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Facebook To Restore News Sharing Services In Australia 

Facebook announced that it will be restoring all news pages in Australia after the platform and Australian government agreed to certain changes within the media coding that would grant greater control over what appears on the platform from both parties. 

Facebook and the Australian government have been at odds for months now. Initially Australia was attempting to pass legislation that would require Facebook and Google to pay news and media outlets for their content before they’re able to share it across their platforms. “The initial version of the legislation would have allowed media outlets to bargain either individually or collectively with Facebook and Google — and to enter binding arbitration if the parties couldn’t reach an agreement,” according to reports

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This week the Australian government also released a statement in which they claimed they would “amend the code to include a provision that must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses.” 

Campbell Brown is Facebook’s vice president for global news partnerships who recently spoke with the media regarding the new deal. 

“The government has clarified Facebook will retain the ability to decide if news appears on the platform so that we won’t automatically be subject to forced negotiation.” 

Brown continued to explain that the “agreement will allow Facebook to support the publishers they choose to, including small and local publishers. Our company will also be restoring the news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days.” 

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Brown is of course referring to Facebook’s decision last week to remove all news articles and services from the platform, barring Australians from finding or sharing news. This move not only impacted the thousands of media publishers on Facebook, but government agencies and services as well. The removal of media outlets indirectly removed pages for emergency government services and charities, leaving many Australians who are dependent on those services without the ability to access them. 

Facebook’s recent decision to restore the news came after the Australian Senate discussed the recent media laws passed that allowed the platform to take away so many essential services and pages. 

“It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally, and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook,” Brown explained. 

Google, on the other hand, has already been attempting to surpass the new legislation by partnering with some of Australia’s largest media organizations. All of these deals are currently unconfirmed, but will likely be revealed in the coming weeks.

Two Journalists Receive Two Years In Prison For Live-Streaming Belarus Protest 

Journalists Darya Chultsova, 23, and Yekaterina Andreyeva, 27, have been sentenced to two years in prison for live-streaming a demonstration in Belarus. The two work for the independent Belsat TV channel and were detained back in November while covering a protest that was in memory of an opposition activist who died in Minsk a few days prior. 

Roman Bondarenko was a local media activist who apparently died from injuries sustained after being beaten by riot police. The Prosecutor General of Belarus announced this week that an investigation into his death is already being launched but “the involvement of employees of the internal affairs bodies in causing Bondarenkp bodily harm has not been established.” 

This Thursday the courts ruled that both Chultsova and Andreyeva were guilty of “organizing a demonstration that grossly violates public order.”

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Investigators revealed that the two journalists allegedly gathered protestors “by talking about it on air, which then led to interruptions of public transport in the area.” The two are maintaining their innocence on the matter. 

“I have everything: youth, a job that I love, prominence and, most importantly, a clear conscience. I want to devote all my energy to the creation of Belarus without political repression. I demand an acquittal for myself, for my colleagues and for hundreds of political prisoners,” Andreyeva said at a previous court hearing, according to local media.

Viasna is a Belarussian human rights group that designated the two young journalists as political prisoners and claimed the charges against them are being enforced because of their work as journalists. Belsat is a politically independent TV channel that’s based in Poland. The channel primarily reports on Belarus and it’s budget relies on Polish state subsidies. 

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Ever since its presidential elections in August of 2020, Belarus has been taken over by mass protests. Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, and when he secured his sixth term last summer, claims of a rigged election began flooding media outlets and independent observers who were commentating on the manner. 

Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in Belarus, demanding Lukashenko’s resignation. Riot police have since cracked down on the protests, beating and detaining thousands of protestors. Some media outlets have reported that the detention centers these protestors are being held at are riddled with abuse and torture. 

“Just look at Darya and Yekaterina, strong, smiling, and saying goodbyes to their loved ones through bars. Lukashenka can’t break us,” Belarussian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said in a tweet on Thursday. As of right now the two journalists will begin their sentence in the coming weeks.

