Day: October 29, 2021

FDA Clears Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Children 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized on Friday the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children 5-11 years old. 

The FDA approved for children doses that are one-third the amount that teens and adults receive.

“With this vaccine kids can go back to something that’s better than being locked at home on remote schooling, not being able to see their friends,” Dr. Kawsar Talaat of Johns Hopkins University said, according to The Associated Press. “The vaccine will protect them and also protect our communities.” 

On Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make detailed recommendations, and the CDC director will have the final say. 

Approval by the regulatory agencies would make the vaccine available in the coming days to 28 million American children, many of whom are back in school for in-person learning. Only a few other countries, including China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, have so far cleared COVID-19 vaccines for children in this age group and younger. 

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe on Friday called for schools to stay open, provided appropriate prevention and response measures are in place. 

The recommendation comes after WHO reported the European region has now seen four consecutive weeks of growing COVID-19 transmission, the only WHO region to do so. The agency said Europe’s rising numbers accounted for 57% of new cases worldwide in the third week of October. 

In a statement from the agency’s website, WHO/Europe says instead of closing educational institutions in response to this latest surge, it recommends a “whole-of-society approach” to reducing transmission through mitigation measures such as maintaining physical distancing, cleaning hands frequently, wearing masks and ensuring adequate ventilation.

The WHO regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, said, “Last year’s widespread school closures, disrupting the education of millions of children and adolescents, did more harm than good, especially to children’s mental and social well-being. We can’t repeat the same mistakes.” 

Kluge said that in the coming months, decisions by governments and the public to reduce the impact of COVID-19 should be based on data and evidence, “with the understanding that the epidemiological situation can change, and that our behavior must change with it. Science must trump politics.”


Afghan Artists, Activists See No Place for Arts Under Taliban

Afghan artists and activists say the Taliban have replaced their murals with their logo and slogans, making it impossible for them to continue working in Afghanistan. VOA’s Yalda Baktash has more. Roshan Noorzai contributed.


WFP: Climate Change Risks Creating Global Tsunami of Hunger

The World Food Program says that without consolidated global action to stop the acceleration of climate change, the world faces a crisis of acute hunger.

The WFP says climate shocks are destroying lives, crops and livelihoods and  are undermining people’s ability to feed themselves. It cites Mozambique as an example of a country particularly vulnerable to climate change. It notes millions of people are suffering from food scarcity because of punishing cyclones, drought and pest infestations leading to agricultural losses.

WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri said Friday that hunger would increase rapidly throughout vulnerable communities worldwide if global action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are leading to climate change.

It’s often stated by climate scientists and activists that humans must stop the planet from warming an additional 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most destructive effects of climate change. “Research shows that if global temperatures keep rising to hit the 2 degrees Celsius mark, an additional 189 million people could become food insecure,” Phiri said. “Now, in a 4 degree Celsius warmer world, this number could increase by as many as 1.8 billion people.”

Trouble spots

The WFP describes the devastating wide reach climate change is having on the livelihoods in communities in the “dry corridor” of Central America; in Afghanistan, where drought was officially declared in June; and in Yemen, where severe and frequent floods have damaged and destroyed infrastructure and homes.

Phiri said the WFP is helping people in communities where food is in short supply to prepare for, as well as respond and recover from, climate shocks and stresses. He said the agency has reached more than 6 million people in 28 countries with climate risk management solutions.

For example, he said, the WFP provided cash assistance for 120,000 people in Bangladesh four days ahead of severe flooding to help them protect critical assets. In Madagascar, he said, the WFP has launched a microinsurance program to help farmers who have lost their crops because of drought.

“Ahead of COP26, the World Food Program is calling for coordinated global climate action to urgently address the challenges of the climate crisis and to reduce its impact on hunger,” Phiri said. “More specifically, we are advocating for a shift from crisis response to risk management.”

Phiri said governments should manage risks rather than disasters. He said a more forward-looking perspective is needed to prepare for bigger and more frequent climate shocks and enable early action to help prevent predictable climate emergencies.


