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Binance crackdown widens in Europe and Hong Kong

Binance crackdown widens in Europe and Hong Kong

Regulators in Lithuania and Hong Kong on Friday became the latest to crack down on Binance, further complicating one of the largest global cryptocurrency exchange’s efforts to do business in key jurisdictions around the world.

Lithuania’s central bank said a Vilnius-based Binance payments affiliate was providing “unlicensed investment services” in the country. Hong Kong’s markets regulator also issued a warning over the exchange’s stock tokens trading programme, which had earlier in 2021 faced scrutiny in the UK and Germany. Binance said it would shut down the tokens scheme for “commercial” reasons.

The latest censures, which follow similar moves from Italy on Thursday and from the UK last month, may further limit Binance’s ability to link up with the traditional financial system.

Global financial watchdogs have expressed concern over issues including securities rules and consumer protections. At the same time, Binance has struggled to keep its compliance function on a par with its rapid growth, people familiar with its operations have said.

The warning from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority in June, while limited in scope, proved to be the first in a string of major regulatory and private-sector responses to one of the world’s biggest crypto market participants.

It prompted high-street banks Barclays and Santander to restrict their customers from sending funds to the Cayman Islands-incorporated company. Clear Junction, a UK payments group that had connected Binance to major euro and sterling money transfer networks, also cut the exchange off this week.

“We take a collaborative approach in working with regulators and we take our compliance obligations very seriously,” the exchange said on Friday.

Most of the group’s trading is in crypto assets and sophisticated derivatives connected to them, but Binance relies on traditional and generally regulated companies to allow customers to put hard currency on to the exchange.

Lithuania’s intervention could damage this connection to payments entities in Europe. The affiliate Binance UAB, which is owned by chief executive Changpeng Zhao, acts as a payment “agent” for the group, according to the exchange’s website.

The exchange told the Financial Times that Binance UAB “does not provide investment services and it does not operate or control Binance.com”. However, the articles of association for the entity, filed last year, say its main activities include “investing in virtual assets” and the “establishment of funds to invest in virtual assets”. The exchange’s terms of service had also described the company as a Binance “operator” — which it defines as “parties that run Binance” — up until at least July 5.

The group said Lithuania’s warning “does not directly impact the services provided on Binance.com”.

Binance also has ties to Lithuania through Contis, which issues the group’s Visa-branded debit card. The card is available throughout the European Economic Area, a bloc that includes EU members and other countries in the region.

Contis says on its website that cards in the EEA are issued through an affiliate licensed by the Lithuanian central bank. Contis declined to comment on its relationship with Binance.

Also on Friday, Binance said it would shut down its stocks platform, which lets users buy and sell tokens reflecting the share price of companies such as Tesla and Apple. The announcement came at roughly the same time as Hong Kong’s warning about the programme.

The FT first reported in April that European regulators were scrutinising Binance’s stocks tokens. Germany’s financial watchdog, BaFin, said the tokens probably violated securities rules. Binance told the regulator its view was based on a “misunderstanding” of the product and called on BaFin to retract its notice. However, BaFin declined to comply.

Adam Samson can be reached at [email protected] or on Telegram @adamsamsonFT.

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Partisan Covid-19 vaccination gap widens, study shows

Partisan Covid-19 vaccination gap widens, study shows

Pfizer said Thursday it is seeing waning immunity from its coronavirus vaccine and says it is picking up its efforts to develop a booster dose that will protect people from variants.

“As seen in real world data released from the Israel Ministry of Health, vaccine efficacy in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease has declined six months post-vaccination, although efficacy in preventing serious illnesses remains high,” the company said in a statement emailed to CNN.

“Additionally, during this period the Delta variant is becoming the dominate variant in Israel as well as many other countries. These findings are consistent with an ongoing analysis from the Companies’ Phase 3 study,” it added.

“While protection against severe disease remained high across the full six months, a decline in efficacy against symptomatic disease over time and the continued emergence of variants are expected. Based on the totality of the data they have to date, Pfizer and BioNTech believe that a third dose may be beneficial within 6 to 12 months following the second dose to maintain highest levels of protection.”

A Pfizer spokesperson later told CNN the company planned to file for emergency use authorization for a booster dose with the US Food and Drug Administration in August.

Israel’s health ministry said in a statement earlier this week that it had seen efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine drop from more than 90% to about 64% as the B.1.617.2 or Delta variant spread.

