EU Reporter

Vaccination drive in EU: Where the problem lies?
Europe

Vaccination drive in EU: Where the problem lies?

European Union is facing backlash over lagged vaccination pace among its member states against Coronavirus infection. The European Commission has imposed strict export controls over vaccines produced within bloc borders after vaccine rollout faced a massive hurdle with insufficient vaccine availability and supply. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has been able to approve, procure and distribute Covid-19 vaccines much faster and efficiently. 

The European Union Vaccine Scheme that was established in June 2020, lets the EU negotiate and purchase Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of the bloc member states. The scheme was formed with the aim that this would avoid competition between nations. Individual countries are not required to join the scheme but still all 27 EU nations did. Despite the scheme, nations are permitted to make individual deals with the manufacturers, like Hungary that procured Russia’s Sputnik V individually. 

The prime problem with delayed vaccination drive across EU nations has been vaccine supply delay by the manufacturers. EU had signed an agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech for their vaccine’s 300 million doses in December 2020. But delay in production and supply has led to staggering vaccination drive in member nations. In order to increase the production capacity of Pfizer, the initially promised doses to certain nations were reduced. The same problem occurred with Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. Oxford vaccine suffered a reduced supply due to pitfall at their production plants in Netherlands and Belgium. 

To tackle the vaccine shortage, European Commission introduced vaccine export control measures on January 29. These measures were imposed to check vaccine export between non-EU part Northern Ireland and EU part Republic of Ireland. This decision was however revoke by the EU after much criticism. 

Next, the skepticism around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine too has taken its toll in form of loss of confidence in people about this vaccine. The vaccine was approved by the EU regulator for all age groups, but later regulators of nations like France and Germany said that the Oxford vaccine shouldn’t be used in people above 65 years of age. 

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The delayed production, supply, and diplomatic controversies related to EU and vaccine manufacturers have led to delayed vaccination drive in EU bloc nations. This has further led to a surge in Covid-19 cases in European nations increasing the death toll. 

Covid-19, alarming data in Europe: increase in hospitalizations in a third of countries
Europe

Covid-19, alarming data in Europe: increase in hospitalizations in a third of countries

Europe struggles to get out of the tunnel of the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to the delay in the delivery of vaccines, the lack of confidence in the population, and the spread of new variants, the number of hospitalizations in the old continent is growing. According to the European Center for Diseases (ECDC) latest data, in about a third of European Union countries, there is an increase in hospitalizations or intensive care units due to Covid-19. While case rates are stable or declining in many countries, epidemic numbers remain high.

This means that coronavirus contagions are still widespread. It is possible that in the coming weeks, there will be an increase in hospital admissions, intensive care, and mortality where now there is a growth in positive cases record.

This is why countries are looking for new solutions. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had a telephone conversation during which they discussed the possibility of Russia supplying Austria with the Sputnik V vaccine. A press release from the Kremlin gave the news, adding that the two leaders also talked about the possibility of starting a joint production of the same vaccine. 

While Italy discusses the possibility of starting the internal production of the vaccine, France has granted temporary authorization to use the monoclonal antibody-based treatment of the American laboratory Eli Lilly for mild or moderate symptomatic forms of Covid 19 in adults not hospitalized, at high risk of severe forms. This is the first monoclonal antibody available in France, specified by the Health Directorate. “To ensure maximum efficacy – a health document reads – the treatment must be administered within a maximum of 5 days after the onset of symptoms. The efficacy on the South African and Brazilian variants is not proven”.

In contrast, the antibody appears to work well against the British variant, and in France, it comes at a time when this mutation becomes dominant. The Eli Lilly laboratory produces this monoclonal antibody in its Fegersheim plant in the Bas-Rhin, France.

But the problem is not only the low availability of the vaccine but also the lack of confidence in the population. That’s why Queen Elizabeth urged her citizens to get vaccinated against Covid, recounting her experience which was “very fast, easy and painless.” In recording the video call she had with health workers engaged in the inoculation campaign, released by Buckingham Palace, the 94-year-old monarch stressed the importance of undergoing the treatment, emphasizing the “feeling of being protected” once done. People should “think of others rather than themselves,” the queen added.

