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Pakistan police arrests three ‘suspected RAW agents’

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Islamabad, April 15, 2017: At least three persons, said to be agents of the Research and Analysis Wing by police, have been arrested in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Mohammad Khalil, Imtiaz and Rashid, all from Taroti village in Abbaspur, were in the custody of police in Rawalakot, the headquarters of Poonch division, Dawn online reported.

According to Poonch Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Sajid Imran, Khalil is the “main suspect.” He said the three were involved in anti-state activities, including the bombing of a police station, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Khalil, according to the police, had reportedly visited Indian Kashmir in November 2014 to see his relatives in Bandi Chechian village. There he came in contact with RAW which “lured him to work for them.”

Khalil had an intra-Kashmir travel permit.

Later, he is said to have recruited Imtiaz and Rashid to work with him “for handsome returns”.

During preliminary investigations, according to the police, Khalil told investigators that he had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) about 14 or 15 times from different parts in Abbaspur sector.

Imtiaz and Rashid had also “confessed to crossing the LoC five to six times,” the paper said.

“Khalil would take with him cigarettes and [mobile phone] memory cards, carrying pictures of bridges, mosques controlled by the Deobandi school of thought, and army and police installations,” Imran said.

According to him, he had given two active SIM cards registered in his name to Indian officials.

The DSP said the arrested persons had planted an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) outside a police station in Abbaspur on September 27 last year.

“We tracked their movements and phone calls with the help of intelligence agencies and finally arrested them two days ago (Tuesday),” he said.

They have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and Explosives Act.

The development follows the death sentence given to alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav on April 10. Jadhav has been charged with espionage and waging war against Pakistan. India says Pakistan had abducted Jadhav from Iran.

IANS

Health

Moderna Says Vaccine 100% Effective Against Severe Covid, Seeks Clearance

COVID-19 Vaccine: Moderna said it expects to have approximately 20 million doses of the vaccine, called mRNA-1273, available in the US by the end of the year.

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Washington: Moderna Inc will apply for US and European emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine on Monday after full results from a late-stage study showed it was 94.1% effective with no serious safety concerns, the company said. Moderna also reported that the vaccine’s efficacy rate was consistent across age, race, ethnicity and gender demographics as well as having a 100% success rate in preventing severe cases of a disease that has killed nearly 1.5 million people.

The filing sets Moderna’s product up to be the second vaccine likely to receive US emergency use authorization this year following a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech which had a 95% efficacy rate in trials. “We believe that we have a vaccine that is very highly efficacious. We now have the data to prove it,” Moderna Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks said.

“We expect to be playing a major part in turning around this pandemic.”

Of the 196 volunteers who contracted COVID-19 in the trial with more than 30,000 people, 185 received a placebo while 11 got the vaccine.

Moderna reported 30 severe cases — all in the placebo group — which means the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing severe cases.

“As the numbers of cases reported grows, confidence grows that this amazing protection will be maintained in a product that can be rolled out to protect the public,” said Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at Britain’s University of Reading.

In addition to filing its US application, Moderna said it would seek conditional approval from the European Medicines Agency, which has already begun a rolling review of its data, and would continue to talk with other regulators.

Pfizer has already applied for emergency use authorization in the United States and Europe, putting it about a week ahead of Moderna.

Moderna said it was on track to have about 20 million doses of its vaccine ready to ship in the United States by the end of 2020, enough to inoculate 10 million people.

Both of the vaccines use a new technology called synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) whereas others, such as Britain’s AstraZeneca, are using more traditional methods to develop their vaccines.

AstraZeneca has announced an average efficacy rate of 70% for its shot and as much as 90% for a subgroup of trial participants who got a half dose, followed by a full dose.

But some scientists have expressed doubts about the robustness of the 90% efficacy figure for the smaller group.

Moderna’s latest efficacy result is slightly lower than an interim analysis released on Nov 16 of 94.5% effectiveness, a difference that Mr Zaks said was not statistically significant.

“At this level of effectiveness, when you just do the math of what it means for the pandemic that’s raging around us, it’s just overwhelming,” said Zaks, who said he cried when he saw the final results over the weekend.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines proved more effective than anticipated and were far superior to the 50% benchmark set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The past few weeks of positive vaccine results have ignited hopes for an end to a pandemic that has battered economies and comes as new infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations are at record levels across the United States.

