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While Brazilians wait for a vaccine, Bolsonaro plays politics – CNN



In an early Christmas gift to some, Chile and Mexico began immunizations on Thursday after granting emergency approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But in Brazil, where the Covid-19 death toll is far higher, lifesaving inoculation could be out of reach for months — the country’s Health Ministry announced last week that vaccinations would begin in February 2021.
Carla Domingues, an epidemiologist and former coordinator of Brazil’s National Immunization Program, told CNN that she is “very disappointed” with how far behind Brazil seems to be falling in the race to herd immunity.
Because Brazil has a strong track record of nationwide vaccination, she says there was a widespread expectation that Brazilians would have a regional advantage in the battle against the pandemic.
“Brazil has always been the leader in the implementation of new vaccines. We manage to achieve high vaccine coverage, even though it is a continental country with very different regions, such as São Paulo with a high population density and Amazonas, with huge distances, (and) an indigenous population,” she said.
“People were expecting that the Brazilian vaccination program would start earlier,” she said. But “other countries of the Americas that prepared themselves are already starting the vaccination, and Brazil has been left behind.”
Every day the virus rages uncontrolled in Brazil is lethally costly. Nearly 190,000 people there have been killed by Covid-19 — the highest reported death toll worldwide after the United States. Yet President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly second-guessed the urgency of immunization, disparaging “the rush for a vaccine.”
“The pandemic is really reaching its end, the numbers have showed this, we are dealing with small rises now,” he said Saturday, according to CNN Brasil. “But the rush for the vaccine is not justified because you are playing with people’s lives.”
With more than 7.4 million people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Brazil and new variants of the virus appearing abroad, there’s little reason to think that the pandemic is tapering off — a claim that Bolsonaro repeatedly made this year, even as cases continued to mount in the country. Only the US and India have reported more coronavirus infections than Brazil.
The Brazilian President also made headlines last week with an outlandish attempt to sow doubt about potential side effects from the Pfizer vaccine. “If you become an alligator, that is your problem,” he warned. “If you become Superman, or grow a beard as a woman, or a man’s voice becomes high pitched, I have nothing to do with that … or worse interfere in people’s immune systems.”
Pfizer did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Domingues believes that Brazil’s federal government was caught unprepared to use the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, after throwing its support behind a vaccine candidate by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which have partnered with local foundation Fiocruz. According to a statement published last week by the Health Ministry, Brazil has agreed to acquire more than 100 million doses of that vaccine, which remains in development.
In 2021, Bolsonaro’s government will also receive nearly 43 million vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility, and has signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire 70 million doses from Pfizer, and another 38 million from Johnson and Johnson subsidiary Janssen. However, most doses of the latter two vaccines aren’t expected to become available until late in the year, according to the Health Ministry’s statement.
Initially, Domingues says, “the Health Ministry tried to be cautious and only agreed to acquire the vaccine with the AstraZeneca laboratory and was not prepared to receive the new vaccines that require storage at lower than 70 (degrees Celsius).” Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at ultra cold temperatures, around minus 75 degrees Celsius — which is about 50 degrees colder than any vaccine used in the United States before the pandemic.
Meanwhile fears linger over the influence of politics on the process, after a year of bitter clashes between Bolsonaro and state governors over the country’s pandemic response.
The President has made no secret of preferring the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to a vaccine developed by Chinese maker Sinovac Biotech, which is backed by the state of Sao Paulo and in development locally with Brazilian lab Butantan Institute.
Counter to assurances from Brazil’s Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello and other officials that any vaccine approved by health regulators will be welcomed by the federal government, Bolsonaro has vowed on Facebook not to purchase the Chinese-made vaccine, and his political boosters have worked to inflame xenophobia and fear around it.
No vaccine has yet been approved by Brazil’s health regulator ANVISA, which is under pressure by the country’s Supreme Court and congressional leaders to take action. Domingues says she trusts that the agency’s experts and officials “will not accept political interference” from any quarter as they evaluate the science and safety of each candidate.
Ordinary Brazilians, however, may not be as immune to influence, especially when it emanates from the highest levels of government. As in many countries, an anti-vaxxer movement has been growing in Brazil for years. And in addition to airing doubts about some vaccines and dismissing the gravity of the virus itself, Bolsonaro has offered fuel to anti-vaxxers by pledging that he will personally refuse vaccination because he’s already had Covid-19 — despite evidence that reinfection, though rare, is possible.
ANVISA and the Brazilian Health Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down



Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.


(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government



Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.


“We’ll be back, soon.”


“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”


“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”


“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”


“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”


“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”


“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”


“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”


“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”


“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”


“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”


“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”


“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”


“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’



British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.


Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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