Campaign News
How long before a vaccine protects us against the Omicron Covid variant? PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 27 November 2021 19:45


How long before a vaccine protects us against the Omicron Covid variant?


This may yet prove the pandemic’s final scare. But if we need to tailor a jab to a new variant it will take 100 days. Here’s how it could happen.


Tom Whipple 26/11/2021


We will need 100 days. From the moment a decision is taken that a tweaked vaccine is necessary, that is how long Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, has said it will take for the first regulatory-approved needle to get into the first waiting arm. And that decision — to tailor a vaccine to a new variant — is now looking more likely than ever. Of all the mutations in the variant discovered in South Africa, it is the ones that threaten immunity that worry government scientists the most. There are many, many unknowns. This could yet prove to be nothing more than the pandemic’s final scare. But if there is a possibility this variant can find a chink in the immune armour built up at such cost, we now have a way to get ahead of it.


Making the decision

Virology moves fast these days. On Tuesday morning this week, no one in the world knew about this variant. By Wednesday lunchtime it was being discussed at the highest levels in South Africa. By Thursday afternoon, Britain was shutting down travel and asking for samples. Some things cannot be rushed, though. It takes time to culture a virus, and South African laboratories will need at least a week to make enough to share with foreign partners. Of course, it’s possible that South Africa has already sent some unwittingly, kept incubated in a passenger on a long-haul flight. If so, we might just get some a little sooner. When we do, it will go to the laboratory at Porton Down. Here, it will be tested against blood from vaccinated people. How will the blood respond? How will the antibodies bind? Pfizer worked on a vaccine specific to the Delta variant, then decided it was not necessary — the original vaccine was good enough. But if the immunity evasion of Omicron is as big as some fear, this time the decision might be different.


Day 0

The Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford jabs are less a vaccine than a chassis, into which we can slot the engine of our choice. We already know the genetic code of the virus — all we have to do is tweak it out and a laboratory will have made a prototype vaccine. That we can do this is a miracle of technology; it is also only the beginning. The challenge is not making one vaccine but making a billion, and getting it approved. While this is going on, we will be racing against time. If the variant is worrying enough to merit a new vaccine then the corollary is we cannot keep it out for long. While laboratory work is going on, the first cases will inevitably appear in the UK. The purpose of the travel ban is to buy time, in part to boost as fast as we can: reduced immunity is still a lot better than no immunity. But we will still be facing a new wave of infections.


Day 33

There is a point in the manufacturing process that is less like a production line, more like animal husbandry. You have to coax cells to respond. Biologists talk about making them “happy” or “comfortable”. For the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in particular, this became fiendishly complex. There were times in the pandemic where one factory had double the output of another apparently identical set-up, simply because the cells were responding better. Pfizer and Moderna are easier. They might get easier still. One of the trickiest parts of making the vaccines involves constructing a DNA “template” from which their crucial RNA is made. This has been largely done using a biological process. During the pandemic Touchlight, a billion-dollar British biotech start-up, built a factory that promises to make synthetic DNA at scale, doing away with the vagaries of biology. It is just one new asset the country has gained. Quietly, Britain has become a vaccine-producing nation. Three years ago, we had almost zero bulk vaccine manufacturing capacity. During the pandemic, that has changed dramatically — vaccines have gone from being part of the globalised capitalist market to a matter of national security. If necessary, we can now make the vaccine here. In Darlington, at the Centre for Process Innovation, we can use the DNA templates to make RNA. In Leek in Staffordshire, we have a factory that can make the little globules of fat in which it is transported. There is now a choice of places where we can fill and finish, putting the two together, all under the aegis and expertise of Pfizer. Its guidance is not all we will need big pharma for. The variant may undermine the vaccines but it does nothing to blunt the effectiveness of antivirals. As, inevitably, a winter wave grows, the two drugs the UK has bought could be critical in keeping people out of hospital.


