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CanSino: Beijing rolls out inhaled vaccine during its biggest Covid surge ever | Society

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Amid the worst Covid surge to hit Beijing since the start of the pandemic, the city is offering residents a new inhaled vaccine, the first of its kind according to local press reports. Chinese public health authorities approved the booster drug in September for emergency use by adults over the age of 18. It has been available in Shanghai since the end of October, and is also used in a handful of other Chinese cities. The inhaled vaccine was rolled out in Beijing last week, where the daily number of infections continues to climb since the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party ended in late October. Many housing blocks have been locked down, and schools, stores and restaurants have been closed in some city districts.

The whitish vaccine mist is contained in a plastic cylinder with a straw through which it is inhaled and held in the lungs for five seconds. “The taste is quite good,” said one Beijing resident interviewed by the state-owned CCTV television broadcaster. “It’s a little sweet and fragrant. It doesn’t make you gag” he added. Another recent user told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post: “It’s like drinking a cup of milk.”

The drug was developed by CanSino Biologics, a Chinese company based in Tianjin that developed one of the injected coronavirus vaccines already in use. The inhaled drug is similar to the injected form of the vaccine in that it uses a common cold adenovirus vector to introduce coronavirus genetic information into human cells. Unreviewed studies published in The Lancet in January indicate that Convidecia AirTM, as the vaccine is called, may be effective as a booster. CanSino’s Condvidecia injectable has been approved for use in more than a dozen countries, including Hungary, Argentina, Mexico and Pakistan, according to the Associated Press news agency. The inhaled vaccine will only be administered to adults who have received two injections of an inactivated vaccine or one injection of CanSino’s adenovirus vector-based vaccine, according to China’s official Global Times daily newspaper.

Beijing is hoping the inhaled vaccine rollout will help revive stagnant booster numbers amid a surge of coronavirus infections that recently reached 28,000 new cases. Covid boosters have been available in China since mid-2021, and 890 million have been administered to 63% of the population, according to official data from early November. Despite being the most vulnerable population, only 40% of people over 80 in China have received a booster, compared to 84.5% of those over 60 in the European Union.

China does not offer any messenger RNA vaccines, considered more effective than inactivated virus or adenovirus vaccines. During German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s controversial visit to Beijing in early November, he managed to extract a tepid commitment from Chinese authorities to evaluate the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for expatriates living in China. Scholtz said he was confident that this was a first step towards wider approval, although other European diplomatic sources remain skeptical.

China is one of the few countries in the world and the only major power still clinging to a strict zero Covid strategy that involves mass testing, total or partial lockdowns of cities when the first few cases are detected, and rigorous technology-driven case and contact tracing that seem like something out of a science fiction movie.

People line up to get a nucleic acid test at a mass testing site following a Covid-19 outbreak in Beijing.
People line up to get a nucleic acid test at a mass testing site following a Covid-19 outbreak in Beijing. THOMAS PETER (Reuters)

Beijing records first China Covid deaths in six months

A dark cloud hangs over Beijing these days – all anyone talks about is Covid and its daily toll. The megacity of 21 million people now has more than 1,400 new cases every day, the highest daily number ever, and just reported China’s first three Covid-related deaths in the last six months. Before that, the most recent fatality occurred on May 26 in Shanghai during a surge that ripped through the financial metropolis and closed it down for more than two months. Chinese press reports say that the three who recently died in Beijing were between 87 and 91 years old and all suffered from pre-existing conditions.

“The city is facing the most complex and serious prevention and control challenge since the initial coronavirus outbreak,” said Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in a public statement reported by Reuters. The outbreak is concentrated in Chaoyang, a district with many foreign embassies and office buildings, and home to about 3.5 million people.

China seems to travelling through uncharted territory as it tries to balance its “dynamic” zero Covid policy and the progressive easing of restrictions it euphemistically calls “optimization.” In mid-November, the government approved a number of Covid-related measures including relaxing quarantine requirements for international travelers and those who have had close contact with an infected person. During the presentation of these new measures, Chang Jile, deputy director of the National Administration for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed the need to “accelerate” immunization and booster shots, especially among the elderly. “They are the ones who need it the most,” he said, and called on them to get vaccinated and disregard “internet rumors and disinformation.”

