Wednesday, 31 March 2021: 14 countries question quality of WHO study, Germany suspends Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for those under 60, French air strike killed 19 civilians in Mali

⊂ EUROPE ⊃

14 countries question quality of WHO study: The United States and 13 other countries expressed concerns on Tuesday that the World Health Organisation (WHO) report on the origins of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was delayed and lacked access to complete data, according to a joint statement. The joint WHO-China study said transmission of the coronavirus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and a lab leak is extremely unlikely. After the study’s release, the US and more than a dozen other countries called for a second-phase look by experts and pointed to the need for further animal studies to find the means of introduction into humans of the coronavirus. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China refused to provide raw data on early Covid-19 cases to the WHO-led team, potentially complicating efforts to understand how the global pandemic began. Tedros said that he did not believe that this assessment was extensive enough.
apnews.com, reuters.com, politico.eu

Donors pledge more than $6 billion to tackle Syria’s crisis: The EU, the US and dozens of other nations pledged 6.4 billion dollars in aid Tuesday to help tackle war-ravaged Syria’s deepening humanitarian and economic crises and assist neighbouring countries hosting refugees. The promise of aid came on the final day of an annual conference co-hosted by the United Nations and the EU amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic. The conflict in Syria has entered its 11th year with no political solution in sight. The EU said it committed to 3.7 billion euros for 2021 and beyond. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pledged 1.738 billion euros on Germany’s behalf, an amount he described as the country’s largest pledge in the last four years. Meanwhile, the UK cut its pledge to at least 205 million pounds, compared to 300 million last year. A group of 37 aid agencies said they were disappointed.
apnews.com

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Death toll since Myanmar coup tops 500: Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army ousted an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, reimposing military rule after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy. More than 500 people have been killed in the junta’s brutal crackdown on protests against its coup, a local monitoring group said Tuesday. The grim toll was passed as world powers ramped up their condemnation of the military’s ruthless campaign against the movement demanding the restoration of democracy and release of Suu Kyi.
nbcnews.com, france24.com

Climate: EU Commission to promote alternative fuels handelsblatt.com
China: Beijing passes new election law for Hong Kong that restricts opposition cnn.com

⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃

The Covid-19 pandemic is indeed much more than just a health issue. It has cut across every sector of our societies. Highlighting our strengths and exposing our weaknesses.
EU Council President Charles Michel during a joint press conference with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
consilium.europa.eu

⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃

Germany suspends Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for those under 60: German Health Minister Jens Spahn and the 16 state health ministers on Tuesday decided to suspend the routine use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for people under age 60 at an emergency meeting. The decision came amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of younger people who received the vaccine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the new age limitations. „Trust comes from the knowledge that every suspicion, every single case will be looked into,“ she said after a consultation with Germany’s state premiers. Spain has decided to remove an upper age limit of 65 years on the AstraZeneca vaccine and give Johnson & Johnson’s version of the jab to people aged over 66, Cadena Ser radio reported on Tuesday. Austria has announced that it is in talks with Russia to buy one million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. „There should be no geopolitical borders,“ Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday, „the only thing that should matter is whether the vaccine is effective and safe.“ According to a „Politico“ report, Austria is threatening to block the EU Commission from securing another 100 million BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine doses unless Vienna gets a bigger slice of the delivery. The government in Vienna immediately denied the report.
dw.com (Germany); reuters.com (Spain); euronews.com, politico.eu, n-tv.de (Austria)

French air strike killed 19 civilians at Mali wedding party: A French air strike in January killed 19 civilians and three armed men at a wedding in Mali, United Nations investigators said on Tuesday, contradicting France’s account that only Islamist militants were hit. The French defence ministry rejected the report’s findings. In a statement, the ministry said the strike followed a “robust targeting process” that identified the targets as militants. France has been embroiled in an eight-year conflict in Mali, a former French colony, where Islamist insurgents with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State operate in the vast desert. The human rights division of the United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said it had visited the village of Bounti where the attack took place on 3 January, analysed satellite images and interviewed more than 400 people, including at least 115 in face-to-face, individual sessions.
reuters.com

Slovakia reshuffled its leadership: Igor Matovic, who unexpectedly won last year’s elections, resigned on Tuesday, in line with an agreement among the four ruling coalition groups. President Zuzana Caputova asked Eduard Heger, the finance minister in Matovic’s cabinet, to lead the new government. The reshuffle calms a month-long political crisis that erupted when Matovic’s partners complained that he agreed to buy Russian Sputnik V shots behind their backs.
bloomberg.com

Syrian refugee withdraws bid for German parliament seat after threats: Tareq Alaows, who came to Germany in 2015 as a Syrian refugee and was seeking to become a member of parliament for the Greens, said he was withdrawing his candidacy after receiving a torrent of threats and racist insults. The candidate, who said he wanted to fight for the rights of refugees in Germany, quickly became the target of social media attacks. Many of those attacking him for his declared desire to change how Germany deals with race, said if he wanted change he should go back to Syria and do something there. Politicians from other parties expressed their solidarity with Alaows. Paul Ziemiak, secretary-general of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, wrote on Twitter: “I’m angry that a committed young man is withdrawing his application for political office because he is the target of racist attacks … We democrats stand together against hatred and agitation.”
politico.eu, dw.com

Face masks obligatory on beaches in Spain: A strict new law in Spain will require people to wear face coverings at all times outdoors, even while sunbathing on beaches. It replaces the current rules, which have been in force since June 2020, that only require face coverings to be worn when social distancing is restricted. According to papers published in Spain’s official gazette, those aged six and over must wear masks on public roads, in open-air spaces and in any closed space for public use or that is open to the public. The Italian government is to introduce a mandatory five-day quarantine for EU travellers over the Easter holidays, amid a third wave of infections in a number of countries. Ireland will take tentative steps out of a three-month lockdown after Easter but must beware of a potential fourth wave of infection, Prime Minister Micheál Martin told the nation Tuesday evening.
telegraph.co.uk (Spain), bbc.com (Italy), politico.eu (Ireland)

France: Health ministry’s consultancy deals under investigation politico.eu
Italy confiscated 60 million masks due to defects zeit.de
Germany fines Heckler & Koch for illegal arms sales to Mexico dw.com
Catalonia still without a new government faz.net
This is how Portugal succeeded in the Covid turnaround tagesspiegel.de

⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃

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⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃

Britons in France could lose driving licences: Thousands of British citizens in France have been left without a valid driving licence, or face losing theirs within months, because of bureaucratic overload and the failure of the two countries’ governments to sign a post-Brexit reciprocal agreement. The French government announced late last year that, as a consequence of Brexit, British residents of France would need to exchange their UK licences for French ones, and would have until 31 December 2021 to apply to do so. However, those applying to exchange their licences since January have had their requests systematically rejected by a new French online system on the grounds that no reciprocal licence agreement is yet in place between the UK and France.
theguardian.com

 

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