Finland is working on ways of increasing defence cooperation with Norway, Finnish Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen told the media here on Saturday.
Military cooperation with Norway is one of the goals in the programme of the current Finnish coalition government.
Kaikkonen said the fact that Norway is a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is not an obstacle to wider cooperation. “It is true that Norway’s NATO membership separates us, but it does not prevent cooperation as such,” Kaikkonen told Finnish national broadcaster Yle.
Finland and neighbouring Sweden have deepened their military cooperation in recent years. Unlike Norway, the two countries are militarily non-aligned, but have an enhanced partner status with NATO.
Kaikkonen singled out the North Cape area as an obvious scene for joint efforts for Finland, Norway as well as Sweden. He noted that the air forces are already training jointly in the skies over the three countries in the area.
A report by Defence Ministry staff on developing Nordic operation, also including Norway, will be submitted to the Finnish parliamentary defence committee this coming week. Kaikkonen said there are no details “to publish now, but perhaps later this year.”
Kaikkonen noted the three Nordic defence ministers meet regularly. The last meeting about cooperation was on Wednesday over secure video connections.
The existing Nordic cooperation between Finland and Sweden does not constitute a formal alliance. In the “military strategic concept” the two countries signed late last year for deepened cooperation, Finland and Sweden defined “the ability to conduct operations together both during peace and war” as the core of the cooperation, but operations would be subject to “separate national decisions”.
Israel finds 3,500-year-old tablet with engraving
A rare 3,500-year-old clay tablet was discovered in the Negev desert in southern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority said on Monday.
The square-shaped 2.8-cm long tablet was found by a 6-year-old boy who was touring with his parents the archaeological site of Tell Jemmeh.
The tablet is engraved with captor and naked captive figures, imprinted in a carved pattern, with the artist’s fingerprints preserved on the reverse side of the tablet.
The captor figure, wearing a skirt, holds the captive, whose hands are tied behind his back.
The researchers estimate the artifact could date back to the Late Bronze Age.
They added that the scene imprinted on the tablet is taken from descriptions of victory parades, so the tablet likely shows the ruler’s power over his enemies.
Pressure mounts on British PM over refusal to sack top aide
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday faced continuing pressure after refusing to fire his top aide Dominic Cummings over allegations he broke coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
No fewer than 15 lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservatives have joined calls by the opposition Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, as well as health officials and bishops from the Church of England for Cummings, to resign or be fired.
Cummings reportedly broke lockdown travel restrictions more than once.
The Press Association (PA) news agency reported that Johnson was later scheduled to host a cabinet meeting on easing of virus restrictions, including proposals to reopen some non-essential businesses.
On Sunday, the prime minister said at a news conference that he had come to the conclusion that Cummings had “followed the instincts of every father and every parent, and I do not mark him down for that.”
However, critics said Cummings alleged behaviour risked undermining the government’s policy.
“If you give the impression there’s one rule for them and one rule for us,you fatally undermine that sense of ‘we’re all in this together’,” Stephen Reicher, a member of the government’s advisory group on behavioural science, told broadcaster ITV.
Conservative lawmaker Paul Maynard said Cummings behaviour was “indefensible,” while Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, tweeted: “The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs?”
Edited By: Abiodun Oluleye (NAN)
Cameroonian minister warns of “complicated phase” as COVID-19 cases soar
Cameroon’s heath minister Manaouda Malachie has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is entering a “complicated phase” in the country, calling for strict respect of social distancing measures to curb its spread.
“It is important to note that we are entering a complicated phase of the pandemic,” Manaouda said in a tweet early Monday. “More than ever, we must protect ourselves, protect our families and protect others by observing barrier measures. Wear a mask when going out and wash your hands regularly.”
The warning came as the country’s new cases of COVID-19 continued to rise lately.
Cameroon reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 6, an imported case from Europe, and has since March 18 closed national borders, schools and applied social distancing.
So far, Cameroon has reported 4,890 confirmed cases. The tally nearly doubled in half a month.
Japan lifts state of emergency over coronavirus for Tokyo, 4 other prefectures
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday lifted the state of emergency in Japan for the five remaining prefectures, including Tokyo, as the spread of the virus has been brought under control.
“Today the government will lift the state of emergency across the nation. We’ve set some of the most strict criteria in the world to lift the declaration, and we concluded that prefectures across the country have met that standard,” the Japanese leader told a press conference.
The remaining prefectures that were still subject to restrictions under the emergency declaration were Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Hokkaido prefectures.
Abe’s remarks and the official lifting of the state of emergency for the five prefectures brought an end to emergency measures issued first for Tokyo, Osaka and five other urban areas on April 7. The announcement came after the government’s coronavirus advisory panel showed support for the move earlier in the day.