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Elizabeth, along with Prince Philip, experienced the vaccination at Windsor Castle last month. Even then the monarch had wanted the news to be made public to prevent speculation and indeed to boost the campaign. Last week, the 99-year-old husband was taken to the hospital for an infection he is responding well but will keep him hospitalized for several days.

Navalny’s lawyers fear he is being transferred to an undisclosed detention camp
Europe

Navalny’s lawyers fear he is being transferred to an undisclosed detention camp

Russian political activist and a staunch Vladimir Putin critic, Alexi Navalny, is believed to be transferred to an undisclosed detention centre from the Moscow prison, where he was kept earlier. Navalny is currently serving sentence of a little over 2-1/2 years due to  alleged parole violations related 2014 funds embezzlement case, which the Russian dissenting leader denied involvement in and referred as politically motivated. 

On Friday, Vadim Kobzev, one of Navalny’s lawyers, said on Twitter the authorities were moving him out of the Moscow jail to some undisclosed prison camp. He emphasized that the move was against the law as Navalny’s family was not informed about his transfer. 

Eva Merkacheva, a member of Moscow’s public monitoring committee for human rights, said that Navalny was more likely to be transferred to a standard penal colony, whose location would be made public once he is moved there, RIA news agency reported.

Navalny’s arrest sparked one of the country’s biggest protest movements in decades, as several thousands of protestors took to the streets demanding release of the Russian opposition leader. The police detained about 5,100 people, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya to suppress the protest moment which went on for weeks, after his arrest in January. He was detained last month while he was travelling back to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering after being poisoned allegedly by Russian agents.  

Russian authorities undertook several security measures including deploying riot police, national guards, closing certain metro stations in Moscow and blocking main streets to crack down on mass demonstrations.

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Navalny’s detention also created friction between Russia and many Western powers, including European Union and US actively pressing Moscow for his release, accompanied by threats of additional sanctions against Russian officials. Western nations also strongly condemned Kremlin’s suppression of protests. UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab slammed the authorities of detaining people “simply for expressing their dissent”. He added, “We condemn the Russian authorities’ indiscriminate and arbitrary arrest of peaceful protesters and journalists.”

Germany: insects won the war against pesticides; glyphosate will be completely banned by 2023
Europe

Germany: insects won the war against pesticides; glyphosate will be completely banned by 2023

In Germany, the use of pesticides will be strictly prohibited in protected areas and parks, 5 or 10 meters from waterways. It will also be prohibited in meadows, orchards, and in many wild areas, which will be declared protected biotopes. Green areas in cities will be extended.

The use of products suspected of being carcinogenic such as glyphosate will be drastically reduced and completely banned from the end of 2023. Light pollution will also be limited. In the intentions of the government, the package announced in recent days will have to be approved by the Bundestag and Bundesrat in the coming months, by the end of the legislature.

“For insects, this is good news.” German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) said satisfied. The government passed the so-called “insect protection law” despite noisy protests from trade associations. For months the Grand Coalition has clashed with farmers over rules that will make vast green areas untouchable and progressively ban the use of pesticides as harmful as glyphosate.

The passing of the law was preceded by numerous demonstrations of tractors that blew their horns through the main cities of Germany. And the Minister of Agriculture, Julia Klöckner (CDU), is counting on the passage in Parliament to welcome some of the requests made by farmers: compensation and clauses that soften the strict rules decided by the government at the local level.

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Farmers fear losing their crops without pesticides. Those who grow potatoes, for example, fear attacks from worms that devour their roots. Speaking of the law, many would have preferred a different solution: “You can’t decide such a thing by law,” a farmer told the Hessenschau before mounting on his tractor to join the long processions in his region. 

