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Pandemic Led to Rise In Child Abuse, Racism: European Union Rights Agency
[Vienna] --- The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented and profound effect on human rights, fuelling racism and child abuse, the European Union (EU)'s rights agency said Thursday in its annual report.

COVID-19: The EU agency's report said in 2020, domestic violence also increased (Representational)

"The pandemic and the reactions it triggered exacerbated existing challenges and inequalities in all areas of life, especially affecting vulnerable groups," a report by the Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) said.

"It also sparked an increase in racist incidents," the FRA added, calling the pandemic's effects on rights "profound".

Marginalised groups such as Roma, refugees and migrants were not only at higher risk of contamination, but also lost jobs owing to strict lockdown measures.

In addition, they were the targets of "racist and xenophobic incidents, including verbal insults, harassment, physical aggression and online hate speech", according to evidence collected by the FRA and other groups.

In 2020, domestic violence and sexual abuse also increased, the report said.

It cited sources in the Czech Republic and Germany as saying that calls to national domestic violence hotlines rose by 50 percent in the former and by 20 percent in the latter between March and June last year.

Child sexual abuse online also increased, FRA said, citing Europol.

The agency urged countries to tackle the pandemic and its "unprecedented collective challenge" to human rights with "balanced measures that are based on law" and which were "temporary and proportional".

The report covers the 27 European Union member states, along with North Macedonia and Serbia.
No Evidence Mystery UFOs Are Alien Spacecraft: Report
[United States] --- There is no evidence that unexplained aerial phenomena spotted in recent years by US military personnel are aliens, an upcoming government report quoted by The New York Times Thursday said, but officials still can't explain the mysterious aircraft.

There is no evidence that UFOs spotted by US military personnel are Aliens Spacecraft.

The newspaper, which cited senior administration officials briefed on the findings of the highly anticipated report, said they were able to confirm the unusual vessels were not the product of secret Pentagon technology.

But the review of more than 120 incidents over the past two decades was unable to explain the mysterious movements of the craft, which include unusual acceleration, direction changes and the ability to rapidly submerge.

And while senior officials told the Times the lack of clear findings means that while there's no evidence of alien technology behind the phenomena, it's also impossible to rule out.

One senior official briefed on the report said intelligence and military officials increasingly worry the phenomena could be China or Russia experimenting with hypersonic technology.

The upcoming report -- expected to be released to Congress by June 25 -- will have a classified annex, officials told the Times, which will likely fuel speculation that aliens are actually behind the encounters.

The Pentagon last year released videos taken by US Navy pilots showing in-flight encounters with the unusual aircraft.

And the mystery was further drummed up by former officials with access to classified intelligence.

"What is true -- and I'm actually being serious here -- is that there's footage and records of objects in the skies that we don't know exactly what they are," former president Barack Obama told "The Late Late Show" last month.

The US military no longer describes them as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, instead using the term "unidentified aerial phenomena."
Global Warming Blamed For 1 In 3 Heat-Related Deaths
[Paris] --- More than a third of summer heat-related fatalities are due to climate change, researchers said Monday, warning of even higher death tolls as global temperatures climb.

The number could be an underestimate since data for South Asia, Central Africa was missing. (File)

Previous research on how climate change affects human health has mostly projected future risks from heatwaves, droughts, wild fires and other extreme events made worse by global warming.

How much worse depends on how quickly humanity curbs carbon emissions, which hit record levels in 2019 but dipped sharply during the pandemic.

But a new study by an international team of 70 experts is one of the first -- and the largest -- to look at health consequences that have already happened, the authors said.

The findings, published in Nature Climate Change, were stark: data from 732 locations in 43 countries spread across every inhabited continent revealed that, on average, 37 percent of all heat-related deaths can be attributed directly to global warming.

"Climate change is not something in the distant future," senior author Antonio Gasparrini, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told AFP.

"We can already measure negative impacts on health, in addition to the known environmental and ecological effects."

The authors said their methods -- if extended worldwide -- would add up to more than 100,000 heat-related deaths per year laid squarely at the feet of manmade climate change.

Differences across countries

That number could be an underestimate because two of the regions for which data was largely missing -- south Asia and central Africa -- are known to be especially vulnerable to extreme heat deaths.

The 100,000 figure is consistent with a recent analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME), published in The Lancet.

Th IHME calculated just over 300,000 heat-related deaths worldwide from all causes in 2019. If just over a third of those deaths are due to climate change, as Gasparrini's team reported, the global total would indeed be more than 100,000.

