Colors: Blue Color

As one of the millions of slaves who were dragged away from their African homeland, the story of Anton Wilhelm Amo, who hailed from Axim in the Western region of Ghana, is one to behold.

From leaving the golden shores in 1730, records show that he was taken to Amsterdam, in The Netherlands, by a preacher who was working in Ghana to serve the Dutch West Indies Company. He was later given out as a 'gift’ to Dukes August Wilhelm and Ludwig Rudolf von Wolfenbüttel in Germany as a child-slave, where he served as an ‘errand boy’ in the Prussian court in Germany. He was, however, also baptised before being affirmed in the Duke’s palace chapel and began to be treated as a member of the Duke’s family.

Following his experience there, Wilhelm Amo was allowed to study in the Halle and Jena Universities and became Germany's first Black philosopher and writer, having entered the Law School where he completed his preliminary studies within two years. Following that, two years later, he received what was a doctorate in philosophy from Germany’s University of Wittenberg and during his study; it is believed that he became the first African-born student to attend a European university. He also found time to master seven languages during his lifetime.

Amo published work across a variety of disciplines; from philosophy to psychology, and he also established himself as a highly-regarded enlightenment thinker as he became notable to be one of the most respected Black philosophers in the 18th century who also fought for the abolishing of slavery. His unrelenting opposition led to his decision to return to his homeland where he remained until his death.

During this year’s International Migrants Day, David Tette, a senior programme coordinator at the PME Ghana, said: “Anton Wilhelm Amo set the pace for most us to go outside overseas, acquired knowledge, then come back home with what we have learnt and used it to better us and ours here in Ghana.

“There are many other people who also did the same by coming back to contribute to national development.”

During the past October Google honoured Anton Wilhelm Amo with a doodle on its website illustrated by Berlin-based guest artist Diana Ejaita to celebrate the Ghanaian-German philosopher, academic and writer.

Born in 1703, Anton Wilhelm Amo left Ghana in 1730.

At age four, the story of his life began, not on a good note, but little did he know it will lead to something great.


A report says China will overtake the US to become the world's largest economy by 2028, five years earlier than previously forecast. The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said China's "skilful" management of Covid-19 would boost its relative growth compared to the US and Europe in coming years. Meanwhile India is tipped to become the third largest economy by 2030.

The CEBR releases its economic league table every year and although China was the first country hit by Covid-19, it controlled the disease through swift and extremely strict action, meaning it did not need to repeat economically paralysing lockdowns as European countries have done. As a result, unlike other major economies, it has avoided an economic recession in 2020 and is in fact estimated to see growth of 2% this year.

The US economy, by contrast, has been hit hard by the world's worst coronavirus epidemic in terms of sheer numbers. More than 330,000 people have died in the US and there have been some 18.5 million confirmed cases. The economic damage has been cushioned by monetary policy and a huge fiscal stimulus, but political disagreements over a new stimulus package could leave around 14 million Americans without unemployment benefit payments in the new year.

"For some time, an overarching theme of global economics has been the economic and soft power struggle between the United States and China," says the CEBR report. "The Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic fallout have certainly tipped this rivalry in China's favour." The report says that after "a strong post-pandemic rebound in 2021", the US economy will grow by about 1.9% annually from 2022-24 and then slow to 1.6% in the years after that.

By contrast the Chinese economy is tipped to grow by 5.7% annually until 2025, and 4.5% annually from 2026-2030. China's share of the world economy has risen from just 3.6% in 2000 to 17.8% now and the country will become a "high-income economy" by 2023, the report says.

The Chinese economy is not only benefitting from having controlled Covid-19 early, but also aggressive policymaking targeting industries like advanced manufacturing, said CEBR deputy chairman Douglas McWilliams. He said: "They seem to be trying to have centralised control at one level, but quite a free market economy in other areas. And it's the free market bit that's helping them move forward particularly in areas like tech."

But the average Chinese person will remain far poorer in financial terms than the average American even after China becomes the world's biggest economy, given that China's population is four times bigger.

