Brazilian Variant of COVID-19 Could Resist Vaccine, Scientists Warn

Scientists are warning that a variant of the novel coronavirus that was first detected in Brazil could reinfect people already recovering from COVID-19.  The P.1 variant has spread to more than 20 countries since it was first detected last November in the Amazonian region city of Manaus.  A joint study by scientists in Britain and Brazil says the variant is 1.4 to 2.4 times more transmissible than the original version of the coronavirus.  Manaus was struck by an initial wave of COVID-19 infections in April and May of last year.  According to researchers, by October almost 80% of recovering coronavirus patients should have developed antibodies that would have made them immune to the virus. Peru will Receive a Second Vaccine Wednesday to Battle COVID-19Peru to receive the first batch of 50,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine Wednesday    But 25% to 61% of those who had recovered from a first bout of COVID-19 were reinfected with the P.1 variant, according to the study, which has not been peer-reviewed.Scientists are worried that new and more infectious variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be resistant to vaccine now being distributed around the world.  But Nuno Faria, a virologist at Imperial College London who co-led the study, says it is too early to determine if the situation in Brazil with the P.1 variant will also occur elsewhere.  The release of the study on the P.1 variant coincided with official data from Brazil showing it had recorded its highest single-day number of COVID-19 deaths with 1,641.The COVID-19 pandemic has sickened more than 114.8 million people around the globe since it was first detected in central China in late 2019, including 2.5 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.The pandemic has also led to what the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has described as an “education emergency,” with more than 168 million children around the world locked out of the classroom for nearly a year.   UNICEF says 98 million children across Latin America and the Caribbean account for the majority of students who have missed in-person learning.  U.S. country music superstar Dolly Parton tried to inject hope and encouragement Tuesday as she was injected with her first dose of the Moderna vaccine. In a short video she posted on Twitter, the 75-year-old singer-songwriter received the vaccine at Vanderbilt University Health Center in Nashville, Tennessee.Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine. @VUMChealthpic.twitter.com/38kJrDzLqC— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) March 2, 2021Before getting the shot, Parton revamped one of her most famous songs, “Jolene,” to encourage viewers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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At Least Seven Bolivian Students Dead, and Five Others Seriously Injured After University Railing Collapse

Bolivia’s special crime unit is investigating the circumstances of the death of at least seven students, who fell from their fourth-floor university building after a metal railing collapsed. Five other students were seriously injured in Tuesday’s incident at the El Alto University near the capital, La Paz. Video footage prior the incident showed a crowd of students pushing and shoving on a narrow walkway when the rail suddenly gave way, sending the victims plunging to the concrete below.  Some students managed to cling to others near the edge of the walkway before being pulled to safety.    The victims ranged in age from 19 to 27, according to Bolivia’s Special Force to Fight Crime. Reuter’s reports that local media said prior to the incident the students were involved in a tense meeting at the university, which included some physical altercations. 

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Peru will Receive a Second Vaccine Wednesday to Battle COVID-19

Peru is getting another weapon in its battle against the spread of COVID-19 on Wednesday. President Francisco Sagasti said his country will receive the first batch of 50,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Wednesday evening, with an equal amount arriving the rest of the week. Peru expects to receive five million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by June after reaching an agreement early last month.  Sagasti said Peru will now have two different vaccines to fight the virus, which has propelled the country to one the most impacted in Latin America. Peru began the first round immunization last month after receiving 300,000 doses of vaccine from China’s Sinopoharm laboratory. The Peruvian leader also said that doses of vaccine from the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative are pending.  The WHO program provides vaccines to low- and middle-income countries that have difficulty acquiring doses because of the limited global supply and logistical problems.  So far, Peru has confirmed more than 1,329,000 infections and 46,494 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University Covid Resource Center. 

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US Sanctions Russia for Poisoning Opposition

The Biden administration announced sanctions Tuesday on senior Russian government officials for the poisoning of Alexey Navalny and reiterated a demand that the opposition leader be released from detention. The sanctions were not specifically directed at President Vladimir Putin or his inner circle. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has the story.

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Will Biden’s Immigration Policies Blunt Canada’s Tech Edge?