India accounted for more than a third of the total in the IHME tally, and four of the five worst-hit countries were in south Asia and central Africa.

The share of heat-related deaths attributable to global warming in the new study varied widely from country to country.

In the United States, Australia, France, Britain and Spain, for example, that percentage was roughly in line with the average across all countries, between 35 and 39 percent.

For Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and Chile, the figure rose above 40 percent.

And for half-a-dozen countries -- Brazil, Peru, Colombia, the Philippines, Kuwait and Guatemala -- the percentage of heat-related mortality caused by climate change was 60 percent or more.

A complex methodology combining health data and temperature records from 1991 to 2018, coupled with climate modelling, allowed researchers to contrast the actual number of heat-related deaths with how many fewer deaths there would have been without manmade warming.

Adapt or die

The researchers found that it is not the increase in average summer temperature -- up 1.5C since 1991 in the locations examined -- that boosted death rates, but heatwaves: how long they last, nightime temperatures, and humidity levels.

Also crucial is the ability of the population to adapt.

If 95 percent of the population has air conditioning, mortality will be lower. But if they don't, or if farmers must work outside in 45C (113F) heat to feed their families, the impacts can be catastrophic.

Even wealthy nations remain vulnerable: in 2003, a relentless heatwave in western Europe claimed 70,000 lives.

Deadly heatwaves that might have occurred once a century before climate change kicked in could, by mid-century, happen far more frequently, scientists warn.

The burgeoning field of attribution climate science measures by how much, for example, a typhoon's intensity, a drought's duration, or a storm surge's destruction has been amplified by global warming.

But little research has tried to do the same for human health, notes Dan Mitchell, a researcher at the Cabot Institute for the Environment at the University of Bristol.

"This shift in thinking is essential ... so that global leaders can understand the risks," he said in a comment in Nature Climate Change.
Singapore To Vaccinate Schoolchildren Against COVID-19: PM
[Singapore] --- Singapore will start vaccinating schoolchildren against the coronavirus soon, the prime minister said Monday, after officials warned that new strains were affecting youngsters more.

By global standards, Singapore's overall Covid outbreak has been mild. (File)

The city-state recently tightened curbs following a slight uptick in cases, after months of reporting barely any local transmissions.

This included closing schools amid signs that new variants, such as the one first detected in India, were affecting children in greater numbers.

In a televised speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced school students aged 12 and over will be the next group to be inoculated.

Health regulators approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds this month. It was previously only allowed for those aged 16 and above.

"In this latest outbreak, we have seen more cases of children getting infected, in schools and tuition centres," Lee said.

"The children were not seriously ill, but parents are naturally worried. Therefore, we will take advantage of the June holidays to vaccinate students."

The city's more than 400,000 students can start booking vaccinations from Tuesday, with the first slots available Thursday, officials said.

After schoolchildren, officials will inoculate adults 39 years and younger -- the final group that needs to be vaccinated in the prosperous city-state of 5.7 million.

Lee also said Singapore looked on track to be able to ease its latest restrictions after June 13, as planned, as local transmissions steadily fall. The curbs include a two-person limit on gatherings and ban on dine-ins.

By global standards, Singapore's overall outbreak has been mild -- officials have reported just over 62,000 cases so far and 33 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
US Will Not Let Moscow 'Abuse' Human Rights: Biden
[Wilmington] --- President Joe Biden pledged Sunday to tell Russian leader Vladimir Putin at their June summit that Washington will not let Moscow "abuse" human rights.

Joe Biden pledged to tell Vladimir Putin that Washington will not let Moscow "abuse" human rights.

The face-to-face meeting with the Kremlin leader comes amid levels of tension not seen for years, with Washington now dialing back its ambitions to little more than establishing a relationship in which both sides understand each other and can work together in specific areas.

"I'll be meeting with President Putin in a couple of weeks in Geneva, making it clear that we will not -- we will not stand by and let him abuse those rights," Biden said in a speech on the summit, which is set for June 16.

Since taking office, Biden has imposed new sanctions against Moscow over what US authorities say was the Russian role in the massive SolarWinds cyber attack and repeated meddling in the 2020 presidential election.

In addition, Washington has harshly criticized Moscow for the near-death poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of one of the last open opponents to Putin, Alexei Navalny.

Tensions are also high over Ukraine, where Russia already controls swaths of territory and recently massed troops on the border in a new show of force.