More than 40 countries have banned UK arrivals because of concerns about the spread of a new variant of coronavirus. Flights from the UK are being suspended to countries across the world including Spain, India and Hong Kong.

Boris Johnson said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and both sides wanted to resolve "these problems as fast as possible". The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference: "We had a very good call and we both understand each other's positions."

Mr Johnson, who earlier chaired a meeting of the government's emergency committee, added: "We are working with our friends across the Channel to unblock the flow of trade."

European Union member states met earlier in Brussels to discuss a coordinated response, with officials suggesting a requirement for tests could be imposed on all people arriving from the UK. Eurotunnel services to France are also suspended and Eurostar trains to Belgium are not operating.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that the new variant of the virus - which may be up to 70% more transmissible - is "getting out of control". The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England, but health officials say there is no evidence that it is more deadly or would react differently to vaccines.

The only journey they're being told to make is to the back of the ever-growing queue that makes up Operation Stack. That will mean spending tonight, and all day tomorrow in their cabs - when all they want to do is get back home. It's a depressing situation in the run-up to Christmas. And if France does insist that all drivers need to be tested before being allowed to cross the Channel, it's likely some won't make it back before the big day.

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has described a never-before-attempted musical feat as “uplifting and a powerful testament to the Commonwealth’s resilience”. The recently released ‘Simple Gifts’ soundtrack under the United Commonwealth COVID Music Project, features a collaboration of musicians, each representing a Commonwealth country.

The Secretary-General said: “Strings, woodwind, brass, percussion and the enchanting sound of the human voice of all ages, arranged in one powerful performance to the backdrop of the Commonwealth’s villages, cities and coastlines.

“It is a true reflection of the iridescent spectrum of our multidimensional, multicultural Commonwealth.” She added: “As parts of the world descend into lockdown, as we face the heart-wrenching moments of saying goodbye to loved ones, as economic turmoil and uncertainty become our new norm, this video will hopefully lift our spirits and inspire hope for a bright 2021.

“This project reminds us that we are not alone and that whatever we face, we face as a family, rich in talent and innovation. It reminds us that we have all the tools to build back better.” The Secretary-General pointed out the importance of considering the arts in COVID-19 recovery strategies. She said: “It is not just about employment prospects and developing human capital, it is also about mental health and other health benefits.

“Research suggests that involvement in art or music not only raises morale, promotes a sense of community and improves personal resilience, but also has a measurable impact on stress levels and benefits the immune system.” 

Delivered in partnership with a professional music group, Dionysus Ensemble, the project harnesses the power of music to lift spirits, improve mental health and encourage international camaraderie, as countries tackle the challenges of the pandemic. Project Leader and ​Artistic Director of​ The Dionysus Ensemble, Léonie Adams, ​connected with high commissioners, musicians and participants to put together the inspiring soundtrack.

She said: “When I first listened to the finished project, the hair on the back of my ​neck stood up. It has been an amazing, exciting journey from Africa, to the Caribbean, to Asia to the Pacific, the Americas and right back here to the UK where I reside.

"It has been great to connect with people from all walks of life all over the world putting this together. It has been an incredible chance to share some joy and to create the most extraordinary network across the Commonwealth in a year when musicians' livelihoods everywhere have been hard hit.”

The Dionysus Ensemble is the Ensemble-in-Residence for the Commonwealth Resounds - the accredited music organisation within the Commonwealth.

With some of the most populous countries across Africa seeing increases in Covid-19 cases, there've been concerns that the continent is facing another spike in infections. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has talked of a "second wave" arriving.

And there's evidence that a new variant of coronavirus in South Africa may be driving increases there. Cases have been rising gradually since late September, according to data from both the Africa CDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Looking at new weekly cases in the month up to December 133, they have gone up by an average of 6.1% each week. But there are significant variations across the continent, with some countries seeing small or localised spikes, others witnessing more sustained increases and some not yet past an initial rise in cases. South Africa now accounts for more than 60% of daily new cases detected in sub-Saharan Africa. After a decline in reported cases for four months, the government is now talking of a second wave.

