The Israeli government on Thursday urged its citizens to avoid travel to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, citing threats of Iranian attacks.
Iran has been threatening to attack Israeli targets since its chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated last Friday near Tehran. It accuses Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, of being behind the shooting, reports AP.
Israel has not commented on the killing. But Fakhrizadeh has long been on Israel’s radar screen, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying at a 2018 news conference about Iran’s nuclear program: “Remember that name.” Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons — a charge Iran denies.
In recent months, Israel has signed agreements establishing diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab states of the UAE and Bahrain — its first normalization deals with Arab countries in a quarter century.
The agreements, brokered by the Trump administration, have generated widespread excitement in Israel, and thousands of Israeli tourists are scheduled to travel to the UAE for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah this month.
That may change following Thursday’s warning.
“In light of the threats heard recently by Iranian officials and in light of the involvement in the past of Iranian officials in terror attacks in various countries, there is a concern that Iran will try to act in this way against Israeli targets,” said a statement issued by the prime minister’s National Security Council.
It also advised against travel to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Kurdish area of Iraq and Africa.
Israel’s military is well prepared to deal with the threats of Iranian troops and their proxies in neighboring Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Israeli media say the government also has beefed up security at embassies around the world.
But protecting Israeli travelers, conspicuous and spread out at countless hotels, restaurants and tourist sites, represents a different type of challenge.
“This is going to be a nightmare, and I really hope that both governments, UAE and Israel, are coordinating and doing the best they can to safeguard those Israelis,” said Yoel Guzansky, a former Israeli counterterrorism official who is now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“I’m really worried that that something might happen, and especially now because of the context of Fakhrizadeh, because Iran is really looking for revenge,” he added. He spoke before the travel advisory was issued.
The Israel Airports Authority estimates that about 25,000 Israelis will fly to the UAE this month on the five airlines now plying the route between Tel Aviv and the Gulf state’s airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Celebrities, entrepreneurs and tourists already have been flocking to Dubai.
With the coronavirus appearing to be under control in the UAE, it is one of the few quarantine-free travel options for Israelis during the coming Hanukkah holiday vacation, adding to its appeal. At a time when few people are traveling, Israeli visitors speaking Hebrew could be extra conspicuous.
Israel this week also signed a tourism agreement with Bahrain.
Amsalem Tours, an Israeli travel agency, said that there was “very serious” demand for travel packages to Dubai but did not provide specific figures.
Iran and its proxies have targeted Israeli tourists and Jewish communities in the past. Agents of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group bombed a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012, killing six and wounding dozens. That year, Israel also accused Iran of being behind attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in Thailand and India. Iran and Hezbollah also bombed the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994, claiming the lives of scores of civilians.
Concerns for the safety of Israelis in Dubai also is not without precedent. In 2000, an Israeli ex-colonel was kidnapped by Iranian proxy Hezbollah and held captive in Lebanon until he was released in a prisoner exchange in 2004.
Today, Dubai, famous for its glittering shopping malls, ultra-modern skyscrapers and nightlife, is a crossroads for travelers from around the world, including many nations that do not have relations with Israel. Iran maintains a major presence in Dubai, due to historical and current trade ties, and Dubai is believed to be a major station for Iranian intelligence services. The family of a California-based member of an Iranian militant opposition group in exile says he was abducted by Iran while staying in Dubai just a few months ago.
In a possible sign of Emirati security concerns, travel agencies in countries across the Middle East and Africa say the UAE has temporarily halted issuing new visas to their citizens. With tens of thousands of Iranians working or doing business in the UAE, Iran is also among the countries facing the visa restrictions.
Israel had already had a travel warning in place advising citizens against nonessential travel to the UAE. Similar “basic concrete threat” advisories are in place for visiting other Arab states with which Israel has peace treaties. But the language of Thursday’s warning was especially tough.
The UAE, for its part, is known for its strict security. Dubai, home to 3.3 million people in 2019, with just over 3 million of them foreigners, has published major crime statistics that are among some of the lowest in the world.