The company said booster doses of its vaccine, developed with BioNTech, produces levels of neutralizing antibodies that are five to 10 times higher than what’s produced after two doses.

“The companies expect to publish more definitive data soon as well as in a peer-reviewed journal and plan to submit the data to the FDA, EMA and other regulatory authorities in the coming weeks,” Pfizer said in a statement.

And it says it’s also developing a new formulation for a booster dose that may more thoroughly protect people from new variants.

“While Pfizer and BioNTech believe a third dose of BNT162b2 has the potential to preserve the highest levels of protective efficacy against all currently known variants including Delta, the companies are remaining vigilant and are developing an updated version of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that targets the full spike protein of the Delta variant,” the company said. Current vaccines target just a piece of the spike protein – the part of the virus it uses to attach to cells.

“The first batch of the mRNA for the trial has already been manufactured at BioNTech’s facility in Mainz, Germany. The Companies anticipate the clinical studies to begin in August, subject to regulatory approvals.”

Author: By Veronica Rocha, Fernando Alfonso III and Meg Wagner, CNN
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France widens COVID vaccine rollout to 16-17 year olds at high risk of major illness

France widens COVID vaccine rollout to 16-17 year olds at high risk of major illness© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People wait to be given a COVID-19 vaccine in Nice, France, April 29, 2021. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

PARIS (Reuters) – France has decided to widen its COVID-19 vaccine rollout to people aged 16-17 who could face a high risk of a major illness from the virus, said the country’s health ministry on Thursday, as the country gradually accelerates its vaccine programme.

The health ministry said this category of 16-17 year olds would be allowed to get the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine from Thursday onwards.

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Author: Reuters
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As vaccine eligibility widens, some vulnerable Texans are still fighting for access

As vaccine eligibility widens, some vulnerable Texans are still fighting for access

Fredericksburg retiree Cyn White has been trying to find a COVID-19 vaccine in her Hill Country community since she became eligible for it in December.

White, 63, who has a disability, grew frustrated with the lack of available appointments, problems with overloaded websites, and zero follow-up from the locations that allowed her to get on a waiting list.

Calling it a “dire situation” for herself and others like her, White became panicked at the idea of Texas opening its eligibility to all Texas adults this week.

“What chance do I have to actually acquire a vaccine?” she said.

Then on Monday, hours after the state expanded eligibility to millions of Texans ages 16 and older, she finally left a desperate voicemail at Hill Country Memorial and got her callback.

She went in her first dose of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday.

“It’s like I’ve got a 100-pound weight taken off my shoulders. I could cry,” White said. “I slept very well last night.”

Texas became one of a dozen[2] states to relax eligibility restrictions for the vaccine[3] this week and open up availability to adults and some teens[4] regardless of profession or health status.

But some question whether Texas — where demand still far outpaces supply[5], in spite of anticipated increases in dose allotments — is ready to open the floodgates when some more vulnerable Texans have still not been vaccinated.

“From the community consciousness, the response was, ‘But we haven’t served all our vulnerable people yet. What are we going to do about that?’” said Colleen Bridger, San Antonio’s assistant city manager and former health director.

Texas officials and some of the state’s top medical experts say the priority is still vaccinating the most vulnerable residents — a group of roughly 12 million to 14 million people. But with more vaccines coming in[6] and some rural areas seeing fewer people in the early eligibility groups signing up for shots, the overall strategy is beginning to shift to vaccinating as many people as possible to stem spread of the coronavirus.

The move by the state to open eligibility triggered efforts in some cities to preemptively increase options for those who might fall through the cracks in the crush of newly eligible recipients.

In San Antonio, city officials opened up three weeks’ worth of appointments last week — about 30,000 — at the Alamodome while the eligibility requirements still restricted access, Bridger said. They were all filled immediately, she said.

Texas is showing significant progress in its fight against the pandemic, with deaths and hospitalizations down, signaling that the vaccines are working and that it’s time to broaden the base of people who are being inoculated, said Imelda Garcia, associate state health commissioner.

More doses are coming in and people are being vaccinated at a quicker rate, she said. Some 60% of Texans 65 or older have received at least one dose, she said.

“Quite a few things have come together to make this the right time to open up vaccine eligibility,” Garcia said.

The need to vaccinate as many people as possible should be balanced against the need to increase access to communities of color and other vulnerable groups, said Cesar Arias, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.

But with the emergence of fast-spreading virus variants, combined with the recent relaxing of statewide pandemic restrictions, the threat of what federal health officials called a potential “fourth wave” still looms in Texas, making mass vaccination all the more critical, experts said.

