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UK PM Johnson signs Withdrawal Agreement, paving way for Brexit

The UK’s Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson poses after hammering a ‘Get Brexit Done’ sign into the garden of a supporter [File: Ben Stansall/Pool via Reuters] UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signed the EU Withdrawal Agreement, paving the way for Brexit to take place on January 31. In what is considered…

UK PM Johnson signs Withdrawal Agreement, paving way for Brexit

The UK’s Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson poses after hammering a ‘Get Brexit Done’ sign into the garden of a supporter [File: Ben Stansall/Pool via Reuters]
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signed the EU Withdrawal Agreement, paving the way for Brexit to take place on January 31.
In what is considered a formality, the European Parliament will vote on the agreement on January 29.
“The signing of the Withdrawal Agreement is a fantastic moment, which finally delivers the result of the 2016 referendum and brings to an end far too many years of argument and division,” said Johnson, referring to EU membership referendum four years ago.
“We can now move forward as one country – with a government focused upon delivering better public services, greater opportunity and unleashing the potential of every corner of our brilliant United Kingdom, while building a strong new relationship with the EU as friends and sovereign equals.”

Today I have signed the Withdrawal Agreement for the UK to leave the EU on January 31st, honouring the democratic mandate of the British people. This signature heralds a new chapter in our nation’s history. pic.twitter.com/IaGTeeL2is
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 24, 2020

Earlier on Friday, Charles Michel, European Council president and Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, signed the document in Brussels.
The original copy travelled to London by train and will return to Brussels to be archived. The UK will keep a copy.
Michel tweeted: “Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies.”
After Brexit takes place on Thursday, the UK will enter a transition period, during which it will attempt to hammer out deals on future relations with the bloc. 
Johnson has stressed that this period must not go beyond the end of 2020, but critics and opposition figures say this deadline is unachievable.

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera News

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Johnson and Johnson says human trials on coronavirus vaccine to start in July, not September

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it will accelerate the development of its COVID-19 vaccine by launching human trials in late July instead of September, making it the latest company to up the ante in a pandemic race that is contending with the rigorous demands of science and public fears that drugmakers will cut…

Johnson and Johnson says human trials on coronavirus vaccine to start in July, not September

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it will accelerate the development of its COVID-19 vaccine by launching human trials in late July instead of September, making it the latest company to up the ante in a pandemic race that is contending with the rigorous demands of science and public fears that drugmakers will cut corners.

The J&J trial will vet the investigational vaccine’s safety and its ability to produce an immune response in over 1,000 adults in the U.S. and Belgium, the company said.

J&J’s chief scientific officer, Paul Stoffels, said its Janssen division sped up the timeline based on “the strength of the preclinical data we have seen so far and interactions with the regulatory authorities.”

The acceleration is the latest twist in the unprecedented race to develop a vaccine to a virus that has infected over 7 million people worldwide and killed over 400,000. About a quarter of the officially acknowledged deaths have been recorded in the U.S.

The lack of a vaccine is impeding efforts to get back to normal after a series of stay-at-home orders that shut down businesses and hobbled the economy.

More than 130 vaccines for COVID-19 are in development. Clinical trials are underway for 10 of them.

A vaccine typically takes years to develop, but President Trump, demanding a vaccine by the end of the year, launched Operation Warp Speed to support companies that show promise.

“President Trump looked at the timelines that all of these players in the pharmaceutical industry and elsewhere said would be needed to bring all of these products to market, and he said, ‘That’s not acceptable,’” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a video update Wednesday.

But the push to get a vaccine on the market by early next year is making some Americans leery.

A survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in May found that almost half of Americans would accept a coronavirus vaccine if it becomes available, but 20% said they would not. Thirty-one percent replied they were not sure.

Concerns about side effects was the top reason why respondents said they would not accept a vaccine.

In a separate ABC News/Washington Post poll, 27% of adults said they “definitely” or “probably” would not get the vaccine. Among them, half said they don’t trust vaccines in general and 23% said they don’t think it’s necessary.

Some experts say the administration and drug companies have made the effort difficult for themselves by promising a vaccine by the end of the year before they know whether it is possible. They also have issued press releases that seem to jolt stock prices but offer little in terms of tangible data.

The White House invited scrutiny by tapping a longtime pharmaceutical executive, Moncef Slaoui, to be its vaccine czar. Mr. Slaoui is divesting parts of his stock portfolio to address perceived conflicts of interest with companies involved in the vaccine effort.

Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said the anti-vaccine movement tends to believe that vaccines are rushed and that there is a “conspiratorial relationship” between Big Pharma and government, so the current environment will feed into their assertions.

“I don’t believe safety is being jeopardized,” he said. “But the messaging from the biotechs, pharma companies and White House is just awful and now enabling the anti-vaccine movement in the U.S., so that studies show many Americans now won’t accept vaccines.”

Some public health experts are trying to reassure wary Americans.

