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WHO urges Tanzania to release Covid-19 data
WHO urges Tanzania to release Covid-19 data
Credit: Illustration by Ashley Winkler for Pendect (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has released a statement urging Tanzania to "scale public health measures against COVID-19 and to prepare for vaccination" and to share "data in light of reports of COVID-19 cases among travellers." Tanzania had last shared its Covid-19 data in May 2020.

"This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data. I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission and to prepare for vaccination," the statement read.

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BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine can be stored in higher temperatures than initially thought, new data shows
BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine can be stored in higher temperatures than initially thought, new data shows
Credit: U.S. Secretary of Defense, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

The BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine had originally been approved for storage at a minimum of -60 degrees celsius but according to new data, the vaccine is more robust than initially thought and can be stored at minus 25 to minus 15 degrees celsius.

Higher temperature storage would result in "greater flexibility" and "even easier to transport and use", so BioNTech’s chief executive Ugur Sahin.

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New Covid-19 strain found in 91 cases in Japan
New Covid-19 strain found in 91 cases in Japan
Credit: unsplash.com/Fusion Medical Animation

A new, possible more contagious Covid-19 strain has been found in 91 cases in eastern Japan, Japan's chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato confirmed. The new strain contains the E484K mutation, which was first identified in the South African SARS-CoV-2 variant and later in the UK variant.

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United States announce that they are willing to have direct talks with Tehran about nuclear agreement
United States announce that they are willing to have direct talks with Tehran about nuclear agreement
Credit: unsplash.com / Frédéric Paulussen

The new US administration of President Joe Biden has declared itself ready for talks with Tehran in the dispute over the Iranian nuclear agreement. At the same time, the US, along with Germany, Britain and France, addressed clear words to Tehran after Thursday's consultations, warning against restricting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to Iranian nuclear facilities. The Trump administration had imposed drastic sanctions on Tehran after it pulled out of the deal, contributing to the worst economic crisis in recent Iranian history.

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Mexico to file complaint at UN over "inequality" of vaccine distribution
UN Security Council meeting
UN Security Council meeting Credit: Twitter (Reproduction)

Mexico will file a complaint at the UN Security Council on Thursday over "inequality" and "inequity" of Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

"The countries that produce [vaccines] have higher rates of vaccination and Latin America and the Caribbean have much less," so Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard. "We're going to raise it in the Security Council because it's not fair," he concluded.

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Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala confirmed as WTO's new Director General
DG selection process 2020- Press conference - Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria
DG selection process 2020- Press conference - Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria Credit: World Trade Organization/Jay Louvion, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0)

The World Trade Organization has confirmed Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert, as its new director general. She is the first female and the first African to hold this position.

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WHO grants approval for AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine
WHO grants approval for AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

The World Health Organization has granted approval for Oxford/AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine is easier to store and cheaper than its competitors and will be distributed mainly to low- and middle-income countries.

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AstraZeneca's vaccine has limited efficacy against South Africa variant – research
COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca Jan 2021 (UK)
COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca Jan 2021 (UK) Credit: Whispyhistory, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine offers limited protection against mild infection of the South African variant (B.1.351). This is according to initial results of a study conducted by South Africa's University of Witwatersrand and Oxford University, with which AstraZeneca co-developed the vaccine. Oxford University and AstraZeneca are reportedly adapting the vaccine for the mutation and predict it will be ready by autumn.

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Covid-19: WHO team visits Wuhan Institute of Virology

A team of WHO investigators led by virus expert Peter Ben Embarek has visited the heavily guarded Wuhan Institute of Virology to determine the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. The research laboratory in the city of Wuhan has been the centre of rumours, with public figures like former President Donald Trump and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo claiming the outbreak was caused by a laboratory leak.

"I am looking forward to a very productive day, meeting the key people here and asking all the important questions that need to be asked," so team member Peter Daszak.

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New Zealand responded to Covid-19 the best, Brazil the worst – study
New Zealand responded to Covid-19 the best, Brazil the worst – study
Credit: Illustration by Ashley Winkler for Pendect (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

Sydney's Lowy Institute assessed the Covid-19 response of 98 countries on six different criteria – including cases, deaths and testing – and ranked New Zealand's response to the virus the best. The other countries that made the top 10 are Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Cyprus, Rwanda, Iceland, Australia, Latvia and Sri Lanka. The United States, Mexico, Colombia and Iran and Brazil were in the bottom five, with Brazil being ranked at the bottom.

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Independent review panel criticises China and WHO for acting too slowly on Covid-19
Temperature monitoring area at Beijing Capital International Airport, 31/03/2020
Temperature monitoring area at Beijing Capital International Airport, 31/03/2020 Credit: N509FZ, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has criticised China and the World Health Organization for not having acted fast enough to avert catastrophe during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak. The Switzerland-based panel added that there was "potential for early signs to have been acted on more rapidly" in China at the start of the crisis.

"What is clear to the panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January (2020)," the report said.