The country's health ministry says most of the new infections have been amongst those aged between 15 and 19 years. This is believed to be due to a large number of big celebrations in recent weeks, some of them held to mark the end of exams and of the academic year. Four provinces - Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng Province - are the ones most affected by the resurgence in cases.

Covid-related deaths in South Africa have increased by 19% in the four weeks up to December 6, leading the government to introduce new restrictions. Evidence has also emerged that the rise in infections is being driven by a new variant of coronavirus detected in South Africa earlier in December.

It shares some of the same mutations as a variant in the UK, but appears unrelated.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said that it had been particularly noticeable in those provinces which have seen large rises in case numbers.

South African scientists are still investigating exactly how infectious this variant might be.

In the weeks up to early December, the biggest rates of increase were mainly in north Africa, where temperatures have been falling as winter approaches. Morocco saw the largest increase in numbers of new cases on the continent - although cases there are now on a downward trend. Over the past four weeks, there have also been sustained increases in daily cases in Nigeria, Egypt, DR Congo and Uganda.

Cases had also been rising in Kenya and Ethiopia, although the increases have tailed off in those countries more recently. Africa CDC's John Nkengasong says that "clearly, the second wave is here." According to him, there have been three main trajectories in African countries:

·         Those that never flattened the curve, or had low case numbers until August when they rose significantly

·         Those that flattened the curve after cases peaked in July, but are now seeing another rise in numbers

·         Those that have had a sustained decline in cases over time (after an initial rise)

"As we speak now, we have seen the numbers increase steadily to a point that my speculation is that by January or February, we will be where we were at the peak of this pandemic in July," he warns.

The reported death rate per capita on the continent has been low compared with other parts of the world, despite the weak health infrastructure in many African countries.

There could be a number of reasons for this:

·         The relatively young population - more than 60% are under the age of 25

·         Experience in epidemic control from tackling other diseases

·         Cross-immunity from other coronaviruses

·         Low rates of travel and more outdoor living might also help

But there are also issues - as elsewhere in the world - over how countries record deaths, making comparisons between them difficult.

Research earlier this year from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) looking at excess deaths indicated that the number of people who had died from the virus could have been underestimated.

The WHO says the testing level in Africa is still low compared to other regions. Ten countries account for about 70% of the total tests conducted - South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda and Ghana.

There are wide variations in testing rates and while some countries have reduced testing, others have maintained or even increased it. Of the bigger countries, South Africa has been doing the most and Nigeria doing relatively few tests per capita, according to Our World in Data, a UK-based project which collates Covid-19 information.

However in some countries there are insufficient or no data available on testing to know how much is being done.

An increasing number of European Union nations barred travel from the U.K. on Sunday and others were considering similar action, such as Spain, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading to the continent. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on U.K. travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be cancelled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

France banned all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday, including trucks carrying freight through the tunnel under the English Channel or from the port of Dover on England’s south coast. French officials said the pause would buy time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat, but it threw the busy cross-channel route used by thousands of trucks a day into chaos.

The Port of Dover tweeted Sunday night that its ferry terminal was “closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France.”

Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were also halted.

Germany said all flights coming from Britain, except cargo flights, were no longer allowed to land starting midnight Sunday. It didn’t immediately say how long the flight ban would last.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution.” “There are a great many questions about this new mutation,” he said, adding he hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday.

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called a special crisis meeting on Monday to coordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year. Ireland issued a 48-hour flight ban. Italy said it would block flights from the U.K. until Jan.6, and an order signed Sunday prohibits entry into Italy by anyone who has been in the U.K. in the last 14 days. The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain.

Beyond Europe, Israel also said it was banning flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa because those were the countries where the mutation is found. The World Health Organization tweeted late Saturday that it was “in close contact with U.K. officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant” and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned.

The new strain was identified in southeastern England in September and has been spreading in the area ever since, a WHO official said. “What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.

Studies are underway to better understand how fast it spreads and and whether “it’s related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behavior,” she added.