“The public shouldn’t worry. The vaccine approval process will still be in place at the [Food and Drug Administration] as they go through the emergency-use authorization process, and data on safety and efficacy will be reviewed by the FDA to ensure that we have a safe and effective vaccine,” said Litjen Tan, chief strategy officer of the Immunization Action Coalition.

Even after emergency use is granted, he added, regulators will monitor ongoing trials to compile data on long-term safety and how long immunity lasts.

“The U.S. has the best vaccine safety surveillance systems in the world,” he said.

William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said the U.S. also got a head start on a coronavirus vaccine by working on candidate vaccines for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), both of which are caused by related viruses.

The general public might think corners are being cut since vaccine development is moving more quickly, but that’s not the case, he said. Many procedures are being done at once, instead of in-sequence, to speed up the process.

The administration is aiming to have 100 million doses of one vaccine candidate by the end of the year, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases scientist. That means the manufacturing process will begin before scientists know whether the vaccine works or not so it can be distributed quickly if it does.

Another top official, drawing a comparison to the flu vaccine, said any coronavirus vaccine would have to be about 60% effective to be considered viable.

“Flu is not an ideal vaccine because, as we all know, we have to get it every year and change it often. So it’s sometimes 50 or 60% effective, and we have to get it every year. And yet we use it and it saves tens of thousands of lives every year,” John Mascola, director of the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a SciLine media briefing. “So I think it would be similar with the coronavirus vaccine. If we could get up to 60% … given that range, you have a pretty good vaccine.”

The administration is eyeing five COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Besides J&J, research is being conducted by Moderna Inc.; Oxford University in partnership with AstraZeneca; Pfizer; and Merck, according to The New York Times.

The Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment Wednesday on which projects appear to be the most promising.

The vaccine candidate produced by Moderna and Dr. Fauci’s agency is anticipated to go into the final, third phase of the clinical trials by the first week of July. The phase three trial will include 30,000 people ages 18 to 55, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

J&J, meanwhile, said Wednesday that it wants to provide 1 billion doses globally through the course of next year, provided the vaccine is safe and effective.

Pfizer said it has the potential to supply millions of doses of vaccine by the end of this year, subject to the “success of the development program and regulatory approval,” and that people should feel comfortable with a final product.

“Vaccines undergo extensive testing to make sure they are safe and effective,” Pfizer spokesman Steven Danehy said. “Once a vaccine is licensed, regulatory authorities routinely monitor its use and investigate any potential safety concerns.”

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UK’s Johnson offers visa relaxation to 3 million Hong Kong people |NationalTribune.com

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the United Kingdom will consider revisions in its immigration rules, giving more Hong Kong residents a path to residency and citizenship, amid China’s plan to impose a new national security law in the city. “If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our…

UK’s Johnson offers visa relaxation to 3 million Hong Kong people |NationalTribune.com

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the United Kingdom will consider revisions in its immigration rules, giving more Hong Kong residents a path to residency and citizenship, amid China’s plan to impose a new national security law in the city.
“If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our immigration rules,” Johnson wrote in an opinion piece published in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday.
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Johnson’s column in the paper was published as Hong Kong continues to clamp down on dissent and pro-democracy activities, including the prohibition, for the first time, of the annual June 4 vigil honouring victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. A controversial bill that will criminalise “disrespect” of China’s national anthem is also due for a second reading in the territory’s legislature on Wednesday. 
Since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, Johnson said that “the key has been the precious concept of ‘one country, two systems’, enshrined in city’s Basic Law and the Joint Declaration signed by Britain and China”.
He said imposing the national security law “would be in direct conflict with (China’s) obligations under the Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.”

Johnson warned that what Beijing was proposing in Hong Kong “would curtail its freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy”.
In response, Johnson said that “if necessary”, the British government would take steps to welcome more Hong Kong residents to the UK.
“This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history,” he wrote.
Millions qualified to apply
Among the changes he is proposing is the authorisation for Hong Kong residents carrying British National Overseas passports to have visa-free access to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months, instead of the current six-month limit.
The proposal would also give those passport holders “further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship”.

An estimated 350,000 people living in the Special Administrative Region of China are eligible, with a further 2.5 million qualified to apply.
“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life – which China pledged to uphold – is under threat. If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead, we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative,” Johnson said.
Hong Kong has been rocked by sometimes-violent protests since June last year when the government tried to push through a now-dropped bill that would have allowed people to be sent to China for trial. After a series of mass marches, the rallies evolved into broader calls for democracy with some protests descending into violent clashes with police.
Tom Tugendhat, a member of the British parliament and chairman of its Foreign Affairs Committee, meanwhile, joined his counterparts from Australia, Canada and New Zealand in calling on the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to send a special envoy for rule of law and human rights to Hong Kong.