Before Israelis began arriving, Dubai held a highly publicized drill of a police SWAT team storming a replica metro car in October and suggested facial-recognition technology could be implemented at stations along its driverless track. Experts already believe the UAE has one of the highest per capita concentrations of surveillance cameras in the world, a system that’s only grown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
And despite the recent tensions, Iran may be hesitant to strike on Emirati soil, wanting to maintain its economic interests there. The UAE meanwhile has gone out of its way to say it wants to de-escalate tensions in the region despite its own suspicions over Iranian behavior. It called the killing of Fakhrizadeh a “heinous assassination.”
In an interview before Thursday’s advisory was issued, Pavel Israelsky, co-founder of Salam Dubai, said the boom in his UAE-based Israeli tour operator’s bookings was “significant” ahead of the Hanukkah holiday. While a handful of Israeli clients canceled over security concerns, he said, “I can say that the UAE is one of the most secure places in the world in terms of the resources they invest in security.”
“I don’t think there’s cause for worry,” Israelsky said. “Today, no place is really safe.”
States drafted plans Thursday for who will go to the front of the line when the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine become available later this month, as U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring.
With initial supplies of the vaccine certain to be limited, governors and other state officials are weighing both health and economic concerns in deciding the order in which the shots will be dispensed, reports AP.
States face a Friday deadline to submit requests for doses of the Pfizer vaccine and specify where they should be shipped, and many appear to be heeding nonbinding guidelines adopted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put health care workers and nursing home patients first.
But they’re also facing a multitude of decisions about other categories of residents — some specific to their states; some vital to their economies.
Colorado’s draft plan, which is being revised, puts ski resort workers who share close quarters in the second phase of vaccine distribution, in recognition of the $6 billion industry’s linchpin role in the state’s economy.
In Nevada, where officials have stressed the importance of bringing tourists back to the Las Vegas Strip, authorities initially put nursing home patients in the third phase, behind police officers, teachers, airport operators and retail workers. But they said Wednesday that they would revise that plan to conform to the CDC guidance.
In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said health care and long-term care facility workers are the top priority, but the state was still refining who would be included in the next phase. A draft vaccination plan submitted to the CDC in October listed poultry workers along with other essential workers such as teachers, law enforcement and correctional employees in the so-called 1B category.
Poultry is a major part of Arkansas’ economy, and nearly 6,000 poultry workers have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, according to the state Health Department.
“We know these workers have been the brunt of large outbreaks not only in our state, but also in other states,” said Dr. Jose Romero, the state’s health secretary and chairman of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Plans for the vaccine are being rolled out as the surging pandemic swamps U.S. hospitals and leaves nurses and other medical workers shorthanded and burned out. Nationwide, the coronavirus is blamed for more than 275,000 deaths and 14 million confirmed infections.
The U.S. recorded 3,157 deaths on Wednesday alone, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than the number of people killed on 9/11 and shattered the old mark of 2,603, set on April 15, when the New York metropolitan area was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.
The number of Americans in the hospital with the coronavirus likewise hit an all-time high Wednesday at more than 100,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The figure has more than doubled over the past month. And new cases per day have begun topping 200,000, by Johns Hopkins’ count.
The three main benchmarks showed a country slipping deeper into crisis, with perhaps the worst yet to come — in part because of the delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.
Keeping health care workers on their feet is considered vital to dealing with the crisis. And nursing home patients have proven highly vulnerable to the virus. Patients and staff members at nursing homes and other long-term care centers account for 39% of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths.
As authorities draw up their priority lists for the vaccine, firefighter groups asked the Minnesota governor to placed in the first group. The Illinois plan gives highest priority to health care workers but also calls for first responders to be in the first batch to get the shot. Other states are struggling with where to put prisoners in the pecking order.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he wants teachers to get priority so schools can stay open. Two California lawmakers asked for that, too, saying distance learning is harming students’ education.
“Our state’s children cannot afford to wait,” wrote Republican Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell. “This is too important to overlook or sweep aside.”
The Utah Department of Health placed the state’s first order for its vaccine allotment Thursday.
Utah officials said frontline health care workers will take top priority, with the five hospitals treating the most COVID-19 patients getting the first doses. State health officials said that additional doses likely will be available in February and March for more hospital workers, and essential workers — including police officers, firefighters and teachers — also will be prioritized.