Coronavirus Vaccine in Bottles

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Proven To Reduce Symptomatic Covid-19 In Real World

Researchers in Israel this week announced that Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine has appeared to reduce symptomatic coronavirus infections by more than 90% in the real world now that more and more populations are receiving their doses. 

The preliminary findings suggest that the vaccine itself has remained as successful as researchers initially proved in their vaccine trials. Within a clinical vaccine trial the conditions are greatly controlled to monitor the actual effectiveness of the shot, however, that monitoring already eliminates a slew of other risks that exist within the real world that could impact the vaccine’s efficacy. 

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Luckily, nothing of the sort has occurred, and the vaccine is still wildly successful. The Clalit Research Institute is a major part of Israel’s healthcare system, and they’re the ones who analyzed data on 1.2 million individuals; half of which received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The researchers wanted to compare patients who had received the vaccine and individuals with similar immune systems who hadn’t.

The researchers wanted to analyze the rate in which symptomatic Covid-19 was spreading with the release of this vaccine; meaning they looked at individuals who contracted the virus and actually felt sick. Symptomatic Covid-19 was proven to decrease by 94% among individuals who have received their two doses of the vaccine, according to a press release from Clalit. The rate of serious illness caused by the virus decreased by 92%. 

The research has yet to be published by the Institute because they’re still waiting for it to be peer-reviewed so that the results are as accurate as possible. However, the results are already consistent with the data that Pfizer initially released to prove their vaccine would be effective. 

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Pfizer’s initial data from their vaccine trial showed that their Covid-19 vaccine was 95% effective against symptomatic coronavirus. In the trial itself, participants were either given the actual vaccine or a placebo. They then observed how many people from each group got infected after the fact. 

Pfizer’s clinical study was considered to be the “golden standard in clinical research” according to the Institute due to the fact that it was a randomized and controlled trial. The studies from Israel are now observational, meaning researchers aren’t randomly picking individuals who got the vaccine or not already.

Observational studies can skew the data in this case, however, due to the fact that different individuals who choose to be vaccinated are likely going to take less or more steps towards protecting themselves from potential infection. 

While the observational aspect of this study may not be as effective as a controlled trial, the combination of these new results with the results that came from Pfizer and BioNTech themselves shows the world that the vaccine is just as effective as anticipated, and we should all continue to do our parts to protect each other and bring this pandemic to an end.

Lying About High-Risk Travel In England Can Get You Up To 10 Years In Prison 

England announced new Covid-19 travel and border policies this Tuesday that state anyone arriving in the country and found to have lied about a recent trip to a country on the British government’s travel ban list could face up to 10 years in prison as a means of curbing the spread of the virus and all the new variants appearing throughout the world. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told citizens this Monday that all UK residents, as well as those in Ireland, arriving into England from places on the governments “Red List” will have to purchase a quarantine package that costs around $2,400 per person. This package covers accomodation, virus testing, and other essential services. 

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Individuals who choose not to abide by these restrictions, including those arriving from a Red List country without a hotel already booked to quarantine in, could be subject to a series of heavy fines in addition to a potential prison sentence, according to Hancock.

“I make no apologies for the strength of these measures because we’re dealing with one of the strongest threats to our public health that we’ve faced as a nation. People who flout these rules are putting us all at risk.”

There are about 33 countries on the UK’s Red List for travel due to the slew of new variants appearing. If you enter into the UK from a country not on the list, you can simply quarantine at home, for those who do, however, must buy the coronavirus package mentioned above, and will be placed on “variant surveillance testing” as well. 

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Hancock claimed that all of these policies will be going into effect as of Thursday of this week, and the government has created contracts with 16 hotels to give them an additional 4,600 rooms for the quarantining measures.

“Anyone who lies on a passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they’ve been in a country on our red list in the 10 days before arrival here will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.”

Scotland is also tightening its rules on international travel, requiring all citizens entering into the nation on an international flight to quarantine in a designated hotel. “Airports and airlines are battling to survive with almost zero revenue and a huge cost base, and practically every week a further blow lands. Aviation-specific financial support is urgently needed to ensure our sector can get through the year,” Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, and Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines U.K, said in a statement. 

