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Taliban Decree Says No One Can Force Women To Marry, Silent On Education
[Kabul] --- The Taliban issued a decree Friday in the name of their supreme leader, instructing Afghan ministries "to take serious action" on women's rights, but failed to mention girls' access to schools.

The move comes after the Islamists seized power in mid-August and as they seek to restore Afghanistan's access to billions of dollars in assets and aid suspended when the previous, Western-backed regime collapsed in the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

"The Islamic Emirate's leadership directs all relevant organisations... to take serious action to enforce Women's Rights," the decree states, quoting elusive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

The decree centres on marriage and widows' rights, stating "no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure" and that a widow is entitled to an unspecified fixed share of her husband's inheritance.

It instructs the Ministry of Culture and Information to publish material on women's rights "to prevent... ongoing repression".

Respect for women's rights has repeatedly been cited by key global donors as a condition for restoring aid.

The decree crucially makes no mention of girls' secondary education -- which has been suspended for millions -- or the employment of women, who have been barred from returning to jobs in the public sector.

Women's rights were severely curtailed during the Taliban's previous stint in power, which lasted from 1996 to late 2001.

Women were forced to wear the all covering burqa, only allowed to leave the home with a male chaperone and banned from work and education.

Akhundzada has maintained a very low public profile since becoming supreme leader in 2016, after his predecessor was killed in a US drone strike.

The Taliban on October 30 released a 10-minute audio recording purported to be him addressing a madrassa in the southern city of Kandahar that day.

But some analysts believe he may have been killed one or more years ago.
Risk Related To Omicron 'Very High': WHO
The new Covid-19 Omicron variant poses a "very high" risk globally, the World Health Organization warned Monday,

... stressing that uncertainties remained about how contagious and dangerous the strain was.

Read More... Click Here )
Dubai princess shares video of tiny kitten saved from three tigers
In a scary encounter, a stray kitten wandered into the cage of three tigers who immeditaley attacked it.

However, the kitten was saved after the quick intervention of the keepers. The jaw-dropping moment was caught on camera and is now going viral after Latifa Rashed Al Maktoum, a Dubai princess, shared it on Instagram.
Model Camille Kostek shows off her curves in white swimwear. The 29-year-old posed for swimwear brand Intimates For All.
Iraq Gets 1.2 Million Pfizer Covid Vaccine Doses Amid Fears Of 4th Wave
[Baghdad] --- Iraq said Saturday it has received 1.2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine through the Covax sharing scheme, amid fears of a fourth wave in the country.

Nearly seven million Iraqis have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, amounting to 17.5 per cent of the country's 40 million population, based on government figures.

Plagued by years of conflict, corruption and neglect, Iraq's health system has struggled to cope with the pandemic.

The health ministry announced on Saturday the arrival of a shipment of more than 1.2 million doses of "Pfizer's anti-Covid vaccine through the Covax programme and UNICEF", the UN Children's Fund.

"Iraq is still facing danger from the coronavirus pandemic," ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said on Thursday.

"We expect to enter a fourth wave, (and) it could be a new variant," he told state television.

More than two million Iraqis have been infected with Covid and 23,628 have died in Iraq since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to official figures.

Despite an increase in the number of people getting jabbed, Iraq's government has been unable to overcome general scepticism about vaccines and measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

There is a high level of public mistrust of institutions in Iraq amid the circulation of misleading information about the pandemic.

Covax was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries, and has already delivered more than 80 million doses to 129 territories.
France May Need More To Work-From-Home, Says Top Advisor Amid Covid Surge
Coronavirus In France:

France registered 19,778 new cases on Tuesday, the highest 24-hour increase since August 25.
France Changes Flag Colour To Darker Navy Blue To Reflect A Heroic Past
The official said that the navy blue colour,


... "evokes the memory" of the heroes who fought in the French Revolution, the trenches of World War I and in the Resistance during World War II.
Sara Ali Khan's Saturday Mood Summed Up In Pics From Maldives
Stunning can't even begin to describe Sara Ali Khan's latest set of pictures. On Saturday, the 26-year-old actress posted a few pictures from Maldives and they are picture-perfect. In the photos, the actress can be seen dressed in printed swimwear and she looks gorgeous as ever.

The pictures happen to be from Sara's pool time in Maldives, with her friends by her side. Sara Ali Khan channeled her inner poetess and wrote a caption that read, "Sky above, sand below, sea around, go with the flow." The actress' Instafam filled up the comments section of her post with fire and heart emojis.
Amid Climate Crisis, Nuclear Power Finally Has 'Seat At Table': UN Agency
[Glasgow] --- For more than two decades, promoters and purveyors of nuclear energy felt shunned at UN climate change conferences.

At the COP26 summit underway in Glasgow, however, they have been welcomed with open arms, the UN's top nuclear regulator told AFP.

The spectre of Chernobyl and Fukushima, along with the enduring problem of nuclear waste, kept energy generated by splitting atoms on the sidelines, even if that energy was virtually carbon free.

But as the climate crisis deepens and the need to transition away from fossil fuels becomes urgent, attitudes may be shifting.

"Nuclear energy is part of the solution to global warming, there's no way around it," said Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in an interview.