Day 66

Normally, there is a process. You invent a vaccine, you trial the vaccine, then you make the vaccine. In the pandemic, we did all three together. The same will happen with variant vaccines. Even as the fill-finish order is being made, a more ad-hoc production process will be used to get the vaccine into trials. This time, though, we won’t need tens of thousands of people. Nor will we need to wait for enough to be infected to prove the vaccine efficacy. “Using an existing “platform” for a new vaccine would speed the regulatory process dramatically,” Stephen Evans, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said. It means the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will be more confident on safety and on effectiveness — confident enough it can rely on proxy measures of effectiveness. How many T-cells do people make? How many antibodies? It could take four to eight weeks to get the data, says Evans — although in the past the MHRA has asked for two months of data after the second jab. Approval could, just, be squeezed into Bourla’s 100-day timescale.


Day 100

In an unassuming surgery, as happened over a year earlier with Margaret Keenan, a Briton is invited to become the first to receive a variant vaccine. Spring is here, and the third year of the pandemic is well under way. But inside their body updated antibodies are forming, against an updated threat. Once again, the nation watches in expectation and hope. This time, though, their audience is less triumphant, a little more cynical and a lot more tired.

Zimbabwe’s boozy Cop26 party doesn’t go down well at home PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 06 November 2021 12:03

Zimbabwe’s boozy Cop26 party doesn’t go down well at home

Benjamin Cooke 02/11/2021


While Boris Johnson struck a sombre note at the beginning of Cop26, saying the world is “one minute to midnight”, the Zimbabwean visitors to the conference were having a jollier time.


The country’s information minister, Nick Mangwana, posted a picture on Twitter of two men buying two trolleys of whisky, beer and crisps — supplies for a party to welcome the Zimbabwean president Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa to Britain. Two crates of Budweiser, six bottles of Glenfiddich, six bottles of Johnnie Walker and three bottles of Jamieson were among the haul.


“Tonight [Sunday] there is a massive welcome party held in honour of president Emmerson Mnangagwa,” Mangwana tweeted. “Glasgow is the place to be as Zimbabweans from all corners of the UK attend this shindig and welcome the president. The party will spill over to the streets tomorrow.”


Mangwana also shared a video of the men exiting Costco in Glasgow with the alcohol. One of the men said: “Cop26 we are ready.” In a second video shared by Mangwena, revellers wearing scarfs the colours of the Zimbabwean flag can be seen dancing on a beach.


Mangwana claimed that no delegates were involved in the party, and that it was arranged by Zimbabweans living in the UK. Yet his promotion of the party provoked the ire of fellow Zimbabweans.


Jessie Pineau, the Zimbabwean environmentalist and social activist, called it “extremely embarrassing”, while Pedzisai Ruhanya, the former news editor of the Zimbabwean independent paper Daily News, tweeted: “While millions wallow in a sea of poverty in Zimbabwe, varakashi [a slang term for the president’s supporters] enjoy whisky in Scotland. Rest assured they will be drunk and won’t know anything happening at the conference; it’s a boozing trip.”


In 2020 the average Zimbabwean weekly wage was £15.90, less than half the price of a 70cl bottle of Glenfiddich 12-year-old single malt. The Zimbabwean economy has been battered by high rates of inflation. On July 29 Mthuli Ncube, the country’s finance and economic development minister, announced that the year-on-year inflation rate stood at 56.37 per cent.


President Mnangagwa’s arrival in Scotland on Sunday evening was the first visit by a Zimbabwean head of state to Britain since Robert Mugabe met with Tony Blair in Edinburgh in 1997.


He took office in November 2017 after the resignation of Mugabe who, having been president since 1987, resigned as protests against him spread throughout Zimbabwe. The protests had begun when Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa as deputy prime minister.


Known as the “crocodile” for his political cunning, Mnangagwa is known to have a taste for whisky. He fought in Zimbabwe’s war of independence in the 1960s and 1970s before taking charge of the country’s Central Intelligence Organisation as the country descended into civil war in the 1980s.


Zimbabwe has strengthened its climate commitments in advance of Cop26, pledging that its emissions in 2030 will be 40 per cent lower than they would be in a “business as usual” scenario. Nevertheless, this pledge would still see the country’s carbon emissions rise from 35.8 megatonnes in 2017 to 44.7 megatonnes in 2030.

