Covid-19, the US-Canada border can remain closed until next year
Americas

Covid-19, the US-Canada border can remain closed until next year

The U.S.-Canada border can remain closed until next year unless “something miraculous” happens to lower COVID-19 rates south of the border, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. “They’re having over 50,000 new cases per day in the country, and on top of that, it doesn’t appear like they are getting this epidemic under control,” said Bogoch, a physician and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital.

“I can’t think off the top of my head about what a number or a metric would look like, but I can tell you that reopening the border is going to be a long, long, long way away,” he added, speaking to local media. Nova Scotia and P.E.I. confirmed new cases of COVID-19 this week, believed to be connected to a man in his 20s who flew from the U.S. to Halifax via Toronto. He came to Canada on a student visa, but failed to self-isolate upon entering Nova Scotia.”This is just a stark reminder that we can’t let our guard down and that … places that have been COVID-free for some time can certainly import this and this can cause an outbreak,” explained Bogoch.

The U.S. congressman who wants a plan to ease travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border is taking the ensuing backlash in stride.Rep. Brian Higgins got an earful from Canadian Twitter users when he tweeted details of his bipartisan call on both countries to start talking about how best to begin reopening the border.Higgins, a New York Democrat, says he doesn’t blame Canadians for wanting to keep Americans out, considering the failure of the Trump administration to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.But he says the damaging border restrictions can be gradually eased without jeopardizing public health, and he and other members of Congress from northern border states will keep pressing their case.

A recent online poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 86 per cent of respondents in Canada opposed to letting U.S. tourists north of the border, compared with 11 per cent who supported it.The current border restrictions are due to expire July 21, but the fresh surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. makes it all but certain they will be extended before then.The daily number of new cases across Canada has been below 500 for the past month, but the number of new cases in most U.S. states is rising. On Wednesday, the country reached 3 million cases and more than 130,000 deaths.

China Originated Covid-19 Test Kits Might Have Stolen DNA Data From Australia
Asia Pacific Focus

China Originated Covid-19 Test Kits Might Have Stolen DNA Data From Australia

They didn’t need; yet they invested into it. Victoria became the notable exception amongst others who refused to alter their technology. The use of this technology was not possible in the existing systems of testing in place.

The private player to have sources Covid-19 testing kits went unused, underutilized and looked like a huge waste of nation’s money. The BGI kits would have meant huge amounts of alterations to the existing systems in place for testing in labs across facilities in Australia.

The player in the thick of things is Andrew Forrest who was encouraged by the health minister Greg Hunt to supply the more than 10million pieces at a whopping budget of $190million sourced from a Beijing based manufacturer. Strangely, even PathWest, the leading pathology laboratory in Forrest’s home state of Western Australia, said it had no need for them.

Additionally, no one in the administration seemed to be pondering on the fact that the introduction of BGI tests meant bringing in new technology mid-pandemic, without any real sense of how it would fit into Australia’s existing laboratory structures.

The uptakes remained patchy and then the question of what would happen to all these kits that had been procured in a hustle. The justification given was that the stockpiles would make for an inventory to be used for rainy day. But this was not going to work as the testing kits were later discovered to have a mere shelf life of six months only.

There are many reasons to believe that the favour done to Forrest was just that because Hunt has justified the purchase in many ways. For one he retracted his previous statements and said that the kits were never meant for public pathology providers, and that his intention was to invest in diversification of technology, looking at the global demand at that point of time in mid June.

But there was more shocking news to see when it was a BGI owned subsidiary Forensic Genomics International that has been involved in stealing DNA samples of men and boys from Australia.

The company that was founded in 1999 as a research organisation to support the Human Genome Project, an international research effort to try to uncover the DNA sequence of the entire human genome. Since then, it has sequenced the DNA of a dizzying variety of living organisms, from a giant panda to 40 different silkworm types and a 4,000-year-old man named Inuk.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report confirming a DNA dragnet. It seems that the use of the kits could have just misused access to personal data of Australian citizens, owing to BGI probably coming under the influence of the Chinese government.

The Minderoo Foundation of Forrest simply said it was acting on the instructions of the Australian government as a mediator. It denies any knowhow of how BGI might have misused private data. BGI on its part has obviously denied having provided any information to the Chinese government and stressed strongly on their ethical practices which have never been questioned in the last two decades. Strangely, BGI’s technology has not been put to complete use as of now. One wonders if there was nothing but data theft on the mind of the company and everyone involved with it.