The president of the Brandenburg Farmers’ Association, Henrik Wensdorff, reminded RBB’s microphones that, in his region, there has already been a cut in pesticides on 80% of cultivated land. “We should ask ourselves – he concluded – why all this has not produced an increase in insects”. Even the councilor of the association “Agriculture unites Bavaria”, Michael Muhr, raised doubts about the effectiveness of the package: “I’m sure it will not save a single insect. It will protect only ideologues and electoral votes.” Despite the controversy raised by the category, for the moment insects have won the war against pesticides in Germany and such measures will likely be adopted as an example by other EU member states.

Georgia’s main opposition leader Nika Melia arrested after police stormed in the party HQ
Europe

Georgia’s main opposition leader Nika Melia arrested after police stormed in the party HQ

In a Monday morning violent raid at Georgia’s opposition party, United National Movement (UNM) headquarters, police arrested the main leader of the opposition, Nika Melia. 

After storming in the party HQ, the police used tear gas to disperse Melia’s supporters as many of them had barricaded inside the premises with their leader. Melia was then dragged out by police in Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi. Melia’s arrest dates back to his involvement in the mass anti-government protests in 2019. But the prime reason is the deep political crisis in-country currently.

Since October’s parliamentary elections Georgia is amid mass protests that were sparked after ruling party Georgian Dream party was accused by the opposition of rigging elections and threatening the voters. 

The Prime Minister of South Caucus country, Giorgi Gakharia had presented his resignation last week after the court ruled for the arrest of Melia calling the move a “political escalation”. On Monday, his replacement Irakli Garibashvili was confirmed and went ahead with the arrest of Nika Melia. 

Nika Melia has been accused of provoking 2019 protests and last week was ordered to be arrested after he refused to pay the increased bail fee. The United National Movement leader has denied the charges, saying that they are “part of ongoing repressions against the opposition.” If convicted he would face nine years jail term. 

During the police raid, at least 20 people were detained, as told by the local reports. US embassy and UK embassy condemned the raid on opposition ordered by the court and the ruling government. 

Opposition parties have called in for mass demonstrations on Tuesday over Melia’s arrest. The said protests would be carried outside government headquarters. 

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The storming in of Georgian raid police on opposition’s headquarters and arrest of their leader has sparked risk of country’s descent into authoritarianism amid political crisis in former Soviet country. 

COVID-19, the Boris Johnson plan to bring the UK back to normal
Europe

COVID-19, the Boris Johnson plan to bring the UK back to normal

From the reopening of the stadiums to the concerts until the end of the social distancing scheduled for next June. Boris Johnson offered his “road-map” to get out “irreversibly” and “forever”, albeit “with caution”, from the latest lockdown now in force since January 3 across the United Kingdom and return to normal.

The British Prime Minister will present his plan before the Parliament today. This is an important moment, not just for the UK, because for the first time there is a clear plan for a Western country to exit, more or less definitively, from the nightmare of the coronavirus pandemic, once the vaccination campaign has reached a high rate as the British one. 17.5 million vaccine doses are already in the UK and the entire adult population is expected to be vaccinated by July.

This is the four five-week phases until 21 June. When, if all goes well and if there are no resistant and dangerous mutations of the virus, even social distancing and masks will perhaps become just a memory in the United Kingdom.

PHASE ONE – FROM 8 TO 29 MARCH 2021

On 8 March all schools will reopen, but all workers will still have the obligation to “stay at home” as much as possible. British people will be able to see a person outside the family in the open air even to have a picnic, have a coffee or a drink together sitting in the park, unlike today for which only a walk together or physical exercise is allowed. Patients in nursing homes will be able to receive a visit from one person. From 29 March, it will be possible to meet five other people from other families or more, but in this case only belonging to a maximum of two families such as tennis or golf. And, importantly, the indication to “stay at home” will end, replaced by “stay local”, do not leave your area of ​​residence. Travels abroad are still banned.

