Taliban’s political spokesman Muhammad Naeem told Reuters by phone the meeting would be “general” and there were no specific agreed issues on the agenda.

 

An Afghan presidential palace official said a top priority was getting the Taliban to agree on a ceasefire or significant reduction in violence. Violence has continued in the country even after the launch of historic peace talks at an opening ceremony in Doha on Saturday. Talks between the two sides were to begin shortly after a U.S.-Taliban agreement in February, but started only after months of delays, caused in part by continuing Taliban offensives in the war-torn country as well as disagreement over the release of prisoners.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made ending the war in Afghanistan a key election promise and the United States is set to withdraw all its troops by May 2021, subject to the Taliban meeting certain security guarantees. – Reuters

 

Wuhan, Ground Zero for the Covid-19 pandemic and the Chinese city hardest hit by the coronavirus, will reopen all its schools and kindergartens on Tuesday, local authorities said.

As many as 2,842 educational institutions across the city are set to open their doors to almost 1.4 million students when the autumn semester gets underway, the local government announced on Friday. Wuhan University reopened on Monday.

The city said it has drawn up emergency plans to switch back to online teaching should risk levels change. It advised students to wear masks to and from school and avoid public transportation if possible.

Schools have been ordered to stock up on disease control equipment and to carry out drills and training sessions to help prepare for new outbreaks. They must also restrict unnecessary mass gatherings, and submit daily reports to health authorities.

Foreign students and teachers who have not received notice from their school will not be allowed to return, it said.

The central Chinese city, where the Covid-19 epidemic is believed to have originated, was locked down for more than two months from late January. The city’s death toll of 3,869 accounts for more than 80 per cent of China’s total.

Wuhan has been steadily returning to normal since April, when the lockdown was lifted, and it has not reported any new local transmissions of the coronavirus since May 18.

Video app TikTok said on Monday it had filed a lawsuit challenging the US government's crackdown on the popular Chinese-owned platform, which Washington accuses of being a national security threat.

As tensions soared between the world's two biggest economies, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on August 6 giving Americans 45 days to stop doing business with TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively setting a deadline for a sale of the app to a US company.

“Today we are filing a complaint in federal court challenging the administration's efforts to ban TikTok in the US,” the company said in a blog post.

TikTok argued in the lawsuit that Trump's order was a misuse of International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform — on which users share often playful short-form videos — is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat".

The executive order “has the potential to strip the rights of that community without any evidence to justify such an extreme action,” the suit contended.

“We believe the administration ignored our extensive efforts to address its concerns, which we conducted fully and in good faith even as we disagreed with the concerns themselves,” TikTok said.

TikTok's kaleidoscopic feeds of clips feature everything from dance routines and hair dye tutorials to jokes about daily life and politics.

The app has been downloaded 175 million times in the US and more than a billion times around the world.

Trump claims TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.

The company has said it has never provided any US user data to the Chinese government, and Beijing has blasted Trump's crackdown as political.

The US measures come ahead of November 3 elections in which Trump, behind his rival Joe Biden in the polls, is campaigning hard on an increasingly strident anti-Beijing message.

“The administration failed to follow due process and act in good faith, neither providing evidence that TikTok was an actual threat, nor justification for its punitive actions,” the company said.

“We believe the administration's decisions were heavily politicised, and industry experts have said the same.”

Trump vs China

Trump has increasingly taken a confrontational stance on China, challenging it on trade, military and economic fronts.

Shortly after Trump announced his moves against TikTok this month, the United States slapped sanctions on Hong Kong's leader over the Chinese security clampdown after last year's pro-democracy demonstrations.

Microsoft and Oracle are possible suitors for TikTok's US operations.

Reports have said Oracle — whose chairman Larry Ellison has raised millions in campaign funds for Trump — was weighing a bid for TikTok's operations in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The Trump administration has also given ByteDance a 90-day deadline to divest TikTok before the app is banned in the United States.

The measures move away from the long promoted American ideal of a global, open internet and could invite other countries to follow suit, analysts told AFP previously.