Yet another focus is on Russian-dominated Belarus, which caused an uproar this week after authorities forced an airliner passing overhead to land, then arrested an opponent to President Alexander Lukashenko who had been aboard.
Covid Origins Probe 'Being Poisoned By Politics': World Health Organisation
[Geneva, Switzerland] --- The World Health Organization warned Friday that efforts to uncover the Covid-19 pandemic's origins were being hampered by politics, insisting scientists needed space to work on solving the mystery.

WHO had managed to send a team of independent, international experts to Wuhan in January.

"We would ask that we separate the science from the politics, and let us get on with finding the answers that we need in a proper, positive atmosphere," WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan told reporters.

"This whole process is being poisoned by politics," he warned.

The UN health agency has been facing intensifying pressure for a new, more in-depth investigation of where Covid-19 came from, but so far there is no timeline for the next stage in the probe.

US President Joe Biden this week ordered the US intelligence community to investigate whether the Covid-19 virus first emerged in China from an animal source or from a laboratory accident.

The move hints at growing impatience with waiting for a conclusive WHO investigation into how the pandemic that has killed more than 3.5 million people worldwide began.

During an ongoing meeting of WHO member states, European Union countries and a range of others also pressed for clarity on the next steps in the organisation's efforts to solve the mystery, seen as vital to averting future pandemics.

'No timeline'

But the UN health agency said earlier Friday it was still waiting for recommendations from a team of WHO technical experts on how to move forward.

"The technical team will prepare a proposal for the next studies that will need to be carried out and will present that to the director-general," spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters.

"He will then work with member states about the next steps," she said, acknowledging "there is no timeline".

The WHO finally managed to send a team of independent, international experts to Wuhan in January, more than a year after Covid-19 first surfaced there in late 2019, to help probe the pandemic origins.

But in their long-delayed report published in late March, the international team and their Chinese counterparts drew no firm conclusions, instead ranking a number of hypotheses according to how likely they believed they were.

'Impossible position'

The report said the virus jumping from bats to humans via an intermediate animal was the most probable scenario, while a theory involving the virus leaking from a laboratory was "extremely unlikely".

But the investigation and report have faced criticism for lacking transparency and access, and for not evaluating the lab-leak theory more deeply -- a mere 440 words of the report were dedicated to discussing and dismissing it.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also continued to insist that all theories remain on the table and further investigation is needed.

Long dismissed as a right-wing conspiracy theory, and vehemently rejected by Beijing, the idea that Covid-19 emerged from a lab leak in Wuhan in China has been gaining increasing momentum in the United States.

While not suggesting that a lab leak was necessarily the source, a number of prominent international scientists have said a deeper, more scientific look at the theory was needed.

"Every country and every entity is free to pursue their own particular theories of origin... It's a free world," Ryan said.

But he complained that the discourse around the origins search, and around WHO's role in it, was making it difficult to focus on the science.

"Putting WHO in a position like it has been put in is very unfair to the science we're trying to carry out," he said.

"It puts us, as an organisation, frankly in an impossible position to deliver the answers that the world wants."
Moderna says its COVID-19 shot works in kids as young as 12
[Washington] --- Moderna said Tuesday its COVID-19 vaccine strongly protects kids as young as 12, a step that could put the shot on track to become the second option for that age group in the U.S. With global vaccine supplies still tight, much of the world is struggling to vaccinate adults in the quest to end the pandemic. But earlier this month, the U.S. and Canada authorized another vaccine — the shot made by Pfizer and BioNTech — to be used starting at age 12.

Moderna aims to be next in line, saying it will submit its teen data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other global regulators early next month.

The company studied more than 3,700 12- to 17-year-olds. Preliminary findings showed the vaccine triggered the same signs of immune protection in kids as it does in adults, and the same kind of temporary side effects such as sore arms, headache and fatigue.

There were no COVID-19 diagnoses in those given two doses of the Moderna vaccine compared with four cases among kids given dummy shots. In a press release, the company also said the vaccine appeared 93% effective two weeks after the first dose.

While children are far less likely than adults to get seriously ill from COVID-19, they represent about 14% of the nation's coronavirus cases. At least 316 have died in the U.S. alone, according to a tally by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

With plenty of vaccine supply in the U.S., younger teens flocked to get Pfizer's shot in the days after FDA opened it to them, part of a push to get as many kids vaccinated as possible before the next school year.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have begun testing in even younger children, from age 11 down to 6-month-old babies. This testing is more complex: Teens receive the same dose as adults, but researchers are testing smaller doses in younger children. Experts hope to see some results in the fall.
'Lots Of Hard Work Ahead' To Restore Trust Between Israelis, Palestinians: US
[Jerusalem] --- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday Israel and the Palestinians faced an uphill struggle to restore trust, after a war with Gaza and unrest in the West Bank.