PHASE TWO – FROM APRIL 12th 

All non-essential shops will reopen, including hairdressers, bookstores, museums, libraries, zoos, parks, gyms, and swimming pools. Pubs and restaurants reopen but only for outdoor and table service, and here too only the “rule of 6” will be valid, or more, but only if they belong to two families. There will be no curfew to close the premises and bars of any kind. Hotels will be able to resume hosting residents but only if they belong to the same family unit. Funerals are allowed with a maximum of 30 participants, weddings will go from 6 to 15 participants.

PHASE THREE – FROM MAY 17th

The rule of 6 or two families that can be seen outside together also falls, there will be no limits, apart from not exceeding groups of thirty people. The rule of six will however apply to meetings at home or in another closed space. Cinemas, hotels, and B & Bs will reopen for everyone as well as sporting and cultural events to the public with these rules, a theatre or concert hall cannot accommodate more than 2,000 people (or 50% of maximum capacity), while stadiums will not more than 10 thousand people (or at most a quarter of their total capacity). Different families will be able to take vacations together. The maximum number of wedding participants rises to thirty. International travel may be allowed.

LAST PHASE – FROM JUNE 21st

Here even the measures of social distancing should fall in almost all circumstances and therefore also in the pub or restaurant. Discos should reopen, concerts even indoors without limits and large public events, although the advice will always be to work from home and to wear masks at least indoors. In any case, the London government will analyze the contagion data of the first four weeks for each phase and at the fifth, it will decide whether to respect the schedule or delay the next phase. If there is a new dangerous strain of virus or other similar emergencies, local lockdowns will be taken. However, there remains a doubt: will vaccination passports be provided? The Johnson government hides behind “it is an ethical question that we will carefully evaluate”, but the feeling is that the “freedom” that could be reacquired next June passes precisely through the certification of having had a vaccine, in addition to rapid sweeping tests for all participants of all public events.

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The arrest of the Catalan rapper Pablo Hasel arouses anger and protests in Spain
Europe

The arrest of the Catalan rapper Pablo Hasel arouses anger and protests in Spain

In Spain, the arrest of the Catalan rapper Pablo Hasel, who had barricaded himself at the University of Lleida, inflames the streets and agitates politics, causing the first disagreements even within the government of Pedro Sánchez, between the socialists and Podemos.

The arrest of Hasel on Tuesday morning in a police operation broadcast live on TV, has unleashed the anger of thousands of young people against the monarchy and the police across the country. The rapper was sentenced to 9 months in prison for glorifying terrorism and insulting the crown. He was supposed to go to jail last Friday but he didn’t show up. Local media reported another night of clashes, which had Barcelona as its epicenter. Hundreds of protesters gathered in the Example district trying to reach the regional Interior department and hit the double police cordon deployed to defend the building with stones and firecrackers.

While they continued to move towards the center, the demonstrators passed the headquarters of the newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya: shouts and insults at the “manipulative” press, then some boys raged against the large windows of the entrance by throwing stones. But the most serious accidents occurred in the city center, where it still barricades, as in recent days, dumpsters, cars, and motorcycles set on fire.

An agent of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, was injured in the head by a stone thrown against the car window. Also assaults on bank agencies and windows of numerous destroyed shops. Despite the curfew for the coronavirus pandemic at 10 pm, clashes were recorded from the four Catalan capitals in Valencia, from Andalusia to Madrid. It is in the heart of the capital, at the Puerta del Sol, that some of the most violent scenes have been seen, with the police who repeatedly charged the demonstrators who tried to head towards the Parliament, a few hundred meters away.

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Clashes also in Catalonia, with 33 people arrested and 12 injured. But yesterday it also became known that a girl who was injured in the clashes on Tuesday night lost an eye. She had been hit in the face by a “foam” bullet: a type of “non-lethal” ammunition used by Mossos d ‘Esquadra, since the use of rubber bullets was banned due to its high danger.

The Mossos spokesman said that in the last two days the agents have fired 420 bullets of this type; a high use, he admitted, to deal with “violent attitudes”. And Saturday night, in Barcelona, ​​was among the most violent that we remember from those days in October 2019 when the center of the Catalan capital was transformed into a battlefield after the heavy sentences passed by the Supreme Court against nine independence leaders. 

