The acutely-ill Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being flown from Siberia to Germany for treatment.
He fell into a coma after drinking what his supporters suspect was poisoned tea; they accuse the authorities of trying to conceal a crime.
Doctors treating him in Omsk had insisted on Friday that he was too ill to be moved.
But they later said his condition was stable enough for the flight. His wife Yulia is travelling with him.
A medical evacuation flight, paid for by the German NGO Cinema for Peace, is taking Mr Navalny to Berlin, where he will be treated at the Charité hospital.
“Alexei’s plane has taken off for Berlin,” his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh tweeted on Saturday morning. “Massive thanks to everyone for their support. The struggle for Alexei’s life and health is just beginning,”
Ms Yarmysh earlier said it was a pity doctors had taken so long to approve his flight as the plane and the right documents had been ready since Friday morning.
Mr Navalny fell ill during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on Thursday, and his plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. A photograph on social media purported to show him drinking from a cup at a Tomsk airport cafe before the flight. His team suspects a poisonous substance was put in his tea.
Disturbing video appeared to show a stricken Mr Navalny howling in agony on the flight. Passenger Pavel Lebedev said he heard the activist “screaming in pain”.
What the doctors said on Friday
The head doctor at the hospital where Mr Navalny was being treated in Omsk, Alexander Murakhovsky, warned late on Friday that doctors did not recommend flying, “but his wife insists on her husband being transferred to a German clinic”.
“The patient’s condition is stable,” deputy chief doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Mr Navalny is in an induced coma, and his condition is reported to be stable.
“As we’re in possession of a request from relatives to permit him to be transported somewhere, we have now taken the decision that we do not object to his transfer to another in-patient facility,” Dr Kalinichenko said.
Doctors said earlier that no poison had been found in his body, suggesting his condition might be the result of a “metabolic disorder” caused by low blood sugar.
Health officials then indicated that traces of an industrial chemical had been found on his skin and hair. The local interior ministry told the Rapsi legal news agency that the chemical was usually included in polymers to improve their elasticity, but its concentration was impossible to establish.
The prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin has consistently exposed official corruption in Russia. He has served multiple jail terms.
What do Mr Navalny’s supporters say?
At a news conference in Berlin, Mr Navalny’s aide Leonid Volkov said at first doctors at the hospital had been helping to facilitate his transfer but abruptly stopped doing so.
“[It was] like something was switched off – like medicine mode off, cover-up operation mode on – and the doctors refused to co-operate any more, refused to give any information even to Alexei’s wife,” he said.
“The doctors who were helping to do the paperwork to make the transportation of Alexei to Charité possible started to say that he’s not any more transportable, he’s not any more stable, contradicting themselves.”
The Cinema for Peace Foundation was founded by activist and filmmaker Jaka Bizilj. In 2018, it arranged for the treatment of Pyotr Verzilov – an activist with Russian protest group Pussy Riot – who had symptoms of poisoning.
Mr Verzilov’s ex-wife, activist Nadya Tolokonnikova, told BBC News that Mr Navalny’s condition resembles the “poisoning” of her ex-husband.
“What German doctors told me after not finding poison in my ex-husband’s blood is that the poison disappears in three days. So the Russian doctors only let him go when they were sure there was no traces of poison left,” she explained.
She also expressed surprise about what has happened to Mr Navalny: “I thought Alexei was so powerful as a political figure that Mr Putin would not interfere.”
Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia wrote to President Putin asking him to allow her husband to be moved. She feared the Russian authorities were stalling so that evidence of any chemical substance would be lost.
Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that the Kremlin would help move Mr Navalny abroad if necessary and wished him a “speedy recovery”. On Friday he said it was purely a medical decision.
Foreign leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron have expressed concern for Mr Navalny. In the US, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has described the incident as “unacceptable” and vowed that, if elected, he would “stand up to autocrats like Putin”.
Timeline: Navalny targeted
April 2017: He was taken to hospital after an antiseptic green dye was splashed on his face in Moscow. It was the second time he was targeted with zelyonka (“brilliant green” in English) that year. “It looks funny but it hurts like hell,” he tweeted following the attack.
July 2019: He was sentenced to 30 days in prison after calling for unauthorised protests. He fell ill in jail and doctors said he had suffered an acute allergic reaction, diagnosing him with “contact dermatitis”. His own doctor suggested he might have been exposed to “some toxic agent” and Mr Navalny said he thought he might have been poisoned.
