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EU regulator recommends approving remdesivir as first Covid-19 treatment

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The European healthcare regulator has recommended the conditional approval of Gilead Sciences Inc's antiviral treatment remdesivir for use in Covid-19 patients, making it the first treatment to be on track to be green-lit in the continent.

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The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Thursday its human medicines committee (CHMP) recommended the drug's use in adults and adolescents from 12 years of age with pneumonia who require oxygen support.

"Remdesivir is the first medicine against Covid-19 to be recommended for authorisation in the EU," the agency said, adding that the recommendation still needs approval from the European Commission.

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The price of the drug in the region is not yet known. In the United States, it could be priced up to $5,080 (€4,532) per course, while Indian generic drugmakers will sell the treatment between 5,000 rupees to 6,000 rupees (€59-€71).

The EMA endorsement, which comes just weeks after a speedy review, means physicians can prescribe the Gilead drug, to be branded Veklury, in Europe once approved by the European Commission, which usually follows CHMP recommendations.

The EU's conditional marketing authorisation allows a treatment to be sold for a year in the 27-nation trading bloc before all necessary data on its efficacy and side-effects are available. Gilead has to submit final data by December.

Demand for the drug soared after it became a front-runner following promise in trials.

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Serbian Ruling Party Scores Landslide Victory in General Elections

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Serbia’s Progressive Party and its coalition partners won over 60% of the vote in Sundays elections, boycotted by major opposition parties.

President Aleksandar Vucic, the party leader, told jubilant supporters that he did not expect such a landslide victory.

“I have long been in politics, but I have never experienced such a moment. Tonight we have gained the tremendous trust of the people, the biggest ever in Serbia, under conditions where not many believed in it. We got a warning from the people that we have to be even more responsible, more serious, more diligent and that we have to make best possible results for our people and our citizens,” Vucic said.

In the new parliament, the Serbian Progressive Party will hold about 190 out of 250 total seats.

“We have won everywhere, where we have been losing (before). We have won in every place abroad, where we have never been winning in the past,” Vucic said.

Serbia became the first country in Europe Sunday to hold general elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The elections, initially scheduled for April, were postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The turnout among the 6.6 million voters eligible to cast ballots for the 250 seats in parliament and for local governing bodies was lower than in previous elections.

Several main opposition parties boycotted the vote, claiming a lack of free and fair conditions and accusing Vucic of dominating the election campaign through his control of the mainstream media. Vucic denied the accusations.

However, some smaller groups decided to participate, saying the boycott would only help Vucics party.

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Greece Demands Return of Parthenon Marbles from Britain

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Ratcheting up fresh pressure, Greece has blasted the British Museum for exhibiting the Parthenon marbles, calling the collection “stolen” treasures and demanding the masterpieces be returned to Athens.

The call comes as Greece celebrates the 11th anniversary of the New Acropolis Museum, a four-story, state of the art edifice built to house the ancient treasures and weaken Britain’s claim that it is best able to look after the 2,500-year-old masterpieces.

“Since September 2003 when construction work for the Acropolis Museum began, Greece has systematically demanded the return of the sculptures on display in the British Museum because they are the product of theft,” the countrys culture minister Lina Mendoni said.

“The current Greek government – like any Greek government – is not going to stop claiming the stolen sculptures which the British Museum, contrary to any moral principle, continues to hold illegally,” she told the Athens daily Ta Nea.

Depicting figures of ancient Greek mythology, the 75-meter frieze and its 17 statues were sawed off the Parthenon temple and shipped to London by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, during his tenure as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Bankrupted by the venture, the British aristocrat sold them to the British Museum in 1816, where they became a major attraction and began one of the worlds longest running cultural disputes.

Mendoni said “It is sad that one of the worlds largest and most important museums is still governed by outdated, colonialist views.”

While successive governments in Britain have opposed calls for the return of the sculptures to Greece, pressure has mounted in recent years with a bandwagon of celebrities and politicians joining the repatriation campaign.

Greeces center-right government is also stepping up efforts to win back the treasures as the country gears up for its bicentennial independence anniversary next year.

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A municipal worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant outside Acropolis museum as the Parthenon temple is seen in the background in Athens on March 24, 2020.