Midcareer Women Found Disproportionally Affected by COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected midcareer and older working women in the United States. About 40% have experienced at least one job interruption, and of those who remained unemployed, 70% were out of work for six months or more. Lesia Bakalets has more in this report narrated by Anna Rice.

Cameras: Aleksandr Bergan, Artyom Kokhan.


Countries Urged to Turn Carbon Neutral Commitments Into Climate Action

Ahead of next week’s climate conference in Scotland, 10 United Nations and international agency heads, including the World Meteorological Organization, are calling on governments to turn their carbon neutral commitments into climate action.  

Scientists tracking the impact of human activity on the warming of the planet say the scientific case for urgent climate action is unequivocal. They note rising temperatures have led to increased sea levels and more frequent and intense extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, heat waves, and excess rainfall.

The U.N. and international agency heads have issued a united and urgent call to governments to prioritize climate action, particularly when it comes to water.  They say accelerated action is urgently needed to address the water-related consequences of climate change.

World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Clare Nullis says the agency chiefs warn climate change is dramatically affecting the water cycle, making droughts and floods more extreme and frequent, and decreasing the natural water storage in ice and snow.

“Changing precipitation patterns are already impacting agriculture, food systems, and livelihoods are becoming increasingly vulnerable, as well as ecosystems, and biodiversity. Rising sea levels threaten communities, infrastructure, coastal environments and aquifers,” Nullis said.

Participants at next week’s so-called “make-or-break climate summit” are expected to commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The aim is to stave off climate change by limiting global warming to one-point-five to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Nullis said scientists agree on the urgency to translate the commitments into action and to do more to accelerate carbon neutrality.

“The concentrations that are up there in the atmosphere now are at record levels. Even if we reach carbon neutrality tomorrow, the inertia in the climate system and especially in the ocean means that heat will carry on increasing for several decades even after that,” she said.

At the meeting, Nullis said the WMO, the U.N. Environment Program, and the U.N. Development Program will announce a new coalition fund to improve the collection of essential weather and climate data.  

She said the facility will close the growing data gaps that impede the ability to forecast extreme weather events and, ultimately, protect the climate.


Pandemic Further Squeezes Indian Women, Already on the Margins

Desperate for work, Sabila Dafadar walks every morning from her poor neighborhood tucked behind tall glass and chrome buildings in the business hub of Gurugram, 32 kilometers from New Delhi, to a busy intersection where day laborers wait for contractors who come to pick up construction workers.

After she migrated from her village 10 years ago, she easily found jobs both as household help and in an office as a cleaner. Like millions of other women, she lost her job last year during a stringent lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Indian businesses and factories have reopened, it has been tough for Dafadar to find work as the economy struggles to recover.

“I have only managed to get work for 15 days during the last three months,” the 35-year-old said.

While women around the world have been hit harder by job losses than have men during the pandemic, the impact on women in India has been particularly severe, experts say.

Even before the pandemic, women made up only about 20% of India’s labor force – far below the global average and lower than is the case in such South Asian countries as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Many of them work in India’s vast informal sector.

Now there are fears their space will shrink further, particularly for women from poorer households.

“Women are in distress in terms of reentering the labor force, especially urban women who were the worst affected,” said Sona Mitra, principal economist at Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy in New Delhi.

“Many who worked or ran small enterprises such as beauty or tailoring services and tiny shops used up their savings during the shutdown and could not restart work when the economy reopened. Others were concentrated in sectors like the garment industry and call centers where workers have less safeguards and can be hired and fired easily.”

A report by the Center of Sustainable Employment at Aziz Premji University this year said more women and younger workers lost jobs during a stringent lockdown last year and that even after jobs recovered, fewer women were able to return to the workforce.

While women are again picking up work, many have had to turn to lower-paid and less secure employment.

“For example, when small private schools in cities shut down, teachers went back to villages and joined unskilled work,” said Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, one of India’s largest trade unions.

“So, the direction for many women during COVID and even post-COVID has been from skilled to semi-skilled and unskilled work,” she said.

‘Opportunities simply are not there’

Although the formal sector accounts for a much smaller percentage of India’s overall female workforce, here too women were disproportionately affected because industries such as hospitality, tourism and retail that employ more women were the worst-hit.

