Infectious disease experts are expressing concern about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq, given a sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health care system and the unavoidable likelihood that Iraqis will crowd to see him.No one wants to tell Francis to call it off, and the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by welcoming the first pope to the birthplace of Abraham. The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a sorely-needed spiritual boost to Iraq’s beleaguered Christians while furthering the Vatican’s bridge-building efforts with the Muslim world.But from a purely epidemiological standpoint, as well as the public health message it sends, a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic is not advisable, health experts say.Their concerns were reinforced with the news Sunday that the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, the main point person for the trip who would have escorted Francis to all his appointments, tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating.In an email to The Associated Press, the embassy said Archbishop Mitja Leskovar’s symptoms were mild and that he was continuing to prepare for Francis’ visit.Beyond his case, experts note that wars, economic crises and an exodus of Iraqi professionals have devastated the country’s hospital system, while studies show most of Iraq’s new COVID-19 infections are the highly-contagious variant first identified in Britain.“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Dr. Navid Madani, virologist and founding director of the Center for Science Health Education in the Middle East and North Africa at Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.The Iranian-born Madani co-authored an article in The Lancet last year on the region’s uneven response to COVID-19, noting that Iraq, Syria and Yemen were poorly placed to cope, given they are still struggling with extremist insurgencies and have 40 million people who need humanitarian aid.Christians volunteers decorate streets with the pictures of Pope Francis, ahead of his planned visit to to Iraq, in Qaraqosh, Iraq, Feb. 22, 2021.In a telephone interview, Madani said Middle Easterners are known for their hospitality, and cautioned that the enthusiasm among Iraqis of welcoming a peace-maker like Francis to a neglected, war-torn part of the world might lead to inadvertent violations of virus control measures.“This could potentially lead to unsafe or superspreading risks,” she said.Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter College of Medicine, concurred.“It’s a perfect storm for generating lots of cases which you won’t be able to deal with,” he said.Organizers promise to enforce mask mandates, social distancing and crowd limits, as well as the possibility of increased testing sites, two Iraqi government officials said.The health care protocols are “critical but can be managed,” one government official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.And the Vatican has taken its own precautions, with the 84-year-old pope, his 20-member Vatican entourage and the 70-plus journalists on the papal plane all vaccinated.But the Iraqis gathering in the north, center and south of the country to attend Francis’ indoor and outdoor Masses, hear his speeches and participate in his prayer meetings are not vaccinated.And that, scientists say, is the problem.“We are in the middle of a global pandemic. And it is important to get the correct messages out,” Pankhania said. “The correct messages are: the less interactions with fellow human beings, the better.”He questioned the optics of the Vatican delegation being inoculated while the Iraqis are not, and noted that Iraqis would only take such risks to go to those events because the pope was there.In words addressed to Vatican officials and the media, he said: “You are all protected from severe disease. So if you get infected, you’re not going to die. But the people coming to see you may get infected and may die.”“Is it wise under that circumstance for you to just turn up? And because you turn up, people turn up to see you and they get infected?” he asked.The World Health Organization was diplomatic when asked about the wisdom of a papal trip to Iraq, saying countries should evaluate the risk of an event against the infection situation, and then decide if it should be postponed. “It’s all about managing that risk,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19. “It’s about looking at the epidemiologic situation in the country and then making sure that if that event is to take place, that it can take place as safely as possible.”Francis has said he intends to go even if most Iraqis have to watch him on television to avoid infection. The important thing, he told Catholic News Service, is “they will see that the pope is there in their country.”Francis has frequently called for an equitable distribution of vaccines and respect for government health measures, though he tends to not wear face masks. Francis for months has eschewed even socially distanced public audiences at the Vatican to limit the chance of contagion.Dr. Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine, said the number of new daily cases in Iraq is “increasing significantly at the moment” with the Health Ministry reporting around 4,000 a day, close to the height of its first wave in September.Head said for any trip to Iraq, there must be infection control practices in force, including mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing and good ventilation in indoor spaces.“Hopefully we will see proactive approaches to infection control in place during the pope’s visit to Baghdad,” he said.The Iraqi government imposed a modified lockdown and curfew in mid-February amid a new surge in cases, closing schools and mosques and leaving restaurants and cafes only open for takeout. But the government decided against a full shutdown because of the difficulty of enforcing it and the financial impact on Iraq’s battered economy, the Iraqi officials told AP.Many Iraqis remain lax in using masks and some doubt the severity of the virus.Madani, the Harvard virologist, urged trip organizers to let science and data guide their decision-making.A decision to reschedule or postpone the papal trip, or move it to a virtual format, would “be quite impactful from a global leadership standpoint” because “it would signal prioritizing the safety of Iraq’s public,” she said.