“It's really an attempt to fragment the internet and the global information society along US and Chinese lines, and shut China out of the information economy,” said Milton Mueller, a Georgia Tech professor and founder of the Internet Governance Project.

An India right-wing politician who has called for violence against Muslims and threatened to raze mosques continues to remain active on Facebook and Instagram, even though officials at the social media giant had ruled earlier this year the lawmaker violated the company's hate-speech rules, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The move to not proceed against T. Raja Singh, a member of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, came after Facebook's top public-policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, opposed applying the hate-speech rules to Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, the newspaper quoted current and former employees as saying.

According to the report, Facebook employees charged with policing the platform had concluded by March that Singh's rhetoric against Muslims and Rohingya immigrants online and offline not only violated hate-speech rules but he also qualified as "dangerous" for his words could lead to real-world violence against Muslims.

Yet, instead of following the officials' recommendation to permanently ban him from the platform, the company allowed Singh, a member of the Telangana Legislative Assembly, to remain active on Facebook and Instagram, where he has hundreds of thousands of followers.

Editorial: Facebook vs Kashmir

The decision was influenced by Das, whose job also includes lobbying the Indian government on Facebook’s behalf, telling staff members that punishing violations by politicians from the BJP would "damage the company’s business prospects in the country", which is Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users, the exposé said.

The way Facebook has applied its hate-speech rules to prominent Hindu nationalists in India "suggests that political considerations also enter into the calculus" of policing hate speech, it added.

Current and former Facebook employees cited in the report said Das’s intervention on behalf of Singh is part of "a broader pattern of favouritism by Facebook toward Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners".

Responding to the allegations, a Facebook spokesman acknowledged that Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Singh a dangerous individual, but said her opposition "wasn’t the sole factor" in the company’s decision to let the lawmaker remain on the platform. The spokesman said Facebook is still considering whether a ban is warranted.

Facebook deleted some of Singh’s posts after the WSJ inquired about them. The company said the BJP lawmaker is no longer permitted to have an official, verified account, designated with a blue checkmark badge.

According to the report, the representative said Facebook bars hate speech and violence globally “without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation”, adding that the company took down content that praised violence during deadly protests in New Delhi earlier this year.

But a team overseen by Das that decides what content is allowed on Facebook took no action after BJP politicians posted content accusing Muslims of intentionally spreading the coronavirus, plotting against the nation and waging a “love jihad” campaign by seeking to marry Hindu women, a former employee was quoted as saying.

Das has allegedly also provided the BJP with favourable treatment on election-related issues and in 2017 wrote an essay praising Modi.

In April 2019, Facebook announced it had taken down inauthentic pages tied to the Pakistani military and India's Congress party. But it didn’t disclose it also removed pages with false news linked to the BJP due to Das's intervention, the report said.

It also said Facebook removed some of the posts by another BJP legislator, Anantkumar Hegde, who accused Muslims of spreading Covid-19 in the country as part of “Corona Jihad”, only after the WSJ asked the platform about them.

The report further reveals that Facebook also took down some of the controversial posts by former BJP lawmaker Kapil Mishra after the newspaper sought comment on them.

In February, Mishra in a speech had warned police that if they didn’t remove protesters demonstrating against a contentious citizenship law in India that excludes Muslim immigrants, his supporters would do so by force.

Not long after Mishra uploaded the video to Facebook, communal rioting broke out that left dozens of people dead, most of them Muslims. Some of these killings were organised via Facebook owned WhatsApp, according to court documents cited by the WSJ. Facebook removed the video post later.

Past allegations of foul play

While on the one hand Facebook refused to censor hate content by BJP lawmakers, a couple of years ago the social media giant had come under sharp criticism for censoring content by journalists and academics against Indian oppression and violence in the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Read: Facebook blocks live streaming of PBC news bulletins over Kashmir coverage

In 2016, Facebook censored dozens of posts related to the death of Burhan Wani, a locally revered Kashmiri freedom fighter, reported The Guardian. Photos, videos and entire accounts of academics and journalists as well as entire pages of local newspapers were removed for posting about the occupied valley. During that time, the Indian government had imposed curbs on newspapers but residents of occupied Kashmir complained that censoring posts on Facebook made information blackouts worse.