She said the strain had also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that didn’t spread further.

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands of different mutations among samples of the virus causing COVID-19. Many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.

British health authorities said that while the variant has been circulating since September, it wasn’t until the last week that officials felt they had enough evidence to declare that it has higher transmissibility than other circulating coronaviruses.


Ghana is set to have a hung parliament next year after the opposition won the outstanding Sene West constituency in the central part of the country. The vote count was delayed because of a dispute. Both the ruling party and the opposition now have 137 seats each -plus there is one independent MP - making up a total of 275 MPs in Ghana's parliament. This could pose a serious challenge to President Akufo-Addo's second term.

He was declared winner of the elections, in December, but lost the 60% parliamentary majority he had in his first term. Even though the sole independent MP has pledged his support to the ruling party, the laws of the country require that a greater proportion of ministers be appointed from parliament.

This means a number of the ruling party MPs doubling as ministers may not be in parliament at all time to push through, bills, proposals and contracts submitted for approval. Experts have said that a hung parliament will ensure an effective oversight role of the legislature but could also stall government programmes and policies especially if the opposition decides to frustrate the government.

A hung parliament will complicate Akufo-Addo’s efforts to act decisively to restore an economy hurt by the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. The global health crisis has driven Ghana’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product to 71% in September, the highest in four years. Before the crisis, Africa’s biggest gold producer was already under fiscal pressure due to the costs of cleaning up the banking sector and energy-sector liabilities.

Kobi Annan, an analyst at the U.K./Ghana-based Songhai Advisory, said: “The NDC will have power that no opposition party has had under the fourth republic: an opposition that can veto what they want.”

The NDC is building up a case to challenge the outcome of both the presidential and parliamentary elections, where it said it got a working majority of 140 seats, instead of the 137 it’s been awarded.

In an effort to come up with solid strategies for the quick recovery of Caribbean economies, so devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of experts and boldface names from the Caribbean travel industry gathered virtually on Friday in a forum hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC).

The one-day event entitled ‘Tourism: The Key to the Caribbean’s Economic Recovery’ brought together public and private sector leaders, the international tourism development community, members of civil society and the media in a bid to pinpoint lessons learned from the pandemic and address how the Caribbean can harness the economic power of tourism to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and rekindle the region’s economies.

Participants agreed that the main principles for tourism recovery in the Caribbean should contemplate the need to provide liquidity and protect jobs, the recovery of confidence through safety and security, as well as collaboration between the public and private sectors in order to guarantee the efficient reopening of the travel destinations.

The experts also believe that borders must be opened in a responsible way by harmonizing and coordinating protocols and procedures, couple with the application of new technologies and the added values of innovation and sustainability as part of the new normal. Michel Julian, senior program officer with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said that international tourist arrivals worldwide plummeted a staggering 70% between January and August 2020, meaning 700 million less travelers and $730 billion in losses in that same span of time. 

According to the UNWTO, the travel and tourism industry has lost eight times more money to the Covid 19 pandemic than in the 2009 global economic crisis. One of the most gripping presentations during the virtual forum was delievered by Virginia Messina, managing director of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), who shed light on how hard the ongoing pandemic has hit the Caribbean region’s economy in the course of 2020.

The numbers she presented can’t be any bleaker. The Caribbean has lost 1.7 million tourism-related jobs so far and that figure could peak 1.9 million jobs if the current situation fails to improve. The region’s combined GDP has dropped 62% in 2020, with total losses in the neighbourhood of $36 billion. International tourist arrivals plunged by 60% this year and could skirt around 70% would the pandemic get worse. 

For his part, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, also referred to seamlessness as one key factor to this process. He underscored the need for the Caribbean region to rationalize and simplify visas, air connections and travel. 

Lisa Cummins, Minister of Tourism of Barbados and CTO chairwoman, voiced her concern on the fact that ongoing plans for the unification of rules in the Caribbean is simply not working since CARICOM member states have not reached an agreement on entry and quarantine rules and requirements. She also said the CTO must work diligently, in the short run, in subsidizing wages of tourism workers, in boosting digitization, updating skills of the existing workforce and relying on green energy and resilience.

