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Covid: Flights shut down as EU discusses UK virus threat

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EU officials are discussing a joint response to a new, more infectious Covid-19 variant in the UK, which has sparked travel bans by many countries.

Canada and India joined European states in blocking flights from the UK while Europe-bound train services via the Channel Tunnel have been halted.

The new variant is said to be up to 70% more transmissible, but there is no evidence that it is more deadly.

There is also no proof to suggest that it reacts differently to vaccines.

Two meetings are taking place in Brussels on Monday – one involving health ministers and another with the EU’s crisis response team. But no decision is expected until Tuesday, when EU ambassadors meet.

A French official told the BBC’s Gavin Lee that they were desperate to reopen the borders “as soon as safely possible”, with one option discussed being the requirement that UK travellers – including lorry drivers – prove they have had a recent negative Covid-19 test.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had an “excellent” conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron and was keen to find a solution “in a few hours”.

“I want to stress we in the UK fully understand our friends’ anxieties about the new variant. But it’s also true that the risks of transmission sitting alone in the cab is very low. So we hope to make progress,” he said.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier said the new variant was “out of control”, while Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands announced they had already detected it.

Following the discovery of case in Denmark, neighbouring Sweden banned all foreign travellers from there.

Also on Monday, the EU’s medicines regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in all 27 member states.

The vaccine is already being administered in the UK and in the US, and some European countries plan to begin administering doses from 27 December.

Which countries have acted and how?

France suspended all travel links, including freight lorries, with the UK for 48 hours from midnight (23:00 GMT) on Sunday. Thousands of lorries move between the countries every day.

Eurotunnel said it would suspend access to its Folkestone terminal for traffic heading to Calais. People booked to travel on Monday can get a refund. Trains will still run from Calais to Folkestone.

The ferry terminal at Dover is now closed for all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice because of the French restrictions. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the emergency committee Cobra to discuss the issue on Monday.

Other countries took different action in response to the new virus variant:

  • Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Bulgaria, RomaniaMalta, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all suspended flights from the UK
  • One of the most popular holiday destinations for UK citizens, Spain, also suspended flights
  • Italy blocked all flights from the UK until 6 January, while the Netherlands banned all passenger flights from the UK until 1 January “at the latest”. Ferry passengers are also barred from arriving in the Netherlands from the UK, although freight can continue
  • Belgium halted flights and trains from the UK until the end of Tuesday
  • Greece extended its quarantine period for travellers from the UK from three days to seven
  • In the Republic of Ireland, flights arriving from Britain are banned for 48 hours at least from midnight on Sunday and people have been asked not to “travel to Ireland, by air or sea”. Ferry crossings for freight will continue.
  • Turkey has temporarily banned all flights from the UK, as have Norway and Switzerland
  • Canada has suspended entry of all passenger flights from the UK for 72 hours, effective from midnight (05:00 GMT). Passengers who arrived in Canada from the UK on Sunday would be “subject to secondary screening and enhanced measures, including increased scrutiny of quarantine plans”, it said.
  • Russia is suspending flights from the UK for one week
  • India is suspending flights from the UK from 23:59 (18:29 GMT) on Tuesday until 31 December
  • Hong Kong, IsraelIran, Croatia, Morocco and Kuwait brought in restrictions on UK travel
  • In Latin America, ArgentinaChileColombiaEcuadorEl Salvador and Peru all banned flights from the UK
  • Saudi ArabiaOman and Kuwait went even further, closing their borders completely for a week

The new variant was first detected in September. In November it made up around a quarter of cases in London. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.

Three things are coming together that mean it is attracting attention:

  • It is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus
  • It has mutations that affect part of the virus likely to be important
  • Some of those mutations have already been shown in the lab to increase the ability of the virus to infect cells

All of these come together to build a case for a virus that can spread more easily. However, we do not have absolute certainty. New strains can become more common simply by being in the right place at the right time – such as London.

This variant is unusually highly mutated. The most likely explanation is it emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system that was unable to beat the virus.

There is no evidence yet to suggest the variant makes the infection more deadly, and at least for now the developed vaccines will almost certainly work against it.

However, if the virus changes so it dodges the full effect of the vaccine, then “vaccine escape” happens, and this may be the most concerning element.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55391257

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European Parliamentarians worried about Women’s rights in the UAE

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Cyrus Engerer (S&D) MEP expressed concern about the status of women rights in UAE. He sent an urgent question  to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

 

He said that Women in the UAE face continued discrimination. For example, the Personal Status Law of 2005 states that ‘a husband’s rights over his wife’ include the wife’s ‘courteous obedience to him’ (Article 56), and places conditions on a married woman’s right to work or leave the house (Article 72).

 

His question started that, “Under Article 356 of the Penal Code, ‘debasement of honour with consent’ is punishable by one year or more in prison. On the basis of this law, a Swedish-run hospital in Ajman Emirate was forced to report pregnant, unmarried women to the police. In some cases these referrals have led to prosecution and deportation, according to Amnesty International.”

 

“Additionally, under Article 53 of the Code, ‘a husband’s discipline of his wife’ is ‘considered an exercise of rights’, language that can be read as an official sanction of spousal abuse.” Said the question

 

He added that; However, in 2019, the VP/HR said ‘We always welcome the UAE’s policies … as well as its overall advancement, particularly in the areas of development, youth and women’s empowerment, social communication, tolerance and coexistence.’

 

The MEP concluded with two key questions  about

 

  1. What improvements have there been since this statement on women’s human rights in the UAE?

 

  1. Does the VP/HR plan to address this issue in the future?

PE694.86

 

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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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