All of these measures will be indefinitely enforced until more citizens are vaccinated and the pandemic seems to subside more in general. 12.6 million UK residents have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine so far, and the British government is set to announce the next phase of its vaccine rollout program at the start of next week.

Sputnik V Vaccine

Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine Is Safe And Effective Against Treating Covid-19 

Russia announced this week that their Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19, and 100% effective against severe and moderate cases of the disease, according to an initial analysis of the vaccine’s Phase 3 trial data. 

The data has been collected from 19,866 participants; three-quarters (14,964) of them received two doses of the vaccine while a quarter (4,902) of them received a placebo. 16 cases of symptomatic Covid-19 appeared in the vaccine group 21 days after the first dose of the vaccine had been distributed. 62 cases were found in the placebo group, which led to the 91.6% efficacy conclusion. 

Serious adverse effects from the vaccine were rare, and none were considered to be directly caused by the vaccine and more so due to the individuals personal health. Pain at injection sites, flu-like symptoms, and low energy levels were among the most common side effects; much like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

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The data analysis only accounts for symptomatic cases of Covid-19, and the authors concluded that more research would need to be done to see how the vaccine impacts asymptomatic Covid-19 transmission and how long protection may last. Dr. Inna V Dolzhikova was a co-author of the study who suggested that the vaccine has “a high efficacy, immunogenicity, and a good tolerability profile in participants aged 18 or older.” 

Dolzhikova works at Russia’s Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, which developed the Sputnik V Vaccine. The participants in the trial were given PCR Covid-19 tests when they received the second shot and were required to take another test if they reported any symptoms of respiratory infection.

The Sputnik V vaccine is a two-dose adenoviral vector vaccine using two different adenoviruses for each dose, with doses administered 21 days apart. With this type of vaccine, an adenovirus is altered so that it can deliver a piece of genetic material from the virus that causes Covid-19 into the body and get cells to express the spike induced on the virus and induce an immune response. It’s an approach similar to the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson,” according to new reports.

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The authors say by using an adenoviral vaccine, recipients may have a more powerful immune response. The other advantage of these kinds of vaccines in general is that they don’t need to be stored at extremely cold temperatures for transport. Sputnik V can be kept in any basic refrigerator, and it only costs $10 per dose. 

Dr. Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester claimed that this news is “a useful addition to the published data on Covid-19 vaccine effectiveness, however, the median follow up was 48 days from the first dose, so the study cannot assess the full duration of protection yet.” 

The vaccine is being funded by the Russian Direct Investment Fund which will also be responsible for selling it globally. So far the vaccine has been approved in Russia, Belarus, Serbia, Argentina, Bolivia, Algeria, Venezuela, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Hungary, UAE, Iran, Guinea, Tunisia, Armenia and the Palestinian territories. The vaccine has already been administered to more than 2 million people worldwide.

COVID-19 Economy

New Covid-19 Variants Could Pose Major Threat To Global Economy In 2021

According to the International Monetary Fund, the pandemic could potentially hinder a global economic turnaround this year despite the slew of mass vaccination programs being implemented throughout the world and various levels of stimulus packages helping assist some countries. 

The IMF does believe that the global economy will grow by 5% this year, which is .3% faster than they previously forecasted in the fall of 2020. The Fund claimed that this increase “reflects expectations of a vaccine-powered strengthening of activity later in the year and additional policy support in a few large economies.” 

The IMF also estimates that the world economy shrank by 3.5% in 2020; the biggest decline since the Great Depression. Surging infections that began appearing at the end of 2020, renewed lockdowns, logistical issues with vaccine distribution, and a slew of new Covid-19 variants could make it extremely difficult for the global economy to recover. 

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Gita Gopinath is a chief economist of the IMF who recently uploaded a blog post regarding the IMF’s predictions for 2021 and beyond; the fund expects global growth to slow to 4.2% in 2022. 

“Much now depends on the outcome of this race between a mutating virus and vaccines to end the pandemic, and on the ability of policies to provide effective support until that happens.” 