As an extra goal for the future, the need to integrate destinations and turning them into one big destination Caribbean travel experience remains in the offing.

London will move into England’s highest tier of Covid restrictions from tomorrow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said. Parts of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire will also enter tier three at the same time.

new variant of coronavirus has been identified that "may be associated" with the faster spread in southern England, Mr Hancock added. Pubs and restaurants in tier three must close except for takeaway and delivery.

Also under the rules, sports fans cannot attend events in stadiums, and indoor entertainment venues - such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas - must remain shut.

The health secretary told a Downing Street briefing that action had to be taken immediately - before the next scheduled review of England's three-tier system tomorrow - to slow "sharp, exponential rises" in infection, adding that in some areas the virus was doubling around every seven days.

Speaking alongside Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, and Prof Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, Mr Hancock warned that hospitals across the capital, Essex and Kent were already "under pressure". He described the rise in transmission and the new variant as "a salutary warning for the whole country".

"This isn't over yet," he said.

With Kent, Medway and Slough already under tier three rules, it means large parts of south-east England will soon join much of the Midlands, north-west England and north-east England under the strictest curbs on social contacts.

More than 34 million people in England will be in tier three when the changes come into effect; 21.5 million in tier two; and about 700,000 in tier one.

The latest tier three areas include:

·         Greater London

·         The south and west of Essex (Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford, along with Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea borough councils)

·         And the south of Hertfordshire (Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority)

Prof Whitty warned cases in some areas could rise "very rapidly" by Christmas - without action to combat the current doubling rate. But he stressed it was "possible to turn this around with the tools we have", highlighting how areas such as Liverpool have successfully brought infection rates down.

Prof Fenton said it was a "pivotal moment" for London and parts of south-east England, which was why the government had had to take "quick and decisive action". Asked whether the government should rethink plans to ease some restrictions for Christmas, Mr Hancock said "it's important everyone is cautious" ahead of the festive period, especially when meeting vulnerable people.

"But we do understand why people do want to get together with their families," he said. Prof Whitty echoed his remarks, adding that people need to be conscious of the fact that the vaccine is "not going to give us a way out between now and Christmas or indeed for the two months following that".

On the new variant, which is being tested at Porton Down, Prof Whitty said it would be "pretty surprising" if it were to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. Earlier, Hancock told MPs there was "currently nothing to suggest" that the new variant was more likely to cause serious disease and advice was that it's "highly unlikely" the mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said "none of us are surprised" at the action the health secretary is taking, but warned the country was "heading into the Christmas easing with diminishing headroom". Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan described the announcement as "incredibly disappointing" for businesses, but said it was clear the virus was "accelerating in the wrong direction" and urged all Londoners to follow the rules.

Essex County Council leader David Finch said local leaders would lobby the government for support "during this very challenging time", and Hertfordshire County Council's leader, David Williams, called for residents to "stay disciplined and stick to the guidance". Sectors hit hard by the fresh restrictions expressed anger over the decision.

The director of the Theatres Trust said London's theatres would face "disaster" under the stricter rules, while business owners in the capital said it would "be a ghost town".

Kate Nicholls, of trade body UKHospitality, said the move places an "unfair, illogical and disproportionate burden on hospitality businesses without effectively tackling Covid". And Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the move into tier three was "another nail in the coffin for London's pubs, as well as those affected in parts of Hertfordshire and Essex".

There was also disappointment that sporting events in London would no longer be able to welcome fans.

An MP in an earlier briefing from Mr Hancock said they were told that the next review of the tier system would be on December 23.

Thousands of people drove to the Indian Consulate in Birmingham to show support for farmers in India protesting about agricultural reforms. Despite the city being under tier three rules, people from across England have been taking part a week after a similar gathering in London.

The National Sikh Police Association UK advised people not to attend.