Antony Blinken (File)

"There's lots of hard work ahead to restore hope, respect and some trust across the communities," he said following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

"But we've seen the alternative and I think that should cause all of us to redouble our efforts to preserve the peace and improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike."
Half Of All US Adults Fully Vaccinated Against Covid, Says White House
[Washington] --- Half of all US adults will have received full Covid-19 vaccines on Tuesday, the White House said, marking another huge milestone in the fight against the pandemic.

US is now a world leader in rolling out vaccinations (Representational)

"Today, the United States will reach 50 percent of American adults fully vaccinated," a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

More than half a million Americans have died from the coronavirus but the country is now a world leader in rolling out vaccinations.

The US has reached almost 50 percent of its population of 332 million with at least one dose, but its vaccination campaign is slowing in the face of hesitancy.

President Joe Biden has set a target of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4. The current figure is almost 62 percent.
At Least 115,000 Health Workers Have Died From Covid-19: WHO Chief
At least 115,000 health and care workers have died from Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO chief said Monday, calling for a dramatic scale-up of vaccination in all countries.

The WHO chief stressed the need to urgently fix the imbalance.

At the opening of the World Health Organization's main annual assembly, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the sacrifices made by health workers around the world to battle the pandemic.

"For almost 18 months, health and care workers all over the world have stood in the breach between life and death," he said.

"They have saved countless lives and fought for others who, despite their best efforts, slipped away.

"Many have themselves become infected, and while reporting is scant, we estimate that at least 115,000 health and care workers have paid the ultimate price in the service of others."

He said many health workers have since the start of the crisis felt "frustrated, helpless and unprotected, with a lack of access to personal protective equipment and vaccines."

And they are not alone. He described the overall inequity in access to vaccines as "scandalous", warning it was "perpetuating the pandemic."

More than 75 percent of all Covid-19 vaccines have gone to just 10 countries.

"The number of doses administered globally so far would have been enough to cover all health workers and older people if they had been distributed equitably," he said.

"There is no diplomatic way to say it: that small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world's vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world."

He urged those countries that have large stocks of vaccines to share them, and greater cooperation to scale up production and distribution of the jabs.

The WHO and others have created Covax, a global vaccine-sharing programme, but it remains severely underfunded and has faced significant supply shortages, delaying efforts to roll out jabs in poorer countries.

"We have shipped every single one of the 72 million doses we have been able to get our hands on so far to 125 countries and economies," Tedros said.

But he lamented that those doses were only enough to barely cover one percent of the combined populations in those countries.

The WHO chief stressed the need to urgently fix the imbalance.

"Today, I'm calling on member states to support a massive push to vaccinate at least 10 percent of the population of every country by September," he said, calling for the coverage to be expanded to 30 percent by the end of the year.
'We Are At War' Against COVID-19, Says UN Chief
[Geneva] --- The world is "at war" against Covid-19, the UN chief said Monday, calling for the application of wartime logic to the inequitable access to the weapons needed to fight the pandemic.

"We need the logic and urgency of a war economy, to boost the capacity of our weapons," Antonio Guterres

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decried the "tsunami of suffering" sparked by the coronavirus crisis.

Addressing the opening of the World Health Organization's main annual assembly of member states, he pointed out that more than 3.4 million people have died and some 500 million jobs had disappeared since the disease first surfaced in China in late 2019.

"The most vulnerable are suffering most, and I fear this is far from over," Guterres said, stressing the ongoing dangers of "a two-speed global response."

"Sadly, unless we act now, we face a situation in which rich countries vaccinate the majority of their people and open their economies, while the virus continues to cause deep suffering by circling and mutating in the poorest countries," he said.

"Further spikes and surges could claim hundreds of thousands of lives, and slow the global economic recovery," he said, insisting that "Covid-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time."

Faced with this dire situation, Guterres urged recognition of the fact that "we are at war with a virus."

"We need the logic and urgency of a war economy, to boost the capacity of our weapons," he said.

The UN chief last week called on the G20 to set up a task force that brings together all countries with vaccine production capacities and others who can help boost manufacturing of vaccines and other tools needed to battle Covid.

"It should aim to at least double manufacturing capacity by exploring all options, from voluntary licenses and technology transfers to patent pooling and flexibility on intellectual property rights," he said.