It already accounts for a quarter of "clean" -- that is, carbon-free -- energy worldwide, and Grossi said this COP is the first where it has "had a seat at the table".

"The winds are changing."

To have even a 50/50 chance of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels -- the threshold for dangerous tipping points that could trigger runaway warming -- global greenhouse emissions must be slashed by almost half within a decade, scientists say.

But things are still moving in the wrong direction: a report on Thursday said emissions in 2021 are approaching record levels.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned they could hit new heights by 2023.

That is helping refocus attention on nuclear.

"At the 2015 COP in Paris, nuclear wasn't welcome," said Callum Thomas, head of a recruitment firm for the nuclear industry, who was spotted at COP26 sporting a T-shirt saying "Let's Talk Nuclear".

"There was a belief it was not needed. Now many countries are looking at the feasibility, especially with the rise in gas prices."

'Never stops'

From the time he took the IAEA's helm nearly two years ago, Grossi, an Argentine diplomat, has been a tireless advocate for the industry.

At his first COP in Madrid he "went in spite of the general assumption that nuclear would not be welcome".

On the contrary in Glasgow, where nearly 200 countries are still trying to put flesh on the bone of the 2015 Paris Agreement, he said "nuclear is not only welcome, but is generating a lot of interest".

Grossi argues that the technology can not only speed the transition away from fossil fuels, but also power research on technologies needed for adapting to climate impacts, from finding drought-resistant crops to eradicating mosquitos.

He acknowledges that it carries serious risks.

The meltdown of three reactors at Japan's Fukushima power plant in 2011 following an earthquake and a tsunami profoundly shook confidence in nuclear.

The industry also has yet to find a way to dispose of nuclear waste, which remains highly radioactive for thousands of years.

But Grossi said these issues are not disqualifying, arguing that statistically the technology has fewer negative consequences than many other forms of energy.

It could also be a complement to renewables.

"Nuclear energy goes on and on for the entire year, it never stops," he said.

Even so, with prolonged construction times, many argue that it is too late to build enough nuclear capacity to effectively join the battle against global warming.

But Grossi said he thinks part of the answer lies in keeping existing reactors up and running.

100-year-old reactors?

Many power plants designed to run for 40 years are now licensed for 60 years under strict national safety standards supervised by the IAEA, he said.

"What could be more efficient than a facility that you build that gives you energy for close to 100 years?" he said.

He acknowledged that plants running that long might be a "bit of a provocation".

"But it still might be possible."

In their projections on how to limit the rise in global temperatures and satisfy a growing global demand for energy at the same time, the IEA takes all non-carbon sources on board.

The UN's climate science advisory panel, the IPCC, has also given a place to nuclear in its models, even as it says that its deployment "could be limited by social preferences."

Indeed, attitudes towards nuclear power vary sharply across nations.

While New Zealand and Germany are opposed, India is in discussions with French energy giant EDF to build what would be the largest nuclear power plant in the world.

Meanwhile, both Canada and the United States are developing so-called "small modular reactors", although only Russia has put into operation a floating reactor using this technology.

Price is also not the barrier it used to be, said Grossi.

"Countries see in smaller units a very interesting alternative, which is not in the range of billions but of hundreds of millions," he said. "When it comes to energy projects, this is quite affordable."
Over 80 Nations Vow To Cut Methane Emissions By 30% By 2030: EU
[Glasgow] --- More than 80 countries have signed up to a US and EU pledge to slash methane emissions by 30 percent by the end of the decade, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.

More than 80 countries vow US and EU pledge to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030 (File)

Cutting the powerful greenhouse gas by a third from 2020 levels will "immediately slow down climate change", she told the COP26 climate conference.

She said around 30 percent of global warming since the Industrial Revolution is due to methane.

"Today global methane emissions grow faster than at any time in the past," she said adding that reducing methane is one of the most effective ways to reduce near-term warming and keep the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming alive.

"It is the lowest hanging fruit," she said.
'Gross and inappropriate': Madonna, 63, is SLAMMED for recreating Marilyn Monroe's DEATH bed scene as singer lays face down on a mattress exposing her bottom
Madonna has been slammed on social media for recreating Marilyn Monroe's death bed scene.

In the latest V Magazine cover interview, the 63-year-old Like A Virgin singer was seen laying face down on a mattress exposing her bottom, while in another shot prescription pill bottles could be seen by a nightstand.

Monroe was found in dead in her Brentwood, California home in 1962, and is said to have overdosed on sedative drugs the night before.

A photograph of the death bed scene looks eerily similar to setting created by photographer Steven Klein, and fans were quick to express their feelings of it being bad taste on Friday.
The Internet Is Utterly Smitten By Disha Patani Chilling On The Beach
The actress, on Wednesday, set the Internet ablaze by sharing a stunning picture of herself from her beach vacation.

She can be seen sporting a white bikini in the picture and chilling on the beach. It appears that the photo is from Disha Patani's last trip to the Maldives.
Caprice Bourret, 50, strips down to a bikini as she's whisked away to Ibiza by her husband after rescheduling six figure birthday party due to Covid
She was set to celebrate her 50th birthday with a birthday bash costing six figures.

Yet after having to reschedule her event, Caprice Bourret was whisked away to her holiday home in Ibiza by her husband Ty Comfort following a week of celebrations.