UK’s Magnitsky Law doesn’t really do much to Russia’s dirty money flow, Experts say
Geopolitics

UK’s Magnitsky Law doesn’t really do much to Russia’s dirty money flow, Experts say

Alexander Bastrykin, known as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s enforcer. All the major criminal cases in Russia like Pussy Riot and other anti-government protests, they all pass through the approval desk of Bastrykin. And now he has been banned to enter Britain under UK’s Magnitsky Law. Under this law he neither can buy a property, open a bank account or just fly in Britain for a leisure trip.

Bastrykin was the key involved person in mistreatment of Sergei Magnitsky in Moscow jail where he was beater to death in 2009. Due to this unlawful human rights violations and abuse against Magnitsky, 25 Russians including Bastrykin have been sanctioned by UK. Other banned officials include judges, prison staff and officials of interior ministry.

Magnitsky Law can be the required change needed in world by the “global Britain”, says Dominic Raab, UK’s Foreign Secretary. He has been backing and advocating Magnitsky Law for long now. Under the law 20 Saudi nationals, who are implicated for murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, have also been sanctioned by the UK. Furthermore, the Magnitsky Law also blacklists two top generals of Myanmar, and top security bureaucrats of North Korea.

The flow of Moscow-linked money inflow into the UK is a tricky situation and it is to be seen how UK and the new law can stem it. The Russian officials sanctioned under Magnitsky Law are mid-level or low-level officials, mostly “technical people” as pointed out by an ex-Kremlin insider. The notable thing is that none of these sanctioned people is believed to own a property in UK.

Sergei Sokolov, a Russian journalist points out the effect this law will have on Bastrykin saying, “I don’t think it will bother him. In 2012 Sokolov had a taste of Bastrykin’s approach and power when he accused Bastrykin of failing to pursue a case, while Sokolov was a Deputy Editor at Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Sokolov says Bastrykin took him to forest in Moscow and threatened to murder him. Bastrykin has however denied all these allegations.

“From an ethical point of view the Magnitsky sanctions are the right thing to do. But they won’t make a difference within Russia. Bastrykin is a believer. He’s ready to do everything he’s asked and more. His committee is the main instrument of political repression in Russia, together with the FSB and the police”, said Sokolov.

Bill Browder, Hermitage Capital’s chief Executive, hails UK’s historic law, calling it as a huge win for the good guys. Hermitage Capital was under investigation for a $230 million by Magnitsky when he was arrested by the same people who he had exposed.

Browder says that law imposition for the 50 odd people is “civil death” for them. He explains that the sanctioned people will pop up on “world check system” whenever used in diligent checks. This means that they are effectively shut out from international finance.

The good news is that the human rights have outshone the political gains. But it seems its business as usual for UK few days after the imposition of Magnitsky Law – UK government has announced that it is resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia. With Boris Johnson’s own links to Russia are yet to be explained, the long term effects of Magnitsky Law are to be watched out for.

US urges Mexico to fulfil its water debt commitment by October 2020
Americas

US urges Mexico to fulfil its water debt commitment by October 2020

On Monday, the International Boundary and Water Commission urged the Mexican authorities to meet its commitment made as part of the 1944 Water Treaty with the US. As per the bilateral treaty Mexico needs to deliver remaining 432,360 acre-feet of water by October 24, 2020 as it marks the end of the current five-year cycle.

The treaty, known as “Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande,” set the guidelines for exchange of water resources between the neighbouring nations.  As per the agreement, Mexico needs to deliver the water from the tributaries of Rio Grande to the United States and the latter needs to deliver water from Colorado River to Mexico. Two of the main tributaries of the Rio Grande are the Conchos River in Chihuahua, which flows into the Big Bend area, and the Salado River, which flows into Falcon Dam.

“They have reiterated to us their intent to fulfil their treaty obligation, but we don’t want this to go down to the wire. They need to take action now to make sure that there is not a debt.”

Sally E. Spener, US secretary for the IBWC

The water exchange is tracked based on a five-year cycle. In one five-year cycle, Mexico is required to give 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the United States. The current cycle ends is October 2020 and Mexico is already short of by 432,360 acre-feet, way above the decided average of 350,000 acre-feet of water.

Sally E. Spener, the US secretary for the IBWC, said, “We wanted to emphasize the importance of Mexico fulfilling its treaty obligations. They need to make sure that the current water delivery cycle ends without a debt, and we’re running out of time. They need to increase their deliveries to the United States to make sure there is not a debt.”