Arjan Singh, from Manchester, said people wanted to show the Indian government the reforms were unfair. Protests in India have seen more than 250 million workers go on strike.

"Everyone has come together as these reforms are very detrimental to farmers and only serve corporate interests which will leave the farmers with nothing," Mr Singh, 37, a company director from Bramall, said. "I feel very proud to be here... it's happened in London, Canada and America and it's a domino effect from India and we're trying to make the government see what's happening and that something's got to change."

The Kisaan Car Rally started at Guru Har Rai Gurdwara in West Bromwich, in the West Midlands, with participators driving to the consulate.

The National Sikh Police Association UK advised people not to attend because of the tier three restrictions and warned people if they did, to stay in their cars or potentially face enforcement action. Some smoke devices were let off in Sandwell as part of the rally, West Midlands Police said as they advised motorists to avoid the the whole of West Bromwich, Birmingham city centre and the Jewellery Quarter because of severe traffic disruption.

Jas Singh, a business consultant from Derby said he could see people in the slow-moving convoy en route to the city were adhering to social distancing if they got out of their vehicles.

"It's taken me one-and-half hours to get from Soho Road to the city centre because of the convoys," he said. "There's thousands of people here, from all ages and from around the country and they're wearing masks and very little mixing is going on - everyone is very conscious of that."

When the vehicles reached Birmingham, some people did leave their cars to gather outside the embassy in the Jewellery Quarter prompting police to say they would take "appropriate action".

"Deliberately not following the regulations and measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus is unacceptable and our officers will take the appropriate action where necessary," the force tweeted.

The UN secretary general has called on all countries to declare a climate emergency.

António Guterres was speaking at a virtual summit on the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement. He criticised rich countries for spending 50% more of their pandemic recovery cash on fossil fuels compared to low-carbon energy. Over 70 world leaders are due to speak at the meeting organised by the UK, UN and France.

Mr Guterres said that 38 countries had already declared a climate emergency and he called on leaders worldwide to now do the same. He said the emergency would only end when carbon neutrality was reached. Carbon neutrality means that emissions have been reduced as much as possible and any remaining ones are balanced by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

On the Covid recovery spending, he said that this is money being borrowed from future generations.

"We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet," he said. The secretary general praised those countries who have come to today's meeting with new targets and plans. A number of big emitters, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico, are not taking part, as their climate actions were not deemed ambitious enough.

The UK has announced an end to support for overseas fossil fuel projects, and has today deposited a new climate plan with the UN. It's the first time that Britain has had to do this, as it was previously covered by the European Union's climate commitments. The virtual gathering is taking place after the pandemic caused the postponement of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting, which had been due to take place in Glasgow this year.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the year was coming to an end with "a certain amount of scientific optimism" because "barely 12 months after the start of the pandemic, we're seeing the vaccine going into the arms of the elderly".

He added: "Together we can use scientific advances to protect our entire planet - our biosphere - against a challenge far worse, far more destructive even than the coronavirus.

“And by the promethean power of our invention, we can begin to defend the Earth against the disaster of global warming."

The UK says that today's short, action-oriented summit will put a premium on new commitments from countries. Around 70 leaders from all over the world will take part, including the Secretary General of the United Nations, and President Macron of France. Pope Francis will also address the meeting.

The UK pointed to its new commitment on overseas fossil fuel projects as well as a new carbon cutting target of 68% by 2030, announced last week by the prime minister. The EU also presented a new 2030 target of a 55% cut in emissions, agreed after all-night negotiations this week. "That is now Europe's calling card," said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. "It is the go-ahead for scaling up climate action across our economy and society."

China's President Xi Jinping reiterated a previous commitment to reach peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. He announced that China would reduce its carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by over 65% compared with 2005 levels. The country will also increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by about 25%. And President Xi pledged to increase forest cover and boost wind and solar capacity.

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, said the country's renewable energy capacity was on target to reach 175 Gigawatts by 2022, and it would aim to boost this to 450 Gigawatts by 2030. He added that India was on track to exceed the targets in the Paris Agreement.

