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Dutch ordered to end virus curfew after riots, vaccine scramble intensifies

16 Feb 2021 By AFP

A Dutch court ordered the government Tuesday to lift a nationwide coronavirus curfew that sparked riots in the Netherlands, as frustration mounts throughout the world against virus measures almost a year into the deadly pandemic.

Governments face pushback from populations tired of measures aimed at slowing the virus’s relentless spread, and countries were scrambling to secure sought-after vaccines in a bid to return to a pre-pandemic normal.

North Korean hackers tried to break into the computer systems of Pfizer to search for information on a coronavirus vaccine and treatment technology, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday.

The impoverished nation has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year, as much of the world shut down to protect against the virus that has now killed more than 2.4 million people worldwide.

A deadly second wave prompted a further tightening of restrictions across Europe this winter, including in the Netherlands which imposed a 9:00 pm to 4:30 am curfew in January.

Violent protests engulfed several Dutch cities in defiance of the curfew — the country’s worst riots in decades — and last week the government extended the overnight stay-at-home order until March 2.

On Tuesday a judge said the government wrongly used emergency powers to bring in the curfew after a case launched by the Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth) group, which has led a series of protests against coronavirus measures in the Netherlands.

“The curfew must be lifted immediately,” the court said in a statement.

“The curfew is a far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy… This requires a very careful decision-making process.”

– Vaccine hack –

Amid mounting fatigue over coronavirus restrictions — protests against virus measures have been waged from France to Cyprus and Israel — governments are pinning hopes on vaccines to end the pandemic that has infected nearly 110 million people globally.

But with demand far outstripping supply, countries are racing to get their hands on doses of much-needed vaccines. Nearly 172 million vaccine doses have been given worldwide, with the majority so far going to richer countries.

On Tuesday, Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers “North Korea tried to obtain technology involving the Covid vaccine and treatment by using cyberwarfare to hack into Pfizer”, MP Ha Tae-keung told reporters in South Korea after a parliamentary hearing.

Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, developed jointly with Germany’s BioNTech, began winning approval from authorities late last year.

The North’s leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases, although outside experts doubt those claims.

– China jab in Hungary –

In a boost for poorer countries, the World Health Organization on Monday approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, paving the way for millions of doses to be distributed.

The AstraZeneca shot, which is easier to store and transport than some of its rivals, will account for almost all the doses set to be shipped under Covax, an international programme designed to ensure that poor countries are not overlooked.

Hungary on Tuesday became the first EU country to receive China’s Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, with 550,000 doses arriving in Budapest.

The European Medicines Agency has so far approved vaccines for the bloc developed by US-German firm Pfizer-BioNTech, US firm Moderna and British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca with Oxford University.

Also on Tuesday, Japan outlined a cautious coronavirus vaccine rollout — but the minister overseeing the process admitting he had “no idea” how much of the population will be vaccinated by this summer’s Olympics.

Japan has lagged behind other major economies as it is running domestic trials before approving vaccines.

Meanwhile, the economic devastation from the virus was again laid bare.

The Netherlands economy shrunk 3.8 percent in 2020, the sharpest contraction ever measured, the country’s statistics office said Tuesday.

And in Singapore, which is suffering its worst-ever recession, the government unveiled a fresh multi-billion-dollar package to help pandemic-battered businesses.

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