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Russia’s Putin calls for mutual approval of COVID-19 vaccines

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called for mutual recognition of vaccines against the coronavirus to help curtail the pandemic, as concern grows around the world about the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Speaking at a Russian investment forum by video link, Putin said that countries can “effectively battle” the coronavirus only by coordinating their actions.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

“I mean the mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates, the availability of vaccines for all regions of the planet (and) joint work on new drugs against the coronavirus,” the Russian leader told the conference.

“In the coming weeks, it will become clear how serious the consequences of the new strain are. But it is very clear that we need to be prepared for any change in the virus.”

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Russia in August 2020 was the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, which has been approved for use in dozens of countries.

The jab, however, has not yet been approved by the World Health Organization or the European Medicines Agency.

Experts had voiced concerns over a fast-track process after Russian authorities registered Sputnik V ahead of large-scale clinical trials, but it was since declared safe and over 90 percent effective in an article in leading medical journal The Lancet.

Russia has not approved any foreign-made vaccines for use in the country.

Concerns are building that existing vaccines will not be able to fend off the highly mutated Omicron variant and US pharmaceutical company Moderna has said it will develop a booster shot.

On Thursday, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which supported Sputnik V’s development by the state-run Gamaleya Center, said that the center had also already begun developing an Omicron booster.

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Security guard killed inside Qatar Embassy in Paris

A security guard was killed in the early hours of Monday inside the Qatar Embassy in Paris in an incident that does not appear to have any links to terrorism, a source close to the investigation said.
The incident took place at around 0630 (0430 GMT), the source said, adding that the suspect had entered the embassy and had a row with the security guard, who died after being punched.

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The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed the death and said one person had been arrested on the spot.
“I can confirm that an investigation was opened today on the count of murder,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Read more: Iran will ‘avenge’ killing of IRGC colonel: President

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Sandstorm forces closure of Iraqi airports and public buildings

Iraq closed public buildings and temporarily shut airports Monday as another sandstorm — the ninth since mid-April — hit the country, authorities said.

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The capital Baghdad was enveloped in a giant dust cloud that left usually traffic-choked streets largely deserted, an AFP correspondent said.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered all work to cease in public institutions, with the exception of health facilities and security agencies.

He cited “poor climatic conditions and the arrival of violent sandstorms” in a statement issued by his office.

Iraq is ranked as one of the five most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification.

The environment ministry has warned that over the next two decades, Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year, rising to above 300 by 2050.

Air traffic was suspended Monday at international airports in Baghdad, Erbil and Najaf, according to statements issued by each airport, before authorities announced later in the morning that flights were resuming at Baghdad and Erbil.

The previous two sandstorms killed one person and sent nearly 10,000 people to hospital with respiratory problems.

The Middle East has always been battered by sandstorms, but they have become more frequent and intense in recent years.

The trend has been associated with rising heat and water scarcity, overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

Oil-rich Iraq is known in Arabic as the land of the two rivers, in reference to the Tigris and Euphrates.

Iraq’s environment ministry has said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by increasing vegetation cover and planting trees that act as windbreaks.

Read more:

Experts warn of health effects from dusty conditions as sandstorm blankets UAE

Sandstorm blankets Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh

Iraq sandstorm forces closure of airports, schools, public administrations

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Oxfam tells Davos: Time to tax growing billionaire club

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new billionaire every 30 hours and now one million people could fall into extreme poverty at the same pace, Oxfam said Monday as the Davos summit returns.

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The international charity said it was time to tax the rich to support the less fortunate as the global elite gathered at the Swiss mountain haven for the World Economic Forum after a two-year Covid-induced absence.

Oxfam said it expects 263 million people to sink into extreme poverty this year, at a rate of one million every 33 hours, as soaring inflation has added a cost-of-living crisis on top of COVID-19.

By comparison, 573 people became billionaires during the pandemic, or one every 30 hours.

“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes,” Oxfam executive director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement.

“The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them,” Bucher said.

“Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” she said.

Oxfam called for a one-off “solidarity tax” on billionaires’ pandemic windfall to support people facing soaring prices as well as fund a “fair and sustainable recovery” from the pandemic.

It also said it was time to “end crisis profiteering” by rolling out a “temporary excess profit tax” of 90 percent on windfall profits of big corporations.

Oxfam added that an annual wealth tax on millionaires of two percent, and five percent for billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year.

Such a wealth tax would help lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world and pay for universal health care for people in poorer countries, it said.

Oxfam based its calculations on the Forbes list of billionaires and World Bank data.

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Quarter of billion face extreme poverty in 2022: Oxfam

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