“There is even more urgency in Texas now to get people vaccinated as soon as possible, because my sense is that people are relaxing[7],” Arias said. “Infections are still going and are at a very high pace and not going to disappear. I’m actually worried that we will have an increase, and eventually more deaths.”

In Hidalgo County, where some 93% of residents are Hispanic and have been disproportionately hurt by the coronavirus, public health officials celebrated the news that more of their residents would be able to get vaccinated.

“We’ve always had a lot of demand for it, and there’s still a high demand,” said Eddie Olivarez, chief administrative officer for Hidalgo County Health and Human Services. “A lot of people have been very patiently waiting to get to this point. And here, we have an opportunity to serve as many as we can.”

Barriers

Those affected most by the pandemic and by the uneven access to the vaccine are people of color[8], those with disabilities and those in lower-income jobs. The barriers don’t go away because more people are eligible, said Crystal Maher, who works in an Austin-area restaurant and is a member of the leadership committee for the national Restaurant Organizing Project.

The barriers to access can include lack of reliable internet, financial struggles or lack of work flexibility that prevent people from being able to spend time finding an appointment or driving distances to get them.

For people in public-facing jobs like the service industry, whom Maher said should have been prioritized early, the barriers only got tougher after Gov. Greg Abbott[9] threw open the doors.

“Who are you to say that we’re essential for a whole year and then tell us we’re not essential enough to get the vaccine?” Maher said. “We weren’t prioritized when we should have been, and now we’re in the general population. More of our customers are vaccinated than we are. That’s scary, and that’s because they have access and privilege.”

The state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, which is in charge of who gets priority for the vaccine, grappled for months over the question of who should be eligible amid pressure from several groups, said Carrie Kroll, advocacy director for the Texas Hospital Association and an ad hoc member of the panel.

The panel elected to start with health care workers because they were the most exposed and were needed to keep the medical infrastructure going. Then the panel decided to focus on older age and medical vulnerability because the science showed they were more likely to suffer, die or overburden the health care system if they got the virus, she said.

“It really is hard if you are going to try and put a value on someone’s job,” Kroll said. “If they are the cashier at H-E-B or they are a person in charge with keeping the electrical grid running — they all have essential functions. At the end of the day it’s hard to assign value to one of them over another.”

Demand high in big cities

Providers in some areas are beginning to report drops in demand for the vaccine, occasionally even reporting surpluses when there aren’t enough locals in the early priority groups asking for shots, said Garcia, who chairs the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel.

The state is allowing the transfer of extra doses to providers with waiting lists, she said.

State health officials said they aren’t automatically shifting surpluses, which are reported mostly in rural areas, to more needy areas because they want to keep the momentum going in areas where high percentages of people are being vaccinated.

“The advantage is that providers around the state can continue to vaccinate people in their areas,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “We didn’t want to pull vaccine from all rural areas, for example, and make everyone there wait while vaccination continued in the cities.”

In spite of issues experienced by rural residents like White, the strain on supply seems to be more of an issue in larger cities like Austin, where population size and demand can bog down waiting lists and make it difficult to find an open slot, and where there are more people of color who have been harder hit by the pandemic. Cities have responded to issues of vaccine inequality by prioritizing[10] vulnerable Texans and Black and Hispanic residents.

In Harris and Bexar counties, large vaccine hubs are injecting thousands of Texans a day with the vaccine — but still face the daunting prospect of needing to administer millions of shots in order to get the majority of their residents inoculated.

Bridger said the San Antonio’s hub at the Alamodome has been operating at full capacity with 10,000 appointments per week and 200 volunteers per day, and the demand is still “overwhelming.”

Some 60% of the county’s 65 and older population has gotten at least one dose, she said.

“It seems like [demand] is more of a big-city problem,” Bridger said. “Other smaller, rural communities have had no trouble vaccinating all of the people who want to be vaccinated, and I think it makes sense for them to open up. But with 2 million people to vaccinate, we still have a ways to go.”

At Travis County’s public health sign-up, which doesn’t cover pharmacy appointments or private providers, nearly half a million people are on the waiting list — and only half of them fall under the early priority groups, a spokesperson with Austin Public Health said.

That makes for stiff competition for Bee Cave resident Teresa Autry, 69, who has qualified since December but still hasn’t found an open appointment.

“When I woke up at 6 a.m. and tried to get online and it wouldn’t even open, then I know that there’s going to be a glut of [requests],” Autry said. “And what are they doing to do? Run out of serum again? I don’t know.”

