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Putin calls poisoned ex- Russian spy Skripal ‘traitor’

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Moscow, Oct 4 :Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent poisoned in Britain, a scumbag who had betrayed Russia and suggested that the incident was being “artificially blown up” by the media.

Asked at an energy forum on Wednesday in Moscow to comment on the case and its consequences, the Russian President launched into a tirade against Skripal, who was hospitalised along with his daughter Yulia after exposure to a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury in March.

“I see that some of your colleagues are pushing the theory that Skripal is almost a human-rights activist,” Putin said.

“He’s just a spy. A traitor to the Motherland. There’s such a thing as a traitor to the Motherland. He’s one of them. He’s just a scumbag, that’s all.”

Putin said that the Salisbury affair “is being artificially… blown up” by the media, but added: “It’ll pass, eventually… The sooner it’s over, the better.”

The comments come amid a deepening diplomatic clash between Moscow and the UK, which has blamed the March 4 poisonings on the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

UK investigators have also formally linked the attack on the Skripals to the June 30 poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, a couple living in Amesbury, near Salisbury.

Sturgess died on July 8 after applying a substance to her wrists from a perfume bottle found by Rowley.

The Kremlin has consistently dismissed official British allegations.

India

India targets Pakistan at UN body over counter-terrorism record

The webinar was part of the UN body’s virtual counter-terrorism week, and India pointed out that terrorists have made innumerable attempts to infiltrate India “from their safe abodes across the border to carry out attacks”.

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Mahaveer Singhvi

India on Tuesday mounted a sharp attack on Pakistan during a virtual meeting of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, accusing it of sheltering and supporting terrorists and pushing a false narrative on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mahaveer Singhvi, joint secretary (counter-terrorism) in the external affairs ministry who led the Indian delegation for the webinar organised by the UN body, pointed out the meeting was being held on a day when the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked by a Pakistan-backed terror group 12 years ago and Indians and Afghans were killed.

“It is very unfortunate that a country which perpetrated terrorist attacks in Mumbai (2008), Pathankot (2016), Uri and Pulwama is now preaching to the world community,” Singhvi said in his intervention during the meeting with the theme “The global scourge of terrorism: Assessment of high risk threats and trends including the rise of violent extremism and hate speech in a pandemic environment”.

“While the world is coming together to battle the pandemic, it is unfortunate that Pakistan, a state which sponsors cross-border terrorism, continues to use every opportunity to peddle false narratives and make baseless, malicious and egregious allegations against India and interfere in our internal affairs,” he said, adding that the statement by Pakistan’s representative at the meeting was part of this pattern.

Singhvi added, “Even as Pakistan provides shelter and support to terrorists, it continues to peddle a false and motivated narrative on the situation in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is seeking to portray its military, financial [and] logistical support to cross-border terrorism against India as a freedom struggle. It is also peddling misinformation about India’s domestic legislation and policies.”

The webinar was part of the UN body’s virtual counter-terrorism week, and Singhvi pointed out that terrorists have made innumerable attempts to infiltrate India “from their safe abodes across the border to carry out attacks and have even used unmanned aerial systems to smuggle weapons across our borders”.

At the global level, terrorists have tried to exploit financial and emotional distress caused by the pandemic, and used the increased presence of people online and on social media to disseminate misinformation through hate speech, fake news and doctored videos, he said. Another disturbing trend is the collection of funds by proscribed terror groups ostensibly for charitable activities but which would be used to finance terror, he said.

Singhvi described Pakistan’s statement claiming credit for eliminating al-Qaeda as “ludicrous” and said the group’s founder, Osama Bin Laden, was recently glorified as a “martyr” by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Parliament. “This is a chilling reminder of the patronage that international terrorists receive in Pakistan,” he said.

Khan had publicly acknowledged the presence of up to 40,000 terrorists in Pakistan and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the UN Security Council had reported that about 6,500 Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are operating in Afghanistan, he said.

“Pakistan’s role as epicentre of terrorism has been well documented by numerous international organisations including UN and FATF. Unlike Pakistan, India does not make any distinction between terrorists and invariably condemns terror attacks anywhere in the world, including the one in Karachi, referred to by Pakistan’s representative in his statement,” Singhvi said.

The Indian official also criticised human rights violations in Balochistan, Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the discrimination against religious and cultural minorities.

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Researchers identify highly effective antibodies against Covid-19

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Scientists have identified highly effective antibodies against the novel coronavirus, which they say can lead to the development of a passive vaccination for COVID-19.