Today I’ve joined fellow Foreign Affairs Committee chairs from AUS, NZ & UK- Sen David Fawcett, Simon O’Connor MP & @TomTugendhat in calling on @UN SecGen @antonioguterres to send a Special Envoy for rule of law & human rights in #HongKong. We stand in solidarity w/ Hong Kongers. pic.twitter.com/wlflsFssLV
— Michael Levitt 🇨🇦 (@LevittMichael) June 2, 2020

The letter, which Tugendhat posted on social media, warned of the “erosion of the rule of law” in Hong Kong.
They said that China’s proposed national security law in Hong Kong was “a breach” of the deal between the UK and China on Hong Kong.
Late last month, the National People’s Congress, which acts as China’s rubberstamp parliament, cleared the path for the national security law to be imposed on Hong Kong, prohibiting among others acts of sedition, secession, terrorism and foreign interference. It would also allow mainland security agencies to set up offices in Hong Kong for the first time.
Hong Kong residents and pro-democracy groups worry that the proposals risk entangling people for simply expressing their views. 

Protesters gesture with five fingers, signifying the ‘Five demands – not one less’ in a shopping mall during a protest against China’s national security legislation for the city on Monday [Vincent Yu/AP]

The proposal was greenlighted by Beijing just a day after Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco) approved the second reading of legislation criminalising abuse of China’s flag and national anthem. Pro-democracy members of Legco have accused pro-China legislators of ramming through the bill despite limited debate and have proposed a number of amendments for Wednesday’s debate.
On Tuesday, the UK had also warned that Hong Kong risks losing its status as one of the centres of trade, commerce and culture in the world with the imposition of the new national security law.
The United States had earlier announced that it was stripping Hong Kong of its special status in response to the security bill because it no longer believed the territory had autonomy.
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Johnson tells UK to ‘stay alert’ ahead of lockdown speech

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday the United Kingdom’s coronavirus lockdown would be in place until at least June 1, as he unveiled cautious plans to lift restrictions imposed seven weeks ago. “This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week,” Johnson said in a televised address. “Instead, we are taking…

Johnson tells UK to ‘stay alert’ ahead of lockdown speech

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday the United Kingdom’s coronavirus lockdown would be in place until at least June 1, as he unveiled cautious plans to lift restrictions imposed seven weeks ago.
“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week,” Johnson said in a televised address. “Instead, we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.”
From Monday, those who cannot work from home will be actively encouraged to go to work, he said, and from Wednesday people will be allowed to take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.
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UK reports Europe’s highest COVID-19 death toll, outpaces Italy

“You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household,” he said. 
Until now, people have been expected to exercise outdoors once a day, do so locally, and – despite recent spells of warm weather – told not to go to parks to sit in the sun.
Social distancing rules must still be obeyed, Johnson said, adding that fines would be increased for those who break them.
Johnson said that at the earliest by June 1, the UK might be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, beginning with the youngest and oldest year groups.
An official said the government would want to see the other years going back to school before the summer holidays.
“Our ambition is that secondary pupils facing exams next year will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays. And we will shortly be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools and shops and on transport,” Johnson said.
Other year classes in secondary schools are not expected to return to school before the summer holidays.
New alert system
He detailed an alert system ranging from level 1, in which the virus is no longer present, to level 5, the most critical, that will allow the government to flag risks in different parts of England and to decrease or increase restrictions where necessary.
Johnson’s government has faced criticism from opposition parties and others over its handling of the pandemic and the prime minister is wary of taking the brakes off too soon.

The UK’s coronavirus death toll – 31,855 – is the second-highest in the world, behind only the United States. The bulk of the cases and deaths have been in England.
The Sunday Times reported that scientific advisers had told the government deaths could exceed 100,000 by the end of the year if lockdown measures are relaxed too quickly.
The government’s decision to replace its “stay at home” slogan, drummed into the public for weeks, was criticised by opposition parties who called the new “stay alert” message too ambiguous.
Johnson earlier tweeted a new government poster with rules including “stay at home as much as possible”, “limit contact with other people” and “keep your distance if you go out”.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s statement did not provide enough clarity.
“This statement raises more questions than it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pulling in different directions,” Starmer said in a statement.
“The prime minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport. What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.” Starmer added. 
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the only modification she was making to lockdown measures was to allow people to exercise more than once a day.
“[That] is the only change that the Scottish government judges that it is safe to make right now without risking a rapid resurgence of the virus,” she told a news conference.
Sturgeon also said she had asked the UK government not to use its “stay alert” advertising campaign in Scotland.

The UK’s economy – the world’s fifth-largest – has been hammered by the pandemic and the lockdown measures.
The government has faced steady questions from Labour and others on why the country was not locked down earlier, why it has struggled to administer mass testing and why there have been shortages of protective equipment for medics and care workers.
Johnson himself is recovering after falling critically ill with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, last month.
At the earliest by July, and if the infection rates support it, there could be the reopening of at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places, provided they are safe and enforce social distancing, he added.
With both the death rate and hospital admissions falling, Johnson said it would be “madness” to allow a second spike in infections.
Changes will be closely monitored at a local, regional and national level and the government would “not hesitate to put on the brakes” if there are outbreaks, he said.
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