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Some countries are eying Sweden’s ‘light-touch’ Covid response. It’s a gamble that could backfire

Such comments have emboldened governments flirting with the idea of adopting Sweden's “light-to..

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Such comments have emboldened governments flirting with the idea of adopting Sweden's "light-touch" approach, in the hope they can soften the blow to their economies. There was reason for optimism when Kim Sneppen, from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, made his comments. Sweden's infection and death rates had been low for weeks, despite a second wave rolling over Europe. It seemed to mark a turnaround for the country, which experienced one of the highest death tolls in the world per capita during the spring. The problem is, the science isn't in on whether immunity is building in Sweden at all, after the country resisted lockdowns and let the virus spread through much of its population.UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, nonetheless, announced changes to restrictions in England last week, shaping the country's Covid-19 response in the image of Sweden's. Experts in both the UK and Sweden are warning that doing so could be dangerous.The UK has been experiencing record high numbers in daily infections, yet Johnson tightened restrictions only slightly, placing more emphasis on personal responsibility to prevent viral transmission, as Swedish authorities have done. The most significant change to the rules is a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants, forcing them to close just an hour earlier than they typically did. Now only table service is allowed, to avoid people lining up at bars to order food and drinks, as is the case in Sweden.As most of the Western world went into lockdown over the spring, Sweden's response was an outlier. It only issued advice to its citizens to practice social distancing and personal hygiene. Sweden typically doesn't mix public health and politics, and it doesn't typically use the law to influence behavior to protect people's health. So it kept open its bars and restaurants, as well as schools for under-16s, as other countries had them shuttered.But even Sweden's government now admits that this likely contributed to its high death toll of more than 5,800 people in the country of around 10 million. Almost half of those deaths occurred in Sweden's care homes for the elderly.While UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has insisted that likening the UK's new measures to Sweden's is a mischaracterization, a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the Prime Minister took advice from the architect of Sweden's response, Anders Tegnell, just two days before he announced his Swedish-style changes."The Prime Minister canvassed a wide variety of scientific opinions over the weekend and on Sunday he took evidence from a number of scientists, which he used to formulate the package of measures he introduced," the spokesperson said. "It was an opportunity for people to give advice freely."

Herd immunity debate resurfaces

It's too soon to declare victory in Sweden, and even officials in the country are making clear they are not out of the woods. After a deadly spring and summer, the situation in Sweden appeared under control — its infection rate is around 38 cases for every 100,000 people, EU data shows. In the UK, it's around 87 and in Spain it's 320. But there has been an uptick in Sweden in the past week, and Tegnell himself has conceded that authorities may now need to implement tighter restrictions at the local level and recommend mask-wearing in public areas, like shops, for the first time since the virus arrived — something he has spoken out against doing for months. On Thursday last week, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven described the increase in cases as "worrying."Sweden's Public Health Agency denied the country was backpedaling in its approach, saying in an email to CNN that it had always been prepared to advise the use of masks and impose restrictions in certain situations. But the recent interest in Sweden has marked a return to the debate on "herd immunity," the idea that if a certain percentage of your population is immune to a virus, the virus cannot transmit easily and will eventually die out. Scientists say that many viruses can be combated this way when 60-70% of a population is immune but that is usually achieved with a vaccine. A White House coronavirus taskforce member, Dr. Scott Atlas, has denied reports that he advocated adopting Sweden's model in the US or that he was a proponent of the "herd immunity" approach. But a senior administration official told CNN that all the policies Atlas had pushed for were in the vein of a herd immunity strategy.But research shows that even in hard-hit cities, like Stockholm, only around 15% of people tested positive to Covid-19 antibodies. In the US, less than 10% of people have tested positive, well short of herd immunity. How much proteccartion those antibodies give and for how long are also unknowns.During the pandemic, much of the talk about immunity has focused on antibodies, but researchers are also looking at T cells, which can fight a virus after infection and play a role in immunity, as well.One peer-reviewed study by researchers from Sweden's Karolinksa Institutet showed a higher than expected level of T-cell reaction in the blood samples of healthy people. They tested people with either mild or asymptomatic Covid-19, as well as healthy blood donors, as a control group.People dining in Stockholm on March 27. Sweden kept restaurants open as much of Europe went into lockdown. What was surprising was that T-cell reactions were seen in 30% of healthy blood donors who had no known history of Covid-19 infections. That's twice the rate of people who tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in Stockholm. Researchers hope that these results mean there is much more immunity in the population that previously thought. Immunologist Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, who is also from the Karolinska Institutet but did not work on the study, warned that there was no clear evidence yet that what was happening in test tubes was actually playing out in real life. In other words, no one knows for sure that having T cell reactions to the virus in your blood actually means they will help a person infected with the novel coronavirus. She also explained that even if the T cells did fight the virus, governments shouldn't allow Covid-19 to simply rip through the public in an attempt to build herd immunity. There are two reasons for that: It's not clear that past Covid-19 infections are even the reason T cells are reacting to the virus in test tubes. She pointed to another study that showed T cell reactions in 40 to 60% of samples from blood donors from 2018, long before the virus was presumably transmitted to humans for the first time.That suggests that something else — perhaps past infections of similar viruses — were causing this reaction, and possibly some immunity."There are indications that there is something that has been present in the population before this virus came along, and the question is, does it help us?" she told CNN.She explained that T cells were like "trained soldiers" that have come across a threat before and are "recalled" when it faces the same or similar threat again. "That's what's happening in test tubes — you recall the response and then react against SARS-Cov2, but if they have been trained to do that before the virus existed, they must have been trained by something else. That is why the argument is that there is most likely we have a 'cross immunity.' However, does that protect us? We have no idea." The second problem with letting the virus loose in populations is that, even if you protect the vulnerable, there could be long-term health consequences, Söderberg-Nauclér said."We know at least 10% of people are getting ill long-term, and five to six months after being infecteRead More – Source