There’s a new player in the social media webspace: it’s called Clubhouse. But unlike other social media platforms this one isn’t open to just anyone. Mariia Prus looked into why the platform got so popular so fast.
Camera: Oleksii Osyka
Church bells rang and a World War II-era plane flew Saturday over the funeral for Captain Tom Moore, the veteran who single-handedly raised millions of pounds for Britain’s health workers by walking laps in his backyard.Soldiers performed ceremonial duties at the private service for Moore, who died February 2 at age 100 after testing positive for COVID-19. Captain Tom, as he became known, inspired the U.K. during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic with his humble endeavor that raised almost 33 million pounds ($46 million) for Britain’s National Health Service last year.The funeral cortege of Captain Tom Moore arrives at Bedford Crematorium, in Bedford, England, Feb. 27, 2021.The service was small, attended by eight members of the veteran’s immediate family. But soldiers carried his coffin, draped in the Union flag, and formed a ceremonial guard. Others performed a gun salute before a C-47 Dakota military transport plane flew past.A Dakota performs a flyby at the funeral of Captain Tom Moore, in Bedford, England, Feb. 27, 2021.”Daddy, you always told us, ‘Best foot forward,’ and true to your word, that’s what you did last year,” Moore’s daughter Lucy Teixeira said at the service. “I know you will be watching us, chuckling, saying, ‘Don’t be too sad as something has to get you in the end.’ “His other daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, said the world was “enthralled” by her father’s “spirit of hope, positivity and resilience.””They, too, saw your belief in kindness and the fundamental goodness of the human spirit,” she said.The service featured music that reflected the man being honored, opening with the rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone that Moore recorded for charity with Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir. The song topped the U.K. singles charts last April.Singer Michael Bublé recorded a version of Smile for the funeral, and as requested by Moore, Frank Sinatra’s My Way was played. A bugler sounded The Last Post to close the service.A church in Bedfordshire, England, where the family is based, rang its bell 100 times in Moore’s honor. A post on Moore’s Twitter account invited his admirers to remember him Saturday with a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge cake.Moore, who served in India, Burma and Sumatra during World War II, set out to raise a modest 1,000 pounds for Britain’s NHS by walking 100 laps of his backyard by his 100th birthday last year. But donations poured in from across Britain and beyond as his quest went viral, catching the imagination of millions stuck at home during the first wave of the pandemic.FILE – In this July 17, 2020, photo, Captain Tom Moore poses for the media after receiving his knighthood from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, during a ceremony at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England.His positive attitude — “Please remember, tomorrow will be a good day” became his trademark phrase — inspired the nation at a time of crisis. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described him as a “hero in the truest sense of the word.”He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in July in a socially distanced ceremony at Windsor Castle, west of London.
Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site in Italy announced Saturday the discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park near Naples following an investigation into an illegal dig.The chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, was found in the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii, beyond the walls of the ancient city, parked in the portico of a stable where the remains of three horses previously were discovered.The Archaeological Park of Pompeii called the chariot “an exceptional discovery” and said “it represents a unique find — which has no parallel in Italy thus far — in an excellent state of preservation.”A detail of the decoration of a chariot that was found in Civita Giuliana, north of Pompeii. Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site near Naples announced its discovery Feb. 27, 2021.The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii. The chariot was spared when the walls and roof of the structure it was in collapsed, and also survived looting by modern-day antiquities thieves, who had dug tunnels through to the site, grazing but not damaging the four-wheeled cart, according to park officials.The chariot was found on the grounds of what is one of the most significant ancient villas in the area around Vesuvius, with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea, on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city.Archaeologists last year found in the same area on the outskirts of Pompeii, Civita Giulian, the skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a wealthy man and his male slave, attempting to escape death.The chariot’s first iron element emerged January 7 from the blanket of volcanic material filling the two-story portico. Archaeologists believe the cart was used for festivities and parades, perhaps also to carry brides to their new homes.While chariots for daily life or the transport of agricultural products have been previously found at Pompeii, officials said the new find is the first ceremonial chariot unearthed in its entirety.The villa was discovered after police came across the illegal tunnels in 2017, officials said. Two people who live in the houses atop the site are on trial for allegedly digging more than 80 meters of tunnels at the site.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has refused to fire the head of the general staff of the country’s armed forces after he was dismissed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the presidential office said Saturday.