While 50 meters of the 115-block Parthenon frieze is displayed in Athens, eight other museums scattered across Europe house fragments of it, including the Louvre and the British Museum.

Last year, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis secured a key agreement from French President Macron to allow the Louvre to lend a small fragment of the Parthenon in light of those celebrations.

Macron has become the first Western leader to initiate a comprehensive review of colonial looting, repatriating significant collections to Africa – a move traditionally resisted by leading museums in the West, including the British Museum.

A similar loan request was made to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson but it was quickly knocked down by the British Museum, saying any swap would require Athens to relinquish ownership claims to the prized treasures — a request Greece has emphatically refused.

“Without the supreme symbol of culture, the Parthenon, Western Civilization cannot exist, and this symbol deserves to be reunited with its expatriate sculptures,” Mendoni told a local broadcaster in May.

Government officials have refused to clarify whether Athens has followed up with any alternative proposal to the British Museum. Nor have they said whether Greece would resort to legal action against Britain in a bid to win back the marbles.

“In law, a thief is not allowed to keep his or her ill-gotten gains, no matter how long ago they were taken, or how much he or she may have improved them,” said Geoffrey Robertson, a leading human rights attorney whom the government in Athens recruited in 2014 to consider legal action.

“In the past, a lot of cultural property was wrongfully extracted from places that are now independent states. They want the loot sent back to where it was created and to the people for whom it has most meaning.”

In its pamphlets, the British Museum argues that its free-of-charge entrance attracts millions of visitors every year from around the work, making the ancient Greek masterpieces available to the public within the context of a wide swath of human civilization — a claim Greece insists is now defunct with its $200 million mammoth museum.

An austere building wedged within the chaotic sprawl of a crowded old neighborhood, the new Acropolis museum was initially scheduled to open in time for the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.

But legal fights over the expropriation of some 25 buildings, as well as archaeological findings unearthed at the site, derailed the project by more than 5 years.

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Diasporas in the coronavirus era, Part 5: Algerian singer Idir

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This week, FRANCE 24 has been looking at how those who have come to live here from elsewhere have coped during France's stringent coronavirus lockdown. In the fifth and final episode of the series, we meet with the daughter of late Kabyle musician Idir, who passed away during the pandemic.

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Singer Idir was a leading cultural ambassador of his native Kabylie and its Berber language and an icon of the Algerian community in France. When he died in May at the age of 70 of an illness unrelated to Covid-19, the news was difficult to stomach for many of his fans, already going through trying times.

FRANCE 24 met with Idir's daughter, Tanina Cheriet, at the singer's home outside Paris. Cheriet says she and her father were very clRead More – Source

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Hollie Doyle partners breakthrough winner at Royal Ascot

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Record-breaking rider Hollie Doyle claimed her first Royal Ascot success with a last-gasp triumph aboard Scarlet Dragon in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes.

Doyle enjoyed a stellar 2019, riding 116 winners – more in a calendar year than any other female jockey, becoming only the third woman to reach a century after Hayley Turner and Josephine Gordon.

The Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon was a largely unconsidered 33-1 shot for the finale on day four of the showpiece meeting and remained well back in the field rounding the turn for home.

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However, Doyle kept her cool and managed to weave a passage between horses to pick up both the front-running West End Charmer and Deja, beating the latter by half a length.

Doyle becomes the third female jockey to ride a Royal Ascot winner after Gay Kelleway in 1987 and Hayley Turner, who on Thursday landed the Sandringham Stakes for the second year running aboard Onassis.

Doyle, who has regularly been in the winner’s enclosure since the resumption of racing, said: “I can’t talk, it feels amazing, it’s so weird I’ve done it on this horse, as he was my first big handicap winner as an apprentice so to do it on him and for Mr (Henry) Ponsonby (owner) is great.

“I used to find him incredibly keen as an apprentice, he was one of the reasons I knew I had to strengthen up. I have to thank Mr Ponsonby, he’s given me so many opportunities. I know this lad well now, the day we won the Old Rowley Cup I had to sit and suffer on him a bit, but he travels really well and it suited him today.