Independent advisers to the FDA are scheduled to meet on December 17 to review Moderna’s trial data and make a recommendation to the FDA.

They will meet on December 10 to review Pfizer’s data. Shortly after gaining emergency use authorization, Moderna expects the vaccine to be shipped to distribution points throughout the United States by the government’s Operation Warp Speed program and McKesson Corp, a drug distributor contracted by the US government.

Its distribution is expected to be easier than Pfizer’s because while it needs to be stored in a freezer, it does not require the ultra-cold temperature needed by Pfizer’s vaccine.

Moderna said the 196 COVID-19 cases in its trial included 33 adults over 65 years old and 42 volunteers from racially diverse groups, including 29 Latinos, 6 Blacks, 4 Asian Americans and 3 multiracial participants. There was one death related to COVID-19 in the placebo group.

Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said Monday’s details from Moderna confirmed the vaccine was highly efficient, including against severe cases. “Whilst this does not exclude some risk of severe disease after vaccination given the relatively small number of severe cases, these results suggest very high efficacy,” she said.

Zaks said the vaccine has been developed during a period of “political acrimony” and having a highly effective vaccine may go a long way toward erasing some of that distrust. “This is as black and white as an effect on a population will be. Your chances of actually being sick if you’ve been vaccinated are decreased 20-fold,” he said.

Moderna reported no new side effects since its interim analysis. Based on that analysis, the most common side effects were fatigue, injection site redness and pain, headache and body aches, which rose after the second dose and were short-lived.

Zaks said the vaccine caused significant flu-like symptoms in some participants, which, he said, “goes hand-in-hand with having such a potent vaccine.” But it has not caused any significant safety concerns so far.

Moderna plans to start a new trial to test the vaccine in adolescents before the end of the year, followed by another in even younger volunteers early in 2021.

It hopes to have the vaccine available for adolescents by September, Zaks said.

Other vaccine makers have said they are studying their vaccines in young people as well.

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Kim Jong-un holds meeting to discuss Party Congress preps

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Kim Jong Un

Seoul, Nov 30 : North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a Politburo meeting to discuss plans and preparations for the upcoming eighth Party Congress slated for January 2021, state media reported on Monday.

In a report, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that the enlarged meeting of the 21st Political Bureau of the seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on Sunday also “examined relevant issues for improving and strengthening the Party ideological work as required by the developing revolution, and approved the organization mechanism issue”.

The eighth Party Congress will be held in January, in which a new five-year economic development plan will be discussed and endorsed after the current five-year plan is completed this year, reports Xinhua news agency.

At the meeting, the country’s economic institutions were “harshly criticized” for “not guiding their sectors scientifically and for failing to overcome subjectivism and formalism in their work”, the KCNA report said.

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Fauci warns of ‘surge upon a surge’ in US Covid-19 cases

His warning came as more than 90,000 Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalized across the US, with over 18,000 in intensive care units, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

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Anthony Fauci

Washington, Nov 30: Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases expert, has warned that the US might witness a “surge upon a surge” of new coronavirus cases cases in the weeks after Thanksgiving due to cold weather and travel.

“We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s just the reality,” Xinhua news agency quoted Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as saying on Sunday night in an ABC News interview.

“Having said that, we have to be careful now because there almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel.

“We understand the importance of families getting together. And it’s just something that we have to deal with that we likely will have an increase in cases, as we get into the colder weeks of the winter, and as we approach the Christmas season,” he added.

Fauci urged travellers to be safe when returning home from holiday travels, encouraging them to quarantine if possible and to get tested.

When asked if people should expect similar restrictions and recommendations for Christmas this year, the top expert replied: “I can’t see how we’re not gonna have the same thing because when you have the kind of infection that we have, it doesn’t all of a sudden turn around like that.

“So clearly in the next few weeks, we’re gonna have the same sort of thing and perhaps even two or three weeks down the line… We may see a surge upon a surge.”

Fauci added that he did not foresee “a relaxation” of the current Center for Disease Control (CDC) restrictions.

His warning came as more than 90,000 Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalized across the US, with over 18,000 in intensive care units, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

In its latest update on Monday, the Johns Hopkins University revealed that the US’ current caseload and death toll stood at 13,374,162 and 266,838, respectively.

The two tallies account for the world’s highest, making the US the worst-hit country.

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