Texas is putting hospital staff, nursing home workers and paramedics at the top of the list, followed by outpatient medical employees, pharmacists, funeral home workers and school nurses. Nursing home patients did not make the cut for the first phase.
Advocates strongly expressed frustration over the way some states are putting medical workers ahead of nursing home residents.
“It would be unconscionable not to give top priority to protect the population that is more susceptible or vulnerable to the virus,” said John Sauer, head of LeadingAge in Wisconsin, a group representing nonprofit long-term care facilities.
He added: “I can’t think of a more raw form of ageism than that. The population that is most vulnerable to succumbing to this virus is not going to be given priority? I mean, that just says we don’t value the lives of people in long-term care.”
Iowa, which expects to get 172,000 doses over the next month, will make them available first to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, while an advisory council will recommend who comes next to “minimize health inequities based on poverty, geography” and other factors, state Human Services Director Kelly Garcia said.
For example, prison inmates and residents of state institutions for the disabled aren’t in the first round but will be put ahead of others, she said.
A chilly breeze whirls through New Delhi in the mornings and the sun is partly obscured by toxic haze, a marker of another winter in the Indian capital. But along the city’s borders, this year is visibly and viscerally different.
The perpetually busy arterial highways that connect most northern Indian towns to this city of 29 million people now pulse to the cries of “Inquilab Zindabad” — “Long live the revolution.” Tens and thousands of farmers with distinctive, colorful turbans and long, flowing beards have descended upon the city’s borders, choking highways in giant demonstrations against new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation.
For more than a week, they’ve marched toward the capital on their tractors and trucks like an army, pushing aside concrete police barricades while braving tear gas, batons and water cannons. Now, on the outskirts of New Delhi, they are hunkered down with food and fuel supplies that can last weeks and threatening to besiege the capital if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government doesn’t meet their demands to abolish the laws, reports AP.
“Modi wants to sell our lands to corporates,” said one of them, Kaljeet Singh, 31, who traveled from Ludhiana city in Punjab, some 310 kilometers (190 miles) north of New Delhi. “He can’t decide for millions of those who for generations have given their blood and sweat to the land they regard as more precious than their lives.”
At night, the farmers sleep in trailers and under trucks, curling themselves in blankets to brave the winter chill. During the day, they sit huddled in groups in their vehicles, surrounded by mounds of rice, lentils and vegetables that are prepared into meals at hundreds of makeshift soup kitchens, in enormous pots stirred with wooden spoons the size of canoe paddles.
Anmol Singh, 33, who supports his family of six by farming, said the new laws were part of a larger plan to hand over the farmers’ land to big corporations and make them landless.
“Modi wants the poor farmer to die of hunger so that he can fill the stomachs of his rich friends,” he said. “We are here to fight his brutal decrees peacefully.”
He paused, then reconsidered: “Actually, let him and his ministers take us on. We will give them a bloody nose.”
Many of the protesting farmers hail from northern Punjab and Haryana, two of the largest agricultural states in India. An overwhelming majority of them are Sikhs. They fear the laws passed in September will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations who will push down prices. Many activists and farming experts support their demand for a minimum guaranteed price for their crops.
The new rules will also eliminate agents who act as middlemen between the farmers and the government-regulated wholesale markets. Farmers say agents are a vital cog of the farm economy and their main line of credit, providing quick funds for fuel, fertilizers and even loans in case of family emergencies.
The laws have compounded existing resentment from farmers, who often complain of being ignored by the government in their push for better crop prices, additional loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.
The government has argued the laws bring about necessary reform that will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.
With nearly 60% of the Indian population depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the growing farmer rebellion has rattled Modi’s administration and allies. His leaders have scrambled to contain the protests, which are fast resembling last year’s scenes when a contentious new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims led to demonstrations that culminated in violence.
Those demonstrations were much bigger in scale, but the farmers’ rumblings are growing fast and gaining widespread support of ordinary citizens who have started joining them in large numbers.
Modi and his allies have tried to allay farmers’ fears about the new laws while dismissing their concerns. Some of his party leaders have called the farmers “misguided” and “anti-national,” a label often given to those who criticize Modi or his policies.
