A roundup of domestic and international news.
POPE - Pope Francis had a historic meeting on Saturday with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the country’s holy city of Najaf, in the south. It was the second day of the Pope’s visit to Iraq, the first ever papal visit to this country. Also on Saturday Pope Francis visited Ur, the 4000-year old city believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Pope held Mass at Baghdad’s Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph later on the day. On Sunday he is travelling to Mosul, a former Islamic State stronghold, where Christian churches and other buildings still bear the scars of conflict. The Pope’s visits abroad to mostly Muslim countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian territories, have been aimed at boosting inter-religious dialogue. Iraq’s Christian community, one of the oldest in the world, has been particularly devastated, falling to about 300,000 from about 1.5 million before 2003 and the brutal Islamist militant violence that followed.
CORONAVIRUS – Over 1.1 million Romanians have been vaccinated against Covid-19 so far, most of them with Pfizer-BioNTech, but also with Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. More than 4,000 new infections with Covid-19 were reported in the past 24 hours in Romania. Some 1,000 Covid patients are in intensive care. Several counties are now in the red zone with over 3 cases per one thousand inhabitants over the course of 14 days, namely Timiş (west), Maramureş (north-east, Ilfov (south), Cluj (north-west) and Braşov (centre). The infection rate in Bucharest passed 3 on Friday, with the capital city now re-entering the Covid red zone. The South-African variant of the coronavirus has also now been identified in Romania in two Covid patients, one of whom from Bucharest. The British variant had been indentified in Romania at the beginning of January. Over 824,000 infections have been confirmed in Romania since the onset of the pandemic, with the death toll exceeding 20,850. The western city of Timisoara will be in lockdown starting Sunday night due to a surge in infections.
PANDEMIC – The World Health Organisation urged people not to waste, through complacency, the hope that vaccines bring. The Covax global vaccine-sharing facility shipped more than 20 million doses to 20 countries, as the scheme aimed at ensuring poorer nations get access to jabs took off last week. Covax will distribute 14.4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to another 31 countries next week, the WHO announced on Friday, when it also voiced fears that further waves of the coronavirus pandemic could be on the way if people think the roll-out of vaccines around the globe means the crisis is over. In another development, the EU will hold talks on Monday with the US to secure the supply of American components for the anti-Covid vaccines, subject to tough export restrictions. Almost 117 million people across the world have been infected with Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic one year ago, of whom more than 92 million have recovered and around 2.6 million have died.
CRIME GROUP - The Prosecutor’s Office in Montpellier, southern France, has announced that a ‘highly sophisticated’ international crime group involved in human trafficking has been dismantled in four European countries and that around 30 victims from South America and Romania have been rescued. Simultaneous arrests took place in Spain, Italy, Romania and France and an investigation has been opened for aggravated procuring and human trafficking. The crime group was made up of Romanian and Columbian nationals, who lured their victims, mostly women from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay and Romania, with the promise of a better life in France. The investigation started in 2020 in Montpellier, where two young Columbian women, who managed to escape, asked for the help of the French police.
HANDBALL - Romanian women's handball team CSM Râmnicu Vâlcea on Saturday was defeated at home by CSM Bucharest, 33-24. The fixture counts towards the Champions League's round of 16's first leg. The return leg is scheduled in Bucharest on March 13. We remind you that Cristina Neagu of Romania (CSM Bucharest) and Kristina Lisevic of Serbia (CSM Ramnicu Valcea) have been designated best player and best foreign player, respectively, of the 2019-2020 National League. In 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2018, the International Handball Federation designated Cristina Neagu the world's best handballed. Neagu thus became the world's first ever handballed in history to have won the trophy four times. (EE)