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Denmark asylum: Law passed to allow offshore asylum centres

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Denmark has passed legislation allowing it to relocate asylum seekers to third countries outside the European Union while their cases are reviewed.

The project, proposed by the Social Democrat-led government, would seek partner countries to run camps and fund agencies along migration routes.

But the European Commission said it had concerns about the law, and a leading NGO said it was irresponsible.

Denmark has repeatedly tightened its immigration policies in recent years.

This follows a peak of more than 21,000 asylum seekers arriving in Denmark in 2015.

MPs voted for the bill by 70 votes to 24.

“If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark,” said government spokesman Rasmus Stoklund, quoted by Reuters news agency.

The asylum cases would be reviewed in the third country and the applicant could potentially be given protection in that country.

 

But the European Commission was critical of the law.

“External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection,” said spokesman Adalbert Jahnz, quoted by Reuters news agency.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), a leading NGO, said in a statement that MPs had “effectively voted in the blind”, as the model they had backed did not yet exist.

“The idea to externalise the responsibility of processing asylum seekers’ claims is both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity. We have repeatedly called on the Danish members of parliament to reject this bill,” it said.

The council added that there was now a risk of countries hosting larger numbers of refugees would also opt out.

Denmark recently signed a migration deal with Rwanda leading to speculation that it intends to open a facility there.

Two weeks ago it became the first European country to revoke residence status for more than 200 Syrian refugees.

Danish authorities say parts of Syria are safe enough to return to but the move has sparked protests from activists and community groups.

Last year the UK considered building an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island, a remote territory in the Atlantic Ocean, but decided not to proceed.

Australia has also caused controversy in recent years with its use of camps for processing asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57343572

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Russia to pull troops back from near Ukraine

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After weeks of tension over a build-up of Russian troops close to Ukraine’s border, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered a number of units in the area back to their bases.

The EU estimated that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers had amassed near the border as well as in Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014.

Speaking in Crimea, Mr Shoigu said units on exercise would return to base.

The aims of the “snap checks” had been achieved, he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him in the conflict zone, welcomed the decision to “de-escalate” tensions at the border.

“The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defence for the country,” the Russian defence minister said, adding that he had instructed the commanders of units from the 58th and 41st armies as well as several airborne divisions to start returning to their permanent bases on Friday and to complete the operation by 1 May.

President Zelensky raised the troop build-up with European leaders last week. Ukraine’s armed forces chief said Russian military units had been moving into the Rostov, Bryansk and Voronezh regions as well as Crimea, while battalion tactical groups were stationed on the border.

Following Mr Shoigu’s announcement, Nato said that any move towards reversing the escalation would be “important and well overdue”. It added that the Western military alliance remained vigilant.

Nato leaders have called a summit in June when Russia will be high on the agenda.

Although Russia has shrugged off the build-up as training exercises in response to “threatening” actions from Nato, it is also said to be planning to cordon off areas of the Black Sea to foreign shipping. Ukraine fears its ports could be affected.

Russia said all along that these were nothing more than military exercises.

But Moscow knew very well that its troop movements close to Ukraine and in annexed Crimea were making a lot of people very nervous: in Ukraine, Europe and in America.

And that was the point.

