Russia begins Covid-19 vaccine tests on animals

By Eudore R. Chand

MOSCOW 21 March 2020: Russian scientists have begun testing prototypes of potential vaccines against the new coronavirus on animals in a laboratory in Siberia, Russia’s consumer health regulator said on Friday, quoted by Reuters.

Scientists in the Vektor State Virology and Biotechnology Centre in the city of Novosibirsk have developed vaccine prototypes based on six different technological platforms and began tests on Monday to try to work out how effective they are and in what doses they could be administered, the regulator said.

Scientists around the world have warned that the development of a vaccine is a lengthy and complex process that might only yield something for broader use in the next 12-18 months, said Wam.

Special Etihad charter flights to Russia

ABU DHABI: Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, has secured approval from the Russian Civil Aviation Authority to operate five special charter flights between Abu Dhabi and Moscow between Saturday 21 March and Wednesday 25 March.

The flights will aid in the repatriation of Russian and UAE citizens, as well as other nationals transiting through Abu Dhabi, to their home countries following the temporary suspension of services between the two cities due to current COVID-19 novel coronavirus travel restrictions.

The overnight flights will be operated by widebody Boeing 787-9 and narrowbody Airbus A321 aircraft.

Only Russian citizens will be permitted to fly on the Abu Dhabi – Moscow sector, while non-Russian passengers of any nationality will be allowed to fly via Abu Dhabi from Moscow, provided there are connecting flights available, and no travel restrictions in place which impede entry to their end destinations. Only UAE citizens will be permitted to enter the United Arab Emirates at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Flight EY 65 will depart Abu Dhabi at 2.15am for each of the charters, arriving in Moscow at 6.55am, while the return flight EY64 is scheduled to depart Moscow at 1.35am, arriving back in Abu Dhabi at 5.55am.

Route network changes

Due to the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus and its continuing impact on air travel services globally, Etihad Airways continues to follow UAE and international government and regulatory authority directives and has implemented a series of consolidated network changes.

The following services from Abu Dhabi have been temporarily adjusted:

India: Ahmedabad (AMD), Bangalore (BLR), Calcutta (CCU), Calicut (CCJ), Chennai (MAA), Cochin (COK), Hyderabad (HYD), Delhi (DEL), Mumbai (BOM), Trivandrum (TRV) — All flights suspended from 22 March until 28 March.

Kazakhstan: Nur-Sultan (TSE) — Reduced to one per week from 19 March until 31 March. All flights suspended from 1 April until 30 April.

Maldives: Male (MLE) — Reduced to daily from 23 March until 30 April.

Russia: Moscow (MOW) — All flights suspended from 20 March until 30 April.

Sri Lanka: Colombo (CMB) — Reduced from twice-daily to daily from 29 March until 30 April.

The following previously announced network changes remain in place:

Azerbaijan: Baku (GYD) — All flights suspended from until 30 April.

Bahrain (BAH): Reduced from triple-daily to daily until 1 March; increase to twice daily April 1 until April 30.

China: Shanghai (PVG) — All flights suspended until 28 March. Chengdu (CTU) — All flights suspended until further notice. Hong Kong (HKG) — All flights suspended until 30 June.

Egypt: Cairo (CAI) — All flights suspended from 20 March until 30 April.

Greece: Athens — Reduced from daily to four weekly (operating on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays) from 01 April to 30 April.

Indonesia: Jakarta (CGK)Reduced from double-daily to daily (suspension of EY472/471) from 18 March until 30 June.

Italy: Milan (MXP)All flights suspended until 30 April. Rome (FCO)EY85/86 suspended until 30 April.

EY83/84 suspended until 30 June.

Japan: Nagoya (NGO)All flights suspended until 30 June. Tokyo (NRT)Reduced from daily to four weekly (operating on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Sunday) from 01 April to 30 April.

Jordan: Amman (AMM) — All flights suspended until 30 April.

South Korea: Seoul (ICN)Reduced from daily to four weekly (operating on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays) from 30 March to 30 April.

KSA: Riyadh (RUH), Jeddah (JED), Dammam (DMM), Medina (MED)All flights suspended until 30 April.

Kenya: Nairobi (NBO)All flights suspended from 19 March until 30 April.

Kuwait (KWI): All flights suspended until 31 March.

Lebanon: Beirut (BEY)All flights suspended until 30 April.

Morocco: Casablanca (CMN) and Rabat (RBA)All flights suspended until 30 April.

Oman: Muscat (MCT)Reduced from triple-daily to double-daily until 30 April.