Caprice put her age-defying frame on full display as she enjoyed a dip in the water, wearing a tiny purple bikini as she soaked up the rays.
Breastfeeding My Boyfriend viewers left 'grimacing' over the 'sucking and squelching noises' in bizarre Channel 4 documentary
Breastfeeding My Boyfriend viewers were left 'grimacing' after hearing the sound of an adult man suckling milk from his partner's breasts.

In last night's Channel 4 documentary, Korean-born Tip and his partner Button, who now live in the US, explained how they do not see adult breastfeeding as a 'fetish.'

However, the couple went on to say how they sell videos online which show them partaking in the rather unusual breastfeeding habit.

And those who tuned in were left horrified when Tip was seen lying across Button's lap on the sofa and 'latching on,' while the camera zoomed in and captured every noise as he sucked from her breasts.

'The sucking and squelching noises are just too much. It's an actual turn off instead of turn on for me,' wrote one, while a second penned: 'I'm grimacing when that s*** starts.'
'LET YOURSELF GO' - John Terry's wife Toni, 40, shows off rock hard abs in bikini - as football star makes cheeky dig at her
Football star John Terry's wife Toni Terry showed off her rock-hard abs on a winter break to Turkey.

The 40-year-old posed in a black bikini gazing out to sea - but he couldn't resist making a cheeky dig in the comments.

She captioned the snap: "October sunshine" adding the hashtags "#love" and "#happy".

But former Chelsea captain John, 40, replied: "You have let yourself go a bit babe… Time to get back in the gym."
Amanda Holden, 50, turns up the heat as she showcases her enviable frame in a skimpy red bikini during sun-soaked family holiday
Amanda Holden sent pulses racing as she treated her Instagram followers to a steamy beachside snap during a sun-soaked family holiday on Friday.

The TV personality, 50, certainly turned up the heat as she strolled along the seashore in a skimpy red bikini.

Wearing her gorgeous blonde tresses in damp waves, the Britain's Got Talent judge wowed onlookers as she flashed her toned pins.
Singapore Reopens For Fully Vaccinated Travellers From 8 More Countries
[Singapore] --- Fully vaccinated travellers from eight more countries will be able to enter Singapore without quarantine from Tuesday, as the business hub eases restrictions and gears up to live with the coronavirus.

The city-state initially fought the pandemic by shutting borders, lockdowns of varying intensity, and aggressive contact tracing but with more than 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated, authorities in the global aviation hub are keen to revive the economy.

They opened travel lanes for vaccinated passengers from Brunei and Germany in September and will expand the scheme from Tuesday to another eight countries -- Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United States.

The lane with South Korea will start on November 15.

Under the policy, passengers will not have to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated and tested negative for the coronavirus before they depart and on arrival.

"Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said October 9, when he announced a raft of measures under the "Living with Covid-19" strategy.

Lee pointed to the Delta coronavirus variant as a factor.

"The Delta variant is highly infectious and has spread all over the world. Even with the whole population vaccinated, we still will not be able to stamp it out," he said.

"Almost every country has accepted this reality."

In addition to focusing on home care for mild and asymptomatic domestic cases, Lee said Singapore needed to resume international travel.

The city-state is home to the regional offices of thousands of multi-national corporations, which rely on Singapore's status as a business and aviation hub for their operations.

"We must continue to re-open our borders safely," Lee said. "Companies and investors need to carry out regional and global business from Singapore. People working for them need to travel to earn a living."

And the success of the city-state's vaccinated lanes project may boost the recovery in the global aviation industry, which was hammered by the pandemic.

"We hope the positive actions taken by Singapore will spur other markets to similarly navigate their pathways towards restarting air travel," said Philip Goh, Asia-Pacific vice president at aviation industry group IATA.
Rhian Sugden sends temperatures soaring as she strips completely NAKED to pose seductively for a VERY racy office photoshoot
Rhian Sugden has stripped off all her clothes to pose completely naked in a provocative photoshoot.

The glamour model, 35, shows off her jaw-dropping curves as she sultrily gazes down the camera in new shots for May Contain Girl.

In one very racy image, Rhian puts on a busty display as she sits seductively on an office chair showing off her ample cleavage.

More... Click Here )
Draya Michele showcases ample cleavage in VERY low cut LBD at The Harder They Fall premiere in Los Angeles
It may have been one of the most star-studded premieres in recent memory. But Draya Michele managed to steal the spotlight.

The 36-year-old model turned heads in a very low-cut number at the Los Angeles premiere of The Harder They Fall in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Rumer Willis goes topless and make-up free as she strips everything back for artistic shots in an outdoor pool
Rumer Willis, 33, took to Instagram to share artistic photographs of herself posing in an outdoor swimming pool.

The American actress went topless and make-up free as she stripped everything back for the seductive shots.

She's the daughter of Hollywood heavyweights Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.
Vaccine Efficacy Against Delta Upto 92% For People Aged 50-75: Study
[Paris] --- Vaccination is highly effective at preventing severe cases of Covid-19, even against the Delta variant, a vast study in France has shown.

The research published Monday -- focusing on prevention of severe Covid and death, not infection -- looked at 22 million people over 50 and found those who had received jabs were 90 percent less likely to be hospitalised or die.