Moscow may well have been using the build-up of troops to send a signal to Kyiv, Brussels and, especially, to Washington that Russia is a force to be reckoned with.

US President Joe Biden took notice. Last week, he telephoned President Putin and proposed a summit. True, he also imposed a new round of sanctions over Russia’s “malign activity”. But inside Russia these were perceived as not particularly tough.

A reduction in tension, however, does not mean the end of tension. Russia’s defence minister has made it clear that “Russia is taking measures in response to threats from Nato”.

For example, Moscow is planning to block areas of the Black Sea to foreign shipping for six months.

In a state-of-the-nation address on Wednesday, President Putin warned the West against “crossing a red line”.

Speaking to reporters after the order for troops to return to base, Mr Putin said as far as bilateral relations were concerned “we are ready to welcome the president of Ukraine at any time that is convenient for him”, but in Moscow.

However, he stressed if Mr Zelensky wanted to discuss eastern Ukraine, then he should first meet the leaders there.

Conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in 2014, after the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Russian-backed troops captured large areas of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and declared them both peoples’ republics.

There have been a number of breaches of a ceasefire in the east in recent weeks. A Ukrainian soldier was fatally wounded in shelling on Thursday, in what Ukrainian forces said was a deliberate violation of the ceasefire. Some 14,000 people have died since the conflict began.

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European Parliament meeting assess migrant workers conditions in Gulf region

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By Lailuma Sadid

Qatar is the first county that brings changes into it’s landmark reforms in the Gulf.

The first country in the gulf region is Qatar who introduces a non-discriminatory minimum wage, which is part of a series of landmark reforms to the country’s labour laws. Success in the GCC countries depend on having solid labour laws that are linked to international standards and convections and the implementation of these laws. If the law isn’t good enough then the implementation will be a non-starter.  Mr Houtan addedd.

He said that the collaboration of some international and national organisations brought up really solid laws. They are not being perfectly implemented at once since all revolutionary changes in the labour market takes time and if they happen overnight, it’s not sustainable he added.

In the mean time he also mentions how these labor laws benefit both employers and employees.

Indeed, these laws allow employers to find more local workers with the same skills at a lower cost and employees to be more satisfied because they benefit from a greater power to negotiate and discuss. It’s a win- win situation. The wage issue is a common issue acrosse the GCC region , he said.

According to Mr. Houtan  access to Justice variesfrom  country to country. It is very common to hear that an employee who has worked for the past six months is only paid for the last three months of his work and according to some this is fair and justice has been done. This is no rocket science, this is not justice.

He said: No worker should go a day without being paid or receive their salary a day late. This matter is serious and needs to be more focused on. To overcome this problem, we have the structures in place in the regions that are working, although they need to be improved. They work because everyone comes together, with the support of the European  Unions, trade union and employers etc.

According to Mr. Houtan, That’s is success model that we need to replicate across the GCC countries. In addition, it is obvious that we should not denigrate the importance of Labour inspection and occupational safety and health. It has to be considered as a priority.

Also, another very important point is engaging with the private sector which is key, the role is fundamentally important.

Of course the trade unions as well as the government, the ministry of Labour have been really keen pushing forward the agenda but if the employers don’t play ball again it will be a very slow progress.

The key word for him is coordination and cooperation between different organizations to achieve successful changes in the GCC countries.

Hassan AL-Thawadi is representing of Qatar Ambassador in this meeting, he said:Qatar’s commitment to improving labour related matters and improving lives is constant. The commitment is intrinsic to our national values.

The commitment is intrinsic to our national values enshrined in our constitution and ais the key tenants to our Islamic principles. He added

Mr. Hassan said, these reforms combined with bolstered enforcement mechanisms including electronic based wage protection system demonstrates a commitment to sustainable long-term change that I mentioned previously however we acknowledge that there is a long journey ahead of us and more needs to be done as of the case in every nation of the world. In some countries still not possible to change employers without permission in other countries, but in Qatar it is possible.

Mark from European Delegation, with the contribution for workers to the numbers is only 500,000 workers 50 years ago and 25 million demanded today for the whole Peninsula. However, much more needs to be done to ensure access to dignified living and working conditions of Migrant workers and their families.

In addition to the basic minimum monthly wage of 1000 Qatari riyals 275 $, the legislation ensures that employers must pay allowances of at least 300 and 500 QAR for food and accommodation respectively, if they do not provide them.

Legislation passed last year provided for a six-month transition period for employers to prepare for the new minimum thresholds. First country in the region is Qatar to introduce a non-discriminatory minimum wage, which is part of a series of landmark reforms to the country’s labor laws.

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