The agreement does not allow two consecutive water deficit, whereas the Mexican government failed to meet the water commitment of the last cycle which ended on October 24, 2015. Hence its mandatory for the Mexican authorities to honour its word with regard to the agreement and pay off its water debt.

Spener said. “They have reiterated to us their intent to fulfil their treaty obligation, but we don’t want this to go down to the wire. They need to take action now to make sure that there is not a debt.” He added that if Mexican government failed to meet the set target, then there could be “intense negotiations” to arrange for the debt payment as soon as possible.

The water flowing from Mexico is stored into two international reservoirs on the Rio Grande – Amistad Dam in Del Rio and Falcon Dam. “The water is stored in the dams, so the water that you see in the river that’s coming down and irrigating that wonderful agricultural area that you have down in the Rio Grande Valley — that is coming from those reservoirs,” Spener said.

The US Commissioner Jayne Harkins said, “Farmers and cities in South Texas rely on this water to get them through the summer. Some irrigation districts will run out of water this year and municipal water districts are having to expend large sums of money to purchase additional water. To comply with the treaty, Mexico must increase its water deliveries.”

Fate of UN aid to Syria comes down to Russian veto
Middle East & Africa

Fate of UN aid to Syria comes down to Russian veto

With cross-border aid operations due to end on Friday, this is the last chance for Security Council members to convince Russia to agree to an extension.

There has been frantic voting and vetoing at the United Nations Security Council this week as the approval for UN cross-border aid operations in Syria expires Friday. On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution that sought to extend by one year the aid operations currently being carried out at two points along the border with Turkey, neither of which is controlled by the Syrian government. The remaining 13 members chose to support the resolution.

On Thursday, a fresh draft proposal was put forward to extend operations across the two crossings – one into Aleppo and the other into Idlib – for six months. Russia sought to amend this to just one crossing for six months. This failed to receive any support. Already Russia was responsible for bringing down the number of border crossing for aid from four to two – previously aid was following through two other points along the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian regime, argues that international aid should increasingly be channelled through Damascus now that much of these regions are under government control. The idea is to use aid operations to buttress the Bashar Al Assad government with more political control and sovereignty after the nine-year civil war. China too is critical of the unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria by the United States and other European powers.

Aid agencies argue that millions of Syrians – in rebel-held areas or otherwise – depend on the international aid flowing through these points. Vital food and medical supplies are dependent on these crossings being kept alive. They have accused Russia and China of putting politics over humanitarianism, especially during this time of the pandemic. With the first case of the coronavirus being reported in Idlib province – where hospitals have been decimated and refugee camps are brimming – it’s more essential than ever to keep aid flowing into the country, they say. All hopes are now on a fresh draft proposal being prepared by Germany and Belgium which they hope will convince Russia and China to extend operations. Failing this, UN aid to Syria will be cut off from Friday.

UK won’t be participating in EU coronavirus vaccine scheme: Report
Europe

UK won’t be participating in EU coronavirus vaccine scheme: Report

The British government has reportedly rejected an opportunity to join the European Union Coronavirus vaccine scheme amid concerns over ‘costly delays’. According to media reports, Business Secretary Alok Sharma appears to have turned down the EU’s scheme for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine expressing concerns over lack of assurance that the vaccines will be delivered to the UK on time.

Over the past few weeks, the UK and Brussels have been in talks over the EU vaccine scheme. At the same time, world governments have intensified their efforts to develop viable vaccines and treatments for the virus. Different pharmaceutical companies across the world are carrying out vaccine trials amid fierce competition.

On behalf of the 27-member bloc, the European Union has planned on spending around €2 billion (£1.8bn) on the advanced purchase of the vaccines which are currently going through trials. An announcement on the matter from the European Commission is expected soon.

According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, sources have suggested the government officials are concerned about the delay in rolling out of the vaccine through the scheme for the UK which could take up to 6 months.

However, it is important to note that the decision to withdraw support to the EU vaccine scheme might not work in favour of the British government in view of the backlash from opposition MPs. Notedly, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been facing the heat from Opposition over his failure to join the EU’s ventilator and PPE procurement schemes in March. Oppositions MPs have been alleging the British government of withdrawing support to EU projects after Brexit.

Meanwhile, London has signed a bilateral deal with Cambridge-based AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University for procurement of a vaccine. The UK government’s Vaccines Taskforce is also carrying out efforts of research and development to produce a safe vaccine.