“This means a huge amount – you arrive every year with high hopes, but it’s very hard to come across winners.”

She added: “This is the icing on the cake given how well it has gone since the resumption. I can’t really put it into words and there are so many people to thank.

“Hayley has been there and done it and ridden Group One winners, I can hardly imagine doing that myself, but I know it’s possible one day.

“My aim is to improve year on year ability-wise so I’ve been lucky to get the opportunities, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

“I’ve finally for once in my life beaten Tom (Marquand, her partner) to something (Royal Ascot winner). Luckily we’re in separate cars so it won’t be an awkward journey home.”

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‘We were very lucky nobody died’: How a Covid-19 outbreak in an Irish town spiraled

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She had been waiting months for a decision to be made on her asylum status. But the letter wasn't about that. Misha, and dozens of other asylum seekers at the Dublin hotel were notified that they would be moved to a rural town over 200 miles away, on the west coast of Ireland, due to concerns over Covid-19 spreading through the accommodation, which was also shared by paying guests. She had less than 24 hours to pack her things.When she was transferred to the Skellig Star accommodation center in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, on March 18, she was hopeful it would be safe. But, after arriving and being told to bunk with another asylum seeker she didn't know, she began to fear the worst."I was scared for my life," said Misha, who asked that her real name not be used for fear it might impact her asylum claim.About 100 people in total were transferred from a handful of centers, including from one Dublin hotel where a guest from Italy had reportedly contracted the virus.Just days after they arrived, one of the residents started showing symptoms, according to three people CNN talked to. Then the rumors started.

"I was scared for my life."

Misha

The Cahersiveen community had been given just as little time to prepare; locals found out only a few days before that the Skellig Star — rebuilt in 2006 on the promise of drawing tourists with a swimming pool and other leisure facilities — was being converted into accommodation for asylum seekers.Despite their lack of consultation and concerns over losing business from the only major hotel in town, people in Cahersiveen welcomed the group, bringing them clothes and toys. But when news began swirling that asylum seekers were getting sick, and still shopping in the local stores, people in the small town began to panic. "Rural Ireland would love to have these people living in the community … they'd be more than welcome," said Jack Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Cahersiveen Community and Business Alliance. "But, this is not the way to do it, to plunk 100 people into a very congested hotel in the midst of a pandemic."The outbreak, which swiftly spread through the hotel, infecting 25 people at its peak, was declared over on May 20 by Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE), but local residents and asylum seekers are continuing to push for the center to be shut down, joining together as a united front in a series of demonstrations. Under a system known as Direct Provision, overseen by Ireland's Department of Justice and Equality and operated by private businesses on lucrative contracts, asylum seekers are housed in emergency accommodation while they wait to find out if they will be granted refugee status and permission to stay in the country.Calls for reform of the system, introduced initially as an emergency measure by the state in 1999 after a sudden increase in asylum applications, have coincided with sweeping, global protests for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd in the US. Asylum seekers — many of whom are from African countries — have condemned Direct Provision for "institutionalized racism" on the part of the government, arguing that no one else in the country is treated in the same way as they are. While their appeal is being assessed, they're provided with free accommodation, food and utilities, and have access to healthcare and education, but they have almost no autonomy and cannot choose where they live. And they are unable to apply for a work permit until at least eight months into their application process — expected to survive on a weekly allowance of €38.80 ($43) instead. Commenting on the comparison between Direct Provision and the murder of George Floyd earlier this month, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar conceded that while some Direct Provision accommodation was substandard and needed to change, it "ultimately is a service offered by the state … involves people being provided with free accommodation, food, heat, lighting, health care, education, and also some spending money.""It's not the same thing as a man being killed by the police."Decisions on asylum cases in Ireland can take years, a fact that has been criticized by the United Nations Refugee Agency, which recently called for the process to be sped up. And rejection rates are high — around 70%, according to recent figures. Dozens of people have died waiting, according to a Freedom of Information request from The Irish Catholic.