Due to limited access to newspapers and TV channels, journalists and news organisations would keep readers informed by updates on social media, until the social media giant started censoring news articles and updates about occupied Kashmir. The Facebook account of Kashmiri journalist Huma Dar, who is based in the United States, was deleted soon after she posted pictures of Wani's funeral. She was told that she had "violated community standards" when she wrote to the company.

"The biggest irony is that I get death threats, I get people saying they’ll come and rape me and my mother. None of those people, even when I complain to Facebook, have ever been censored," she told The Guardian.

TEL AVIV: The city hall in this coastal city is lit up in the colors of the United Arab Emirates national flag on August 13, 2020. — AFP

DUBAI: The UAE on Friday offered a muscular defense of its bombshell move to establish ties with Israel, saying it was designed to “shake up” the Middle East impasse and serve Emirati interests. The historic deal, the first for a Gulf state, sees Israel pledge to suspend its planned annexation of Palestinian lands but has been condemned by the Palestinian leadership as a “betrayal” of their cause.

Omar Saif Ghobash, assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, rejected the charge, insisting the agreement had made progress in the absence of any other workable proposal from the Arab world. “I think we’ve demonstrated that we are able to enter a very staid and tired situation and to shake things up, and we look forward to seeing positive developments coming out of this real engagement,” he told AFP in an interview.

The deal, announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states. But regional power Saudi Arabia, whose own efforts to induce Israel to withdraw from occupied territories have been effectively sidelined by the United Arab Emirates move, has remained conspicuously silent.

“We didn’t consult with anybody, we didn’t inform anybody, and as a sovereign state we don’t feel that we have the obligation to do that,” Ghobash said, asked if long-time ally Riyadh was consulted in advance. “We are in the process now of informing our friends and partners and others in the region as to why we took the step” but “it’s to be expected that not everybody will … applaud or comment”. “We have taken the decision as a sovereign state with our own interests and our own calculations in mind.”

‘We are not a gift’

The establishment of ties with Israel comes after years of quiet rapprochement, including the hosting of athletes and ministers from the Jewish state. Apart from the diplomatic implications, there are obvious economic benefits. The UAE, rich in oil and with big ambitions in space and technology, will be able to do business openly with Israel, which will have access to the modern cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as they attract talent and investment.

“We as a country are very globally connected and we do find that the connections are incredibly lucrative and contribute to our GDP,” Ghobash said, in an unusually candid assessment. “We are driven by pragmatic considerations.” The UAE, which has sent a probe to Mars and pressed the button on a nuclear power program in the past month, is growing in prominence on the world stage.

Ghobash, a former ambassador to Russia and France, said the Israel deal demonstrated its diplomatic independence. “We are not a gift to be awarded to the Israelis at some stage if they satisfy Palestinian demands,” he said. “We are very clearly stating that it is in our sovereign interest to make this move and therefore that sovereign interest will be served,” he said. “We have spent the last 20 years developing relationships with all kinds of countries across the globe. We have an active foreign policy and we will make our own sovereign decisions.”

No back-stabbers

Oman and Bahrain have welcomed the announcement as advancing the prospects for peace in the Middle East. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the deal did not mean Israel was abandoning its plans to one day annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank. “The primary gain is to take annexation out of the equation for the time being,” Ghobash said.

The minister rejected criticism from the Palestinians, saying there was “no other plan on the table from our Arab side to suggest that some solution might be forthcoming”. “I am trying to understand in what sense this is a back stab given that what we have done is actually open the door for a rethink on the Israeli side about annexation,” he said. “We strongly believe in the rights of the Palestinians’ cause and the rights of the Palestinians,” said Ghobash. “So we have taken the step in accordance with these deeply held beliefs but also in accordance with the new reading of the region.”

In 2002, Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative which called for Israel’s complete withdrawal from occupied territories in exchange for peace and full normalization of relations. “We are now in 2020, so 18 years have passed and we haven’t seen any outcome from the Arab Peace Initiative. “We believe that the way in which we should approach these questions is by dialogue and communication,” Ghobash said. — AFP

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