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Kim Jong Un carries coffin at North Korean military officer’s funeral

A maskless Kim Jong Un was one of the pallbearers at the state funeral for a top military officer, North Korean state media reported Monday, days after Pyongyang claimed the country's Covid-19 outbreak was now under control.

Kim on Sunday attended the funeral of Hyon Chol Hae, a Korean People's Army marshal who reportedly mentored the North Korean leader to take over from his father Kim Jong Il.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released photos of Kim, not wearing a face mask, hoisting up Hyon's casket along with other regime officials, who were masked.

Hyon died of multiple organ failure at the age of 87, according to KCNA.

The North Korean leader has put himself front and centre of his country's Covid response, blaming lazy state officials for worsening the Omicron variant-fuelled outbreak.

Over the weekend, KCNA said the epidemic was now “being stably controlled”, and reported the death toll “sharply decreased day by day”.

Experts question the official claim and tally, given that the impoverished country has one of the world's worst healthcare systems and no Covid-19 drugs or mass testing ability.

It has not vaccinated any of its roughly 25 million people, having rejected jabs offered by the World Health Organization.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

North Korea announced its first coronavirus case on May 12, despite a two-year blockade maintained since the start of the pandemic.

Pyongyang reported 167,650 “fever” cases on Monday via KCNA, a notable drop from the peak of around 390,000 reported about a week before.

It reported one more death and claimed the fatality rate for the “fever” was 0.002 percent.

State media reports do not specify how many of the cases and deaths have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pyongyang has so far not responded to an offer of help from Seoul, according to South Korea's unification ministry.

During his visit to Seoul at the weekend, US President Joe Biden said Washington had also offered Covid-19 vaccines to Pyongyang but “got no response”.

Despite the virus outbreak, new satellite imagery has indicated North Korea has resumed construction at a long-dormant nuclear reactor.

The US and South Korea have both warned that Kim is poised to conduct another nuclear test, which would be the country's seventh.

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UAE reports 1,796 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

The UAE announced 1,796 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the official Emirates News Agency reported.

This brings the current total active cases in the UAE to 17,551 and the total number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic to 949,384, according to data from the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA).

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The cases were determined out of 232,943 tests in the last 24 hours.

No deaths from the virus were recorded on Saturday, maintaining the total deaths caused by COVID-19 to 2,317 in the UAE.

At least 1,727 patients recovered in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total COVID-19 recoveries to 929,516.

On June 13, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced it would strictly enforce its mask rules – with penalties for those flouting the protocol – and announced it would tighten its rules on the Al Hosn green pass system amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.

NCEMA said that it has recently “monitored some behaviors that have become a danger to society and public health,” referring to people not adhering to COVID-19 precautionary and preventative measures and how it has “negatively” impacted recovery efforts.

“Negligence and recklessness in following precautionary measures, and failure in the societal role in maintaining public health and acquired immunity, has resulted in a rise in the number of infections and new waves of the virus,” the authority spokesman said in the briefing.

The authority reaffirmed the need to wear masks in closed public spaces, reiterating that it was mandatory and that not adhering to this rule would result in a fine of up to $816 (AED 3,000).

According to the World Health Organization, more than 4.1 million cases were reported globally in the last week.

It added, however, that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500, noting that COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines could increase protection as boosters: EMA

Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.
Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
As such, an omicron-specific or bivalent booster – meaning a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original coronavirus strain – could “increase and extend” protection, a statement from the EMA said.
The statement refers specifically to the mRNA vaccines. Both Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing retooled versions of their vaccines to include the omicron variant.
Vaccines which include other variants, for example the beta variant, might also be considered for use as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrate an adequate level of neutralization against omicron and other variants of concern, the statement said.
It follows guidance from the World Health Organization that omicron-specific boosters could restore protection against emerging strains of the coronavirus.
But it stops short of the position of the regulator in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said on Thursday that it would seek the inclusion specifically of the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains of omicron, currently driving a surge in new infections globally, in any new shots for use domestically.
On Tuesday, the head of a WHO advisory committee that has considered the modified shots said the group preferred BA.1-based boosters, arguing that the variant is more distinct and could generate a broader response than the more recently circulating subvariants.
Top US FDA official Peter Marks said in an interview that regulators from other countries were seriously considering using new boosters based on the BA.1 omicron variant that caused the massive surge in cases last winter, because those shots can be available sooner than the BA.4/5 based booster the United States plans to use.
The EMA said it would provide more details in coming days.
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Russia scraps remaining COVID-19 restrictions

Russia said on Friday it was ending all restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including the requirement to wear masks, citing a steady decline in deaths from the virus.
However, it did not rule out re-introducing restrictive measures if the situation deteriorates.
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it was “suspending previously introduced restrictions, including the mask regime, a ban on public catering at night, and a number of other measures.”
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
It said the dynamics of the virus were consistent with global trends and 93 percent of confirmed cases were mild or asymptomatic.
Since the start of the pandemic in Russia in April 2020, over 800,000 people have died from coronavirus or causes related to COVID-19, Reuters calculations show, with the country recording over 18 million infections.
Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik V vaccine when the pandemic struck but take-up was slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products. About 52 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
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