Some countries are expected to recover much more quickly than others. China, for example, was one of the only global economies that actually grew in 2020. The country is currently projected to achieve an 8.1% economic growth this year as well. Even the United States is expected to emerge from their deep economic slump to see a 5.1% increase in growth. 

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“The 19 countries that use the euro are expected to see growth of 4.2% in 2021. The United Kingdom, which endured a 10% contraction last year as it left the European Union and is now battling a new coronavirus variant, would rebound with relatively modest growth of 4.5%,” according to the IMF.

The IMF continued to explain that “the wide divergence reflects an important extent differences across countries in behavioral and public health responses to infections, flexibility and adaptability of economic activity to low mobility, pre-existing trends, and structural rigidities entering the crisis.”

The pandemic overall is causing “exceptional uncertainty” in regards to economic recovery, and “although new restrictions following the surge in infections suggest growth could be weaker than projected in early 2021, other factors pull the distribution of risks in the opposite direction.” 

IMF claims that if the vaccine distribution and efficacy goes as smoothly as it’s currently projected to go, economic outputs could exceed these expectations by as much as 1% globally, which would be amazing for job markets everywhere.

Doctor Holding Coronavirus Vaccine Syringe

Covid-19 Vaccine Delays Are Hindering Europe’s Pandemic Recovery

Health officials in Europe are threatening legal action against the two vaccine makers as a means of introducing export controls on doses.

China Covid-19

China Is Building Massive Covid-19 Quarantine Camps For 4,000 Infected Residents

China is in the middle of building a massive quarantine camp that can house more than 4,000 individuals after a Covid-19 outbreak this month left tens of millions of residents under strict lockdown. 

The quarantine camp itself is located on the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, the capital of the Hebei province which surrounds the country’s capital of Beijing. China for the most part has been successful in containing the spread of the virus, and has even been able to return to some sense of normalcy within the past few months. However, a sudden rise in cases that appeared before the Lunar New Year had officials worried for the future of the pandemic. 

The Lunar New Year in China is the country’s most important festival that occurs every year. During it, hundreds of millions of individuals from all over the world typically travel to China to visit their family and celebrate. The country went on strict lockdown following the week-long festivities. 

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Officials in Shijiazhuang, where the outbreak is centered, have begun mass testing citizens and enforcing strict lockdowns as they’ve done in the past to contain the spread. Entire villages were forced to move to centralized quarantine facilities as an extreme attempt to curb the spread of the virus. 

The new quarantine camps are meant to house close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 patients. Authorities will locate these individuals through contact tracing and then inform them that they have been in close contact with someone infected and need to quarantine at the camp to ensure that they aren’t spreading the virus any further. 

Originally the camps were only meant to house 3,000 people but has since been expanded to a capacity of 4,160 to deal with any new cases that appear. Authorities began initial construction on January 13th and the first section of the camp is now available for use. 

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Each room in the camp measures around 194 square feet and comes with an en suite bathroom, shower, desk, chair, bed, WiFi, and television set as well. The quarantine camps actually initially appeared as an idea in the beginning of the pandemic as a means of easing the pressure on hospitals who were becoming overwhelmed with patients.

China was able to set up temporary hospital’s that could house 1,000 individuals, which is what gave officials the confidence to set up this quarantine camp in a timely manner. The opening of the camp couldn’t have come at a better time for China either, as the nation reported 103 new cases and 58 asymptomatic infections across four different provinces. 

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 88,557, while the official death toll is 4,635, according to health officials. All 11 million residents of Shijiazhuang are now barred from leaving the city in accordance with the lockdown procedures the government is enforcing. More than 20,000 citizens have since been relocated to other quarantine sites as well as a preventive measure.

African Union Secures An Additional 270 Million Covid-19 Vaccines 

The African Union has now secured an additional 270 million Covid-19 vaccines to be distributed among the many countries within the continent. The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), however, is still not convinced that this will be enough to meet the entire nation’s demand. 

From April to June at least 50 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines will be available according to the AVATT press release published this week. Chair President of the African Union Cyril Ramaphosa recently spoke with the media about the increase in doses that Africa is now set to receive. 