In the square, asking for Pablo Hasel’s freedom and shouting slogans against the police, there were hundreds of young people who set up barricades and set fire to bins to block the way for the Mossos d’Esquadra vans. The firefighters had to intervene several times to extinguish the flames that threatened to spread to the buildings near the area of ​​the clashes, between Plaça de Catalunya, Paseo de Gracia, and the university area.

The vans of the Brimo, the Mossos’ riot departments, were hit with stones, bottles, and firecrackers, and several officers were attacked with kicks and blow with sticks as they got out, sheltered behind plastic shields, to try to stop the fury of the demonstrators.

Anger fuelled by a movement that, with a strong base rooted in the groups of the separatists left grew from the frustration of the long months of lockdown and the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic. Young people turn rapper Hasel into a symbol, the spokesperson pointed out their opposition to the monarchy and the limits imposed on freedom of expression by old laws that the Sánchez government has previously promised to change.

But the controversy also ignites within the Madrid executive, after Pablo Echenique, parliamentary group leader of Unidas Podemos, spread this message on Twitter: “All my support for the young anti-fascists who are demanding justice and freedom of expression in squares, in Barcelona and at the Puerta del Sol.”

The government vice president, the socialist Carmen Calvo, replied harshly: “It is one thing to defend freedom of expression, another is to encourage situations with injuries and arrests”. Echenique does not back down, on the contrary, he publishes on Twitter the photo of the girl who in Barcelona lost an eye to the bullet fired by the police.

AstraZeneca vaccine is at the center of skepticism as Europe’s immunization drive looks in jeopardy
Europe

AstraZeneca vaccine is at the center of skepticism as Europe’s immunization drive looks in jeopardy

German politicians are supporting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine amid soaring doubts around the vaccine hampering Europe’s Covid-19 immunization program. Last month there was a tug-of-war between European Commission and AstraZeneca, the British – Swedish vaccine manufacturer. 

German media has defined the Oxford vaccine as a “shelf warmer” after only 17% of total doses delivered to Germany have been administered till now, highlighting the extremely staggered vaccination drive in the country. By Thursday, according to the German disease control agency, out of 736,800 doses delivered to the country only 129,021 doses have been administered. 

Coming in support of the British vaccine, Jens Spahn, the German health minister issued a public statement of confidence for vaccine calling it a “privilege” to be able to receive highly “safe and effective” vaccine. Mayor Michael Muller of Berlin went a step further and threatened people of being sent at end of the queue if they refused the Oxford vaccine or asked for an alternative. He said, “I won’t allow tens of thousands of doses to lie around on our shelves while millions of people across the country are waiting to be immunized. Those who don’t want the vaccine have missed their chance.”

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Following trial data criticism for people over 65 years old, German health authorities are administering vaccine to only young individuals and healthcare workers below 65 years of age. Side effects reported at time of trials are further posing problems with vaccination for healthcare workers. Sweden regions including Sormland had to pause vaccination after some healthcare workers reported side effects and called in sick after receiving inoculation. 

Trials have shown 60% efficacy in clinical trials. In contrast, Moderna and BioNTech vaccines have shown 95% efficiency. Oxford vaccine has the prime advantage of not requiring deep-freeze storage. Furthermore, the chief medical expert of AstraZeneca says that the vaccine has proved to be 100% efficient in preventing death and extreme illness in people. 

US realigns its strategy with Europe to bring democratic reforms in Venezuela
Europe

US realigns its strategy with Europe to bring democratic reforms in Venezuela

With the recent US presidential election bringing in Democrat government in the White House, led by Joe Biden, Venezuelan opposition became more hopeful of pushing peaceful democratic reforms in the country. The South American country under the reign of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has drifted away from democratic political system towards soft dictatorship. Rebuilding ties with Venezuela, minus the military intervention and sanctions as proposed by former US President Donald Trump, would be one of the biggest foreign policy challenge for Biden administration. 