Pashinyan dismissed the head of the general staff, Onik Gasparyan, Thursday after what he had called an attempted coup to remove him, but the move had to be signed off by the president.
According to the president’s statement, posted on the presidential office website, the move to dismiss Gasparyan was unconstitutional.
The army has called for the resignation of Pashinyan and his government after what critics say was the disastrous handling of a bloody six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
As some countries struggle to get enough COVID-19 vaccine, China has intensified efforts to distribute its vaccine in the Balkans. Some experts say it’s an effort to increase the county’s influence in the region. Dino Jahic and Amer Jahic have the story, narrated by Anna Rice.
Camera: Dino Jahic
A federal judge on Friday approved a $650 million settlement of a privacy lawsuit against Facebook for allegedly using photo face-tagging and other biometric data without the permission of its users.U.S. District Judge James Donato approved the deal in a class-action lawsuit that was filed in Illinois in 2015. Nearly 1.6 million Facebook users in Illinois who submitted claims will be affected.Donato called it one of the largest settlements ever for a privacy violation.”It will put at least $345 into the hands of every class member interested in being compensated,” he wrote, calling it “a major win for consumers in the hotly contested area of digital privacy.”Jay Edelson, a Chicago attorney who filed the lawsuit, told the Chicago Tribune that the checks could be in the mail within two months unless the ruling is appealed.“We are pleased to have reached a settlement so we can move past this matter, which is in the best interest of our community and our shareholders,” Facebook, which is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, said in a statement.The lawsuit accused the social media giant of violating an Illinois privacy law by failing to get consent before using facial-recognition technology to scan photos uploaded by users to create and store faces digitally.The state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act allowed consumers to sue companies that didn’t get permission before harvesting data such as faces and fingerprints.The case eventually wound up as a class-action lawsuit in California.Facebook has since changed its photo-tagging system.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warns a proliferation of human rights violations around the world is eroding fundamental freedoms and heightening grievances that are destabilizing.Presenting a global update Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva,
Bachelet zipped through a long litany of global offenders. No region was spared. Few countries emerged with clean hands.
She criticized repressive policies in powerful countries such as Russia, which she said enacted new legal provisions late last year that further limited fundamental freedoms.“Existing restrictive laws have continued to be harshly enforced, including during recent demonstrations across the country. On several occasions, police were filmed using unnecessary and disproportionate force against largely peaceful protesters and made thousands of arrests,” she said.
Bachelet noted problems in the U.S. with systemic racism. She took the European Union to task for anti-migrant restrictions that put lives in jeopardy. She denounced the shrinking civic space across Southeast Asia, condemning the military coup in Myanmar and death squads in the Philippines.
She condemned corrupt, discriminatory and abusive practices in Venezuela, Honduras and other countries in the Americas that have forced millions of people to flee for their lives. She deplored the terrible suffering of millions of people victimized by conflicts in the Middle East.
Specifically, Bachelet expressed concern about alleged abuses committed by all parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. She called for a credible investigation into allegations of mass killings, extrajudicial executions, and other attacks on civilians, including sexual violence in the province.
“I am also disturbed by reported abductions and forcible returns of Eritrean refugees living in Tigray—some reportedly at the hands of Eritrean forces. At least 15,000 Eritreans who had taken refuge are unaccounted for following the destruction of their shelters. Coupled with growing insecurity in other parts of Ethiopia, the conflict in Tigray could have serious impact on regional stability and human rights,” she said.
Bachelet called on the Ugandan government to refrain from using regulations to combat COVID-19 to arrest and detain political opponents and journalists. And, she warned of the dangers posed by apparent official attempts in neighboring Tanzania to deny the reality of COVID-19.
“Including measures to criminalize recognition of the pandemic and related information. This could have serious impact on Tanzanians’ right to health. I note reports of pushbacks of hundreds of asylum seekers from Mozambique and the DRC, as well as continued reports of torture, enforced disappearances and forced returns of Burundian refugees,” she said.
Bachelet noted people in every region of the world were being left behind and excluded from development and other opportunities as the coronavirus pandemic continued to gather pace. She said building trust and maintaining and expanding freedoms were central to global efforts to contain and crush the coronavirus.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Friday took part in a European Union summit to discuss security and defense priorities for the alliance.
Stoltenberg joined European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel at EU headquarters in Brussels where they addressed other EU leaders by videoconference.