The results confirm observations from the US, the UK and Israel, but researchers say it is the largest study of its kind so far.

Looking at data collected starting in December 2020, when France launched its jab campaign, the researchers compared the outcomes of 11 million vaccinated people with 11 million unvaccinated subjects.

They formed pairs matching an unvaccinated individual with a vaccinated counterpart from the same region and of the same age and sex, tracking them from the date of the vaccinated person's second jab to July 20.

Starting 14 days after a second dose, a vaccinated subjects' risk of severe Covid was reduced by 90 percent, according to the research conducted by Epi-Phare, an independent medicines safety research group that works closes with the French government.

Vaccination appears to be nearly as effective against for the Delta variant, with 84 percent protection for people 75 and older and 92 percent for people 50-75.

That estimate, however, is only based on a month of data, since the variant became dominant in France only in June.

"The study should be followed up to include results from August and September," epidemiologist Mahmoud Zureik, the head of Epi-Phare, told AFP.

The study covers vaccination with the Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna and AstraZeneca jabs, but not Jannsen which was authorised much later and is far less widely used in France.

The results also suggest that over the period of study -- up to five months -- vaccination protection against severe Covid did not diminish.
Global Covid Deaths Hit 5 Million As Delta Variant Sweeps The World
Worldwide deaths related to COVID-19 surpassed 5 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, as the Delta variant causes a surge in death, mainly among the unvaccinated.

More than half of the world has yet to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data.

It took almost over a year for the COVID-19 deaths to hit 2.5 million, while the next 2.5 million deaths were recorded in 236 days, according to a Reuters analysis

More than half of all global deaths reported on a seven-day average were in the United States, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and India.

Globally an average of 8,000 deaths were reported daily over the last week, accounting for five deaths every minute.
Thailand's Phuket Opens To All Fully Vaccinated Travellers
[Bangkok] --- Fully vaccinated travellers from any country can now book holidays to tourism haven Phuket, the Thai government has announced, under tweaks to a struggling quarantine-free travel scheme.

Thailand's tourism industry has been on its knees, with the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions slashing visitor numbers from 40 million in 2019 to a mere trickle over the last two years.

Pre-virus, the sector made up a fifth of Thailand's national income, and the travel curbs have fed into the country's worst economic performance in more than two decades.

The kingdom launched a "sandbox" scheme in July, which allowed fully vaccinated travellers from countries considered low-to-medium risk to roam free on the popular beach island for a fortnight, and then afterwards travel to the mainland without quarantine.

Last week, authorities cut the required stay to a week, in line with national changes to quarantine rules.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand announced late Friday that the scheme had been broadened from the around 80 countries already eligible.

"This means Thailand is now welcoming travellers from any country in the world to the sandbox programme," it said in a statement.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said unvaccinated children would be able to travel with their vaccinated parents.

The sandbox programme has already lured more than 38,000 visitors to the white sands of Phuket, and generated $66.67 million.

But tourism operators are lukewarm on the revival of the island's economy, where 90 percent of hotels have been shuttered.

They have been pleading for the government to simplify entry requirements to increase visitor numbers.

The changes will allow previously excluded Indonesians and Malaysians to travel to Phuket.

Before the pandemic, Malaysia was Thailand's second biggest source of tourists, with more than four million travellers visiting in 2019.

Thai authorities hope to reopen five other destinations, including capital Bangkok, using the sandbox model from the start of November, followed by 20 more locations in December once vaccination rates increase.

However, travel advice from other countries discouraging would-be tourists could hamper Thailand's plans to reboot the industry.

Britain and the US have issued travel warnings as the country grapples with a deadly third wave of the virus and low vaccination rates.

Daily new case numbers are hovering at around 11,000, following a peak of 23,000 in August -- but testing levels have also declined.
France's Sanofi Halts Work On mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine
[Paris] --- French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said Tuesday it was stopping work on an mRNA vaccine against Covid-19 despite positive test results as it lags behind rivals on producing a coronavirus shot.

The company said it would focus instead on another type of jab it is developing with British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and which is in the final phase of human trials.

Sanofi's mRNA vaccine -- the ground-breaking technology used by rivals Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna -- had positive results in phase one and two of clinical trials, the firm said.

But Sanofi said it will not take it into the third and final phase, arguing that it would arrive too late to market with 12 billion Covid doses due to be produced by the end of the year.

Instead, the company will use the mRNA technology for vaccines against other pathogens, including the flu.

"The need is not to create new Covid-19 mRNA vaccines, but to equip France and Europe with an arsenal of messenger RNA vaccines for the next pandemic, for new pathologies," Sanofi's vice-president for vaccines, Thomas Triomphe, told AFP.

"There is no public health need for another messenger RNA vaccine" against Covid-19, he added.

Results from phase three trials of the other vaccine developed with GlaxoSmithKline are expected before the end of 2021.

The firms are combining a Sanofi-developed antigen, which stimulates the production of germ-killing antibodies, with GSK's adjuvant technology, a substance that bolsters the immune response triggered by a vaccine.

Fighting flu and malaria

Messenger RNA works by providing human cells with the genetic instructions to make a surface protein of the coronavirus, which trains the immune system to recognise the real virus.

Sanofi said initial results for the mRNA product showed antibodies were created by 91-100 percent of test participants two weeks after a second injection.

