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Riga wary Russia could be to blame for ‘hybrid warfare’

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The banking crisis rocking a small Baltic nation in Europe has turned into a potential diplomatic incident, as Latvia has signaled Russia might be trying to damage the country’s reputation ahead of a general election.

Earlier this week, Latvia’s defense ministry said the corruption allegations that led to the detention of the country’s central bank governor could be part of a “massive information operation” from an outside source.

The ministry claimed similar incidents, aimed at influencing presidential votes, had been seen in France, Germany and the U.S.

While Latvia does not name Russia as a perpetrator specifically, the ministry cited recent events as evidence of an attempt to taint Riga’s image and erode public trust in the state ahead of its vote for a new premier in October.

The evidence for allegations made by Latvia’s defense ministry was unclear.

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Climate change threatens global peace: UN Security Council

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A resident holding a child walks past debris from damaged homes after Hurricane Iota made landfall on Providencia Island, Colombia, on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Climate change represents the “gravest threats” to global peace and security, the UN Security Council will hear on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to warn the UN Security Council that unless the global community takes “urgent action to tackle climate change, the world risks worsening conflict, displacement and insecurity,” the government said in a statement.

The U.K. currently has a one-month presidency of the Council, which is charged with ensuring international peace and security. Its permanent members are China, France, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. Johnson will address the group at 1.30 p.m. London time.

Ahead of the session, Johnson said the Council “is tasked with confronting the gravest threats to global peace and security, and that’s exactly what climate change represents … From the communities uprooted by extreme weather and hunger, to warlords capitalising on the scramble for resources – a warming planet is driving insecurity.”

He added that “unlike many issues the Council deals with, this is one we know exactly how to address” and that by helping vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, and cutting global emissions to net zero, “we will protect not only the bountiful biodiversity of our planet, but its prosperity and security.”

Well known naturalist and TV personality David Attenborough will also address the Council on Tuesday. He said in a statement released late Monday that “if we bring emissions down with sufficient vigour we may yet avoid the tipping points that will make runaway climate change unstoppable.”

He said the upcoming UN climate change meeting, known as COP26, that will take place in Glasgow in November, could be the “last opportunity to make the necessary step-change.”

“If we objectively view climate change and the loss of nature as world-wide security threats – as indeed, they are – then we may yet act proportionately and in time,” he said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Sudanese climate activist Nisreen Elsaim will also brief the Security Council live on Tuesday.

Briefing ahead of the session, the U.K. noted that “the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world, with the effects of rising temperatures and extreme weather forcing population movements and creating competition over increasingly scarce natural resources. Of the 20 countries ranked most vulnerable to rising global temperatures, 12 are already in conflict.”

For its part, the U.K. has committed in law to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030 – the steepest reduction of any major economy.

Alongside the UN Security Council’s permanent members there are 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. These members are currently Estonia, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Norway, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Vietnam.

Global efforts to tackle climate change are high on the agenda for the international community, although environmental experts fear that too little too late is being done to combat the issue.

The U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China. Under President Joe Biden’s administration, the country has now officially rejoined the Paris climate agreement, a landmark pact among nations to reduce carbon emissions, having left under former President Donald Trump.

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Tui, IAG, Lufthansa shares rise after UK’s Johnson plan to end lockdown

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The town of Ermoupolis (also called Ermoupoli) is located on the Greek island of Syros.

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LONDON — European travel stocks soared on Tuesday morning as customers rushed to make new bookings after the U.K. announced its four-step plan to end coronavirus restrictions.

Shares of Tui, the German travel group, rose almost 7% in early European trading hours. International Airlines Group, the owner of British Airways and Iberia, also soared more than 6% and shares of the German airline Lufthansa jumped more than 4%. 

The sector has been heavily hit by coronavirus’ restrictions, with people advised not to travel abroad and having to contend with strict quarantine policies if they do.

However, on Monday afternoon, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his four-step plan to lift all social restrictions by June 21 and that led to a surge in new bookings.

EasyJet said on Monday evening that it experienced a 337% increase in flight bookings in the U.K. and a 630% rise in holiday bookings following the government announcement. Tui also said bookings jumped 500% overnight.

There is a huge desire to be out there and seeing the world and that pent up is going to come back, it is just a matter of time.

Keith Barr

CEO of IHG Hotels & Resorts

Greece, Spain, Turkey and Portugal were among the top destinations in the new bookings.

Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, said in a statement: “We have consistently seen that there is pent up demand for travel and this surge in bookings shows that this signal from the Government that it plans to reopen travel has been what UK consumers have been waiting for.”

Andrew Flintham, managing director of TUI UK and Ireland, said in an email that the announcement from the prime minister “was positive and shows that by working with the travel industry on a risk-based framework our customers will have the opportunity to travel abroad this summer.”

The U.K. is lifting coronavirus’ restrictions in four stages starting on March 8 with the reopening of schools, but the whole process will depend on how the epidemiological situation evolves.

The government also said it is reviewing international leisure travel restrictions and will announce the changes on April 12.

“We know that there are customers who want to travel, there is a huge desire to be out there and seeing the world and that pent up is going to come back, it is just a matter of time,” Keith Barr, CEO of IHG Hotels & Resorts told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe on Tuesday.

“Am I gonna do the one-day trip from London to New York for a three-hour meeting? Probably not, so there will be some impact on business travel,” Barr said when asked how the sector is likely to change in the post-Covid world, but he added that the “but the vast majority of the estate is going to make it through this (crisis).”