Philippines: Manila (MNL)All flights suspended from 18 March until 31 March.

Serbia: Belgrade (BEG)All flights suspended from 20 March until 30 April.

Singapore (SIN): Reduced from daily to four weekly (operating on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays) from 01 April to 30 April

Spain: Madrid (MAD) and Barcelona (BCN)All flights suspended until 30 April.

Sudan: Khartoum (KRT)All flights suspended from 18 March until 30 April.

Switzerland: Geneva (GVA)All flights suspended from 19 March until 30 April.

Thailand: Bangkok (BKK)Reduced from triple-daily to double-daily (suspension of EY406/405) from 1 April to 02 May.

Turkey: Istanbul (IST)All flights suspended until 30 April.

NOTE: Future changes to the route network may occur due to government directives in key markets. Etihad Airways is working closely with regulatory authorities in the UAE and overseas and is continuing to monitor this situation closely. For passengers impacted by flight cancellations, procedures are in place for fare refunds or for flight changes when services resume.

Etihad Airways is urging guests whose flights are impacted by Covid-19 travel restrictions to refrain from calling the airline’s customer service lines unless their flights are scheduled within the next 48 hours. Contact Centres are currently experiencing significant congestion and long waits. The immediate priority is to assist those guests with imminent travel.

Etihad Airways Contact Centre in the UAE is reachable on (+971) 600 555 666. The list of other local contact centres is available at

Alternatively, guests who issued tickets through travel agents should contact them directly for any changes or cancellations.

Jordan announces curfew from early Saturday

AMMAN: Jordan will impose a curfew starting early Saturday to prevent people from moving except for emergencies to combat coronavirus.

The curfew across the country would start from 0700 local time (0500 GMT) on Saturday until further notice, said Amjad Al Adailah, government spokesman.

King Abdullah of Jordan enacted an emergency decree last Tuesday that gives the government sweeping powers invoked in times of war and calamities to enforce an army imposed curfew and other measures.

Urgent Saudi measures to mitigate impact on economy

RIYADH: The Saudi government is moving to address the unprecedented effects and consequences of the Covid-19, Saudi Minister of Finance, Acting Minister of Economy and Planning, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan, has said.

“The Kingdom is taking immediate measures to ensure the safety of its citizens and residents, and to address its fiscal, financial and economic impact,” he added, noting “the government has taken precautionary and strong measures to protect citizens and residents in the Kingdom, and to ensure the availability of immediate financial resources.”

The minister announced that “the government has prepared urgent initiatives to support the private sector, especially small and medium enterprises and economic activities most affected by the virus. The financial stimulus package of these initiatives reaches more than SAR70 billion, which consists of exemptions and postponement of some government dues to provide liquidity to the private sector thereby enabling them to manage continuity of their economic activities. In addition, SAMA has announced a package of SAR50bn, to support the banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs.”

These initiatives run as follows:

  • Exemption from expat levy for those whose Iqama has expired from now until 30 June 2020, by extending their Iqama for a period of three months without charge.
  • Enabling employers to refund the fees of issued work visas that were not used during the ban on entry and exit, even if they were stamped in the passport, or extend them for a period of three months without charge.
  • Enabling employers to extend exit and re-entry visas that were not used during the ban on entry and exit from the Kingdom for a period of three months without charge.
  • Enabling business owners, for a period of three months, to postpone the payment of value-added tax, excise tax, income tax, and the submission of Zakat declarations and the payment of obligations due therefrom. The decision allows also to grant zakat certificates without restrictions for the period of fiscal year 2019, and to accept instalment requests to the General Authority of Zakat and Income Tax without applying the condition of advance payment. In addition, postponing the execution of services suspension procedures and financial seizure by the General Authority of Zakat and Income, and setting the necessary criteria to extend the postponement period for the most affected activities as needed.
  • Postponing the collection of customs duties on imports for a period of thirty days against the submission of a bank guarantee, for the next three months and setting the necessary criteria for extending the postponement period for the most affected activities as needed.
  • Postponing the payment of some government services fees and municipal fees due on private sector, for a period of three months, and setting the necessary criteria to extend the postponement period for the most affected activities as needed.
  • Authorising the Minister of Finance to approve lending and other forms of financing as well as exemption from payment of fees and returns on loans granted until the end of 2020, under the Corporate Sustainability Program initiative.
  • Forming a committee headed by the Minister of Finance and the membership of each of Minister of Economy and Planning, the Minister of Commerce, the Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources, the Vice Chairman of the National Development Fund Board of Directors and the Governor of the National Development Fund, and shall have the following duties: -Identifying and reviewing incentives, facilities, and other initiatives led by the National Development Fund or any of its funds and banks, with the aim of mitigating the exceptional and unprecedented economic situation, in light of the implications of the coronavirus, the impact of the precautionary measures taken by the Kingdom’s government and the low oil prices.
  • Setting the criteria of designing and applying initiatives and their details.
  • Identifying the amounts that will be used to support these initiatives from the resources available at the funds and banks under the National Development Fund for this purpose and as needed.

