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FATF keeps Pakistan off blacklist for now, warns that it can’t take forever

Once FATF’s plenary agrees that all 27 items had been completed, there will be an on-site visit by an assessment team to verify information given by Pakistan and see that all measures are working effectively.

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Imran Khan at UNGA

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Friday decided to retain Pakistan on its “grey list”, giving it time till February next year to address what the multilateral watchdog said were “very serious deficiencies” in its efforts to counter terror financing.

The decision was announced at the end of FATF’s three-day virtual plenary meeting, and the body’s president, Marcus Pleyer, cautioned that Pakistan would not be given a chance “forever” to address outstanding issues. Repeated failure to deliver on FATF’s action plan would result in a country being put in the “black list”, he said.

Pakistan was placed in FATF’s list of “jurisdictions under increased monitoring” or grey list in 2018 for failing to control terror financing and money laundering. In a virtual repeat of the warning issued to Pakistan in February, FATF said in a statement: “As all action plan deadlines have expired, the FATF strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by February 2021.”

Pleyer, at a virtual news conference, said Pakistan had “largely addressed” 21 of 27 items in its action plan and the government had signalled its commitment to complete the rest.

“But it is clear [that] even though Pakistan has made progress, it needs to do more. Pakistan cannot stop, it needs to continue to carry out reforms, particularly to implement targeted financial sanctions and prosecute and sanction those financing terrorism,” he said.

The work done by Pakistan “definitely means the world has become safer but the six outstanding items are very serious deficiencies that still have to be repaired, and for that reason, the risks [have not been overcome]”, Pleyer added.

In an apparent reference to Pakistan’s repeated failures to meet deadlines for the action plan, Pleyer said: “As long as we see that the country is progressing with the action items, and we have seen progress with Pakistan, we give them a chance to repair the outstanding issues but we don’t do this forever.”

He added, “You can look at other countries where after a while, we have seen there is no longer progress on the action plan and the action plan has not been completed, then the countries are pushed to the black list.”

Pleyer made it clear Pakistan wouldn’t be out of the woods with mere completion of the action plan. Once FATF’s plenary agrees that all 27 items had been completed, there will be an on-site visit by an assessment team to verify information given by Pakistan and see that all measures are working effectively.

“After that on-site visit, the next plenary will then decide whether Pakistan has indeed fully and effectively completed the action plan and then there is a decision on whether Pakistan would leave the grey list or not,” he said.

Besides, Pleyer cautioned that Pakistan is also subject to an evaluation by FATF’s regional affiliate, the Australia-based Asia Pacific Group.

In its latest report issued in September, APG concluded Pakistan has fully complied with only two of 40 recommendations to counter terror financing and money laundering, and that it was “non-compliant” on four recommendations, “partially compliant” on 25 and “largely compliant” on nine.

FATF’s statement said Pakistan should continue addressing its “strategic deficiencies”, including demonstrating that law enforcement agencies are identifying and investigating the widest range of terror financing activity and that investigations and prosecutions target designated persons and entities.

Pakistan should demonstrate that terror financing prosecutions result in “effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions”, and it should show “effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions” against terrorists designated by the UN Security Council and those acting on their behalf by preventing the raising and transferring of funds, identifying and freezing assets, and prohibiting access to funds and financial services.

Islamabad should also demonstrate enforcement and action against non-profit organisations, which are often used as fronts by Pakistan-based terror groups, the statement said.

Pleyer brushed aside a question on whether Pakistan is being discriminated against by saying the country is being treated in line with the same rules that have been accepted by 205 countries globally. He also dismissed a question from a Pakistani body about the alleged involvement of Indian banks in terror financing, saying FATF isn’t an investigative body.

Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said the six action items FATF is pressuring Pakistan to implement are the “most crucial ones that will help finish off the terror groups”.

“Pakistan has was hoping to convince the watchdog to remove it from the grey list but FATF has taken a more serious view and asked Pakistan to go full throttle and terminate the state’s support to terror groups, which Pakistan will find difficult to do given the history of these groups being used as proxies by the army,” he said.

“Implementing the full action plan won’t be easy because of the fear of retribution from these terror groups. We can expect Pakistan to enact more dramas, such as a crackdown and prosecution of terrorists, before the next FATF meeting,” he added.

There was no immediate reaction to FATF’s decision from Indian officials.

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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Covid 19 Vaccine

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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World

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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Disaster

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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