It’s not clear how this Covid balancing act will be influenced by President Xi Jinping’s attendance of the G-20 summit in Bali and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok, where he met with dozens of world leaders without wearing a mask. John Lee, head of the Hong Kong government, tested positive for Covid after attending the summit in Bangkok, where he was seated next to Xi. Neither one was wearing a mask. The Chinese leader didn’t leave the country throughout most of the pandemic and only recently began to travel abroad. His attendance at the two summits followed a September visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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‘Destitution is almost inevitable’: Afghan refugees in Greece left homeless by failed system | Migration and development

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Mohammad Ashraf Rasooli, 70, looks at his five-year-old granddaughter, sitting on the floor next to him watching cartoons on a phone. They live in a two-bedroom flat in a suburb of Athens. “Even tomorrow, we don’t know what will happen to us,” he says.

The former judge and legal adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Justice, who had a role in putting together the 2004 Afghan constitution, is facing eviction with his family, including his three grandchildren. This is in line with regulations in Greece, which state that once someone has obtained refugee status, they must leave the accommodation provided for them within 30 days.

Since being evacuated to Greece last October, the family have been in limbo, hoping to join relatives in the UK and grieving for lives left behind in Kabul. Due to Rasooli’s high-profile work, as well as that of his daughter, a former journalist, and his son-in-law Fazel Sultani, a prosecutor at the Ministry of Justice, the family had gone into hiding after the Taliban stormed Kabul.

“We had a lot of problems, because the Taliban were saying if somebody had worked with NGOs or international organisations we’d be killed. It was very difficult for me to be there; we went to hide in a few places until we got evacuated,” says Rasooli. He scrolls through his phone to show photos of his home, pointing out books on the shelves, including legal texts he wrote, which he has been told have since been destroyed by Taliban soldiers.

The family has tried to make the best of things and the children are in Greek schools, but until recently, Rasooli feared to go outside in case his papers were checked. They had to wait until this month to receive asylum seeker ID cards.

They struggled to navigate a catch-22 system whereby access to rent subsides requires having a rental contract, while landlords will not rent without proof of the subsidies.

Rasooli and his family are not alone, says Minos Mouzourakis, an advocacy officer at Refugee Support Aegean (RSA). “Destitution is almost inevitable for refugees recognised in Greece. Expecting them to promptly leave accommodation despite exclusion from social welfare and protracted, often year-long, delays in renewing documents is a policy choice breaching the country’s legal obligations according to jurisdictions across the continent,” he says.

Mohammad Ashraf Rasooli (second left), sits with Fazel Sultani, his son-in-law, granddaughter and daughter in their flat in Athens, Greece.
Mohammad Ashraf Rasooli (second left), sits with Fazel Sultani, his son-in-law, granddaughter and daughter in their flat in Athens. Photograph: Anna Pantelia/The Guardian

RSA has gathered more than 100 testimonies of recognised refugees in Greece who have turned to jobs such as collecting waste cardboard around Athens to sell to recycling companies. For such work they may earn between €10 and €20 a day.

RSA has recorded cases where refugees returned to Greece have faced destitution, such as Soraya* and Somaya* from Afghanistan who were sent back from Sweden in June this year. They are now reliant on soup kitchens and solidarity networks and must wait until January 2023 to get identification documents. Some courts, in countries such as Germany, have halted returns of refugees to Greece judging that they are likely to face inhumane or degrading treatment.

“The situation for recognised refugees in Greece is dire. It is commonplace that people granted protection status in Greece face destitution and homelessness following their positive asylum decision,” says Lucy Alper, a legal coordinator with Refugee Legal Support in Athens.

“The only integration programme, Helios, funded by the EU and implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is not fit for purpose. Many people enrolled in the Helios programme cannot access the limited rental subsidies offered, as they must first open a Greek bank account, pay a deposit on a flat and sign a house contract via the government’s online platform. Barriers are at every turn, exacerbated by the bureaucracy of the Greek asylum system.

“Notwithstanding these failures, people are being evicted from their accommodation. There is no safety net,” says Alper.

The IOM says 19,000 people had leased an apartment so far, which spoke to the “feasibility of the requirements”. They added there are, “all the necessary services to support recognised refugees in finding and leasing apartments … IOM in coordination with its partners ensures support and interpretation in issuing all required documents … whenever obstacles are encountered, targeted support is provided to solve possible problems.” It says it had no “recorded cases” of difficulties from those who applied within the appropriate time frame due to bureaucracy.