The advisory panel had been focusing on the lifting criteria which was based around the number of newly reported cases over the past week, the availability of medical resources, and the capacity to provide virus tests and monitor the spread of the virus.
“The advisory panel has agreed that all prefectures no longer need to be under a state of emergency and that lifting the declaration is appropriate,” Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said, adding that the situation would be closely monitored and reviewed every three weeks.
Nishimura also said that social and economic activities, including large-scale events, would be phased back in, although people would still be asked not to travel across prefecture lines until the end of this month.
The government, while showing caution amid the coronavirus pandemic, has been keen to see the economy fully reopened as the five prefectures account for around one-third of the country’s gross domestic product.
On May 18, data released by the government showed that Japan’s economy shrank for a second straight quarter in the January-March period and entered a technical recession as a result of the adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cabinet Office said the economy shrank by an annualized real 3.4 percent in the January-March period from the previous quarter.
The decrease in the quarter corresponds to a 0.9 percent decline on a seasonally adjusted quarterly basis, the Cabinet Office said.
The Japanese leader is now tasked with ushering in a “new normal” for society, which balances the rejuvenation of the country’s recession-hit economy, while ensuring the nation is not hit by an explosive second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Foreign ministers recommit to German-Russian cultural cooperation
German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Monday recommitted their countries to closer cultural cooperation at the opening of an annual conference held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a welcome speech read out online to mark the start of the 23rd Potsdam Meeting, a German-Russian discussion forum, Maas said he hoped the pandemic would help the two countries pursue a positive agenda.
“We should not draw back from our joint responsibility at this point.
“The coronavirus pandemic will, in the immediate future, be one of the most important factors in developing joint approaches in foreign policy in the global economy to boost cooperation between countries,’’ Lavrov said.
He added that Germany and Russia would focus on the leading role of their countries in a rapidly changing world.
The Potsdam Meetings, set up by the German-Russian Forum in 1999, run parallel to the Petersburg Dialogue, established in 2001.
Report says the forums aim to promote understanding between German and Russian civil societies.
Edited By: Abiodun Oluleye (NAN)
Somalia’s Jubaland forces say kill 4 Shabab militants
Somalia’s Jubaland forces on Monday killed four al-Shabab extremists in a fierce fight in Dhobley, a town in southern Somalia, a police officer confirmed.
Mohamed Abdullahi, deputy commander of police forces in Dhobley, said that al-Shabab fighters launched an attack on a base used by Jubaland forces in Dhobley, but they were repulsed.
“Al-Shabab extremists attacked a training base for Jubaland forces, prompting an intense confrontation between the army and the attackers,” Abdullahi said.
“We killed four militants during the clashes. Our forces are now controlling the base and the militants have fled to the outside of the town,” he added.
The attack came barely three days after Somali forces killed five al-Shabab militants in Burdhubo, a town in the country’s southern region of Gedo.
Government forces have stepped up operations against al-Shabab extremists in southern regions, but militants still hold swathes of rural areas in those regions, conducting ambushes and planting land mines.
FG evacuates 69 Nigerians stranded in Lebanon – Onyeama
The Federal Government has repatriated 69 Nigerians from Lebanon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, said on Monday.
He said the 69 Nigerians were evacuated with the help of Lebanese government.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the 69 persons were made up of 50 trafficked girls and 19 stranded Nigerians.
Onyeama who disclosed this on his verified twitter handle, appreciated the assistance of the Lebanese government and the Lebanese community in Nigeria for a successful evacuation process.
“With financial and logistic support of the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese community in Nigeria, 50 trafficked girls and 19 stranded Nigerians were successfully evacuated from Lebanon and arrived Nigeria today.
“My profound gratitude to Amb. Houssam Diad, Lebanese Ambassador in Nigeria and Ambassador Goni Zannabura, Nigerian Ambassador in Lebanon,’’ he twitted.
Edited By: Chidinma Agu/Sadiya Hamza (NAN)
Over 2,300 Myanmar nationals brought home by relief flights amid COVID-19 travel restrictions
A total of 2,326 Myanmar nationals who were stranded in foreign countries due to the suspension of international commercial flights amid COVID-19 outbreak have been brought back home by relief flights so far, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday.
“More Myanmar nationals from Thailand, Singapore, India and Korea will arrive soon this month,” an official from the Consular and Legal Affairs Department under the ministry told Xinhua.
All returnees have to stay under quarantine at designated facilities or hotels in Yangon region for 21 days upon arrival.