December 2019: Russian security forces raided the offices of his Anti-Corruption Foundation, taking laptops and other equipment. CCTV footage showed officials using power tools to get through the door. Earlier that year, his organisation was declared a “foreign agent”.
Sports Stars, Actors And “High-Value” Business Travellers Returning To England Will No Longer Have To Self-Isolate
2 min read
Grant Shapps has revealed “high-value” business travellers are part of a new group of people who will not have to quarantine when they return to England after traveling to countries outside of coronavirus travel corridors.
The transport secretary said recently signed sports stars, performing arts professionals, TV production staff and journalists will also be exempt from the 14-day self-isolation period even if they have visited a destination where people are required to quarantine on return.
The move, which will come into force from 4am on Saturday, was recommended by the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce, which warned that business travel would be particularly slow to recover.
Announcing the news on Twitter, Mr Shapps wrote: “New Business Traveller exemption: From 4am on Sat 5th Dec high-value business travellers will no longer need to self-isolate when returning to ENGLAND from a country NOT in a travel corridor, allowing more travel to support the economy and jobs. Conditions apply.
“From 4am on Sat 5th Dec certain performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists and recently signed elite sportspersons will also be exempt, subject to specific criteria being met.”
New Business Traveller exemption: From 4am on Sat 5th Dec high-value business travellers💼will no longer need to self-isolate when returning to ENGLAND from a country NOT in a travel corridor, allowing more travel to support the economy and jobs. Conditions apply.
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 3, 2020
The news follows the government’s ‘Test to Release’ plan to cut the 14-day quarantine period to five days .
It means anyone arriving in the UK from a high-risk destination after 15 December will be able to leave isolation if they pay for a Covid-19 test after the fifth day and it comes back negative.
But as most inbound business travellers spend fewer than three days here that policy was unlikely to help revive this type of travel, which accounted for 22% of inbound visits a year before the pandemic, and contributed £4.5billion to the UK economy.
The department for transport has also revealed a “high-value” business trip must be one that “creates or preserves 50+ UK jobs”, but further guidance will be revealed before the plan comes into force.
In a statement it said: “Public Health England do not anticipate these changes will raise the risk of domestic transmission, due to the protocols being put in place around these exemptions, however all exemptions will remain under review.”
Mr Shapps also confirmed this evening that no destinations have been added or removed from the UK’s existing travel corridors list.
Covid: Are countries under pressure to approve a vaccine?
The claim that Brexit allowed the UK to approve the vaccine faster than other European countries has been disproved but it does reflect once again a different path Britain is taking. All EU countries have the option to follow the UK example and let their domestic drug regulator issue emergency approval, but the bloc says it wants to wait for the European Medicines Agency to give the green light on all their behalf. Germany, backed by Denmark and others, believes this maximises safety, allows a co-ordinated rollout, boosts public trust in the vaccine and ensures no country is left behind.
US bill that could remove Chinese firms from stock exchanges is now on Trump’s desk
The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would prevent companies that refuse to open their books to US accounting regulators from trading on US stock exchanges. The legislation won unanimous backing in the Senate earlier this year, meaning it only needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become law.
The bill would apply to any foreign company, but the focus on China is obvious. Beijing has resisted such scrutiny. It requires companies that are traded overseas to hold their audit papers in mainland China, where they cannot be examined by foreign agencies. All US-listed public companies would also be required to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government, including China’s Communist party.
“Enactment of any of such legislations or other efforts to increase US regulatory access to audit information could cause investor uncertainty for affected issuers, including us, the market price of our [US shares] could be adversely affected, and we could be delisted if we are unable” to meet requirements in time, JD said in filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Beijing has made its dissatisfaction with the US legislation evident. Asked Wednesday about the House vote, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said “we firmly oppose politicizing securities regulation.”
“We hope the US side can provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies to invest and operate in the US, instead of trying to set up various barriers,” Hua told reporters.
Should the bill become law, its immediate consequences aren’t entirely clear. Analysts at Goldman Sachs pointed out in a research note earlier this year that the legislation would only force businesses to de-list if they could not be audited for three consecutive years.
Still, even the potential for tighter regulatory scrutiny was likely to push more companies to dual list in Hong Kong, the analysts added.
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