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Cuba’s Covid vaccine could be made eligible for tourists

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A man stands near a Cuban National flag at the Melia Varadero International Hotel in Matanzas Province, on October 23, 2020. Varadero, Cuba’s most important beach resort, is reopening to international tourism, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Images

Cuba’s most advanced Covid-19 vaccine candidate is scheduled to enter late-stage clinical trials next week, nudging the tiny island nation ever closer to an extraordinary medical achievement that analysts believe will have far reaching consequences throughout the global south.

Cuba’s most promising vaccine candidate, of the four it has in development, is called Soberana 02. The name of the vaccine translates from Spanish as “Sovereign,” an ostensible nod to Cuba’s sense of national pride in its world-renowned health system.

Soberana 02 is due to enter Phase 3 trials from March 1, and officials say tests will include as many as 150,000 volunteers within weeks. Phase 3 trials represent the final stage before a vaccine is generally approved by national regulators.

It comes at a time when many people in Cuba are forced to wait in line for hours to buy basic goods and as authorities continue to navigate a decades-old U.S. trade embargo — with sanctions tightened even further in recent years by former President Donald Trump.

“It is just this incredible dichotomy,” Helen Yaffe, a Cuba expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, told CNBC via telephone.

“On the one hand you have this high-tech biotech sector which is bringing a lot of hope to the global south because it is the possibility of an affordable vaccine — (and) vaccinating the global south will be the priority,” Yaffe said.

“And at the same time the Cubans are getting up at four or five in the morning to get into queues because there is real scarcity of really basic foodstuffs and even medicines.”

What do we know about Soberana 02?

Cuba’s Finlay Institute, the country’s leading biopharma institution, is overseeing the development of Soberana 02. Dr. Vicente Verez, director of the institute, has hinted the vaccine could be made available as an option to tourists later this year.

If Soberana 02 is found to be safe and effective, the development of a domestically produced vaccine would likely be hailed as an astonishing scientific breakthrough and a significant political triumph. It would also see Cuba become the first Latin American country to immunize its population with a domestically produced vaccine.

Technician Mayelin Mejias works at the Vaccine Aseptic and Packaging Processing Plant at the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, on January 20, 2021.

YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Images

The government has not yet outlined specific plans for inoculating tourists, but analysts say it is possible foreigners traveling to Cuba could receive their first vaccine dose on the island before receiving subsequent doses to take home with them.

While public data is limited, it is thought up to three doses of the vaccine could be administered at two-week intervals.

People are already talking about sun, sea, sand and Soberana 02. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if people end up going to Cuba seeking the vaccine and I’m sure the Cubans will offer it.

Helen Yaffe

Lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow

Yaffe, who is also the author of “We Are Cuba!: How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World,” said Cuba’s sophisticated health care system would help the country roll out the vaccine “extremely” quickly.

“I can guarantee that. And if they have got a vaccine which is every two weeks then within a month of starting people could be vaccinated,” Yaffe said.

“By summer, people are going to be pretty desperate to go on holiday and I think Cuba that nominates itself as an ideal destination. People are already talking about sun, sea, sand and Soberana 02. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if people end up going to Cuba seeking the vaccine and I’m sure the Cubans will offer it.”

How does it work?

People queue to buy food in Havana, on February 2, 2021, as Covid-19 cases surge in the island nation.

YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Images

At a virtual session led by the Pan American Health Organization on Feb. 5, Dr. Verez said Soberana 02 had returned “encouraging results” during the early stages of testing. He added the vaccination had not yet generated any significant adverse reactions.

The Cuban government has said it will produce 100 million doses of Soberana 02 this year to meet the demands of its own citizens as well as those in other countries. It aims to be one of the first countries in the world to vaccinate its entire population in 2021, despite the fact that many advanced nations started administering jabs almost two months ago.

Several countries have expressed an interest in acquiring the vaccine, such as Vietnam, Iran, Venezuela and the African Union — which represents all 55 countries in Africa.

Cuba, which has recorded relatively few Covid cases when compared to other countries in the region, has seen a sharp uptick in infections and fatalities in recent weeks. To date, Cuba has recorded 45,361 cases of the coronavirus and 300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

‘One of the world’s best-kept secrets’

Cuba has long been renowned for its medical diplomacy, with thousands of specialist staff sent abroad to help countries tackle short-term crises, natural disasters and medical emergencies.

Human rights groups have expressed concern that the Cuban government imposes repressive rules on doctors working abroad, citing the right to privacy, liberty and freedom of expression and association.

At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, Cuba was estimated to have had 24,500 medical personnel working in 58 countries. A further 4,000 members of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade, a group of highly respected health professionals, have gone to work in countries from Kuwait to Mexico, Italy to South Africa.

Cuban doctors during a welcome ceremony for Cuban health workers who were deployed to the Western Cape to support efforts in the fight against COVID-19 on May 24, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Misha Jordaan | Gallo Images via Getty Images

It is a deeply rooted tradition that means the country of just over 11 million is thought to have more medical personnel working abroad than all the G-7 countries put together.

“This is an extraordinary record, mainly unknown by mainstream media — one of the world’s best-kept secrets,” John Kirk, a professor at the Latin America program of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC via email.

“Medical internationalism is in the Cuban DNA, and in fact the preamble to the Cuban constitution mentions the commitment that Cuba has to share its medical talent with developing countries,” he added.

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