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Pope Francis says violence cannot be perpetrated in God’s name

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Pope Francis

Cairo (AFP) – Pope Francis began a visit to Egypt on Friday to promote “unity and fraternity” among Muslims and the embattled Christian minority that has suffered a series of jihadist attacks.

The 80-year-old pontiff touched down at Cairo airport before he was ushered in a car to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who welcomed him with a military brass band and priests lining up to greet the pope.

“It’s a journey of unity and fraternity. Less than two days but very intense,” he said of the 27-hour trip before disembarking.

He will later meet Muslim and Christian leaders before visiting a church that was bombed in December.

That attack was followed by twin church bombings in April that killed 45 people, in the deadliest assault in recent memory on the Coptic Christian minority.

On Friday, Francis will also meet Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of the prestigious Sunni institution Al-Azhar, sealing a recent improvement in relations between Catholicism and the Sunni branch of Islam.

“This meeting will be an example and a model for peace precisely because it will be a meeting of dialogue,” Francis said on the plane.

Security will be extremely tight with Egypt under a state of emergency following the church bombings claimed by the Islamic State group.

On Friday, the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics will walk with Coptic Pope Tawadros II to the church where a suicide bombing killed 29 people in December.

Police and soldiers stood guard outside the Vatican residence in Cairo on Friday and armoured cars were stationed outside the Coptic Orthodox Saint Mark’s Cathedral, which Francis will also visit.

All of the country’s churches have been placed under additional protection because of the risk of another assault timed to coincide with Francis being in the country.

Despite the dangers, Francis is expected to conduct most of his business in a normal vehicle and electric golf carts.

“Please pray for my journey tomorrow as a pilgrim of peace to Egypt,” Francis said on his Twitter account on the eve of his departure.

Before his visit, some roads had been festooned with posters showing Francis against the backdrop of the Pyramids, with a message that read: “Pope of peace in the Egypt of peace.”

– Visit to bombed church –

Francis will meet privately with the Grand Imam Tayeb, an Islamic philosophy professor who visited the Vatican last year and is considered one of the leading authorities in Sunni Islam.

Francis is then due to give a speech in an international conference for peace organised by Al-Azhar, a seat of learning for 1,000 years as well as a celebrated mosque.

John Paul II was the last pope to have visited Egypt in 2000, with his arrival also coming weeks after anti-Christian violence that killed about 20 Copts in January that year.

Vatican dialogue with the Muslim world, a priority for this pope, was set back significantly when Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI made a speech in 2006 in which he was seen as linking Islam to violence.

The now-retired German pontiff’s 2011 comments condemning an attack on a Coptic church prompted Al-Azhar to denounce Benedict for meddling in Egypt’s affairs.

Francis will also meet Friday with Tawadros II at his seat in Saint Mark’s Cathedral before visiting the nearby Coptic church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the target of the December bombing claimed by IS.

The attack was the deadliest targeting the Coptic community since the 2011 suicide bombing that killed 23 people in Alexandria.

– ‘Second-class citizens’ –

The pope will be joined at the international conference by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox world and a close ally.

Sisi has been criticised internationally for human rights abuses but is seen as something of a friend to Egypt’s Christian minority.

In 2015, he became Egypt’s first head of state to attend a Christmas mass.

On Saturday, the pontiff will preside over a mass for the country’s small Catholic community, estimated to number around 272,000 spread across various rites.

Egypt’s Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s population of 92 million, are the Middle East’s largest Christian minority and one of the oldest.

But they have suffered attacks throughout the years and many complain that they feel like second-class citizens.

Source : AFP

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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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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COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.