No side effects were observed and tolerance of the jab was comparable to other mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

The immune response from the Sanofi mRNA vaccine "is strong", Triomphe said.

Sanofi had been working since March 2020 with Translate Bio, a US firm specialising in mRNA technology, and had even bought the biotech company for 2.7 billions euros ($3.2 billion) at the start of August.

Sanofi has already launched new tests for a seasonal flu vaccine and intends to start clinical trials next year.

The results from the Covid mRNA vaccine "will clearly help inform the path forward for our mRNA development programs," said Sanofi's global head of research and development, Jean-Francois Toussaint.

"Today, we have a promising mRNA platform, which we're taking to the next level in development, including moving to modified mRNA, and against other diseases, including flu."

Germany's BioNTech, which developed its coronavirus mRNA vaccine with US giant Pfizer, announced in July that it aimed to start trialling a malaria vaccine using mRNA technology.
Covid-19 pandemic cut life expectancy by most since World War Two: Study
[London] --- The COVID-19 pandemic reduced life expectancy in 2020 by the largest amount since World War Two, according to a study published on Monday by Oxford University, with the life expectancy of American men dropping by more than two years.

In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, Zoe Nassimoff, of Argentina, looks at white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's temporary art installation, "In America: Remember," in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington.

Life expectancy fell by more than six months compared with 2019 in 22 of the 29 countries analysed in the study, which spanned Europe, the United States and Chile. There were reductions in life expectancy in 27 of the 29 countries overall.

The university said most life expectancy reductions across different countries could be linked to official COVID-19 deaths. There have been nearly 5 million reported deaths caused by the new coronavirus so far, a Reuters tally shows.

“The fact that our results highlight such a large impact that is directly attributable to COVID-19 shows how devastating a shock it has been for many countries,” said Dr Ridhi Kashyap, co-lead author of the paper, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

There were greater drops in life expectancy for men than women in most countries, with the largest decline in American men, who saw life expectancy drop by 2.2 years relative to 2019.Overall, men had more than a year shaved off in 15 countries, compared to women in 11 countries. That wiped out the progress on mortality that had been made in the previous 5.6 years.

In the United States, the rise in mortality was mainly among those of working age and those under 60, while in Europe, deaths among people aged over 60 contributed more significantly to the increase in mortality. Kashyap appealed to more countries, including low- and middle-income nations, to make mortality data available for further studies.

“We urgently call for the publication and availability of more disaggregated data to better understand the impacts of the pandemic globally,” she said.
All Crypto-Related Transactions Are Illegal, Says China
China's central bank said all cryptocurrency-related transactions are illegal and must be banned, sending the strongest signal yet on its determination to crack down on the industry.

All cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Tether, are not fiat currency and cannot be circulated on the market, the People's Bank of China said on its website. All crypto-related transactions, including services provided by offshore exchanges to domestic residents, are illicit financial activities, the PBOC said in the statement.

This latest harsh directive, which sent Bitcoin dropping as much as 5.5% on Friday, comes as global markets grow increasingly concerned over a debt crisis involving property developer China Evergrande Group. The Chinese government may also be responding to signs that miners are disguising their activities to stay in business.

Vijay Ayyar, head of Asia Pacific with cryptocurrency exchange Luno in Singapore, said that while the Chinese government has made similar statements in the past, it is "a slightly nervous environment for crypto with the recent SEC comments and overall macro environment with the Evergrande news. So any comments of this nature will cause a sell-of in risky assets."

The nation's economic planning agency also said it is an urgent task for China to root out crypto mining, and the crackdown is important to meet carbon goals.

Investors should expect "knee-jerk price reaction as China takes the wind out of Bitcoin's sails," said Antoni Trenchev, co-founder of crypto lender Nexo. "The recent rebound from just below $40,000 has likely run its course for now."
US To Donate 500 Million More Covid Vaccines To Other Countries
[Washington] --- US President Joe Biden will announce Wednesday the US plans to donate an additional 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccines to the rest of the world, bringing its total commitment to 1.1 billion, officials said.

Biden will relay the news at a virtual summit to be held on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, where he will challenge world leaders to vaccinate 70 per cent of every country by September 2022.

The donations are being made "free of charge, no strings attached," a senior administration official said ahead of the meeting.

"For every one shot we have administered in this country to date, we are now donating three shots to other countries," she added.

In his first speech to the UN as president on Tuesday, Biden told delegates that the United States had put more than $15 billion towards the global Covid response and shipped more than 160 million doses to other countries.

The United States and other wealthy countries have been criticized by the World Health Organization for their plans to roll out booster shots for elderly and high-risk populations, while much of the world faces a severe shortage in doses.

However, the administration official said, "We're proving that you can take care of your own, while helping others as well."

70 percent target

Despite the development of safe and highly effective vaccines in record-breaking time, huge disparities exist between countries with ample supply and others that have barely begun their immunization campaign.

Just 3.6 percent of Africa's eligible population has been inoculated -- compared with an average of more than 60 percent in Western Europe.

Biden has invited heads of state, leaders of international organizations, private sector philanthropies, and NGOs for the summit, which begins around 11:00 am Eastern Time (1500 GMT).