As the United States loosens its immigration policies under President Joe Biden, leaders of Canada’s thriving tech sector may find they have to work a little harder to attract top international talent.“The effect of the Biden administration is not seen as yet,” says Toronto-based financial services executive Soumya Ghosh.Nevertheless, Canadian tech firms have been clear beneficiaries of America’s restrictive immigration policies under former President Donald Trump, finding themselves able to hire highly skilled workers from around the world who might otherwise have headed for jobs in the United States.The influx of skilled workers helped to make Toronto the fastest-growing center for technology jobs in North America in recent years, according to a January 2020 report by the U.S. business analysis firm CBRE, a global service and investment firm. Canada’s Pacific coast city of Vancouver also made the top five, along with San Francisco, New York and Seattle.FILE PHOTO: An employee works at Shopify’s headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Oct. 22, 2018.Standouts in the Canadian tech sector include homegrown companies such as e-commerce company Shopify which says it supports 1.7 million businesses in 175 countries. The ease of hiring international talent has also made Canada more attractive to global giants such as Google which in February 2020 announced plans to triple its workforce in the country.While Trump’s stated policy goal was to prioritize high-skilled workers under a “merit-based” immigration system, U.S. visa issuance fell for almost all categories of recipients during his administration, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.The Biden administration said this week it has still not decided whether to extend a Trump-era temporary ban on new H-1B visas, the most commonly used visa under which highly skilled tech workers can come to the United States.But even if some immigration restrictions are lifted, analysts in Canada believe there are other reasons their sector will continue to attract top talent.’Cost advantage’“Canada also has a cost advantage,” argued Ghosh, who is vice president and Canada market unit head for banking and capital markets at Capgemini Financial Services. “In addition to being in the same time zone as the U.S., U.S.-based employers also can leverage the Canadian tech talent pool being in the same time zone at a lower cost.”The global coronavirus pandemic has also benefited the sector, according to Alexander Norman, co-founder of TechTO, a resource center for newly arrived tech workers in Toronto.“Canada has always produced talent but over the last several years that talent has decided to stay home and build new companies here,” Norman told VOA. “We are starting to see the result of this switch with leading tech companies in many different sectors.”Norman’s co-founder on TechTO, Jason Goldlist, said the widespread shift to telework because of the pandemic has also been a factor.“COVID shifted many professional industries online, but none more than tech,” he said. “Now, they can work for a huge company like Twitter from anywhere they want. Including their hometown in Canada.”Commitment to immigrationBut for many tech experts and executives interviewed by VOA, no factor has been more important in Canada’s tech boom than its commitment to immigration, including robust refugee resettlement and a vibrant community of international students.“We have one of the best immigration systems in the world,” maintained Robert Asselin, a senior political adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his rise to power in 2015 and Canada’s budget and policy director under Finance Minister Bill Morneau from 2015 to 2017. “Mobility is possible. Second generation immigrants do better consistently.”Asselin, who was born and raised in a Francophone part of Quebec, said he credits Canada’s successes to the openness formed through a long-standing effort to be a multilingual country. Canada’s official languages are French and English.“We’re really good at integrating diversity and leveraging diversity as a strength, and when you think about the future of businesses you want all talent to come to your country,” he said.“I think that we’re one of the best places to immigrate from around the world. If people want to come here and have the best shot at success, I think we’re one of the best countries to do that.”Canada’s only land border is with the United States, making it relatively easy to prevent uncontrolled migration and focus on welcoming high-skilled workers and refugees at an orderly pace. Waves of mostly low-skilled migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border have been a polarizing factor in America’s immigration debate.Ghosh agreed that immigration has played a big role in the economic development of Canada.“When it comes to the technology scene, a lot of the development that has happened in the tech space, the demand from Canadian enterprises, quite significantly depends on smart people coming from different parts of the globe.”Diversity and inclusivity initiativesPart of this effort to court the world’s best and brightest includes diversity and inclusivity initiatives.In Halifax, the biggest city on Canada’s Atlantic coast, a tech start-up, Side Door, has a working group “that works internally on anti-racist and anti-oppression policies,” said CEO and co-founder Laura Simpson.Side Door works to link artists such as musicians and help them find venues. Simpson says the goal is “to connect artists with curators, venues, service providers and audiences to make booking, ticketing and payments easy, fair and transparent.”“If you’re trying to create a global company, how are you going to do that without having globally minded people?” she asked in an interview. “We’ve worked with recruits toward having a global workforce and now we work with people all over the world. And that’s the way of the future.”

