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Thursday, October 22, 2020
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday (July 12) re-imposed a night curfew and suspended alcohol sales as coronavirus infections spiked and the health system risked being overwhelmed. "As we head towards the peak of infections, it is vital that we do not burden our clinics and hospitals with alcohol-related injuries that could have been avoided," Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation. Related Stories: 
LUXEMBOURG (REUTERS) - Europe’s top court on Thursday (July 16) rejected the validity of a mechanism used by thousands of companies to send data to the United States, backing concerns about US surveillance raised by privacy activist Max Schrems in his clash with Facebook. The EU-US Privacy Shield was set up in 2016 to protect the personal data of Europeans when it is transferred across the Atlantic for commercial use. The same court also rejected its predecessor, known as Safe Harbour, in 2015. “In respect of certain surveillance programmes, those provisions do not indicate any limitations on the power they confer to implement those programmes, or the existence of guarantees for potentially targeted non-US persons,” the EU Court of Justice said. “It looks perfect,” Schrems said in a spontaneous reaction when the ruling hit headlines at his office in Vienna. However, judges upheld the validity of another data transfer mechanism known as Standard Contractual Clauses but stressed that privacy watchdogs must suspend or prohibit transfers outside the EU if the protection of the data cannot be ensured. Hundreds of thousands of companies including Facebook, industrial giants and carmakers use these clauses to transfer Europeans’ data around the world for services ranging from cloud infrastructure, data hosting, payroll and finance to marketing. If the court had invalidated those clauses, companies could have to suspend the data transfers that underpin Standard Contractual Clauses or face hefty fines for breach of EU privacy laws. Other options are costly and complex and seldom used. The case – C-311/18 Facebook Ireland and Schrems – went to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg after Schrems challenged Facebook’s use of the standard clauses, saying they lacked sufficient data protection safeguards. Schrems shot to fame for winning a legal battle in 2015 to overturn Safe Harbour. EU concerns about data transfers mounted after former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 of mass US surveillance. The Irish Data Protection agency, which is Facebook’s lead regulator, took the case to the Irish High Court, which then sought guidance from the CJEU. Last December, a CJEU adviser said such data transfer mechanisms were legal with the caveat that they could be blocked if countries receiving such information fail to meet European data protection standards. In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), introduced in 2018, seeks to increase individuals’ control over their personal information. Companies that fail to comply are liable to fines of up to 4 per cent of global annual turnover.
JERUSALEM (AFP) - The scene cuts from Dubai to Tel Aviv, the lyrics switch from Arabic to Hebrew to English and the song is a slightly kitsch electro-pop duet by artists who, for now, remain apart. The normalisation of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has produced its first musical collaboration: Ahlan Bik, or Hello You in Arabic. "This is a historic moment," said Israeli singer Elkana Marziano, whose duet with Emirati artist Walid Aljasim has clocked more than 1.1 million YouTube views since it was posted on Sept 30. Marziano, 28, is a former winner of Israel's version of The Voice, a singing competition TV show, and an Arabic speaker influenced by the Mizrahi culture of Jews from the Arab world. He told AFP that he and Aljasim had collaborated over the Zoom video-conferencing service, with some parts of the song recorded in Dubai and others in Israel. "The understanding was immediate," Marziano said of the partnership. One online commentator, who posted under the name Shaked Sharon, said: "With this song, you feel the new Middle East." The 'new Middle East'? In August, Israel and the UAE announced that
LONDON (AFP) - Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said on Saturday (June 20) the Black Lives Matter protests showed society had reached a "tipping point" at which injustices are finally addressed. "It feels like we have passed some kind of social tipping point where people are starting to realise that we cannot keep looking away from these things," the 17-year-old said in an interview with the BBC. "We cannot keep sweeping these things under the carpet, these injustices." Ms Thunberg's interview aired as global capitals braced for another weekend of anti-racism protests in the wake of the death at the hands of a white policeman of the unarmed African American George Floyd. British protesters have toppled the statue of a 17th century slave trader and the Church of England and the Bank of England have expressed remorse for profiting from the sale of Africans to the Americas. A statue of a southern general who defended slavery during the US Civil War was thrown down and set on fire by protesters in the Washington on Friday. Ms Thunberg said "people are starting to find their voice, to sort of understand that they can actually have an impact". She also described being stunned by the depth of US poverty she discovered while travelling with her father in an electric car they borrowed from the former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "It was very shocking to hear people talk about that they can't afford to put food on the table," she said. More protests were scheduled for Saturday in London and the Scottish capital Edinburgh.
NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Facebook Inc Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg took responsibility and faulted his company for not removing the page and event for a militia group before two people were killed at a protest in Kenosha, saying it was "largely an operational mistake". The page and event listing violated Facebook's policies and should have been removed after numerous complaints were received about the group's violent nature, Mr Zuckerberg said in a video to employees that he posted publicly on his Facebook profile. The social media company removed the page for 'Kenosha Guard', and an event listing for 'Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property' a day after the shooting on Tuesday (Aug 25). Two people were killed during protests in Kenosha that broke out in response to the police shooting of a Black man earlier this week. "The contractors and reviewers who the initial complaints were funnelled to basically didn't pick this up," Zuckerberg said. "And on second review, doing it more sensitively, the team that's responsible for dangerous organisations recognised that this violated the policies and we took it down." Mr Zuckerberg said there was no
US election mail will be handled 'securely and on time', says postal chief US Postmaster Louis DeJoy on Friday told lawmakers the Postal Service would deliver ballots “securely and on time” in the November presidential election, but indicated he would pursue dramatic operational changes after that date. DeJoy faced pointed questions at a Senate hearing from Democrats, who have accused the wealthy Republican donor of trying to tilt the election to President Donald Trump. Republicans largely defended DeJoy, saying the Postal Service needed an overhaul. DeJoy sought to assure Americans that widespread delays caused by cost-cutting measures would not cause their mail ballots to go uncounted in November. DeJoy suspended those service changes this week after facing public outrage. READ MORE HERE Kanye West off ballot in four US states, easing any risk to Joe Biden Voters in three more states won't see Kanye West on their ballots for president this year. Election officials in Ohio, Illinois and West Virginia ruled on Friday that the rapper, who announced in July he was running for president as an independent, did not qualify to appear on their state ballots. The rulings came
LONDON/WASHINGTON (AFP) - An initiative named Covax and backed by the World Health Organisation, as well as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) and the global vaccine alliance group Gavi, aims to buy and equitably distribute two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine in 2021. Ninety-two developing countries and 80 developed countries have signed on to the initiative, and the European Union on Monday (Aug 31) announced a contribution of 400 million euros (S$647 million). But the United States is refusing to join the effort. "We will not be constrained by multilateral organisations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organisation and China," said White House spokesman Judd Deere on Tuesday. With all these obstacles, the WHO has now extended the deadline for countries to join Covax to Sept 18, from Aug 31 initially, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday. It added that the final date for initial payments from participating countries has also been pushed back to Oct 9. Just seven months after the outbreak of the pandemic, and even before clinical trials of experimental vaccines have ended, some developed countries have put in orders for at least 3.1 billion doses, according to an AFP
VIENNA (REUTERS) - Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has tested positive for the coronavirus and might have caught it at a meeting with his European Union counterparts on Monday (Oct 12), a spokesman for his ministry said on Saturday. "As a precautionary measure all members of the government will be tested on Saturday. It is suspected that Schallenberg might have been infected at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Monday," the spokesman said, adding that Schallenberg was symptom-free and had a routine test. Related Stories: 
MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia summoned Germany's ambassador on Wednesday (Sept 9) to accuse Berlin of using the case of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to discredit Moscow and demanded that Germany immediately hand over medical data about his illness. Navalny, an opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was airlifted to Berlin for treatment after falling ill in Russia. Germany says he was poisoned with a rare nerve agent, but Moscow says it has seen no solid evidence of that in a case prompting Western calls for new sanctions on Moscow. "A strong protest was made to the ambassador in connection with Germany's unfounded accusations and ultimatums... as well as Berlin's obvious use of the situation to discredit our country on the international stage," Russia's foreign ministry said. Moscow, it added, told the German envoy that Russia expected a response to an Aug 27 request for information including all medical data, biomaterials, examination results and test samples to be studied and verified. German government vice-spokeswoman Martina Fietz said it had done everything necessary to help answer Russian requests and Navalny's case was now a matter for the judiciary. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said
WASHINGTON - Total coronavirus deaths in the United States could drop to below 300,000 by January next year, a model by the University of Washington's health institute has projected, if more Americans wear masks at the same level as people in Singapore. "If mask use could be increased to approximately 95 per cent - the level observed in Singapore and some other countries - forecasted cumulative deaths drop to 275,000 by Jan 1, saving 96,000 lives between now and the end of the year," the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said in its Sept 23 model update report. An average of 700 Americans are dying from Covid-19 daily, down from the mid-August peak of around 1,200 daily deaths and an all-time high of more than 2,000 in April. IHME forecasted that the cumulative death toll in the US could reach 371,000 by Jan 1 as winter approaches. This is not the first time the institute has cited Singapore in its reports about the usage of masks. In early September, it noted that more Americans have started to not wear masks when going out, saying that "increasing mask use to the levels seen in Singapore
MINSK (REUTERS) - Two leading members of a newly formed opposition council in Belarus were questioned on Friday (Aug 21) in a criminal case that accuses the body of trying to seize power from President Alexander Lukashenko after a disputed election. Dozens of supporters accompanied Mr Maksim Znak and Mr Sarhey Dyleuski as they arrived for questioning at the headquarters of the Investigative Committee. Mr Znak, a lawyer, said on entering that he feared he might be arrested. But when he emerged later, he said he had "productive discussions". "We gave our explanation, we will continue to work," he said. The Coordinating Committee was launched this week with the self-described aim of negotiating a transfer of power amid the largest political crisis in Belarus since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, was declared the winner of an Aug 9 presidential election, but tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets saying the election is rigged. A police crackdown does not seem to have intimidated the protesters and opposition has spread to include strikes at state factories long seen as bastions of Mr Lukashenko's support. Public