Austin resident Jose Martinez, 35, said he was waiting to “do the right thing” and sign up when he became eligible Monday, even though “everybody else I know has already gotten the shot.”

But he’s glad he can now make an appointment with a clear conscience[11] and finally take the honeymoon he and his new wife were supposed to take a year ago.

“I’m sure by the summer it’ll be much easier, as I think the people who really want it are going to be the first people to sign up,” said Martinez, who works at a local health care association. “I think the demand will taper off a little bit.”

Marissa Martinez contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The UTHealth School of Public Health, the Texas Hospital Association and H-E-B have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here[12].

References

  1. ^ Sign up for The Brief (www.texastribune.org)
  2. ^ dozen (abcnews.go.com)
  3. ^ relax eligibility restrictions for the vaccine (www.texastribune.org)
  4. ^ open up availability to adults and some teens (www.texastribune.org)
  5. ^ demand still far outpaces supply (tabexternal.dshs.texas.gov)
  6. ^ more vaccines coming in (www.texastribune.org)
  7. ^ people are relaxing (www.texastribune.org)
  8. ^ uneven access to the vaccine are people of color (www.texastribune.org)
  9. ^ Greg Abbott (www.texastribune.org)
  10. ^ prioritizing (www.texastribune.org)
  11. ^ clear conscience (www.texastribune.org)
  12. ^ here (www.texastribune.org)

Karen Brooks Harper

Pep Guardiola calls Man City 'lucky' in West Ham win as Man Utd gap widens and title nears

Pep Guardiola calls Man City 'lucky' in West Ham win as Man Utd gap widens and title nears
Pep Guardiola felt his Manchester City players were “lucky” to get all three points as they made it a remarkable 20 consecutive wins across all competitions by overcoming a resilient West Ham at the Etihad on Saturday afternoon.
Goals from centre-backs Ruben Dias and John Stones gave the Citizens the full three points after Michail Antonio had levelled for the Hammers in the first half.

West Ham were stubborn opposition but City eventually found a way through to continue an astonishing winning run that puts them 13 points clear of second-placed Manchester United, who play Chelsea on Sunday.

Only Real Madrid (22 wins in 2014) and Bayern Munich (23 wins in 2020) have endured a longer winning run across Europe’s top leagues.

If they manage a draw or a victory against Wolves on Tuesday, City will match their best-ever undefeated streak under two-time Premier League-winning boss Guardiola.

Winning a third crown in four seasons seems an inevitability as City also chase success in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League to go with domestic glory.

But while they managed an impressive victory against a threatening West Ham team, Guardiola declared his side were “lucky” given how well the visitors played.

Speaking to BT Sport, the Catalan said: “Definitely [as tough as I expected]. First of all the quality of the opponent after 26 fixtures, they’re fourth in the table, so it means a lot [to beat them].

“The physicality is really impressive and now I think they have the quality to play with [Jesse] Lingard and [Pablo] Fornals and Antonio is always so difficult to control.

“After 10 or 15 minutes we said, ‘OK we’re not going to paint something beautiful. Today’s the game to take the three points.’

“In the second half we were much better than the first half, when we struggled.

“That’s the reality. When you play a lot of games in an unbeaten run and after a Champions League game, with just two days [of rest], it’s normal these kind of things happen.

“When you have a lot of clean sheets, that is unusual. The usual is that sometimes you concede a goal against these teams.

“They run perfectly in counter-attacks, Declan Rice and Soucek are fantastic holding midfielders. A real, real tough game. We knew it before.

“We were lucky, we were lucky for the players to take the three points.”

After eight games, City had only 12 points having suffered three draws and two defeats.

There was talk in the aftermath of the 2-0 loss to Tottenham in November that this City team needed a rebuild.

But since then they are 27 unbeaten across all competitions and have built a lead at the top of the table that seems uncatchable.

They are able to clinch 98 points if they win their final 12 matches, having claimed 100 points and then 98 in their two title-winning 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

Guardiola added of his side’s turnaround this term: “It’s not bad! After 12 or 13 years, that [statistic about the poor start] means the previous ones were so good.

“The season is too long – we cannot judge for a few games like we are not going to judge it until the end of the season. The mathematics matter at the end of the season.”

After taking on Wolves at the Etihad in midweek, City welcome rivals United to their home stadium knowing a win there would all but certainly wrap up the title, even if not mathematically.

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