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US Sanctions Russians for Role in Navalny Attack    

For the first time, the administration of President Joe Biden is taking punitive action against Russia.  Sanctions were imposed Tuesday on several senior Russian government officials — but not the country’s president, Vladimir Putin — for what the Biden administration says is their role in the attempted murder of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny.  The sanctions, seen by some experts as largely symbolic, are being coordinated with the European Union, which already had taken action against some Russian officials in connection with the Navalny case.  Moscow will respond in kind to the U.S. sanctions, warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via Reuters)”We’re sending a clear signal to Russia that there are consequences for the use of chemical weapons,” a senior administration official said.  “I understand that the only thing that the administration could do is to send signals,” said University of Chicago Professor Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist. “These are strong signals, but these are just signals, this is not something that has a material effect.” Among those sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department are Alexander Bortnikov, director of the FSB intelligence agency; Andrei Yarin, chief of the Kremlin’s domestic policy directorate; and deputy ministers of defense Alexey Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov. U.S. officials on Tuesday also declassified an intelligence finding putting blame for the poisoning on one of Russia’s leading intelligence agencies, the FSB.  “The tone and the tenor and the type of relationship that this president intends to have with President Putin will be quite different from the last administration,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. FILE – Then-Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2011.Tuesday’s actions are seen as stopping short of triggering a significantly wider diplomatic rift between Washington and Moscow.In response to a VOA question about cooperation between Biden and Putin concerning reducing nuclear missiles, proliferation by Iran and the war in Syria, Psaki said, “There are areas where we disagree, there are areas where there’s significant challenge, there are also areas where we are going to work with the Russians as we would with most global partners.”  The rhetoric expressed Tuesday by some key lawmakers on Capitol Hill was less diplomatic.  FILE – Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during a confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2021.”Putin is a coward who hires hitmen to keep his grip on power, but the Russian people are tired of living under a paranoid despot,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “These sanctions and the addition of Russian entities to the Commerce Department’s blacklist send a clear message to Moscow, but we can’t stop here.” Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, is calling for the United States and its allies to “invoke the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention to demand inspections of Putin’s facilities that produced the nerve agents involved in Navalny’s poisoning. We need to kneecap all financial support to Putin’s corrupt regime.”  FILE – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2020.The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, Democratic of California, said, “Unless we impose meaningful costs, we cannot expect to curb behaviors from Russia that undermine both our national security and values.” Putin is unlikely to be chastened by the sanctions announced Tuesday, according to Cyrus Newlin, an associate fellow who focuses on Russia at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.  “I think the record shows that Vladimir Putin is relatively unconcerned about what the West thinks about him and his regime and increasingly how the West will respond,” Newlin told VOA.  Navalny was hospitalized in August after falling ill on a flight in Serbia. He was medically evacuated to Germany, where doctors determined he had been poisoned. Medical experts concluded the leader of the Russia of the Future party was exposed to the chemical nerve agent Novichok. Russia denied any involvement in the matter.  FILE – This handout picture posted Sept. 15, 2020, on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny with his family at Berlin’s Charite hospital.Upon recovery, Navalny returned home early this year and was immediately arrested. He was sent to a prison outside Moscow to serve a 2-and-a-half-year prison sentence for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany.  The Biden administration has called for his release.Other U.S. actionIn other action Tuesday, the State Department implemented measures “against multiple Russian individuals and entities associated with the Russian Federation’s chemical weapons program and defense and intelligence sectors.” Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said it was adding 14 entities in Russia, Germany and Switzerland to the Entity List — an international trade blacklist — “based on their proliferation activities in support of Russia’s weapons of mass destruction programs and chemical weapons activities.”  U.S. officials say they will soon announce sanctions as a response to a cyberattack linked to Russia on U.S. government computers, known as the SolarWinds hack.  VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.
 