"The president will call on world leaders to elevate the global level of ambition to end the Covid pandemic in 2022, and to build back better health security to prevent and prepare for future pandemics," said a second US official.

Washington will seek to rally the world around three goals: increasing vaccine supply; saving lives now by resolving the oxygen crisis and access to testing, medicine and therapeutics; and lastly improving future preparedness.

On vaccines, Biden will set an "ambitious target, which will require all countries to step up, so that every country, including low income and low middle income countries can achieve 70 percent vaccination before UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) of next year," the official said.

The summit will include sessions chaired by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and will be attended by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom.

While the latest global wave peaked in late August, the virus continues to spread rapidly, particularly in the United States which is officially the worst-hit country.

Some 4.7 million have died since the outbreak began in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally from official sources.
Covid Variants Getting Better At Travelling Through Air, Study Shows
[Washington] --- The variants of S-CoV-2 are getting better at travelling through the air, and people must wear tight-fitting masks and ensure better ventilation, in addition to getting vaccinated, to help stop spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a study.

The team led by researchers at the University of Maryland in the US found that people infected withS-CoV-2 exhale infectious virus in their breath, and those infected with the Alpha variant put 43 to 100 times more virus into the air than people infected with the original strains of the virus.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, also found that loose-fitting cloth and surgical masks reduced the amount of virus that gets into the air around infected people by about half.

"Our latest study provides further evidence of the importance of airborne transmission," said Don Milton, professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

"We know that the Delta variant circulating now is even more contagious than the Alpha variant. Our research indicates that the variants just keep getting better at travelling through the air, so we must provide better ventilation and wear tight-fitting masks, in addition to vaccination, to help stop spread of the virus," Mr Milton said. The researchers noted that the amount of virus in the air coming from Alpha variant infections was much more -- 18-times more -- than could be explained by the increased amounts of virus in nasal swabs and saliva.

"We already knew that virus in saliva and nasal swabs was increased in Alpha variant infections," said doctoral student Jianyu Lai, one of the lead authors of the study.

"Virus from the nose and mouth might be transmitted by sprays of large droplets up close to an infected person. But, our study shows that the virus in exhaled aerosols is increasing even more," Lai said. The researchers said these major increases in airborne virus from Alpha infections occurred before the Delta variant arrived and indicate that the virus is evolving to be better at travelling through the air.

To test whether face masks work in blocking the virus from being transmitted among people, the study measured how much S-CoV-2 is breathed into the air and tested how much less virus people sick with COVID-19 exhaled into the air after putting on a cloth or surgical mask.

Face coverings significantly reduced virus-laden particles in the air around the person with COVID-19, cutting the amount by about 50 per cent, the researchers found.

However, the loose-fitting cloth and surgical masks didn't stop infectious virus from getting into the air, they said.

"The take-home messages from this paper are that the coronavirus can be in your exhaled breath, is getting better at being in your exhaled breath, and using a mask reduces the chance of you breathing it on others," Jennifer German, a co-author of the study said.

"This means that a layered approach to control measures -- including improved ventilation, increased filtration, UV air sanitation, and tight-fitting masks, in addition to vaccination -- is critical to protect people in public-facing jobs and indoor spaces," Jennifer German added.
Pfizer Covid Vaccine Safe For Children Aged 5-11: Clinical Trial Results
[Frankfurt, Germany] --- Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday said trial results showed their coronavirus vaccine was safe and produced a robust immune response in children aged five to 11, adding that they would seek regulatory approval shortly.

The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people over 12, they said.

"In participants five to 11 years of age, the vaccine was safe, well tolerated and showed robust neutralising antibody responses," US giant Pfizer and its German partner said in a joint statement.

They plan to submit their data to regulatory bodies in the European Union, the United States and around the world "as soon as possible".

The trial results are the first of their kind for children under 12, with a Moderna trial for six-11 year olds still ongoing.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna jabs are already being administered to adolescents over 12 and adults in countries around the globe.

Although children are considered less at risk of severe Covid, there are concerns that the highly contagious Delta variant could lead to more serious cases.

Innoculating children is also seen as key to keeping schools open and helping end the pandemic.

"We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population," said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, noting that "since July, paediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the US".

Kids in the 5-11 age trial group received a two-dose regimen of 10 microgrammes in the trial, compared with 30 microgrammes for older age groups, the companies said. The shots were given 21 days apart.

The 10 microgramme dose was "carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity" for that age group, the statement said.

Under-5s before year-end

The side effects were "generally comparable to those observed in participants 16 to 25 years of age", it added.

Among the most commonly reported side effects in the past have been pain and swelling at the injection site as well as headache, chills and fever.

Israel has already given special authorisation to vaccinate children aged 5-11 who are "at significant risk of serious illness or death" from Covid, using the Pfizer jab at the lower dosage.

Pfizer and BioNTech are also trialling their vaccine on infants aged six months to two years, and on children aged two to five.

The topline results for those trials are expected "as soon as" the fourth quarter of this year, the companies said.

All together, up to 4,500 children aged six months to 11 years have enrolled in the Pfizer-BioNTech trials in the US, Finland, Poland and Spain.