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Biden to not lift international travel restrictions
An officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations welcomes and clears international travelers arriving at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 13, 2020.
An officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations welcomes and clears international travelers arriving at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 13, 2020. Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jen Psaki, President-elect Joe Biden’s press secretary, dismissed Donald Trump's order to lift the ban on travellers from Europe and Brazil that has been in place since March 2020, instead announced plans to "strengthen public health measures around international travel."

"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Psaki tweeted. "On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

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European leaders demand Navalny's immediate release

Multiple European leaders, including German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and European Council President Charles Michel, have demanded Alexei Navalny's immediate release on Monday.

“Russia is bound by its own constitution and by international obligations to the principle of the rule of law and to the protection of civil rights,” Maas said in a statement. “These principles must, of course, be applied to Alexei Navalny as well. He should be released immediately.”

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Eurasia Group finds politically divided US is biggest ‘risk’ to the world in 2021
United States Capitol
United States Capitol Credit: Bernt Rostad (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, has found that the United States' political situation poses a key risk for 2021, additionally to the Covid-19 pandemic, global data control and cyber conflicts, as well as the US-China conflicts.

"When you think about 2021, of course, you know, coronavirus is going to dominate the news continually. But the United States today is not only the most powerful country in the world, but it's also the most politically divided and economically unequal of all of the world's wealthy democracies. And President-elect Biden will take office in that environment. He will be seen as illegitimate by almost half of the country," Brenner said in an interview with NPR, adding in a Eurasia Group report that a "superpower torn down the middle cannot return to business as usual. When the world’s most powerful country is so divided, everybody has a problem."

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WHO team blocked from entering China to study origins of Covid-19
WHO team blocked from entering China to study origins of Covid-19
Credit: Yann Forget (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

A World Health Organization (WHO) team was denied entry to China to study the origions of Covid-19 in Wuhan, citing a lack of visa clearances.

"I have been assured that China is speeding up the internal procedure for the earliest possible deployment," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he was "very disappointed" that China had not yet finalized the permissions for the team's arrivals "given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute".

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Mexico offers political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
Julian Assange in 2014
Julian Assange in 2014 Credit: Cancillería del Ecuador, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0)

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador offered political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday.

"I'm going to ask the foreign minister to carry out the relevant procedures to request that the UK government releases Mr. Assange and that Mexico offers him political asylum," Obrador told reporters and added that "Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance."

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EU and China strengthen economic cooperation
EU and China strengthen economic cooperation
Credit: unsplash.com / Guillaume Périgois

China and the EU have reached a political agreement in principle on a new investment agreement. Among other things, the agreement is intended to improve market access for European companies in China and ensure fairer competitive conditions. The agreement had been under negotiation since 2013. Most recently, China had made concessions on the contentious issue of labor rights. The communist leadership has promised to make "lasting and sustained efforts" to ratify two conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) against forced labor. As the world's most populous country with some 1.4 billion people, China is an important trade and economic partner for the EU. Last year, goods worth an average of 1.5 billion euros were traded daily between the two economic areas.

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Both UK and South Africa Covid-19 variants found in Finland

Finland has confirmed that one person tested positive for the new UK Covid-19 strain and two people tested positive for the South African variant. At least a dozen countries have confirmed cases of both new variants.

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Number of global Covid-19 cases surpass 80m
Number of global Covid-19 cases surpass 80m
Credit: Ashles Winkler for Pendect

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has surpassed 80 million infections worldwide on Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 1,753,313 people have died from the novel coronavirus globally. The highest infections have been recorded in the United States, India, Brazil and Russia.

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Newly discovered South African Covid-19 strain may be "more effective at spreading"
Newly discovered South African Covid-19 strain may be "more effective at spreading"
Credit: Illustration by Ashley Winkler for Pendect (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

The newly discovered South African variant of Covid-19 seems to be "more effective at spreading" and might be slightly more resistant to vaccines, South African scientists believe.

"Putting our data together with that in the UK, this [South African] variant is a bit more effective at spreading from person to person and that is not good. It means we have to get a bit better at stopping it," so Dr. Richard Lessells who is one of the specialists leading the research into the new mutation. "Ours raises a few more concerns for a vaccine [than the UK variant] … Another worry is reinfection. We are currently doing the careful, methodical work in the laboratory to answer all the questions we have and that takes time."

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Karima Baloch, Pakistani human rights activist, found dead in Canada - foul play not ruled out
Karima Baloch, Pakistani human rights activist, found dead in Canada - foul play not ruled out
Credit: @KarimaBaloch via Twitter

The body of 37-year-old Karima Baloch, a Pakistani human rights activist, was found in Toronto, Canada, where she lived for the past five years in exile. Baloch was a critic of the Pakistani military and state and was granted asylum in Canada in 2016 after being threatened by Pakistani authorities.

Police said there were "not believed to be any suspicious circumstances", but her husband, Pakistani activist Hammal Haider, reported that she had received threats prior to her death and that he didn't believe that her death was "an act of suicide".