Unlike in active vaccination, passive vaccination involves the administration of ready-made antibodies, which are degraded after some time.

However, the effect of a passive vaccination is almost immediate, whereas with an active vaccination it has to build up first, the researchers said.

The research, published in the journal Cell, also shows that some SARS-CoV-2 antibodies bind to tissue samples from various organs, which could potentially trigger undesired side effects.

The scientists at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin isolated almost 600 different antibodies from the blood of individuals who had overcome COVID-19, the disease triggered by SARS-CoV-2.

By means of laboratory tests, they were able to narrow this number down to a few antibodies that were particularly effective at binding to the virus.

The researchers then produced these antibodies artificially using cell cultures.

The so-called neutralising antibodies bind to the virus, as crystallographic analysis reveals, and thus prevent the pathogen from entering cells and reproducing, they said.

In addition, virus recognition by antibodies helps immune cells to eliminate the pathogen. Studies in hamsters — which, like humans, are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2 — confirmed the high efficacy of the selected antibodies.

“If the antibodies were given after an infection, the hamsters developed mild disease symptoms at most. If the antibodies were applied preventively — before infection — the animals did not get sick,” said Jakob Kreye, coordinator of the research project.

The researchers noted that treating infectious diseases with antibodies has a long history.

For COVID-19, this approach is also being investigated through the administration of plasma derived from the blood of recovered patients. With the plasma, antibodies of donors are transferred, they said.

“Ideally, the most effective antibody is produced in a controlled manner on an industrial scale and in constant quality. This is the goal we are pursuing,” said Momsen Reincke, first author of the research.

“Three of our antibodies are particularly promising for clinical development,” explained Harald Pruss, a research group leader at the DZNE and also a senior physician at Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin.

“Using these antibodies, we have started to develop a passive vaccination against SARS-CoV-2,” Pruss said.

In addition to the treatment of patients, preventive protection of healthy individuals who have had contact with infected persons is also a potential application, the researchers said.

How long the protection lasts will have to be investigated in clinical studies, they said.

“This is because, unlike in active vaccination, passive vaccination involves the administration of ready-made antibodies, which are degraded after some time,” Pruss said. In general, the protection provided by a passive vaccination is less persistent than that provided by an active vaccination, the researchers said.

However, the effect of a passive vaccination is almost immediate, whereas with an active vaccination it has to build up first, they said.

“It would be best if both options were available so that a flexible response could be made depending on the situation,” Pruss added.

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Health experts warns of Covid-19 resurgence in Japan

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A group of health experts have warned that although Japan has witnessed a down trajectory in the number of new Covid-19 cases, the country could still see a resurgence of the virus.

On Thursday, Japan reported 474 new cases, taking the cumulative total to 80,592, Xinhua news agency.

Cases in the seven days through September 22 totalled to 3,287, dropping from 3,731 recorded in the previous week.

The experts on Thursday pointed out that the reproduction number in Japan (R0 or R-number), also known as the R value, which measures the average number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, has risen to one.

They said that infections had shown a resurgence since the beginning of September in a number of prefectures, including Miyagi, Gunma and Chiba.

The group added that in Kyoto and Osaka, rising cases were indicative of a resurgence of the virus.

As for Tokyo, the experts said the declining trend of new cases had “bottomed out”.

The health experts are waiting to determine whether Japan’s four-day weekend recently, which saw increased travel across prefectures and more group-oriented recreation, such as dining out, may have affected the increase in cases.

They noted that while the number of patients requiring hospitalization and designated as “severely ill” has been declining since late last month, the pace of decline has been markedly slow.

“We need to keep an eye on when the impact of the movement of people during the holidays will come out,” Takaji Wakita, director general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases who heads the advisory group for the health ministry, was quoted as saying.

Of the new cases Thursday, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 195 new cases with 39 of them comprising employees from a food processing plant in the city’s Edogawa Ward, where a cluster has been confirmed.

Tokyo’s cumulative total, the highest among Japan’s 47 prefectures, reached 24,648, the city reported Thursday.

Nationwide, outbreaks have also been reported at construction sites, food processing factories and barbecue parks, officials have said.

Osaka Prefecture, Japan’s second hardest-hit region by the virus, confirmed 66 new cases Thursday, bringing its total caseload to 10,271 infections.

Tokyo’s neighboring prefecture of Kanagawa, meanwhile, confirmed 58 new infections, to total 6,508 cases.

Japan’s death toll from the virus stands at a total of 1,550 people.

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