Like its Moderna rival, the Pfizer jab is based on novel mRNA technology that delivers genetic instructions to cells to build the coronavirus spike protein, in order to evoke antibodies when bodies encounter the real virus.
Blood Plasma Therapy Doesn't Help Seriously Ill COVID-19 Patients: Study
[Toronto] --- Convalescent plasma does not reduce the risk of intubation or death in COVID-19 patients, according to a study which found that people receiving the therapy experienced more serious adverse events than those getting standard care.

Intubation is a procedure where a tube is inserted into the windpipe to make it easier to breath.

The research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, also found that the antibody profile in the blood of people who have had the virus is extremely variable and this may modify the response to the treatment.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses blood from people who have recovered from an illness to help others recover.

"It has been thought that the blood plasma of COVID-19 survivors would help those seriously ill from the virus but, unfortunately, it does not," said co-principal investigator of the study, Donald Arnold, a professor at McMaster University in Canada.

"We are cautioning against using convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 hospitalised patients, unless they are in a closely-monitored clinical trial," Arnold said.

The research team also found that patients receiving convalescent plasma experienced significantly more serious adverse events than those receiving standard care.

The majority of those events were an increased need for oxygen and worsening respiratory failure, they said.

However, the rate of fatal incidents was not significantly different from the control group of patients who did not receive the blood.

The clinical trial, called CONCOR-1, included 940 patients at 72 hospitals in Canada, the US, and Brazil.

The trial found that convalescent plasma had highly variable donor antibody content due to the highly variable immune response to the virus.

Different antibody profiles in the convalescent plasma were observed to significantly impact whether or not patients experienced intubation or death.

Unfavourable antibody profiles, meaning low antibody titres, non-functional antibodies or both, was associated with a higher risk of intubation or death.

“These findings may explain the apparent conflicting results between randomised trials showing no benefit, and observational studies showing better outcomes with higher titre products relative to low titre products," said study co-principal investigator Jeannie Callum, an associate scientist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Canada.

"It appears that it may not be that high-titre convalescent plasma is helpful, but rather that low-titre convalescent plasma is harmful," Callum said.

The researchers noted that the harm may come from the transfusion of convalescent plasma containing poorly functioning antibodies.

"One hypothesis is that those dysfunctional antibodies could compete with the patient's own antibodies and could disrupt the mounting immune response,” said study co-principal investigator Philippe Begin, an associate professor at the University of Montreal in Canada.

"This phenomenon has been observed previously in animal models and in human studies of HIV vaccines," Begin said.

He added that the CONCOR-1 investigators are expecting to collaborate with other international study investigators to understand potential risks and benefits of convalescent plasma.

"This information from Canada's largest clinical trial on convalescent plasma and COVID-19 may be analysed together with the results of several similar studies going on in the world to provide more robust information and insight that will guide clinical practice and health policy globally," Begin added.
Woman Boxer Forced To Leave Afghanistan Amid Taliban Death Threats
[Doha] --- In order to continue her passion for sports, female Afghan lightweight boxing champion Seema Rezai was forced to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban issued death threats to her.

The member of the national female boxing team Ms Rezai told Sputnik that she decided to leave the homeland alone, without her family, as she wanted to continue her boxing training.

"When the Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August, I was at boxing training with my coach. But then some people told the Taliban that there is a girl who trains with a male coach, and they sent me to home a written warning about the need to stop training or continue boxing in the United States, promising to kill if I do not agree to do so," Ms Rezai said.

Ms Rezai departed for Qatar on an evacuation flight and is currently awaiting a visa to the US, where she hopes to pursue her sports career, reported Sputnik.

Ms Rezai began to do boxing professionally at the age of 16. Because of the family's negative attitude towards her hobby, it was her coach that bought her training equipment.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has announced that only women wearing hijab and following Sharia law will have access to education and work.
Researchers Spot World's 'Northernmost' Island But It Can Disappear Soon
[Copenhagen] --- Scientists have discovered what is believed to be the world's northernmost landmass -- a yet-to-be-named island north of Greenland that could soon be swallowed up by seawaters.

An aerial view of a tiny island off the coast of Greenland revealed by shifting pack ice.

Researchers came upon the landmass on an expedition in July, and initially thought they had reached Oodaaq, up until now the northernmost island on the planet.

"We were informed that there had been an error on my GPS which had led us to believe that we were standing on Oodaaq Island," said the head of the mission, Morten Rasch from Copenhagen University's department of geosciences and natural resource management.

"In reality, we had discovered a new island further north, a discovery that just slightly expands the kingdom" of Denmark, he added.

Oodaaq is some 700 kilometres (435 miles) south of the North Pole, while the new island is 780 metres (2,560 feet) north of Oodaaq.

Copenhagen University said in a statement late Friday the "yet-to-be-named island is... the northernmost point of Greenland and one of the most northerly points of land on Earth."

But it is only 30 to 60 metres above sea level, and Rasch said it could be a "short-lived islet".

"No one knows how long it will remain. In principle, it could disappear as soon as a powerful new storm hits."

The autonomous Danish territory of Greenland has grabbed headlines in recent years, most notably in 2019 when former US president Donald Trump said he wanted to buy the Arctic territory.

The proposal, described as "absurd" by the Danish government, caused a diplomatic kerfuffle, but also signalled renewed American interest in the region.