However, there are concerns that initial vaccines might be ineffective for use. One the other hand, the European Commission has maintained that its vaccine scheme is formulated on the basis of solidarity and efficiency in a bid to ensure that all member states and their population have access to the vaccine.

World Bank report on green investment
Americas

World Bank report on green investment

Economists and environmentalist are of the conclusion that the Corona virus that has led to some serious change in the lifestyle and working patterns across the globe, has actually taken the world’s focus away from the more pressing problem at hand. We are faced with a bigger disaster in the making and that is the climate crisis.

A World Bank report says that we can overcome this hurdle if we work towards making smart investments in order to make a smart recovery from the Corona Virus setback.  According to senior advisor on Climate Finance, Peer Stein from International Finance Corporation, “There is mix bag right now of countries that have recovered and those that are still recovering from the pandemic induced slowing down in the economy. Massive investment is definitely needed to manage the damage done by the Corona virus. But more importantly, we need wise green investments that help build more resilient economies for the future.”

“There is mix bag right now of countries that have recovered and those that are still recovering from the pandemic induced slowing down in the economy. Massive investment is definitely needed to manage the damage done by the Corona virus. But more importantly, we need wise green investments that help build more resilient economies for the future.”

Peer Stein from International Finance Corporation

Green energy investment market has huge potential.  According to the ongoing debate over green investment future, it is imperative that economies look at green investments now, in order to avoid future climate crisis. There is an estimated $23 trillion worth of potential for growth and investment in areas like renewable, energy efficiency, transportation, building and construction between now and 2030. Many job opportunities are therefore in climate related investment to grow much faster than in many other conventional areas.

In Stein’s opinion, stimulus packages that are being drawn in various countries could be looked at being utilized towards climate finance, especially when it comes to construction related work. Both the public sector, banks and capital markets, have more than $50 trillion in assets and debt capital markets has $15 trillion. This might be the single largest opportunity in green financing as a business opportunity for the next decade.

Also, World Bank estimates that climate related lending will outpace that of conventional lending by banks. This makes it a huge opportunity for them to come back into business and the identity of responsible climate change players.  It is estimated that banks share will grow from the 7 percent pre Covid to at least 20 percent by 2030. Being a green bank can be a huge advantage for many banks in coming times.  A classic example is Ukraine’s largest bank that has made a name for itself by lending for green financing.  This is going to the time when green investment will outperform conventional investments.

Construction and building industry will be requiring low utility cost and higher resale values, something that can significantly out-pay the cost needed to build them. Post Covid, quick recovery is what this sector would be looking at. Here is where more energy efficient green buildings will come to their rescue.

Renewable energy is going to be another area of investment. With one time cost of installation, they have worked well in the time of Covid crisis serving more than 4 million people worldwide. Prioritizing them now as a part of Covid recovery plan is a good strategy for all those nations who would like to be ready before a climate related crisis brings forth another bigger setback. Climate related crisis is as manmade as the Corona virus pandemic has been. It is time for wise investments so that we can be more prepared than feel sorry when the time comes.

New Zealand’s MP Hamish Walker steps down after confessing he leaked Covid-19 cases details to media
Asia Pacific Focus

New Zealand’s MP Hamish Walker steps down after confessing he leaked Covid-19 cases details to media

Hamish Walker, from the center-right National Party, admitted that he leaked the confidential details of active Covid-19 cases of various nations’ to the media, and steps down from standing in September’s election. He also stated that he was the source of the private data about the 18 cases, which were given to few media houses recently.

On Wednesday, Walker apologized in a written statement that he did this to uncover the administration’s inadequacies, and was told that his actions were not unlawful. He truly regretted his actions and offered no further comment, The Guardian reported

According to The Guardian, Michelle Boag, a former leader of the National Party stated in an announcement uncovering that she had been the individual who was behind the list of details – in her powers as an acting CEO of an Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, she had passed the information to Walker. Boag resigned from her job and expressed she repents her actions and didn’t foresee that Hamish would decide to pass it on to media.” 

The New Zealand Government also announced an independent investigation into the leak earlier this week. Todd Muller, the new leader of the National Party, stated that he had urged Hamish to recognize this blunder to Michael Heron QC. Completely cooperate with the investigation into how the data made it to the media. Muller told the Radio New Zealand that he had also requested the Party to fire Walker for such a serious blunder. 

Bryce Edwards, a political analyst, stated that the National Party was presently defenseless against claims as it had a reputation of unethically leaking stuff to the media. 