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European Court of Justice Says New Polish Judicial Regulations Could Violate EU Law

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) Tuesday ruled that new Polish regulations regarding the appointment of Supreme Court judges could violate European law, effectively striking down efforts to exert political influence over the judiciary in that country.The legislation in question regulates Poland’s strengthened political influence over a top judicial body, the National Council of the Judiciary, and the body’s procedure of appointments to the Supreme Court. It also curbed the right to appeal the council’s decisions, effectively leaving that body unchecked with its authority.In his ruling, ECJ Judge Marko Ilesic said the new regulations “are capable of giving legitimate doubts” in the minds of subjects of the law as to the neutrality of judges appointed by the president of Poland and whether they are influenced by politics.The ruling obliges Poland’s right-wing government to discontinue the regulations and observe the principles of judicial independence and the right to judicial protection. It also means Poland’s Supreme Administrative Court can now review appeals by the five judges, who are not government loyalists. In the process, it is likely to rule that the entire appointment procedure was flawed and ineffective.The EU has been strongly critical of Poland’s conservative government for the changes it has introduced to the judiciary since it won power in 2015, saying they undermine the country’s rule of law.
 

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Macron ‘Playing with Fire,’ Says France’s Leading Left-wing Newspaper

French President Emmanuel Macron is being pulled in contrary political directions, swerving both left and right, as he seeks to work out the political trajectory most likely to secure him reelection next year, according to critics and analysts.  The maneuvering, though, is increasing the frustrations of left-wing voters amid signs that a backlash is building. Libération, France’s leading left-wing daily newspaper, warned this week that many on the left, who backed Macron in 2017, handing him a landslide election win over France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen, won’t do so again next year. Libération accused Macron of being in “flagrant denial,” saying the French president is “playing with fire” by assuming the left is going to mobilize and vote for him if he again faces Le Pen in a runoff.  FILE – The entrance to France’s newspaper Liberation is seen in Paris, Feb. 20, 2014.Macron is coming under pressure from Le Pen, according to opinion polls, with the far-right leader having closed the gap between them to just 4 percent in a recent survey of voting intentions. Lockdown frustrations and an agonizingly slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines appears to be fueling Le Pen’s support. In 2017, Macron, a centrist outsider and former investment banker, who served as a minister in socialist President François Hollande’s government, was an electoral novice who came from nowhere, founded his own party from scratch and snatched the presidency by crushing Le Pen in a 66 percent to 34 percent victory.  He was helped by crumbling traditional party allegiances, anti-establishment disdain and a squabbling left wing.  Last year, Macron suffered a political reversal when a cabal of mainly left-oriented lawmakers defected from his party, La République En Marche, depriving him of an absolute parliamentary majority. Their defection did not dissuade Macron from continuing a lurch to the right — a move designed to ensure center-right voters remain loyal. He swapped out two center-right politicians as prime minister, replacing Edouard Philippe, a potential presidential rival next year, with Jean Castex, a largely unknown civil servant with little political experience and someone not seen as an electoral cahallenger to Macron. FILE – Former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe applauds newly appointed Prime Minister Jean Castex in the courtyard of the Matignon Hotel during the handover ceremony in Paris, France, July 3, 2020.Élysée Palace aides say Macron’s best hope of winning a second term in 2022 is to convince voters the choice comes down to him or the far right. He has the benefit of there being no standout from the left or center-right among a field of mediocre would-be presidents — although Philippe remains a potential threat.  FILE – Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at the courtroom in Paris, Nov. 23, 2020.A possible center-right challenge from Nicolas Sarkozy evaporated this week when the former prime minister was found guilty on corruption charges, dashing any thoughts he might have been entertaining of making a political comeback. Last year, Macron acknowledged in a television interview that he remains unpopular among large parts of the electorate, conceding that in his first three years in office he had alienated some voters because they perceived him as being out of touch with ordinary families.  His concession came after an ugly incident during a walk in the Tuileries Garden in Paris with his wife and their bodyguards, when he was confronted by anti-government yellow-vest protesters, who the day before had demonstrated in favor of a large increase in funding for hospitals and health workers.  They accused the French leader of being responsible for police violence against protesters. They chanted for the president to resign, and he complained they were interrupting his walk.  FILE – Jean-Luc Melenchon speaks to supporters at Place Stalingrad in Paris, April 22, 2012.Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing France Insoumise party, a likely presidential candidate next year, cited the clash as further evidence of a “decline in the relationship between the president and the people.” In the past few months Macron has been lurching to the right, a swerve, say analysts, based on the assumption by the Élysée Palace that the left would have no option but to vote for him next year. Instead, the focus has been on appealing to the right by toughening Macron’s stance on law-and-order issues.  But a promised clampdown on “Islamist separatism,” part of a bid to woo conservative voters who might be tempted to back Le Pen, has prompted growing unease on the left and center of French politics, seemingly prompting him to swing back and forth from criticizing multiculturalism to embracing racial and cultural diversity. A proposed tough security law, which critics said would shield police from accusations of misconduct by outlawing the sharing of images of officers when they are operational, provoked outrage with tens of thousands protesting in the streets.  The government appeared taken aback by the strength of feeling over the draft measure. And Macron effected a U-turn, instructing his ministers to rewrite the law completely. Macron has seen some benefits from his emphasis on law and order, and also from his much tougher rhetoric on illegal immigration, with steady improvements in his popularity ratings. But he and his government have been buffeted by public disapproval of the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with 60 percent of the public deeming it to have been incompetent, according to a poll published last month.  FILE – Leader of France’s National Rally Party Marine Le Pen speaks during a news conference in Milan, Italy, May 18, 2019.Le Pen has been on the attack, accusing the government of acting “like a dead dog floating along in the water” in its handling of the pandemic.  In a recent radio interview she said: “We have the feeling of being knocked around without ever anticipating, without ever looking ahead, without ever taking the decisions that allow us to avoid, when it’s possible, lockdown number 1, number 2 or number 3.” Macron’s green credentials also have been challenged. On Wednesday, a new climate bill sent to parliament was criticized by environmental groups. They say it is not radical enough to see France meet its goals for cutting emissions. The draft measure, which incorporates many recommendations from citizens assembly of 150 randomly chosen citizens guided by experts, aims to cut French carbon emissions by 40 percent in 2030 from 1990 levels.  The Élysée Palace says the proposed measure will lead voters to conclude the French president is serious about fulfilling a pledge to “make our planet great again.” 
 