According to the Health and Sports Ministry, Myanmar has reported 201 COVID-19 cases with six deaths as of Monday morning.
Zambia receives more COVID-19 medical materials from Jack Ma
Zambia has received more COVID-19 medical materials from the Jack Ma Foundation, a government official said Monday.
Emmanuel Mwamba, Zambia’s permanent representative to the African Union and Ambassador to Ethiopia said the consignment was dispatched to Zambia last Friday.
In this consignment, Zambia has received 71 detection kits, 2,713 personal protective clothing sets, 2,587 face shields and 27 infrared thermometers.
Others are 13,615 gloves, 68 swabs, 142 extraction kits, 4 pap ventilators, 6,807 civilian N95 masks, 54,459 surgical masks, 126 goggles and one infrared thermal detection machine.
Zambia is among 54 African countries benefited from the Jack Ma Foundation. The foundation has partnered with the African Union in fighting the disease on the continent.
Japan lifts state of emergency in all areas, COVID-19 cases in India, Bangladesh continue to soar
Japan on Monday lifted the state of emergency in all areas as the spread of the COVID-19 is now under control, while cases in India and Bangladesh continued to soar with record-high daily spikes.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area and Hokkaido, entirely ending the emergency in all of the country’s 47 prefectures.
India’s health ministry said 154 new deaths due to COVID-19 and another 6,977 positive cases were reported since Sunday in the country, taking the number of deaths to 4,021 and total cases to 138,845. This is the highest one-day spike so far in the country.
The number of confirmed cases in Bangladesh reached 35,585, including 1,975 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours, the biggest daily jump since March 8, a senior health ministry official told a media briefing on television.
Malaysia reported 172 new cases, with 112 of them traced to three immigration detention facilities, pushing the national total to 7,417 cases, the Health Ministry said.
The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 479 within one day to 22,750, with the death toll adding by 19 to 1,391, Achmad Yurianto, a Health Ministry official, said at a press conference.
The Philippines reported 284 new cases, pushing the total number of cases to 14,319 since the highly infectious disease emerged in the country in January.
New Zealand reported no new case, with the combined total of confirmed and probable cases staying at 1,504, according to the Ministry of Health.
Australia’s State of Western Australia will lift most of its internal borders on Friday except those protecting biosecurity areas and vulnerable remote indigenous communities.
Public school students in several Australian states returned to classrooms on Monday, as state leaders unveiled further plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
South Korea reported 16 more cases, raising the total number of infections to 11,206. The daily caseload fell below 20 in four days. Of the new cases, three were imported from overseas, lifting the combined figure to 1,215.
A three-day drive-in concert was held over the weekend in South Korea to secure safety and provide comfort for people tired of enduring the prolonged coronavirus outbreak, Hyundai Motor Company said.
Gov’t support to virus-hit economy amounts to 450 bln euros: French minister
French government’s rescue measures to limit coronavirus economic fallout and inject dynamism into economic activities have cost 450 billion euros (490.6 billion U.S. dollars), Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday.
“If we take everything that has been done with the budget and in support of businesses’ cash flows, it’s 450 billion euros — 20 percent of the nation’s wealth on the table to save our economy, our enterprises,” Le Maire told BFM TV.
The coronavirus epidemic has forced companies to shut down, plants to halt production, aircraft to ground and millions of people to be put under strict lockdown, triggering the country’s worst economic crisis since the World War II.
To help mitigate the impact, the government has launched a range of measures including state-guaranteed loans, tax relief, specific support plans to worst-hit sectors such as tourism and auto industry, and state-subsidized partial unemployment scheme.
While reining in high spending that pushed up the budget deficit to 9 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), the highest since 1940s, the government eyes repaying billion-worth coronavirus-linked expenditure thanks to boosted growth.
“The question is, when should we repay the loans? Not now. We must not make the same mistakes as after the 2009 crisis: revive the economy and at the same time immediately reduce public spending,” the minister said.
“The time will come when we will have to reimburse and this will be done through growth, it is our strategic choice. We must develop and modernize the industry, cross a technological course and find room for maneuver that will allow us to repay,” he added.
The French government expected the GDP to shrink by 8 percent and public debt to hit 115 percent of the GDP this year. (1 euro = 1.09 U.S. dollars)
Italy to recruit 60,000 volunteers as social distancing monitors
Italy is planning to send out into the streets some 60,000 volunteers to tell people to keep respecting social distancing rules in the country’s post-lockdown phase.
The scheme, announced by Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia, on Monday came amid mounting concern that people are mingling dangerously close to one another on beaches, in bars and on public squares.
According to Boccia, they will be called “civic assistants” and wear blue vests.