It has also been hard hit by climate change as warmer temperatures have melted its glaciers, causing alarming sea level rise.
Canada Reopens Border For Fully Vaccinated US Citizens
[Lacolle] --- American visitors trickled across the Canada-US border on Monday, cheering the reopening of the world's longest land boundary 17 months after all non-essential travel was halted to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Ottawa lifted quarantine requirements for US citizens and permanent residents arriving with proof of vaccination.

"It's absolutely wonderful," Vicki Poulin said of the border reopening. "We're just so happy to be here."

The Canadian-born resident of Queensbury, New York, her American husband and their dog Sully used to make the trip to see her extended family in Montreal every month, but have not visited since the border was shuttered in March 2020.

"I was so happy that they opened (the border) because I have a lot of friends in Canada," echoed Richard Antaki, who drove nonstop from New York City to be among the first in line at the Lacolle, Quebec border crossing.

He said he was so eager to reconnect with friends in Montreal that he hasn't seen in more than a year and a half that he "didn't touch the brakes" of his car the entire ride up.

Most travellers interviewed by AFP said their crossings went smoothly, with lineups much shorter than expected.

The changes come, however, as Covid-19 cases are starting to surge once again across North America, led by the Delta variant after a steep drop in infections in early summer.

Ottawa and Washington had faced increasing pressure from travel and tourism groups to ease travel and border restrictions.

A strike by Canadian border agents last week risked throwing border reopening plans into turmoil, but quick negotiations led to a new collective agreement and in the end there were no major disruptions.

US citizens and permanent residents who have had their full course of doses of a vaccine approved by Canadian authorities at least 14 days before arrival will be allowed to cross.

Travellers must also be asymptomatic on arrival.

Washington, however, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, was "continuing to review" its border restrictions for Canadians wishing to head south for a vacation.

Half of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while 81 percent of Canadians have received a single dose and 68 percent are fully immunized.
'Indiscriminate' Afghan Fighting Hurting Civilians The Most, Says UN
[Kandahar, Afghanistan] --- Afghan forces battled the Taliban for control of a key provincial capital Tuesday, as the United Nations warned "indiscriminate" gunfire and air strikes were hurting civilians the most.

Officials said insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah -- capital of Helmand province and the scene of days of fierce fighting -- leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.

In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault.

The hardline Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in early May, but are meeting resistance as they try to take provincial capitals.

That urban fighting, however, is taking its toll on civilians.

"Taliban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm," the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted Tuesday, referring to the Afghan national army.

"Deep concerns about indiscriminate shooting & damage to/occupation of health facilities & civilian homes."

"Fighting was intense this morning," said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Helmand's capital, whose station was captured by the Taliban.

"We stopped broadcasting two days ago because the Taliban captured the building of our station."

Afghan officials said Tuesday that 11 radio and four television stations in the city had been seized by the Taliban.

"Terrorists do not want the media to publish the facts and expose their injustices," the Ministry of Information and Culture said.

The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.

In Herat, Afghan officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several areas of the city -- including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.

"Afghan security forces plus resistance forces launched a big operation in west of the city," Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat's governor, told AFP.
Greece Suffering Worst Heatwave In More Than 30 Years
[Athens] --- Firefighters were battling two large wildfires in Greece on Monday, as the prime minister said the country was suffering its worst heatwave in more than three decades.

Tourists walk through water sprayed by a mister at a cafe during a heatwave in Athens, Greece.

Fires have also raged across Turkey, Spain and Italy over the weekend with experts warning climate change was increasing both the frequency and intensity of such blazes.

More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of pine and olive groves have been torched by a fire that broke out on Saturday near the city of Patras, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Athens, according to the National Observatory of Athens citing EU satellite images.

And the authorities were rushing to bolster crews fighting a blaze on the island of Rhodes near Turkey.

"We are facing the worst heatwave since 1987," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, adding that the authorities were doing "everything possible" to deal with the situation.

After meeting electricity providers, he warned that the brutal heat was putting a strain on the power network and asked for Greeks to limit their consumption in the early afternoon and during the night.

Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said that there had been 1,584 fires across Greece in July compared to 953 in 2019, and that there had been 116 new blazes in just the last 24 hours.

"We are no longer talking about climate change but about a climate threat," he told Star TV.

The fire near Patras was not fully under control on Monday, the country's weather service told the ANA news agency.

And temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) have been forecast for nearby areas, posing new risks for land already parched by the heatwave.

Officials have evacuated five villages and a seaside town and eight people have been hospitalised with burns and respiratory problems.

Help sent to Rhodes

However, officials were optimistic that a fire on the island of Rhodes, near the Turkish coast, was on the back foot after more firefighters and resources were deployed overnight.

"Dawn finds Rhodes much better than the day before," South Aegean Governor George Hatzimarkos said in a statement.

He added that the fronts of the fire were receding and "almost under control".

More than 100 firefighters, helped by 20 vehicles, three planes and six helicopters, were sent to Rhodes on Monday morning, officials said.

Dozens more firefighters and 14 vehicles were due to arrive from Athens later in the day.

Firefighters evacuated a central area on the island known as "the Valley of the Butterflies" popular with hikers and tourists on Sunday.

Temperatures of between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius have been forecast for the island in the coming days, with the heatwave expected to peak on Monday and Tuesday.

Nearby Turkey is suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.
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