Rasooli hopes to go to the UK under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) but has a rejection that is under review. His initial rejection letter, seen by the Guardian, states that since he has asylum in Greece, he will have access to medical care and is in relative safety – facts disputed by NGOs who have documented the precariousness of life for refugees in the country.

For now, the family remains in Athens, hopeful for an offer of an apartment for the short term. Nothing about the future is certain.

The Greek Migration Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

* Names have been changed to protect identities

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Europe Lost Russia as Energy Supplier, Russian Envoy Says

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VIENNA (Sputnik) – Russia’s Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said Europe has lost Russia as its largest energy supplier.

“Isn’t it vice versa: Europe has lost Russia as its largest energy supplier to get the opportunity to buy the US LNG at a much higher price? Great achievement!” Ulyanov wrote on Twitter.

It was his response to a user post that quoted the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) saying Russia had lost Europe as its largest energy client “forever.”

IEA chief Fatih Birol said in October that Russia had lost the European oil and gas market forever and would face a drop in production. The West stepped up sanctions pressure on Russia over Ukraine, which led to higher prices for electricity, fuel and food in Europe and the United States.

A view shows gas metering units at the Gazprom's Amur Gas Processing Plant near the town of Svobodny, Amur Region, Russia. The plant was launched on June 9, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.11.2022

Russia Determined Not to Sell Energy Resources to Those Who Set Price Caps: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin said cheap and reliable Russian energy resources were Europe’s competitive advantage, and even a partial rejection of them already had a negative impact on its economy and residents. The US, pushing through the EU’s complete rejection of Russian energy carriers and other resources, is leading to the de-industrialization of Europe, he said.

Putin, commenting on the West’s idea to limit prices for Russian energy resources, said Russia would not supply anything abroad if this was contrary to its own interests.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Russia would not supply oil to countries that set any price cap. He added that such restrictions were interference in market tools, and Moscow was prepared to work with consumers ready for market conditions.



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Kirchner: Argentina’s vice-president blasts ‘firing squad’ overseeing her corruption trial | International

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“Last words…” said Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from her office in the Senate, staring at the camera. She paused for a second, smiled and delivered the line she had already envisaged as a headline. “Never has a judicial term been so appropriate to define what this court is: it is a firing squad.”

Her words were aimed at three federal judges who on December 6 will decide whether she is guilty of leading an alleged scheme to divert state funds through public works contracts. The prosecution wants Fernández de Kirchner to spend 12 years behind bars and be permanently barred from holding public office.

Fernández de Kirchner, 69, has been charged with “illicit association” and “aggravated fraudulent administration” in connection with a corruption case involving 12 other defendants and known in Argentina as the Vialidad Case. The 51 contracts under scrutiny were awarded in the province of Santa Cruz, the political cradle of Kirchnerism, to companies owned by a friend of the Kirchners, Lázaro Baez, over a 12-year period (Baez has since been sentenced to 12 years in prison for money laundering). Prosecutors said many contracts were inflated and some were never carried out. They have estimated that the scheme cost the state around $1 billion. The defendants include officials accused of collecting bribes and businesspeople suspected of paying them.

But the vice-president claims to be a victim of political persecution.

“A government that was democratically elected three times is not an ‘illicit association’,” she said, alluding to the government of her late husband Néstor Kirchner (2003 -2007) and her own two terms in the president’s office between 2007 and 2015.

On Tuesday, the vice-president spoke for less than 20 minutes, a far cry from the long speeches she has given in the past in court. At her first hearing on December 2, 2019, she claimed to be the victim of a case in which the sentence had been decided ahead of time. The ultimate goal of the trial, according to the vice-president, is to remove her from politics and erode Peronism, the movement she represents.

“The sentence is written, but I never thought it would be so badly written,” said Fernández de Kirchner, accusing the two lead prosecutors in the case, Diego Luciani and Sergio Mola, of spreading lies about her. To reinforce the idea of the firing squad, she recalled the assassination attempt against her outside her house in early September.

Kirchner has maintained throughout the trial that the entire investigation against her is a set-up by the opposition to imprison her. Her lawyers have uploaded a document entitled “The Twenty Lies of the Vialidad Case” to social media.

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