Six women were among employees laid off last year by a food delivery company in its New Delhi office – women made up a majority of the staff.

“It has been very hard for them to find work,” said a former manager who asked that her name not be used.

“The opportunities simply are not there,” she said.

The women who had lost jobs would not speak on the record.

Experts say the pandemic has highlighted a paradox that women faced even earlier – a steady decline in their participation in the workforce despite rising levels of education and a growing pool of women with college degrees.

From a little over 30% in 2011, their share in the workforce fell to about 20% in 2019.

“The pandemic simply magnified what was already happening. The big employing sectors have not been creating jobs and everything just became much more bare in the job market,” said Sairee Sahal, founder of SHEROES, a portal for female job seekers.

“In retail for example, what has been growing is e-commerce where women’s presence is marginal and not brick-and-mortar retail that employs a lot of women,” she said.

The public health crisis that has kept schools closed for the last year and a half also worsened the situation.

“Social norms in India put the primary burden of household chores and child care on women and put restrictions on their mobility,” Mitra said.

Calling shrinking opportunities for women a wake-up call, she said policymakers must spur expansion of labor-intensive sectors such as garment manufacturing, where women have more opportunities.

“While some work is coming back, we see it coming in the lower rung of the economy,” she said.

Those working on women’s issues say the shrinking space for them will affect not just the economic but also the social position of women in a country where they have struggled to break free of patriarchal norms.

“When they lose their earnings, they lose their independence and status. We have seen that happening during the pandemic,” Kaur said.

“And women who have no support system find themselves struggling to make ends meet,” she added.

Dafadar is aware of that situation.

“In the past year and a half, I have cut back on whatever I could, including food by half.” she said as she looked into the road, hoping for a day’s work. 



China Attempts to Block Cultural Events in Germany, Italy

Efforts by Chinese diplomats to stop cultural events deemed critical of the government in Beijing have met with mixed results in Europe, succeeding in Germany but being rebuffed by a city government in Italy.

The incident in Germany concerned a new book, Xi Jinping — The Most Powerful Man in the World, by two veteran German journalists, Stern magazine’s China correspondent Adrian Geiges, and Die Welt newspaper publisher Stefan Aust.

Confucius Institutes at two German universities had planned online events on Oct. 27 to coordinate with the book’s launch. But the book’s publisher, Piper Verlag of Munich, said the events were canceled at short notice “due to Chinese pressure.”

The company accused Feng Haiyang, the Chinese consul general in Düsseldorf, of intervening personally to quash the event at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Duisburg and Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

At Leibniz University in Hannover, the Tongji University in Shanghai — which jointly operates the Confucius Institute there — forced the cancellation of an event, according to the company. Neither the publisher nor the institute offered details on what triggered the cancellation.

The institutes, run by China’s education ministry, are seen by Beijing as a way to promote its culture. Many Western countries have become wary of the influence the institutes exert on campuses by subsidizing classes, travel and research.

Dozens of Confucius Institutes have been closed or are closing in Europe and Australia. At least 29 shuttered in the U.S. after the State Department in August 2020 designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a “foreign mission” of the Chinese government.

In a statement, Piper Verlag quoted a Confucius Institute employee as saying that “One can no longer talk about Xi Jinping as a normal person, he should now be untouchable and unspeakable.”

Felicitas von Lovenberg, head of Piper Verlag, called the cancellation of the events “a worrying and disturbing signal.”

Aust of Die Welt said the incident confirmed the book’s basic thesis: “For the first time, a dictatorship is in the process of overtaking the West economically, and is now also trying to impose its values, which are against our freedom, internationally.”

The book presented China in a very differentiated way as it also talked about China’s success in overcoming poverty, co-author Geiges said. “Apparently, such balanced reports are no longer enough for Xi Jinping. Stories are no longer enough — he now wants a cult around his person internationally, just as he does in China itself.”

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Berlin said events at Confucius Institutes were planned to bring about better understanding between the two peoples, and they “should build on the basis of comprehensive communications between the partners.”