The committee may conduct transfers between these funds and banks and the Saudi Export-Import Bank as needed. The committee may direct both, the Kafala programme and the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises, to develop the necessary initiatives to support the objectives during this exceptional period, and to support them from the available resources at the funds and banks under the National Development Fund as needed.

In addition, the government will use the tools available to finance the private sector, especially small and medium enterprises, in addition to strengthening support programs to mitigate the impact on the private sector and economic activities, and to ensure the promotion of financial stability. The government also confirms its determination in paying its obligations in accordance with their due dates will honor its payments, in addition to applying measures that maintain the financial sector soundness.

Al-Jadaan emphasised that due to the financial strength of the economy and efficiencies and improvements already achieved, the government has considerable ability to diversify sources of financing between public debt and government reserves to adequately tackle the emerging challenges. This allows positive intervention in the economy in the right way and at the right time, while limiting the impact on the government’s goals in maintaining fiscal sustainability and economic development in the medium and long term.

He also stated that some budget appropriations will be reviewed and reallocated to the sectors most in need in the current situation, including allocating additional funds to the health sector as needed. An emergency budget was also introduced to cover any costs that may arise during the developments of this global crisis.

Al-Jadaan stressed that the government’s focus is to make every effort to address the pandemic’s threats on health and community. “The government will also continue to improve the efficiency of fiscal and economic performance to better confront the impacts of the virus spread, in addition to preserving the fiscal and economic gains achieved during the recent period.”

Saudi Arabia continues to take all precautionary measures

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to take all precautionary measures to confront the novel Coronavirus, Covid-19, and limit its effects, affirmed the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in a speech to the Saudi people, on Thursday.

”We depend on the aid of God Almighty, then on deploying our full capabilities, supported by your strong determination to face adversities with the steadfastness of believers at the forefront.

The strength, steadfastness, determination that you have demonstrated during the honorable defiance of this difficult phase, and your full cooperation with relevant government agencies, are the most important contributing factors and pillars of the success of the state’s efforts, which has prioritized safeguarding health and made it the state’s top concern,” King Salman said in his speech, which was carried by Saudi Press Agency.

”We are living through a difficult phase of the world’s history. However, we are completely certain that this phase will end and pass, despite its harsh and bitter difficulties, with belief in God’s words: (Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease, Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease). This crisis will become a piece of history that proves man’s defiance in the face of this hardship humankind is experiencing,” he added.

”Therefore, rest assured that we are very keen on providing the necessary medication, food, and living necessities for citizens and residents of this blessed land. All government sectors, led by the Ministry of Health, are doing all they can and taking all necessary measures to ensure the health of the nation’s citizens and residents.” ”May God protect our country and the rest of the world, and protect humanity as a whole against all adversities,” King Salman concluded.

Solidarity, hope and coordinated global response needed: UN chief

NEW YORK: As public fear and uncertainty grow around the Covid-19 pandemic, “more than ever before, we need solidarity, hope and the political will to see this crisis through together,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday in his first virtual press conference.

Unlike any global health crisis in the 75-year history of the United Nations, the coronavirus pandemic is “spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives,” he added.

And as country-level responses cannot single-handedly address the global scale and complexity of the crisis, he maintained that “coordinated, decisive and innovative policy action” is needed from the world’s leading economies.

Guterres said that he looks forward to participating in the G20 leaders’ emergency summit next week to respond to the pandemic’s “epic challenge”.

Indicating that “we are at war with a virus”, the UN chief stressed that creative responses “must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale”.

And although COVID-19 is killing people and attacking economies, by managing the crisis well, “we can steer the recovery toward a more sustainable and inclusive path”, he said.

“I call on world leaders to come together and offer an urgent and coordinated response to this global crisis,” he said.

“It has been proven that the virus can be contained. It must be contained”, he said, advising to move from a country-by-country strategy to a “coordinated global response, including helping countries that are less prepared to tackle the crisis”.

“Global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests”, he stated and urged Governments to fully meet the World Health Organization’s appeals, saying, “we are only as strong as the weakest health system”.