"I can’t believe that it’s an act of suicide. She was a strong lady, and she left home in a good mood. We can’t rule out foul play as she has been under threats. She left Pakistan as her home was raided more than twice. Her uncle was killed. She was threatened to leave activism and political activities, but she did not and fled to Canada," so her husband.

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First Covid-19 cases recorded in Antarctica
General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme Base
General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme Base Credit: Stone Monki, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0)

Antarctica has recorded its first cases of Covid-19 after 36 people got infected with the virus at a Chilean General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme research base. Antarctica had previously been the only continent free of Covid-19.

Among those infected are 26 members of the Chilean army and 10 maintenance workers. They have been evacuated to Punta Arena, Chile and are currently in quarantine and in reportedly good conditions.

"Thanks to the timely preventive action … it was possible to relieve said personnel, who, after being subjected to a medical control and the administration of a PCR test ... turned out to be positive for Covid-19," the Chilean army said in a statement.

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More than 40 countries ban British flights over new Covid-19 strain, EU members discuss co-ordinate response

More than 40 countries have imposed a ban on UK arrivals, include Belgium, Canada, India, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Russia, and Switzerland. On Monday, European Union member states meet to discuss a co-ordinated response and France is planning to establish a protocol "to ensure movement from the UK can resume.

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Canada, Ireland and several other countries also halt flights from UK over new Covid-19 variant
Canada, Ireland and several other countries also halt flights from UK over new Covid-19 variant
Credit: unsplash/Daniel Klein

More countries are banning flights from the UK after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant that is said to spread much faster. Canada is banning UK travellers for at least 72 hours. Several South American countries followed suit on Sunday, including Argentina, Chile and Colombia. British flights are banned from landing in the Republic of Ireland on Monday and Tuesday. After France suspended travel from and to the UK, both the Eurotunnel and Port of Dover were closed.

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USA imposes sanctions on Turkey over purchase of Russian missile system
USA imposes sanctions on Turkey over purchase of Russian missile system
Credit: Vitaly V. Kuzmin / via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

The U.S. is imposing sanctions on NATO ally Turkey over its deployment of Russia's S-400 missile defense system. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday in Washington that punitive measures would be imposed against the Defense Security Directorate (SSB). The directorate reports to the office of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The sanctions included a ban on all U.S. export licenses and permits for SSB, Pompeo announced.

Any assets of SSB chief Ismail Demir and other U.S. executives would be frozen. They would also be subject to entry restrictions. At the same time, Pompeo stressed that Turkey is a "valued ally" of the U.S. and an important security partner in the region, and that they would like to see continued cooperation in the defense sector.

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Rich countries are hoarding Coronavirus vaccine, poor nations are left behind
Rich countries are hoarding Coronavirus vaccine, poor nations are left behind
Credit: Illustration: Pendect, Ashley Winkler. (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

Rich countries are buying enough Coronavirus vaccine doses to vaccinate their entire populations around three times. Meanwhile, at least 67 poorer countries are left with only one dose per 10 people by the end of next year, the People's Vaccine Alliance said on Wednesday.

“The hoarding of vaccines actively undermines global efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere can be protected from COVID-19,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice.

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Coronavirus passes 50 million cases worldwide

There have been more than 50 million cases of Coronavirus worldwide since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

This has led to 1.2 million fatalities globally.

The United States has recorded the most cases of any country, with more than 9.86 million infections reported.

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Over 100 European lawmakers ask for inclusion of Taiwan in World Health Organisation annual assembly
Over 100 European lawmakers ask for inclusion of Taiwan in World Health Organisation annual assembly
Credit: unsplash.com / TangChi Lee

In separate letters sent to the president of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom, 106 European lawmakers from eastern European countries have collectively expressed a “high-level of support” for Taiwan’s participation at the WHO’s 73rd annual assembly.

They argue that Taiwan's work to control the Covid-19 pandemic inside the country is “exemplary”.

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Edward Snowden and Lindsay Mills announce pregnancy and application for Russian citizenship
Edward Snowden and Lindsay Mills announce pregnancy and application for Russian citizenship
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

Whistleblower Edward Snowden and his wife Lindsay Mills have announced that the couple is pregnant with a child. In addition, Snowden has stated that "After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our son. That's why, in this era of pandemics and closed borders, we're applying for dual US-Russian citizenship".

He added that the child will be raised "with all the values of the America we love" and that he is looking forward to the day he can return to the United States.

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Foreign Minister states that Thai King is under "permanent" review while in Germany
Foreign Minister states that Thai King is under "permanent" review while in Germany
Credit: The Public Relations Department (กรมประชาสัมพันธ์) / Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0)

The German Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has stated that Germany has "made it clear that politics concerning the country of Thailand should not be based on German soil" and that the Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn would be "permanently" under review while he is Germany.

The King has spent part of the Covid-19 lockdown in Germany in a luxury hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and owns a property in Bavaria.