The government is holding talks with the farmers to persuade them to end their protests, but they have dug in their heels.
Farmer Kulwant Singh, 72, said that when he left his home in Haryana for the protests, he gave his wife a garland of flowers for two possible scenarios.
“Either I return victorious and she places it around my neck in celebration, or I die here revolting and the same garland is put on my body when it reaches home,” Singh said.
Such passions run deep among the protesters who have found social, economic and generational barriers tumbling during the demonstrations.
Singh isn’t the only one from his family who traveled to New Delhi for what he called “Qilah Fatehi,” an Urdu term that translates to “laying a siege.” His son and grandson also accompanied him.
“It’s a fight for my generation too,” said Amrinder Singh, 16.
As demonstrations grow, the protesters have also started to drive a political message home.
Not satisfied with Modi’s federal policies, many of which have attracted widescale resentment from his critics and minorities, protesting farmers say it’s time he stops what they call his “dictatorial behavior.”
“India is in a recession. There are hardly any jobs and our country’s secular fabric is in tatters,” said Gurpreet Singh, 26, a biotechnology student who comes from a farming family. “At a time when India needs a healing touch, Modi is coming up with divisive, controversial laws. This is unacceptable and defies our constitutional values.”
Modi’s second term in power since May 2019 has been marked by several convulsions. The economy has tanked, social strife widened, protests have erupted against discriminatory laws and his government has been questioned over its response to the pandemic.
The farmer protests present a new challenge for the government.
The protesters’ desire to stand up to Modi and his policies extends to a sexagenarian farmer couple who drove 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Chandigarh city in a hatchback Sunday to participate in the demonstrations.
Dharam Singh Sandhu, 67, and Vimaljeet Kaur, 66, are spending nights in their car parked near the protest site. In the morning, they share breakfast at a makeshift soup kitchen. The latter part of the day is spent taking part in the demonstrations.
“Our land is our mother. If we can’t protect it then we have no right to live,” Sandhu said about the protests.
His wife spoke passionately of a larger purpose as she made her way to the protest site through a stream of vehicles honking incessantly to get past congested traffic.
“Our country is like a bunch of flowers, but Modi wants it to be of the same color. He has no right to do that. I am here to protest against that mindset,” Kaur said.
As Kaur walked hand in hand with her husband, a great cry emerged from one of the vehicles: “Inquilab Zindabad.”
The crowd turned and followed their gaze toward a young man with a black beard who held up his fist through the car’s window.
The protesters, including Kaur, roared back: “Inquilab Zindabad!”
Sound and stable China-U.S. relations are essential for the post-pandemic world, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said on Thursday.
"It is clear that the post-pandemic world would not be stable and global governance would not be effective without sound and stable relations between China and the U.S.," Cui said in his opening remarks at the annual conference of the Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS).
This has been a very unusual year, probably a turning point in history, the ambassador said, underlining pressing priorities to overcome the pandemic, restore global economic growth and protect people's livelihood, reports Xinhua.
"We are about to enter the third decade of the 21st century. There are unprecedented needs for bilateral and global cooperation: public health, climate change, a more inclusive and equitable process of globalization, advancement of science and technology that will improve the life of more people in more places, etc.," he said.
He stressed that all these challenges call for enhanced international cooperation, including in particular China and the U.S. working with each other, not decoupling from one another.
Therefore it is time for reflection on the consequential relationship between China and the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted major challenges the world has to tackle together for a better future.
Dismissing so-called failures of the past, Cui said that the development of China-U.S. relations since Dr. Henry Kissinger's first visit almost 50 years ago has brought tremendous benefits to the two countries and the whole world.
"Our reflection is necessitated by the fast and complex changes in the world, which present us with great opportunities as well as high risks. We have to have a shared vision for the future and make the right choice. We owe it to the people of both countries and the global community to keep the relations on a constructive track towards agreed goals," he said.
"For China, the choice is clear. China and the U.S. stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only right choice for both countries," he added.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping stated in his message of congratulation to President-Elect Joe Biden, Cui said, the Chinese side stands ready to work with the U.S. side in the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, focus on cooperation, manage differences, advance the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. ties, and join hands with other countries and the international community to promote the noble cause of world peace and development.