“They will be armed with the strength of persuasion, reason and their smiles,’’ he told La Stampa daily.
Boccia wrote on Facebook that a recruitment call, open to all citizens but with priority given to the unemployed and recipients of welfare aid, is to be published by the Civil Protection Agency this week.
Italy suffered a devastating outbreak of the coronavirus, however the epidemic peaked in late March, and after weeks of falling infection numbers the country’s lockdown was de facto ended on May 18.
In his La Stampa interview, Boccia said the goverment used “a carrot-and-stick approach” which “has worked,” but warned that a further easing of restrictions could be delayed if people misbehaved.
Authorities are currently scheduled to end a ban on travel between regions from June 3.
On the same date, Italy is set to reopen its borders to tourists from other European Union countries.
Edited By: Abiodun Oluleye/Oluwole Sogunle (NAN)
Belgium enters new deconfinement stage with more students returning to school
Belgium entered in a new stage of the government’s Phase-2 deconfinement plan Monday, with more pupils filing back to the classroom.
The wearing of masks is not compulsory for children under 12 years old. However, hygiene measures and physical distance will have to be respected.
The new stage also concerns prisons. Visits will resume there under the strict conditions of one visit per prisoner and once a week.
“These new infections confirm the continuing downward trend… over the past few days,” said Yves Van Laethem, inter-federal spokesman on the fight against COVID-19.
The same 24 hours saw 27 new hospitalizations, a decrease of around 4 percent, and 32 deaths, according to Laethem.
Belgium entered Phase-2 deconfinement on May 18, with schools reopening to some grades under strict organizational conditions.
AU plans to raise 1 mln USD for COVID-19 response fund on Africa Day
The African Union (AU) said it is to raise one million U.S. dollars on Monday for its COVID-19 response fund, as the 55-member pan-African bloc marks the Africa Day.
Established by the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat in March, the AU COVID-19 Response Fund aims to strengthen the continental response to COVID-19 and mitigate its socio-economic and humanitarian impact on African populations.
“This Africa Day, May 25, all Africans, people of African descent and friends of Africa are encouraged to give a little to the fund,” said the AU statement, reiterating that a target of one million dollars has been set for the day.
Stating that contributions can be made in any currency and this will be automatically converted into U.S. dollars, which is the original currency of the Fund account, the Union has also announced a website, where donation can be made.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 positive cases across Africa rose to 107,412 as of Sunday morning, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Sunday.
The African countries are mobilizing resources and taking measures to fight against COVID-19.
Some countries on the continent have imposed night curfew and suspended international flights so as to curb the spread of the virus. Wearing face masks is mandatory at public places in many countries.
They also have the support from international organizations, and countries including China.
Lebanon’s number of COVID-19 infections rises to 1,119
Lebanon’s number of COVID-19 infections increased on Monday by five to 1,119 while death toll remained unchanged at 26, the National News Agency reported.
The ministry is still conducting PCR tests all over the country in a bid to isolate the areas that are highly infected.
Lebanon has finished its third phase of repatriating the Lebanese stranded in foreign countries.
“China will continue to provide Lebanon with assistance to enable both countries to cooperate in their fight against the epidemic,” Wang said during his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Ethiopia’s COVID-19 cases reach 655 as 73 more confirmed
Ethiopia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 655 after 73 more people were confirmed, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) said in a statement on Monday.
The ministry revealed that from the total of 2,844 medical tests that were conducted in the last 24 hours, 73 of them tested positive for COVID-19, eventually bringing the total number of cases to 655.
The ministry also said that 159 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have so far recovered from the virus.
The ministry has previously disclosed five patients have died due to COVID-19 related illnesses.
The Ethiopian government has instituted a wide range of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
In April, the Ethiopian House of People’s Representatives, the lower house of the Ethiopian parliament, announced a five-month state of emergency to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
Pentagon contractor’s report on COVID-19 origins is “bogus”, U.S. media says
A U.S. military contractor’s report that the novel coronavirus was released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is “filled with information that’s just plain wrong,” said The Daily Beast in a recent report.
“There’s a critical flaw in the report,” an article published by the U.S. news and opinion website wrote on May 17, adding that “Some of its most seemingly persuasive evidence is false — provably false.”
The circulating document was produced by the Multi-Agency Collaboration Environment (MACE), a part of Sierra Nevada, a major Department of Defense contractor, The Daily Beast reported.
The 30-page document claimed to rely on social media postings, commercial satellite imagery, and cellphone location data to draw the conclusion that some sort of “hazardous event” occurred at the Wuhan lab in October 2019.
