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Rwanda Defence Force says retakes strategic Mozambican town from insurgents
8 August 2021, 6:37 PM

Rwandan and Mozambican security forces have recaptured the port town of Mocimboa da Praia, an insurgents’ stronghold, Rwanda Defence Force said on Sunday.

Mozambique’s northern-most province of Cabo Delgado, which has gas developments worth some $60 billion, has since 2017 harboured an insurgency.

The unrest escalated as insurgents, linked to Islamic State, seized entire towns, including the strategically important Mocimboa da Praia.

Last month, the Rwandan government deployed a 1 000-strong force to Mozambique to fight alongside Mozambique’s forces and troops of the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Mocimboa da Praia, 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of the gas projects, previously served as the main airport for international workers flying into the gas developments and its port is used for cargo deliveries.

The Rwandan defence force relayed news the town was recaptured in a Twitter post without giving further details. Mozambique’s Defence Ministry said a press briefing will be held at 1400 GMT.

Almost 800 000 people have been displaced in Cabo Delgado and the fighting has brought a $20 billion natural gas project led by oil giant Total to a halt.

Close ally of Kremlin critic Navalny leaves Russia amid crackdown: Media
8 August 2021, 5:44 PM

Lyubov Sobol, a prominent ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, has left Russia days after being sentenced to parole-like restrictions amid a crackdown on the opposition, Russia’s RT and REN TV channels cited sources as saying on Sunday.

Sobol could not be reached for comment. Her allies declined to speak on her behalf. The outlets said she had flown to Turkey on Saturday evening. The chief editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station also said she had left the country.

The 33-year-old is one of the most well-known faces of Navalny’s entourage. She stayed behind in Moscow this year as other close political allies fled fearing prosecution ahead of September’s parliamentary elections.

Sobol was sentenced to 1-1/2 years of parole-like restrictions on Tuesday for flouting COVID-19 curbs on protests, a charge she called politically-motivated nonsense. The restrictions included not being allowed to leave home at night.

After the ruling, she said on Ekho Moskvy radio station that the sentence had not yet come into force and that the restrictions were not effective. “Essentially, you can interpret this as the possibility of leaving the country,” she said.

Navalny’s allies have faced mounting pressure. This week a June court ruling formally came into force outlawing the nationwide activist network built up by Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest domestic opponent, as “extremist”.

Navalny himself is serving 2-1/2 years in jail for parole violations in an embezzlement case he says was trumped up.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge wins men’s marathon at Tokyo
8 August 2021, 4:04 PM

Kenya’s long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge reasserted himself as one of the all-time greats of the sport. Kipchoge won the men’s marathon on the final day of the 2020 Olympic Games – his second straight gold medal in the event.

The Kenyan successfully defended the title he won in Rio in 2016 and he did it in some style – clocking a time of two hours eight minutes 38 seconds, coming in one minute and 20 seconds ahead of Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands who took silver.

Belgium’s Bashir Abdi won bronze.

Kipchoge is now one of only three athletes to win back-to-back gold medals on the Olympic stage.

The world record holder has also now won four Olympic medals overall, having also taken silver in the 5000 meters in 2008 and bronze in 2004.

South Africa’s Elroy Gelant finished in 34th position – more than eight minutes behind the winner.

Women’s basketball

Team USA extended a historic run of championships in Olympic women’s basketball winning the gold against hosts team Japan.

The Americans secured their seventh-straight gold with a 90-75 victory – their 55th straight win in Olympic game matches and their ninth championship since 1976.

Rhythmic gymnastics

Bulgaria’s perfect coordination helped them bag gold in the rhythmic gymnastics group event, ending a Russian winning streak that stretched back to the Sydney Games in 2000.

The Russian Olympic Committee claimed silver, while Italy won the bronze.

Rio 2016 champions Serbia won their second consecutive Olympic gold medal in men’s water polo, beating Greece 13-10 in a thrilling final.

The Greek team had to settle for silver, their first podium finish in men’s water polo, while Hungary claimed the bronze medal in the oldest team sport at the Olympics after defeating Spain 9-5.

EXPLAINER: Beyond Delta, scientists are watching new coronavirus variants
8 August 2021, 3:37 PM

The continued spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spawned a Greek alphabet of variants – a naming system used by the World Health Organization to track concerning new mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19. Some have equipped the virus with better ways of infecting humans or evading vaccine protection.

Scientists remain focused on Delta, now the dominant variant rising rapidly around the world, but are tracking others to see what may one day take its place.