The task force should also address equitable global distribution of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

The WHO and others have created Covax, a global vaccine-sharing programme, but it remains severely underfunded and has faced significant supply shortages, delaying efforts to roll out jabs in poorer countries.

To date, only 0.3 percent of Covid vaccine doses have been administered in the world's poorest countries, which are home to nearly 10 percent of the global population.

In addition to battling Covid-19, Guterres stressed the importance of preparing for the next pandemic, backing a range of recommendations put before the assembly for reform and strengthening of the WHO and of the global health system.

"The world needs political commitment at the highest level to transform the existing system," he said.

"The WHO must be at the heart of global pandemic preparedness. It needs sustainable and predictable resources, and it must be fully empowered to do the job demanded of it."

Guterres urged member states to decide a way forward to "take the bold decisions necessary to end this pandemic."

"Covid-19 must be a turning point."
Maldives: Temporary suspension for tourists originating from South Asian countries
Hundreds come forward with stories of sexual harassment in schools: 'SaveTheSchoolsMY' creator
In a bid to make Malaysian schools safer for students, a media executive decided to create an online space for students to come forward with stories of sexual harassment. In just two weeks, the @Savetheschoolsmy Instagram page received hundreds of submissions.

“My ustaz (religious teacher) used to make rape and sexual jokes during my class,” one of them read, while another said, “Back then when I was in primary school, boys my age will make sexual sounds as jokes and they’ll [laugh] it off.”

Page creator Puteri Nuraaina Balqis, 26, decided to create the account on April 27 amid controversies concerning alleged menstruation spot checks in schools and teachers telling rape jokes – both spawning the #MakeSchoolASaferPlace online movement. To date, Puteri, who is from Taiping, Perak, has posted 200 horror stories she said came from former and current students all over the country, recounting incidents of sexual abuse and harassment. Over 2,000 people are following the account.

“Within 24 hours of creating the page, I received 50 submissions,” she said. Seven new submissions were added to her collection of nearly 500 stories this morning.

“I’m glad that people are willing and unafraid to share their experiences, but it’s way more than I expected,” she said.
‘Pissed off’

The idea for the Instagram page came about when she became “pissed off” by the numerous attempts made by people online to invalidate famed student activist Ain Husniza, 17, after the SMK Puncak Alam student spoke out against her teacher for telling a rape joke in class.

“Ain shared that a group of teachers had started a rumor saying she’s autistic, so people shouldn’t take her seriously,” Puteri said. “That to me is super messed up because so what if she is [autistic], that doesn’t mean the rape joke didn’t happen.”

“People need to know that this is definitely an issue. Just because it didn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening to other people,” Puteri added.

Ain has filed a police report over her teacher as well as against the rape threat she received in response to her TikTok video. Her school has also threatened to expel her for being absent from school. Her father told Coconuts that his daughter did not feel safe about returning to school.

Puteri collects the anonymous submissions via a Google form. Other than stories of harassment, some also talked about being groomed. The various issues affected both genders, Puteri said.

“The numbers are smaller, but more male victims are speaking up about their experiences,” she said. An example would be a student who was blamed for being “too soft” when he complained to a school counselor about being touched inappropriately by his fellow male classmates.

Another submission was about a female student who was sexually groomed by an ustazah (female religious teacher).

“She gave me flying kisses and called us lovers,” the anonymous poster said. “She called me sexy after a peck on the cheek… I used to feel glad when she called me baby.”

A few of these confessions have named their respective schools and perpetrators, according to Puteri. Lawyers have also reached out offering legal help.

“Pro-bono lawyers have reached out to me with offers for legal aid just in case the page gets sued for defamation, or if people attempt to hunt down the victims,” Puteri said.

She has not received feedback from the Ministry of Education regarding the page. Senior Education Minister Radzi Jidin previously denied there were period spot checks, stories of which surfaced last month, were happening in schools.

“The authorities are good at what they do – doing nothing,” Puteri later remarked.

(This article, Hundreds come forward with stories of sexual harassment in schools: ‘SaveTheSchoolsMY’ creator, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.)
04/06/2021 18:18 Comments 0 Comments
The British regulator's approval follows that of the European Medicines Agency and US Food and Drug Administration last month for the younger cohort to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
04/06/2021 16:50 Comments 0 Comments
It was a rare farewell. When Pallat Brahmadathan (Elephant) came to bid farewell to his master Omanachettan (Mahout), who had cared him for nearly a quarter of a century, all those who assembled in the premises wept.
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