China supports the development of the institutes as “a platform to understand China comprehensively and objectively,” the embassy spokesperson added. “But we strongly object to any politicization of academic and cultural exchange.”

Both Confucius Institutes said in their respective statements that there were different views between the German and Chinese partners, making it impossible to carry on. The Institute for East Asian Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen had expressed interest in hosting the event, according to the university’s Confucius Institute.

German human rights activist David Missal told VOA Cantonese there has always been pressure from the Chinese side when it comes to critical events, but the tactics were rarely exposed. He took it as a positive development that these incidents are coming to light.

“I think this is the only way to fight this kind of influence in a democracy — you have to make these things public, make them transparent, and then there will be political responses to these incidents,” Missal said.

Reinhard Bütikofer, a German member of the European Parliament who is critical of China, said the next German federal government must draw clear lines about its China policy. “Chinese censorship at German universities? Does not work at all. These so-called ‘Confucius’ institutes, which are in fact CCP aides, have no future,” he tweeted.


Earlier this month, the Chinese Embassy in Rome attempted to stop a critical art show, but failed.

A museum in Brescia, an Italian city about 100 kilometers east of Milan, will continue with its plans to open a solo exhibition of the work of Australia-based Chinese exiled activist Badiucao. Scheduled to run from Nov. 13-Feb. 13, the exhibition is entitled “China is [not] near.” It will feature the artist’s work criticizing issues such as China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

The Chinese Embassy in Rome sent the Brescia city council a message on Oct. 21, contending that Badiucao’s works twisted facts, spread false information, would mislead the Italian people’s understanding of China while seriously damaging Chinese people’s feelings, and jeopardize friendly relations between China and Italy, according to Italy’s ANSA news agency.

Brescia Mayor Emilio Del Bono told the Il Foglio newspaper the show will not be canceled, adding, “I think it is important to show that you can stay friends while criticizing some things.”

Badiucao told VOA Mandarin via phone on live TV that he was not surprised by the embassy’s position. “I am very excited that the city government and the museum stood strongly with me. I can say very confidently that my exhibition will not be canceled. I will not amend my exhibits or commit any self-censorship.”

VOA Cantonese asked the Chinese Embassy in Rome for comments but received no response.

This story originated in VOA’s Cantonese Service.


US Lawmakers Vote to Tighten Restrictions on Huawei, ZTE

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to approve legislation to prevent companies that are deemed security threats, such as Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. or ZTE Corp., from receiving new equipment licenses from U.S. regulators. 

The Secure Equipment Act, the latest effort by the U.S. government to crack down on Chinese telecom and tech companies, was approved last week by the U.S. House in a 420-4 vote and now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. 

“Chinese state-directed companies like Huawei and ZTE are known national security threats and have no place in our telecommunications network,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said. The measure would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from reviewing or issuing new equipment licenses to companies on its “Covered Equipment or Services List.” 

In March, the FCC designated five Chinese companies as posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting U.S. communications networks. 

The affected companies included the previously designated Huawei and ZTE, as well as Hytera Communications Corp., Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co. 

The FCC in June had voted unanimously to advance a plan to ban approvals for equipment in U.S. telecommunications networks from those Chinese companies even as lawmakers pursued legislation to mandate it. 

The FCC vote in June drew opposition from Beijing. 

“The United States, without any evidence, still abuses national security and state power to suppress Chinese companies,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson at China’s Foreign Ministry, said in June. 

Under proposed rules that won initial approval in June, the FCC could also revoke prior equipment authorizations issued to Chinese companies. 

A spokesperson for Huawei, which has repeatedly denied it is controlled by the Chinese government, declined to comment Thursday but in June called the proposed FCC revision “misguided and unnecessarily punitive.” 

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the commission has approved more than 3,000 applications from Huawei since 2018. Carr said Thursday the bill “will help to ensure that insecure gear from companies like Huawei and ZTE can no longer be inserted into America’s communications networks.” 

On Tuesday, the FCC voted to revoke the authorization for China Telecom’s U.S. subsidiary to operate in the United States, citing national security concerns.