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Bunny Wailer, Reggae Luminary And Last Wailers Member, Dies

Bunny Wailer, a reggae luminary who was the last surviving member of the legendary group The Wailers, died on Tuesday in his native Jamaica, according to his manager. He was 73.
Wailer, a baritone singer whose birth name is Neville Livingston, formed The Wailers in 1963 with late superstars Bob Marley and Peter Tosh when they lived in a slum in the capital of Kingston.
They first recorded catapulted to international fame with the album, “Catch a Fire.” In addition to their music, the Wailers and other Rasta musicians popularized Rastafarian culture among better-off Jamaicans starting in the 1970s.
Wailer’s death was mourned worldwide as people shared pictures, music and memories of the renown artist.
“The passing of Bunny Wailer, the last of the original Wailers, brings to a close the most vibrant period of Jamaica’s musical experience,” wrote Jamaica politician Peter Phillips in a Facebook post. “Bunny was a good, conscious Jamaican brethren.”
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, also paid tribute to Wailer, calling him “a respected elder statesman of the Jamaican music scene,” in a series of tweets.  
“This is a great loss for Jamaica and for Reggae, undoubtedly Bunny Wailer will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture,” he wrote.
While Wailer toured the world, he was more at home in Jamaica’s mountains and he enjoyed farming while writing and recording songs on his label, Solomonic.
“I think I love the country actually a little bit more than the city,” Wailer told The Associated Press in 1989. “It has more to do with life, health and strength. The city takes that away sometimes. The country is good for meditation. It has fresh food and fresh atmosphere – that keeps you going.”
A year before, in 1988, he had chartered a jet and flew to Jamaica with food to help those affected by Hurricane Gilbert.
“Sometimes people pay less attention to those things (food) but they turn out to be the most important things. I am a farmer,” he told the AP.
The three-time Grammy winner died at the Andrews Memorial Hospital in the Jamaican parish of St Andrew, his manager, Maxine Stowe, told reporters. His cause of death was not immediately clear. Local newspapers had reported he was in and out of the hospital after a stroke nearly a year ago.
 

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