With Maduro’s re-appointment as the country’s president in December 2020, which many claimed as undemocratic, the fate of Venezuelan opposition leaders became more shaky. Leopoldo Lopez, the Venezuelan opposition who flew to Spain in 2020, stayed committed to fight for bringing back reforms in his country. He believed that Europe would make a perfect ally in US’s mission of bringing democracy back in Venezuela, especially Spain given its historical ties with the South American country. Madrid’s the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which has even provided refuge to many of Venezuelan opposition leaders, has expressed keenness of working with new US administration to restore order in the Latin American nation.

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During his recent interview, Lopez said,  “In the past year, relations between the U.S. and Europe became more distanced with respect to many issues and one of the issues was Venezuela.”

He emphasised, “Now there is a great opportunity to have a clear and more coordinated position between the US and Europe. We propose there should be a common focus to attain free and democratic parliamentary elections. The start of the solution of the humanitarian problem starts with the change in the political situation.” 

López added, “We ask that sanctions are coordinated between U.S. and Europe against those people who have been identified by the United Nations as committing human rights abuses.” 

With regard to Biden administration’s approach towards the political crisis in Venezuela, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the new administration “will focus on addressing the humanitarian situation, providing support to Venezuelan people and reinvigorating multilateral diplomacy to press for a democratic outcome and pursue individuals involved in corruption, human rights abuses.”

Post Venezuela’s presidential election, many countries including the US, Panama, Canada, and Germany refused to acknowledge Maduro as the country’s head.  In a statement, European Union foreign ministers said that the vote “failed to comply with the minimum international standards for a credible process and to mobilize the Venezuelan people to participate.”

The European Council admitted that the country mired with severe political and economic crisis was in urgent need to humanitarian assistance, especially after the International Monetary Fund predicted a huge inflation rise of about 6,500% in the country this year.

Covid-19, Europe buys more 500million doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines
Europe

Covid-19, Europe buys more 500million doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines

Another 150 million doses for 2021 and an option for as many in 2022. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that Europe is already planning to purchase the vaccine produced by Moderna for the next two years, the day after the news that the delivery in Italy of vials developed by Cambridge will be halved in February. These 300 million additional doses are added to the 160 million already purchased from last year. This morning also Pfizer-BioNtech announced the closing of an agreement with Brussels that will lead to the availability of the Union another 200 million doses of their anti-Covid vaccine.

 The New York pharmaceutical company announced that the agreement adds to the previous purchase for 300 million doses and that the European Commission has an option to request another 100 million: “It is expected that an additional 200 million doses will be delivered in 2021, with an estimate of 75 million to be provided in the second quarter. The total number of doses to be delivered to EU member states by the end of 2021 is now 500 million, with the potential to increase to 600 million under the option,” a joint note with BioNTech reads, after months of heated controversies regarding the contracts signed with the EU and delays in supplies linked to production problems. 

“We are working tirelessly to support the further launch of vaccination campaigns in Europe and around the world by expanding production capacity,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer president and CEO. With this new agreement with the European Commission. Pfizer plans to provide sufficient doses to vaccinate at least 250 million Europeans by the end of the year.

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The CEO assured that the company has not signed any contracts with private individuals: “During the pandemic, our contracts are with governments and we will supply the vaccines according to the channel of their choice and the designated vaccination sites, subject to authorization or regulatory approval. Pfizer and BioNTech are not supplying their vaccine to the private market right now.” 

The Brussels operation is in line with the need to accelerate vaccinations across the European Union due to the rapid spread of new variants of the virus, in particular, the British and South African ones. Ursula Von der Leyen said on Wednesday: “We need to speed up vaccinations, the cases of Covid variants increase and new ones emerge. The vaccines approved in the EU seem effective against variants, but the variants are more contagious and therefore favor the emergence of others.”

In this regard, the Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, indicated that the EU Commission will have to assess whether it will be necessary to update existing vaccine agreements or conclude new ones to respond to the spread of new Coronavirus variants.

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