“From the onset of this pandemic our focus as a continent has been on collaboration and collective effort. We have held steadfastly to the principle that no country should be left behind.”

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Ramaphosa also emphasized that “all 270 million vaccine doses will be made available this year with at least 50 million being available for the crucial period of April to June 2021.” The African Union secured these doses along with a vaccine program from COVAX; a World Health Organization and Gavi Vaccine Alliance initiative that specifically works to bring more vaccines to Africa.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, recently spoke with the media to praise Africa for the acquisition of the additional doses and adoption of the program from COVAX, as it shows true initiative and will make a real difference in getting the continent vaccinated as promptly as possible. 

“Covax can only cover 20% of the African population, so it’s wonderful to see the African Union’s efforts to secure a provisional 270 million doses by the end of 2021.”

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President Ramaphosa did caution, however, that while this new initiative is vital for Africa’s recovery, it “may not extend beyond the needs of frontline health care workers, and may this not be enough to contain the ever-increasing toll of the pandemic in Africa.” 

Africa is currently experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 that is currently higher than the peak they hit back in July 2020. The continent currently has an average daily new case count of more than 25,000 for the past 14 days. 

The African Export-Import Bank will be implementing a strategy this month that will provide up to $2 billion in advancements to vaccine manufacturers in the continent. The African Union and World Bank will also be working together to grant member states access to a $5 billion fund specifically for purchasing more vaccines when needed. 

The announcement of these plans couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for Africa, as Ramaphosa reported this week that South Africa is extending their Covid-19 restrictions due to a “massive increase” in Covid-19 cases driven by a new strain of the virus that is thought to be much more transmissible.

Japn Covid-19 Lockdown

Japan Enters New State Of Emergency To Contain Spread Of Covid-19 

Japan has entered into a “light” state of emergency that is projected to last a month, however, public health experts in the country already believe that it will take longer to sufficiently slow down the rate in which the Covid-19 virus is spreading. 

Japan has reported record breaking new daily infections for at least two days in the last week, and the capital of Tokyo is facing some of the worst rates it’s seen in months. Hitoshi Oshitani, a professor of virology at Tohoku University and a member of the expert panel advising the government, recently spoke with the press regarding the current timeline the nation has set up in regards to curbing the spread. 

“I’m not sure if the situation can become better within a month. It’s certainly much more difficult to control the current situation compared to the outbreak in summer.”

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Japan has entered into a more limited state of emergency, meaning remote work is being encouraged, and restaurant hours have been reduced. Movie theaters, gyms, karaoke bars, and theme parks are all set to remain open as well with reduced hours, and large events are still permitted with a reduced capacity; for reference in their initial state of emergency all of those businesses were completely shut down. 

For the time being, these measures only apply to the capital of Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures. In order for the emergency status to be lifted these regions must emerge from their current “Stage 4” rankings; stage 4 is the highest stage an area can be in Japan, and is determined by hospital capacity, positive test rates, and weekly increases in new infections. 

Shigeru Omi is the head of the panel of experts that is advising the government on these states of emergency, and recently spoke with the media about how initially he believed it would to be “next to impossible” for the nation to emerge from their state of emergency in just a month, however, after analyzing the recent data he seems more hopeful for the future. 

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“It’s not very easy but I believe it’s possible to reduce the infections to a Stage 3 level within a month if everyone does their best.” 

Omi went on to explain that residents need to fully follow the suggested measures by staying home and avoiding all nighttime dining, drinking, and partying; which as we’ve seen here in America, is quite difficult to do when the government keeps these establishments open. He also explained that the government will need to push for legal changes so that establishments that refuse to follow these rules will be punished through fines. 

Japan last entered a state of emergency in the spring which began in just seven prefectures, but eventually expanded to be nationwide. The state of emergency slowly began being phased out in May of last year. 

While Japan was highly praised in the beginning of this pandemic for its success in containing the virus without imposing strict lockdowns, after a while a slew of challenges began appearing. Cases initially began increasing across the country in November, and have remained on the rise ever since. Tokyo being the city hit the hardest, Omi and other experts are hopeful that the nation can return to a greater sense of normalcy by February.