Climate tourists – Zimbabwe Vigil Diary: 30th October 2021 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 02 November 2021 19:21


Boosted by the UN Rapporteur calling for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa’s massive delegation to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow must have regarded the trip as an exciting shopping opportunity.


It seems it’s the first time Mnangagwa has visited the UK. He probably didn’t know the dustmen are on strike in Glasgow and rats appear to be a problem. But Mnangagwa will be familiar with rats and most of his delegation anyway will catch the first train to London (see:


As everyone knows, Zimbabwe punches well above its weight in the world. One of the most corrupt and inefficient regimes, it has proved this by sending a delegation twice as big as South Africa’s to a conference to which it can offer nothing but a begging bowl and a bunch of freeloaders.


Farai Maguwu, director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, said: ‘Of the 100 plus delegates, more than 60 have nothing to do with Climate Change. Among the non-technical members who constitute majority of the delegates are relatives and friends of powerful officials responsible for selecting those attending the jamboree. Some technical staff could not travel to Scotland because spaces had been taken by non-technical climate tourists.’


Maguwu added: ‘Amazing what we can do in spite of sanctions and what we claim we cannot do when it comes to developing our country and investing in our people.’ (See:


The clocks go back an hour in the UK on 31st October, hurrying the darkness of the northern winter, Mnangagwa’s ludicrous scarf will at last come in useful as he promenades among the world leaders – despite the absence of his masters President Xi of China and Putin of Russia – both of whom have personal survival on their minds rather than the future of mankind.


The UN has consistently let down the people of Zimbabwe. Musa Kika of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum described as disappointing the report this week by UN Rapporteur Alena Douhan calling for the lifting of sanctions. He said she did not reflect the views of civil society.


‘We believe Zimbabwe’s human rights violations have nothing to do with foreign restrictive measures, but are perpetrated on the people by the state due to impunity, absence of meaningful rule of law, decimation of the constitution, corruption and general bad governance. Her statement fails to capture in any meaningful way the picture of the state of human rights in Zimbabwe.’ (See:


MDC Alliance Vice President Tendai Biti said the rapporteur showed her bias by releasing her report midway through a meeting with the party (see:


The Vigil can only conclude that the UN is looking through the wrong end of a telescope – a view which would be shared by US Senator Jim Risch of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said: ‘Another year, another hollow anti-sanctions campaign from the gov’t of #Zimbabwe full of rhetoric instead of change. The U.S. is consistent & clear about the path to better relations. Stop the corruption. Stop the #humanrights abuses. Pursue real political & economic reform.’ (See:



Other points

  • Zanu PF supporters gathered in Glasgow to support Mnangagwa. They distributed free tshirts welcoming Mnangagwa and offered to pay students to wear them. Most of the students didn’t know who ED was. (See: It reminded Vigil activists of our visit to Lisbon in December 2007 when we protested against a visit there by Mugabe and his Zanu PF supporters hired local prostitutes to swell the welcoming group.
  • It seems hardly a week passes without our mentioning Zanu PF minister Kazembe Kazembe. Anyone still interested might like to know he has been implicated in a tender scandal after a company he has an interest in was awarded a lucrative deal in suspicious circumstances (see:
  • Today was a virtual Vigil. For the moment we are meeting outside the Embassy every other week and our next gathering will be on 6th November. On the alternate Saturdays we will continue with the virtual Vigil. To be recorded as participating in a virtual Vigil your photo, taken with a poster with a message reflecting the situation in Zimbabwe, must be taken at one of the actual Vigils. There will be a small charge to cover admin costs, the ongoing upkeep of the Vigil and our support for the human rights work of ROHR, our sister organisation in Zimbabwe. The photos will then be labelled with your name, uploaded on our website, Flickr site and Facebook pages. For today’s photos, see: Our virtual Vigil activists today were Anna Chikoti, Babula Gwatiringa, Jacob Mandipira and Amina Matewele who all kindly contributed to Vigil funds.