Not fit for purpose

Ireland's Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Green Party struck a draft deal to form a new coalition government on Monday, which, if ratified by the members of the three parties, will end months of political stalemate since the country's election in February. It will also inject urgency into reforming the Irish asylum system. One of the key commitments outlined in the agreement is a pledge to end Direct Provision and replace it with an accommodation policy centered on a not-for-profit approach.Liam Thornton, a law lecturer and Direct Provision expert, greeted the decision with cautious optimism. "After 20-plus years of government denial that anything much was wrong, it's interesting to see," he told CNN. "While we haven't been here before, it is implementation that will be key." Thornton tweeted: "Direct Provision is one of the darkest chapters in the Dept of Justice history. But it takes people to design, administer, implement such awfulness. New mindsets needed ASAP."Asylum seekers, human rights campaigners and legal experts such as Thornton say the pandemic has shone a spotlight on structural problems that have long existed in Ireland's asylum system. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, the often crowded, poor conditions have become that much more apparent. "HSE has been advising us, and everybody, on social distancing, but you cannot social distance where there is no space," Misha said."We were sharing bedrooms with strangers. We were sharing the dining room. We were sharing the salt shakers. We were sharing the lobby. We were sharing everything. And if you looked at the whole situation, you cannot really say that it was fit for purpose."Skellig Star residents, locked inside the center during quarantine, chant "move us out" on April 29.Misha says she watched in horror as people started falling sick around her, before being pulled into makeshift isolation rooms. The first suspected case of Covid-19 in the center was reported as early as March 24, the Justice Department has conceded, adding that the person did not test positive. They did not say when the test was conducted.According to asylum seekers and a previous manager, testing of asylum seekers didn't start until weeks later in mid-April. After positive cases were confirmed, all residents at the Skellig Star were ordered to stay inside and quarantine. "I have verifiable evidence of a written communication from the Skellig Star to the Department of Justice and Equality on 24 March confirming a suspected case of Covid-19. The resident concerned was placed in isolation on 20 March, one day after arrival in Cahersiveen," Member of Parliament for Kerry, Norma Foley, said in a special parliamentary committee hearing on the government's Covid-19 response."The timeline might not be of importance to either the HSE or the Department of Justice and Equality but it is very important to the residents of the Skellig Star and the community of Cahersiveen. This timeline confirms unequivocally that Covid-19 was transported by bus on 18 March and 19 March to the Skellig Star and the community of Cahersiveen."In a statement to CNN regarding the timeline, the Department said it had made an "honest mistake" in failing to receive the March 24 communication and that "there was no attempt by the Department … to intentionally mislead or conceal the facts" related to the outbreak.

"Our biggest fear is a second wave … We're afraid it will spread like wildfire in the hotel again, but next time it may also go through the community."

Jack Fitzpatrick

After her roommate tested positive and was taken away to self-isolate at another center, Misha thought that someone would move her, so that the room could be disinfected. When no one came, she said she raised her concerns with an HSE worker on site, who told her there was no reason to worry."It was an embarrassment to my intelligence," Misha said. She tested positive 10 days later. Ireland's Justice Department told CNN that an HSE Development Worker was at the hotel to monitor the health of residents and staff throughout the outbreak, and is now providing more general support, including accessing mainstream health services and integrating in the local community. The Department said it was continuing to work closely with the HSE and Cahersiveen center managers to ensure the wellbeing of all residents and staff, including offering all single residents their own bedrooms and providing enhanced cleaning services. The center also intends to provide self-catering facilities so that residents can cook in their rooms, instead of eating together in a communal dining room. Townbe, the company that operates Skellig and three other Direct Provision centers, did not respond to CNN's request for comment. The Justice Department said it was unable to comment on the value of thRead More – Source

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Oil spills, wildfires, invasive insects… Siberias climate change vicious circle

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On May 29, 21,000 tons of diesel fuel from the storage tank of a thermal power station in Siberia spilled onto the icy tundra and into rivers in one of the worst environmental disasters the Russian Arctic has ever seen and the result of what experts say is a vicious circle of climate change in the region.

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The owner of the thermal power plant has blamed the spill, which authorities say may take several years to clean up, on the subsidence of the tanks supports caused by the thawing of the permafrost – a layer of normally permanently frozen ground – below.

The thawing permafrost is the result of rising temperatures caused by global warming, but could itself lead to accelerating climate change.