“But the report’s claim centers around missing location data for up to seven phones — and in many cases, less than that,” said the article. “It’s too small a sample size to prove much of anything.”
“The emergence of the MACE document comes amid a concerted effort to place blame for the coronavirus pandemic squarely on Beijing,” the article wrote. “And its existence is confirmation that government resources are now being devoted to exploring that proposition, even as the actual intelligence remains far less conclusive.”
“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that (the novel coronavirus) evolved in nature and then jumped species,” Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was quoted by National Geographic as saying.
“Whoever wrote this document is clearly confused about the nature of ‘open source’ information. Not only does the key information it contains not appear to be open source, but a simple search of Facebook can disprove one of the key tenets of the assessment,” Nick Waters, senior investigator at Bellingcat, an open source investigative news outlet, was quoted by The Daily Beast.
“Perhaps the authors should have spent more time testing their analysis rather than working out how to crop the eye of Sauron (a main antagonist in the Lord of the Rings) into a logo copy-pasted from the internet,” Waters said.
Russia to build space station, saying ISS becoming obsolete
Russia plans to build a new space station because the current International Space Station will last only another decade at most, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos said on Monday.
“It’s still unclear whether the new station will be international or national,’’ Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin said in comments carried by the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Rogozin said that the International Space Station (ISS) would be operable for another seven to 10 years.
The ISS, with segments built by Russia and the U.S., has been in continuous use for the past two decades.
The orbiting laboratory has been a collaboration of mostly U.S. and Russian crew members, tasked with conducting scientific research that would be impossible on Earth’s surface.
It is a unique source of cooperation between these two rival powers.
Rogozin did not provide a timeline for the construction of Russia’s new space station.
He said the issue of whether it would host international crews would be decided in the near future.
“The technical preparations are supposed to start now,’’ Rogozin said.
Edited By: Abiodun Oluleye/Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
Chaos at Indian airports as country resumes domestic air travel
India resumed domestic flights on Monday, two months after a coronavirus lockdown was imposed, but confusion and chaos prevailed at major airports as large numbers of flights were cancelled.
Air services were suspended in late March when India went into a lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, bringing the domestic aviation sector to the brink of collapse.
More than 80 flights to and from the capital New Delhi were cancelled on Monday, airport authorities said, with irate passengers complaining of not being informed until the last minute.
Similar scenes were taking place at airports in Mumbai and Chennai, with many passengers sitting outside after their flights were cancelled, domestic news channels showed.
The cancellations were a result of confusion as each state made its own set of rules on easing restrictions, including capping the number of flights to address concerns about infections being imported from other cities.
States also had different rules on the duration of quarantine for arriving passengers, in some places as long as 28 days.
“We travelled (all) night to catch a flight from the Delhi airport but we are now told our flight is cancelled. We got no notifications from our airlines,” a passenger at told a domestic news channel.
Passengers were also stranded at airports in southern cities of Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram after flights were cancelled, broadcaster NDTV reported.
Eastern India’s main airport in Kolkata was not yet operational. West Bengal, the state in which the city is located, was battered by Cyclone Amphan last week and repair works are under way.
India’s government last week announced the resumption of domestic flights in a “calibrated” way, with airline companies allowed to operate one-third of their scheduled flights.
But a plan to keep the middle seat vacant on planes in accordance with physical distancing was dropped to cap ticket prices.
The Supreme Court on Monday directed international flights repatriating Indian nationals to have the middle seat vacant from June 7 to prevent infections. It was not clear whether this would apply to domestic flights.
The resumption of domestic travel comes as the country entered the top 10 countries worst-hit by the virus, after four days of record spikes in the number of new coronavirus cases.
India registered 6,977 new patients in the last 24 hours, taking the total to over 138,000 cases, overtaking Iran. 4,021 deaths linked with COVID-19 have been confirmed.
India that entered its fourth phase of lockdown on May 18, announced several relaxations including resumption of domestic travel, allowing bus and passenger vehicles, within and between states but outside of containment zones.
Passenger train services will also expand from existing 15 trains to more than 200 from June 1.
Aviation officials indicated that international flights may begin by mid-June.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
Kuwait records 21,967 COVID-19 cases, 165 deaths
Currently, 15,181 patients are receiving treatment, including 182 in ICU, according to the statement.
The ministry also announced the recovery of 504 more patients, raising the total recoveries in the country to 6,621.
The Kuwaiti government has imposed a full curfew in the country to curb the rapid rise of coronavirus cases.
On April 27, a team of Chinese medical experts visited Kuwait to assist the Arab country’s anti-coronavirus fight, through sharing with Kuwaiti counterparts their experience and expertise in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.