"There are always differences between the two countries. Many of them are part of the diversity of the world. None of them justifies confrontation and war, cold or hot," he said.
"With sufficient mutual respect and mutual understanding, we are capable of managing these differences so that they would not derail the entire relationship," Cui added.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine to the right people could change the course of the pandemic in the United States. But who are the right people?
As the decision looms for President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, a new analysis argues for targeting the first vaccines to the same low-income Black, Hispanic and Native American households that have disproportionately suffered from the coronavirus. But no one at the federal level has committed to the idea, which would be a significant shift from the current population-based method adopted by Operation Warp Speed.
“It’s not just a math problem. It’s a question of implementing a major social justice commitment,” said Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who compared the strategies with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston College. The Associated Press conducted an independent analysis of the findings and worked with the team to estimate how many disadvantaged people would benefit.
If the shots get to the right people, Schmidt argues, the benefits could extend to the entire nation: Fewer people would get sick, hospital capacity would improve and more of the economy could reopen. Lives would be saved.
In October, a panel advising the federal government suggested setting aside 10% of the vaccine supply to distribute as an extra boost to the states with greater shares of disadvantaged groups. But the idea from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has been largely ignored.
The strategy could get vaccines to 12.3 million more vulnerable people in the early phases of distribution compared with the population-based method, the AP found in a collaboration with Schmidt’s team.
Any distribution system will reverberate across the nation, with consequences for everyone. It will be shaped by the early steps of federal officials and by state leaders who will allocate vaccines in the months when there is not enough supply to go around. California and several other states have stated that they intend to direct some of their supply to disadvantaged neighborhoods, but there’s no national strategy to do so.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, said Thursday that he looks forward to future recommendations that prioritize people 70 and older who live with younger relatives. “Often our Hispanic, Black and tribal nations families care for their elderly in multigenerational households, and they are also at significant risk,” Redfield said in a statement.
Redfield has approved initial recommendations that put health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities at the front of the line.
No vaccine has been authorized for use yet in the U.S., but the preliminary results of ongoing clinical trials have been encouraging for Moderna’s and Pfizer’s candidates. If the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of one or both of those vaccines, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year.
Operation Warp Speed officials announced last week that states would receive vaccine in proportion to their adult populations, at least for the first 6.4 million doses and possibly beyond.
“We thought it best to keep it simple,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “We thought that would be the fairest approach, the most consistent.”
Fairness isn’t that simple, Schmidt said.
“Allocating vaccines to states according to population does not help reduce inequity,” Schmidt said. Vulnerable people will face more rationing in states such as New Mexico that have higher shares of vulnerable people. “That’s not fair.”
Schmidt worked with Parag Pathak, Tayfun Sonmez and M. Utku Unver, pioneers in devising how to distribute resources in high-stakes systems such as school choice and organ donation. The researchers shared their underlying data with the AP. Their paper was posted online ahead of publication and has not been reviewed by other researchers.
The analysis shows 15 states and Washington, D.C., have the largest shares of vulnerable, low-income minorities. These worse-off populations make up more than 25% of the states’ total populations. Those states stand to gain the most from a distribution method that sets aside a 10% national reserve.
A federal set-aside is not the only way to get vaccine to vulnerable neighborhoods. In their vaccination plans, 18 states have said they will consider race and income as they map out vaccine distribution.
Tennessee plans to reserve 10% of its vaccines for use in targeted areas with high scores on a measurement known as the social vulnerability index, which is based on census data that incorporates race, poverty, crowded housing and other factors. The index was developed by the CDC to help identify communities that may need support in emergencies such as hurricanes.
Vaccines will remain in limited supply for a time after Biden is sworn in, so rationing will continue into the spring.
“I think it’s early to say what the Biden and Harris administration will ultimately do on that front,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at Yale University’s medical school. She co-chairs Biden’s advisory board on the pandemic and has been a leading voice on reducing health disparities for the transition.
Nunez-Smith said there are several data-based models to consider for distributing vaccines to communities hardest hit by the virus.
“Thinking about equity has to be a top priority and cannot be an afterthought in the work,” she said.