Events and Notices:

  • The next Vigil. Saturday 6th November from 2 – 5 pm outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London.
  • The Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe (ROHR) is the Vigil’s partner organisation based in Zimbabwe. ROHR grew out of the need for the Vigil to have an organisation on the ground in Zimbabwe which reflected the Vigil’s mission statement in a practical way. ROHR in the UK actively fundraises through membership subscriptions, events, sales etc to support the activities of ROHR in Zimbabwe. Please note that the official website of ROHR Zimbabwe is Any other website claiming to be the official website of ROHR in no way represents us.
  • The Vigil’s book ‘Zimbabwe Emergency’ is based on our weekly diaries. It records how events in Zimbabwe have unfolded as seen by the diaspora in the UK. It chronicles the economic disintegration, violence, growing oppression and political manoeuvring – and the tragic human cost involved. It is available at the Vigil. All proceeds go to the Vigil and our sister organisation the Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe's work in Zimbabwe. The book is also available from Amazon.
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Drab Glasgow is a warning on levelling down PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 30 October 2021 19:54

Drab Glasgow is a warning on levelling down

Iain Martin 27/10/2021


The city hosting Cop26 offer a lesson in how poor leadership and bad decision can trigger decades of sharp decline.


When all the talk from ministers is of levelling up, it is ironic that the government is about to take 30,000 climate change delegates from around the world to the city that stands as a textbook example of long-term decline and what could be termed “levelling down”. Welcome to Glasgow.


Other comparable cities have their problems, but Manchester and Birmingham have leadership and momentum, with powerful city and regional mayors. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, is entering another of its boom phases. Fifty miles away, Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, has the look of a place that is falling apart.


You may have heard that the city is in terrible shape before Cop26. There is rubbish in the streets thanks to industrial action by refuse workers. There are reports, some of them perhaps true, of attacks by rats. Either way, take a long walk around the city and what you see is unavoidable: the fabric is in a state of advanced and accelerating disintegration. The public realm is tatty, the poverty worsening.


Data compiled by the Centre for Cities from the Office for National Statistics reports that in 2018 Glasgow’s economic output per worker was £54,310. For Edinburgh it was £75,130 and for London £91,300. Glasgow remains stubbornly poor and the only sustainable answer long-term is for it to somehow become wealthier.


It’s Glasgow, so it is possible to treat this disaster as a joke. A Glaswegian friend says that at least the degradation means Cop26 delegates from the developing world will feel at home. He said that, not me. Such is Glaswegian sensitivity and low mood right now that the city that gave birth to Billy Connolly can no longer take a joke about itself.


Personally, I find its decline upsetting. Those of us from Paisley, my home town, have long looked down on Glasgow, regarding our neighbouring big city as distinct, apart. Truth is, though, if you’re from the west of Scotland, Glasgow is the hub, the centre. It’s about belonging too. Going to Glasgow University was the natural choice for me. When I say “home” I still mean greater Glasgow.


Not only is it a human disaster, with hundreds of thousands of Glaswegians living this decline daily, the city’s plight is also a highly instructive case study, a warning that should be studied by policymakers trying to understand why some places, through a combination of poor leadership and missteps, go backwards.


Glasgow’s fall can easily be turned into a simple game of blaming the SNP. The Nationalists have been in power in Scotland for 14 years. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, represents a Glasgow seat containing some of the worst deprivation in western Europe. But the story is much more complex and interesting than any “SNP bad and always to blame” narrative.


Its roots lie in the 1960s and 1970s, when Glasgow and the wider west of Scotland went through epic deindustrialisation. Arguably, no single metropolitan area and surrounding population experienced anything quite as all-encompassing, so rapidly, as here.


In the early 1960s, Glasgow could credibly still call itself the Second City of Empire, although the empire had gone. It appeared to be a commercial colossus, although in shipbuilding, manufacturing and services it was old-fashioned and under-invested. Still, it was an upwardly mobile, confident city. Watch the black and white footage in the Netflix documentary on Sir Alex Ferguson for a glimpse of that spirit, and see how sharply the locals dressed.