DELTA

The Delta variant first detected in India remains the most worrisome. It is striking unvaccinated populations in many countries and has proven capable of infecting a higher proportion of vaccinated people than its predecessors.

The WHO classifies Delta as a variant of concern, meaning it has been shown capable of increasing transmissibility, causing more severe disease or reducing the benefit of vaccines and treatments.

According to Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego, Delta’s “superpower” is its transmissibility. Chinese researchers found that people infected with Delta carry 1,260 times more virus in their noses compared with the original version of the coronavirus. Some U.S. research suggests that the “viral load” in vaccinated individuals who become infected with Delta is on par with those who are unvaccinated, but more research is needed.

While the original coronavirus took up to seven days to cause symptoms, Delta can cause symptoms two to three days faster, giving the immune system less time to respond and mount a defense.

Delta also appears to be mutating further, with reports emerging of a “Delta Plus” variant, a sub-lineage that carries an additional mutation that has been shown to evade immune protection.

India listed Delta Plus as a variant of concern in June, but neither the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention nor the WHO have done so yet. According to Outbreak.info, an open-source COVID-19 database, Delta Plus has been detected in at least 32 countries. Experts say it is not yet clear whether it is more dangerous.

LAMBDA – ON THE WANE?

The Lambda variant has attracted attention as a potential new threat. But this version of the coronavirus, first identified in Peru in December, may be receding, several infectious disease experts told Reuters.

The WHO classifies Lambda as a variant of interest, meaning it carries mutations suspected of causing a change in transmissibility or causing more severe disease, but it is still under investigation. Lab studies show it has mutations that resist vaccine-induced antibodies.

Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, said the percentage of new Lambda cases reported to GISAID, a database that tracks SARS-CoV-2 variants, has been dropping, a sign that the variant is waning.

In a recent call with the CDC, disease experts said Lambda did not appear to be causing increased transmissibility, and vaccines appear to be holding up well against it, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who attended the discussion.

B.1.621 – ONE TO WATCH

The B.1.621 variant, which first arose in Colombia in January, where it caused a major outbreak, has yet to earn a Greek letter name.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has listed it as a variant of interest, while Public Health England describes B.1.621 as a variant under investigation. It carries several key mutations, including E484K, N501Y and D614G, that have been linked with increased transmissibility and reduced immune protection. So far, there have been 37 likely and confirmed cases in the UK, according to a recent government report, and the variant has been identified in a number of patients in Florida.

MORE ON THE WAY?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, recently warned that the United States could be in trouble unless more Americans get vaccinated, as a large pool of unvaccinated people give the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate into new variants.

Proponents of greater international distribution of vaccine doses by rich countries say the same thing could happen as variants emerge unchecked among the populations of poor nations where very few people have been inoculated.

Even so, a key issue is that the current vaccines block severe disease but do not prevent infection, said Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine scientist at the Mayo Clinic. That is because the virus is still capable of replicating in the nose, even among vaccinated people, who can then transmit the disease through tiny, aerosolized droplets.

To defeat SARS-CoV-2, he said, will likely require a new generation of vaccines that also block transmission. Until then, the world will remain vulnerable to the rise of new coronavirus variants, according to Poland and other experts.

Sudan recalls ambassador to Ethiopia after mediation offer rejected
8 August 2021, 3:04 PM

Sudan recalled its ambassador to neighbouring Ethiopia on Sunday, frustrated by the stance of Ethiopian officials whom it said were refusing Sudan’s offer to mediate in the ongoing conflict in Tigray.

“Ethiopia will improve its position if it considered what Sudan could do. ..instead of completely rejecting all of its efforts,” a statement from the foreign ministry read.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday about the conflict in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, which has led to an influx of 53 400 refugees since late 2020.

Hamdok’s offer came within the framework of his presidency of IGAD, a grouping that includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, Sudan, Uganda and Somalia, the statement said.

Spokespeople for the Ethiopian ministry of foreign affairs and the prime minister did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sudan recalling its ambassador.

On Thursday the prime minister’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, dismissed the possibility of Sudan mediating on the conflict in the northern region of Tigray.

She described the relationship with Khartoum as “a little bit tricky” and said trust should be the basis of any mediation but had “eroded” especially following the “Sudanese army incursion into Ethiopian territory.”

Relations have been soured by disputes over Al-Fashqa, an area of fertile land settled by Ethiopian farmers that Sudan says lies on its side of a border demarcated at the start of the 20th century, which Ethiopia rejects.

The border tensions come at a time when Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are also trying to resolve a three-way row over Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

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