“We know that permafrost contains huge amounts of carbon, roughly twice the volume of what is in the atmosphere today. This carbon is frozen, protected, locked in. If the permafrost thaws, this carbon could be released,” Antoine Séjourné, a geomorphologist, Université Paris Saclay, told FRANCE 24.

“Carbon-rich gases would be released: CO2, methane, extremely powerful greenhouse gases. That would accelerate global warming and that would re-thaw the permafrost. It creates a feedback loop and then youre in a vicious circle.”

The harmful effects of global warming have been evident in Siberia for several years. In particular, warm winters and mild springs have seen a rise in forest fires.

“Forest growth is dictated by the temperature. As temperatures rise, the forest colonises places that were previously too cold,” said Séjourné.

“We know that global warming intensifies extreme weather events: droughts, heavy rains… It gives energy to the thermal mechanics of the climate. Therefore, forest fires are more likely to develop in already fragile ecosystems.”

With the expansion of the forests, the number of fires is increasing. An average of six million hectares of forest burned down everRead More – Source

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Greece’s coastguard picks up migrants off Lesbos as boat arrivals resume

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Thirty-six migrants travelling from Turkey were spotted off Lesbos and transferred to a temporary settlement in the north of the island, Greeces coastguard said Sunday.

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Among the group, “one person had to be hospitalised”, an official for the coastguard press office told AFP, without giving further details.

The rest of the group were safely transferred to a migrant facility on Lesbos and quarantined for seven days under measures to combat coronavirus, the source said.

According to the Greek state news agency ANA, the group is made up of 10 women, 10 children and 16 men, all from Iran and Afghanistan.

Their boat was spotted on Saturday morning but the rescue and transfer operation did not take place until midnight, according to the coastguard.

Migrant advocacy NGOs Aegean Boat Report and Watch the Med denounced the Greek and Turkish coastguards on social media for leaving the boat in distress offshore “for 14 hours”, while they both attempted to palm off responsibility.

With the boat in their waters on Saturday evening, the Greek coastguard finally rescued the migrants.

Migrants trying to reach Europe to flee war and poverty frequently use this narrow route between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea.

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Greece’s coastguard picks up migrants off Lesbos as boat arrivals resume

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Thirty-six migrants travelling from Turkey were spotted off Lesbos and transferred to a temporary settlement in the north of the island, Greeces coastguard said Sunday.

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Among the group, “one person had to be hospitalised”, an official for the coastguard press office told AFP, without giving further details.

The rest of the group were safely transferred to a migrant facility on Lesbos and quarantined for seven days under measures to combat coronavirus, the source said.

According to the Greek state news agency ANA, the group is made up of 10 women, 10 children and 16 men, all from Iran and Afghanistan.

Their boat was spotted on Saturday morning but the rescue and transfer operation did not take place until midnight, according to the coastguard.

Migrant advocacy NGOs Aegean Boat Report and Watch the Med denounced the Greek and Turkish coastguards on social media for leaving the boat in distress offshore “for 14 hours”, while they both attempted to palm off responsibility.

With the boat in their waters on Saturday evening, the Greek coastguard finally rescued the migrants.

Migrants trying to reach Europe to flee war and poverty frequently use this narrow route between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea.

ThereRead More – Source

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Spain to reopen EU borders on June 21, more than a week ahead of schedule

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Spain, one of the worlds leading tourist destinations, will next Sunday re-establish free travel with fellow EU countries, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced.

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The land border with Portugal will however remain closed until July 1. Portugal has suffered a much lower death rate than Spain from the coronavirus epidemic.

Madrid had previously planned to restart full EU travel on July 1 but decided to lift “border checks with all member countries on June 21”, Sanchez said in a televised speech on Sunday.

The new date coincides with the lifting of the state of emergency Spain imposed from mid-March to fight Covid-19 as fatalities soared.

Spain has recorded more than 27,000 deaths in the pandemic, one of the highest tolls around the world.

But by Monday, more than 70 percent of Spains 47 million population will be in the final stage of a phased rollback of the lockdown that should finish by June 21.

The European Commission has recommended that the 27 EU members fully reopen their frontiers with each other on June 15 and many countries are planning to do so.

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