The dramatic shifts in trading patterns wreaked by early globalisation brought the edifice crashing down. Margaret Thatcher is blamed for this still in Glasgow, although it started well before her. (Such is Glasgow’s political culture that people will be blaming Thatcher when the bins are not collected in 2121.) It was actually during her era that an exciting revival began. The city underwent a highly successful regeneration in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a handful of Labour politicians with foresight rebranded it as a cultural capital. There was the Garden Festival, and it was the European City of Culture in 1990. This was combined with the sandblasting of the buildings that had survived the modernist cull. The aim was to lure private investment.


Then something strange happened. Infuriatingly, under New Labour and in a mood of self-congratulation, Glasgow stopped heading in the right direction. The reinvention slowed, as though it had been a one-off sprucing up project. A complete rethink on economics, how the city should make its money and improve the lives of its citizens, was discussed but never happened. A friend who lives in Glasgow says: “It’s deeper than decades of unimaginative, stodgy politics, a disgracefully tiny tax base and lack of Holyrood vision. It’s as if the whole city energy generated by the Garden Festival and City of Culture years has slowly leaked away.”


The narrow tax base is a serious issue. Some of the more monied areas sit outside the city boundary but use the facilities, similar to American “doughnut cities” deemed hollow at the centre and affluent in the suburbs.


Even so there are signs of life. The expansion of the University of Glasgow campus is impressive. Barclays has been growing and its new centre by the River Clyde will have 5,000 employees. There are local entrepreneurs battling away and always interesting restaurants. These developments look like oases in a desert, though.


It largely comes down to an absence of leadership. The creation of a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh robbed Glasgow of attention, and secretly many non-Glaswegian Scots will be happy about that. To respond, Glasgow needs its own mayor, or elected provost, someone to fight for it and start restoring confidence. Most of all it needs new commercial energy and as much entrepreneurship as it can get. That’s what made Glasgow a great city in the first place.

Grace Mugabe fined five cows and two goats for improper burial of Zimbabwe dictator PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 10 October 2021 11:50

Grace Mugabe fined five cows and two goats for improper burial of Zimbabwe dictator

Fred Harter – 07/09/2021


The widow of the former Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe is challenging a fine of five cows and two goats imposed by a traditional leader for improperly burying her husband’s body.


Grace Mugabe is also seeking to overturn an order, issued by the same leader in May, to exhume her husband’s body and rebury it at a purpose-built mausoleum in the capital, Harare.


Mugabe, who died in September 2019 aged 95, was buried at his home village of Kutama, 55 miles west of Harare, following weeks of wrangling over where his remains should be laid to rest.


President Mnangagwa had planned for Mugabe to be interred at Hero’s Acre, a national shrine, and members of the ruling Zanu-PF party claimed at the time that the late tyrant’s remains “belong to Zanu-PF first, not the family”.


However, the Mugabe family said that he had wished to be buried at his ancestral home. They also claimed that Mugabe gave orders that Grace should watch over his body until it was buried out of fears that superstitious Zanu-PF members might use his remains “for rituals and witchcraft”.


Since then, senior ruling party officials have repeatedly called for Mugabe to be dug up and reburied at the national site. Some sources have claimed that traditional elders have been offered cars and cash bribes to intervene in the dispute.


Mugabe’s nephew has claimed the real reason Mnangagwa wants to exhume his predecessor’s body is to lay his hands on a mystical sceptre believed to have been buried with Mugabe, which “he [Mnangagwa] believes will give him the authority to be the leader of Zimbabwe”.


After Chief Zvimba fined Grace five cows and two goats and ordered the exhumation in May, Mugabe’s children lodged an appeal against the decision. However, a magistrate upheld the traditional chief’s order last month, prompting Grace to step in with a fresh appeal to the High Court.


Mugabe died in a private clinic in Singapore nearly two years after a military coup ended his 37-year rule. His downfall was prompted by a feud between Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe, 56, who many ruling party members believed exercised undue influence over her ailing husband.


Mugabe was buried in a steel coffin topped with heavy rectangular blocks and his grave was filled in with concrete. A spokesman for his family said that they wanted to ensure that the casket was “tamper-proof” to prevent grave-robbers from digging it up.

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