Health

The fear of foreigners bringing disease to Europe is back.

Some populist parties in Europe are seizing on the coronavirus outbreak — which has sickened almost 70,000 people and killed more than 1,700, mostly in China — to call for border closures and temporary stops on migration, two core elements of their agenda.

“The free circulation of goods and people, immigration policies and weak controls at the borders obviously allow the exponential spread of this type of virus,” exclaimed Aurélia Beigneux, an MEP from Frances right-wing National Rally, during a European Parliament debate in early February.

Beigneux then asked Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), whether Europe would be better off reintroducing land border checks and stopping immigration, at least temporarily.

Delivering a diplomatic “no,” Ammon said that closing the Schengen zone lacks scientific justification. The World Health Organization has also advised against restricting travel and trade, while EU health ministers meeting in Brussels last week said that any travel measures meant to contain the spread of the virus should safeguard free movement within the EU.

Police escort a bus transporting French citizens after leaving The Vacanciel Holiday Resort in Carry-le-Rouet, near Marseille | Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

But those arguments havent dampened populist rhetoric, most of which is directed at ethnic Chinese. And in a new twist, some members of Italys right-wing League party and the populist 5Star Movement are raising concerns the virus could be spread by African migrants arriving by boat to Europe, given the continents economic ties with China.

How many bats do you actually eat per month?

Spains far-right party Vox has also jumped on the bandwagon. According to Redacción Médica, party officials have asked Madrid to close all entry points from China to the country. Theyre pointing to Italy — which took that step at the end of January — as well as the U.S., which has banned the entry of all those suspected of carrying the virus, as models.

A Vox member went further on social media. After Chinese scientists reported that pangolins could be an intermediate host for the coronavirus, Fernando Martínez Vidal, a Vox councilor in Madrid, tweeted: “If I get lost, dont look for me in a Chinese [restaurant].”

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The six Democratic candidates spent most of their time on stage in Las Vegas, Nevada ripping each other apart with one candidate in particular bearing the brunt of the attacks, debate debutant Michael Bloomberg.

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Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren came out all guns blazing against former New York Mayor Bloomberg just minutes into the ninth debate, “I'd like to talk about who we are running against." She said, "A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse faced lesbians. And no I am not talking about Donald Trump. I am talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

"Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another," Warren added.

Bloomberg, who entered the race 10 weeks ago, and is skipping the first four states on the primary calendar and instead focusing his considerable financial resources on the 15 states and territories that vote on Super Tuesday, said he did not inherit his money, but made it himself.

"Im spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump – the worst president weve ever had.” said Bloomberg. “And if I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and to my kids.”

Sexist comments

Warren continued to savage Bloomberg, criticising his record on race and history of sexist comments. Bloomberg seemed lost for words at times as he nervously scratched his nose.

Health

Britons stranded on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan have been told by the UK Foreign Office to stay onboard.

There are 74 British nationals on the Diamond Princess ship, which was quarantined on 3 February after an outbreak of coronavirus.

Passengers from other nations who had tested negative began to disembark on Wednesday.

The Foreign Office warned Britons may struggle to board a planned evacuation flight if they leave the ship.

It is understood those who get off may encounter administrative or logistical problems that prevent them from boarding the repatriation flight back to the UK.

The government said an accommodation block at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral – where two previous groups were quarantined – would be used to isolate those returning from the Diamond Princess for 14 days.

"There is no risk to the public, and the hospital will continue to run as normal," the Department of Health said.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Foreign Office said it is planning an evacuation flight from Tokyo to the UK "as soon as possible".

"We hope the flight will be later this week, subject to permissions from the Japanese authorities," it said.

"However there is a chance that people who disembark will not be able to join the evacuation flight.

Health

Sparring between Mike Bloomberg and the leading Democratic candidates erupted hours before Wednesday nights debate, previewing whats expected to be a tense night as the billionaire businessman meets his rivals onstage for the first time.