The leaking of confidential Covid-19 active cases to the media was indeed an embarrassment and incredibly terrible news for Muller and his Party. Lately, the National Party had been making news about battling the Covid-19, but the sudden scandal news dampened the party’s attempt to contain the pandemic.

Fauci: “The virus remains strong, in the US it is out of control”
Americas

Fauci: “The virus remains strong, in the US it is out of control”

Dangerous delusion, the global pandemic is still at the beginning. The virus is always strong, and we will not get rid of it until the vaccine arrives, probably between late 2020 and early 2021. Anthony Fauci, 79, is once again on the front line. In the past few weeks, the virologist for the anti-COVID-19 task force had been removed by Donald Trump. But maybe he realized it wasn’t a good idea.

“Unless all the countries adopt containment measures, we must expect an even faster spread of the infection. In the United States, we have a problem, because our epidemic is not under control. We are seeing major outbreaks in Brazil, South Africa, and now in Asia. Ultimately, we are only at the beginning of the global pandemic which, most likely, will further worsen, before improving”. Antony Fauci explained.

“What we’re seeing is exponential growth, it went from an average of about 20,000 to 40,000 and 50,000. That’s doubling,”

Fauci

“What we’re seeing is exponential growth, it went from an average of about 20,000 to 40,000 and 50,000. That’s doubling,” Fauci said.Fauci told Congress last week that new coronavirus infections could increase to 100,000 a day if the nation doesn’t get its surge of cases under control.During an interview, he discussed conversations the White House coronavirus task force has been having with governors and health officials from states where cases are spiking.”Among the states, and there is admission from within,” the doctor explained. “Some states went too fast, some states went according to what the time table was, but the people in the state didn’t listen, and threw caution to the wind.”

Fauci was pressed on “mixed messaging” coming from the White House coronavirus task force regarding warnings he and other health officials such as Dr. Deborah L. Birx have sounded versus comments from elected officials such as Vice President Mike Pence.He continued that he and other public health officials are “coldly” looking at the data that results in recommendations from the task force, but that as “a member of the task force, I’m telling you that we have a serious situation here that we really do need to address.”

His comments come a day after President Donald Trump disputed Fauci’s comments that the U.S. is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.”I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” Trump said in an interview. The nation surpassed 3 million coronavirus cases and 132,256 deaths Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The grim milestone represents roughly a quarter of the world’s cases and the same percentage of its deaths.Tuesday saw a record 60,021 new cases as the nationwide surge showed no signs of ebbing. Cases are surging in states such as Texas, Florida, and Arizona, and some have now paused or reversed their reopening.

Russian and Syrian forces stand accused of war crimes in Idlib
Middle East & Africa

Russian and Syrian forces stand accused of war crimes in Idlib

The United Nations investigation has equated the brutality of government forces to that of the extremist group they were trying to repel.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has found that pro-regime forces committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in the battle for the opposition-held province of Idlib. The campaign launched late last year to retake the last remaining areas outside regime control inflicted “unfathomable suffering” on the people there.

Syrian and Russian aircraft have indiscriminately targetted civilians, hitting children in schools, parents in markets and patients in hospitals, the United Nations report said. This had led to hundreds of deaths and the displacement of nearly one million people, making it no less than a crime against humanity. The report covers the time period between November 2019 to June 2020, based on flight data and witness testimony. Much of the bombardment happened ahead of the uneasy truce that had been brokered by Russia and Turkey in early March.

The investigations look into 52 attacks, 47 of which have been carried out by the Russian-backed Syrian government. Of these, 17 attacks were on or near hospitals and medical facilities, 14 affected schools, nine on markets and 12 others in residential areas.

The airstrikes destroyed civilian infrastructure and emptied out towns and villages, according to the UN. The report said that those they interviewed, the civilians from the towns of Maarat al-Numan, Ariha, Atareb and Darat Izza faced a tough choice – to stay and be bombarded or flee deeper into extremist controlled areas where war crimes were rampant.

It is perhaps telling that the report used the same language and tone to compare the activities of extremist fighters of the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), previously known as the Nusra Front, to that of the government forces. They have fired artillery into civilian areas despite it having “no apparent legitimate military objective” and tortured and executed those it had detained. With the Syrian army advancing into these areas, many of these groups fled to other parts of the country. The report also had a note of caution – of an oncoming “perfect storm” thanks to the economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic confronting the war-ravaged country.

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