Ahead of the meeting, at a news briefing with Michel, Stoltenberg said NATO troops are working with civilian efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to set up military field hospitals, transporting patients and medical equipment, among other efforts. He said their main focus is to ensure a health crisis does not become a security crisis.
But Stoltenberg said, the main role of the alliance is to act as a link between North America and Europe, and he welcomed the strong message from U.S. President Joe Biden regarding his commitment to rebuilding alliances with Europe.
Michel agreed saying he is “totally convinced” the Biden administration offers a unique opportunity to strengthen the partnership between NATO and the EU.
At a news briefing following the security meeting, Von der Leyen said cooperation with NATO was a top priority, but, reflecting the views of other key EU members, said the bloc, “as a whole, has more tasks for stabilization and security than the tasks within NATO. And for that, we have to be prepared.”
EU members Germany and France have been pressing for “strategic autonomy” within the bloc, particularly after what they called former U.S. president Donald Trump’s ambiguous attitude towards traditional U.S. European allies. They said they believe Europe has to be able to stand alone.
The French news agency reports a draft of conclusions from Friday’s meeting indicates the bloc’s leadership will reaffirm that “in the face of increased global instability, the EU needs to take more responsibility for its security,” but no concrete new announcements are expected.
The U.S. is expected to release a declassified intelligence report Friday that blames Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the 2018 grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a U.S. resident with U.S. citizen children.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2, 2018, and was killed by operatives linked to the crown prince. His body was dismembered, and his remains have never been found. Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was mistakenly killed in what it called a rogue operation but denied the crown prince’s involvement.
The role of the crown prince, often referred to by his initials, MBS, in Khashoggi’s death has been the subject of media reports since late 2018.
U.S. President Joe Biden talked with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Thursday. The White House said that during the call, Biden and Salman “discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.”
The White House readout of the call noted the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul from custody and affirmed the importance the U.S. places on universal human rights and the rule of law. It did not mention the report on Khashoggi.
The Trump administration rejected demands by lawmakers to release a declassified version of the report as the White House prioritized arms sales to the kingdom and alliance with Riyadh amid rising U.S. tensions with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran.
On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Russian invasion and seizure of Crimea, the United States and European Union have reaffirmed their positions that Crimea belongs to Ukraine.
“Russia’s invasion and seizure of Crimea” is “a brazen affront to the modern international order,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We affirm this basic truth: Crimea is Ukraine,” Blinken said.
The U.S. “does not, and will never, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea,” the statement added.
The United States is repeating its call for Russia to immediately end its occupation of Crimea, to release all Ukrainian political prisoners, and return full control of the peninsula to Ukraine. The U.S. is also calling on Russia to end its “aggression” in eastern Ukraine.
Until Russia reverses its course regarding Ukraine and Crimea, U.S. sanctions on the country will remain in place, Blinken said.
In his capacity as the president of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reiterated EU’s condemnation of the annexation of Crimea, which it says constitutes a violation of international law.
The Council reaffirms its “unequivocal and unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders,” Maas said in a statement.
The statement calls on Russia “to fully comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights standards, including by granting unimpeded access to regional and international human rights monitoring mechanisms, as well as non-governmental human rights organisations, to Crimea and Sevastopol.”
On February 27, 2014, masked Russian troops moved in and captured strategic locations in Crimea, as well as Crimean institutions, including the Supreme Council or Crimean Parliament. The council of ministers was dissolved and a new pro-Russian prime minister installed.
«Нам гроші потрібні для макроекономічної стабільності, і, особливо, до вересня. Тому я думаю, що в будь-якій ситуації ми досягнемо домовленостей десь до початку літа», – сказав Милованов
За умовами кредитування місто отримає від ЄБРР розстрочку платежу на 12 років, додав мер столиці Віталій Кличко
With internet access increasing in many emerging democracies, use of social media is changing the ways that candidates and voters interact. It’s also changing how the non-profit U.S.-based Carter Center assesses elections. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, monitoring online disinformation and threats to prevent political violence is a new front in the center’s democracy initiatives and is a focus ahead of elections in Ethiopia.Camera: Kane Farabaugh Producer: Kane Farabaugh
Приватна авіакомпанія «Міжнародні авіалінії України» заборгувала державному підприємству «Украерорух» 1,3 мільярда гривень
U.S. lawmakers launched an investigation this week into the December 2020 SolarWinds hack that included a breach of many private and U.S. government computer systems. As VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, tech leaders are telling lawmakers the full scope of the breach is still not known. Camera: Adam Greenbaum Produced by: Katherine Gypson