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Both Bernie Sanders and Joe Bidens campaigns took aim at Bloomberg, the former raising questions about the 78-year-olds health and the latter pointing out reversals in Bloombergs stances on key issues.

The attacks underscore how seriously Democrats are taking the former New York mayors campaign, now that hes rocketed to double-digit support in national polls and qualified for the next two debates. Bloomberg, who formally registered as a Democrat in 2018, has faced relatively little national scrutiny in his surprisingly swift rise from nonpartisan megadonor to top-tier presidential contender.

On CNN Wednesday morning, Sanders' national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray tried to rebut questions surrounding the Vermont senators health by pointing to Bloomberg, who she said had also “suffered heart attacks in the past.” Sanders suffered a heart attack last fall and released letters from doctors attesting to his health. But Bloomberg has never suffered a heart attack; he released a doctors letter last year that said he did undergo coronary stent surgery in 2000.

Gray later walked back her statement, saying on Twitter that she “misspoke” about Bloombergs health.

Separately, the Biden campaign took on Bloomberg over ads the former mayor is running that feature shots of him working closely with former President Barack Obama. The Biden campaign posted a video to Twitter highlighting past comments Bloomberg made criticizing Obama on health care and climate change and accusing him of failing to address racism during his term. The video also includes a clip of Bloomberg declaring “Im a friend of Donald Trumps, hes a New York icon.”

Bloomberg had until recently largely escaped scrutiny from the media and attacks from his opponents by avoiding the early primary states and focusing instead on campaigning in the 14 states that vote in the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries. And his massive campaign — with over 2,000 staffers nationwide and over $400 million spent on ads already — has thus far given him enough of a boost to win high-profile endorsements and double-digit support in the polls.

A 'giant target' on Bloomberg's back

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Medical staff at Irans top cancer hospital tell FRANCE 24 their patients are paying the price of geopolitical strategies as the countrys health system struggles to cope under crippling US sanctions. The economy tops the agenda as Iran heads to the polls in Fridays general elections.

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The reception area at the Cancer Institute in the Imam Khomeini Hospital Complex in the Iranian capital, Tehran, is packed with patients seeking treatment in the countrys preeminent cancer centre. Nearly two years after the US pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal imposing ever-tightening sanctions, patients and staff at the Cancer Institute are struggling to provide healthcare amid shortages and spiraling drug prices.

“We don't have enough of some types of drugs and we have to import them. It becomes very expensive for our patients. They have to pay in dollars or euros,” explains Wida Shehri, head nurse at the chemotherapy unit.

US President Donald Trumps “maximum pressure” strategy is posing a serious risk to Irans healthcare system, according to international human rights group. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report found some of the worst-affected were Iranians with rare diseases and conditions that require specialised treatment.

Although Washington has built exemptions for humanitarian imports into its sanctions regime, the sweeping US sanctions against Iranian banks along with aggressive rhetoric from Trump administration officials have drastically affected Irans ability to import medical supplies.

While Iran produces 95 percent of its drugs, the country has to import ingredients that are difficult to access under the sanctions.

“Exporters want to sell us the drugs. The problem is payment. We don't have ways to transfer money between bank accounts. I think around 50 percent of our patients have been affected by the sanctions,” explains Mahmoud Zadeh, director of oncology at the Imam Khomeini Hospital Complex.

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday a Turkish military operation to push back a Syrian government offensive against rebel strongholds in northwest Syria was now "a matter of time" after talks with Russia failed to halt the assault.

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Turkish troops have already massed inside Syria ready to act and more were heading to the border area.

The Kremlin, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said a confrontation between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a "worst-case scenario" and Russia would keep working to prevent the situation from worsening.

Syrian troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year-old civil war.

Nearly one million civilians have fled from air strikes and artillery barrages towards the frontier, overwhelming relief agencies and alarming Turkey, which is struggling to cope with the 3.6 million Syrian refugees already camped inside its borders.

Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone even while talks with Moscow continued. Several rounds of diplomacy had failed to reach an agreement so far, he said.

"We are entering the last days for the regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings," said Erdogan, whose country has the second-largest army in NATO.

Health

No country offers a child both the chance of a healthy upbringing and an environment fit for their future, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Experts say climate change and harmful advertising encouraging fast-food consumption and under-age drinking are putting children at risk.

The UK was ranked among the top 10 countries in the world for the overall health and wellbeing of children.

However, it fell behind in safeguarding the environment for their future.

The report by the WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the Lancet Commission, ranked 180 countries on the likelihood of a child being able to "flourish", focusing on health and wellbeing factors such as education, nutrition and child mortality.

Countries were then also ranked on their carbon emission levels.

Some 40 child-health experts warned progress over the past two decades was "set to reverse" if radical changes were not made by governments around the globe.

"Every child worldwide now faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures," said former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, who co-chairs the commission.

"Countries need to overhaul their approach to child and adolescent health to protect the world they will inherit in the future."

The experts warned a 4C rise in global temperatures by 2100, in line with current projections, would result in "devastating health consequences" for future generations – a rise in ocean levels, heatwaves, severe malnutrition and a spike in infectious diseases such as malaria.

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Passengers on the virus-hit cruise ship moored near Tokyo began disembarking on Wednesday, public broadcaster NHK said, after a controversial two-week quarantine that saw more than 500 people infected with the new coronavirus originating in China.

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The Diamond Princess, operated by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined in the port of Yokohama since Feb. 3 after a man, who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan, was diagnosed with the virus.

More than 540 people have been infected with the virus on the liner, which originally carried some 3,700 passengers and crew.

Many of those infected have already been transfered to hospitals. About half the passengers are Japanese.

Japan, which ranks second in the world after China in number of confirmed virus cases, has come under fire for its handling of the cruise ship quarantine, although top government officials have defended the quarantine and onboard testing operation.

Around 500 people were expected to disembark starting Wednesday, a health ministry official said, with the entire process completed by Friday.

With some passengers planning to stay on the ship it was unclear when the quarantine would end.

Health

Doctors working on a clinical trial for treatment of heart disease held back key data, Newsnight has been told.

The Excel trial tested whether stents were as effective as open heart surgery at treating patients with a heart problem called left main disease.

The data suggested more people fitted with stents were dying after three years.

It was eventually published – but only after treatment guidelines that partly relied on the trial had been written.

These guidelines recommend both stents and heart surgery for certain patients with left main disease.

Trial authors defend standards

The authors of the trial said it was carried out rigorously and to accepted academic standards.

In the trial, sponsored by US stent manufacturer Abbott, half the patients were given stents, the other half had open heart surgery.

Not all the patients were recruited at the same time. Some were recruited in 2011, others over the years that followed.

So, when the first results were published in 2016, the doctors doing the trial knew there was data about what had happened to some of the patients five years after their stent or heart surgery procedure.

But they chose to look only at what happened up to three years after the patients' procedures and publish that data.

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Chinese Ambassador Zhang Ming on Tuesday defended the countrys response to the novel coronavirus and advised other countries to react in an “objective and cool-headed way.”

It is unfair to conclude the Chinese government is not transparent,” Zhang told reporters at a briefing in Brussels.

He stressed that Beijing informed the World Health Organization and the international community of the new virus as soon as it was identified. And he chastized countries like the United States that have implemented travel or trade restrictions with his country.

“Such restrictions would aid panic and disrupt the containment efforts,” said Zhang. Most countries, including most EU member countries, have followed the WHOs advice, but “unfortunately, some developed countries which have advanced capabilities have taken the lead on adopting excessive restrictions on China to the contrary of WHO recommendations.”

“It is our hope that the relevant countries can look at the epidemic and Chinas response in an objective and cool-headed way,” he said.

Italy and the Czech Republic are the only EU members to have stopped flights to and from China, although Zhang did not name them.

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