Although President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris pact, the summit saw statements from the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, and the Democrat governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, who said the US was "all-in" on tackling climate change.

Pope Francis said the Vatican had committed to reaching net zero emissions, similar to carbon neutrality, before 2050. "The time has come to change course. Let us not rob future generations of the hope for a better future," he said.

Australia had held out the promise of not using old carbon credits to meet future cuts in emissions. But the UK felt that this didn't go far enough and the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison won't be taking part.

Russia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia won't be involved either. Some observers believe this hard line is justified.

The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG), which has been on location in Ghana observing the recent elections has today issued an interim statement calling for peace as they await full results.

The Group’s interim statement noted the voting exercise was held successfully, despite unprecedented circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results are yet to be released by the Ghana Electoral Commission but speaking on the release of the COG’s interim statement its Chair, former President of East Africa Court of Justice, Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, said: “The electoral process is yet to be concluded and the greatest test of leadership is called for now. All parties must exercise patience and restraint while Ghanaians await the announcement of full results. We urge the Ghana Electoral Commission to continue to expedite the collation of all election results, with the transparency and professionalism which they demonstrated on election day.”

The COG interim statement commended all stakeholders in the electoral process for their commitment to democracy and peace - and the maturity of President Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP and John Mahama of the NDC for signing a pact in which they reaffirmed their commitment to peace ahead of the elections.

The Group, deployed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General is led by Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, former President of East Africa Court of Justice, and included eminent persons from across the Commonwealth, supported by a six-person team from the Secretariat.

While issuing the statement in a press Conference in Accra, the Chair noted that the Group was impressed by the professionalism, confidence, and enthusiasm of polling officials, and that voting proceeded steadily with the assistance of biometric verification.

Some concerns and challenges were identified at some polling stations and they were promptly addressed by the officials.

The statement commended the transparent counting process at the polling stations and noted that officials adhered to prescribed procedures.

China's Supreme Court has hired Uganda's former Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, as a member of its expert committee on adjudication of international commercial disputes.

Justice Katureebe will sit on the committee for the next four years. He retired from Uganda's Supreme Court in June after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.

"I am profoundly excited about this appointment, for it is a high-level committee that will keep me professionally connected," he is quoted as saying in a statement tweeted by Uganda's judiciary. The expert committee, established in August 2018, is part of the China International Commercial Court (CICC) which is an organ of China's Supreme Court.

The committee is comprised of 31 leaders of international organisations, legal experts, scholars, judges and lawyers selected from different countries, the statement by Uganda's judiciary added. It mediates international commercial disputes assigned to it, provides legal opinion on foreign laws when asked and gives advice on the future of the CICC.

The Chinese embassy in Uganda has congratulated Justice Katureebe on his appointment.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inaugurated a metro project aimed at curbing the impact of air pollution on the Taj Mahal.

The rail network, in the northern city of Agra, will connect the 17th Century monument and other historic sites with railway stations and bus stops.

It's estimated the project will cost Rs 8,379.62 crore ($1.1bn; $854.2m) and take five years to complete.

The Taj Mahal is one of the world's leading tourist attractions.

It draws as many as 70,000 people a day.

Taking part in a virtual ceremony, which was broadcast on Twitter, Mr Modi said that the scheme includes 10 million houses for low-income residents. He also highlighted his government's efforts to modernise rail networks nationwide.

In 2018, India's Supreme Court criticised the government for a "failure" to protect the historic site.

During May that year, the court had instructed the government to seek foreign help to fix the "worrying change in colour" of the structure, which was built under the rule of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

The court concluded that the Taj Mahal, constructed from white marble and other materials, was turning various shades of yellow, brown and green. Pollution, construction and insect dung are said to be among the causes.

Constant cleaning required to maintain the building's original colouring has since worn away at the delicate stonework.

The first consignment of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has arrived in the UK.

It has been taken to a central hub at an undisclosed location, and will now be distributed to hospital vaccination centres around the UK. The UK has ordered 40 million doses - enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

England's deputy chief medical officer said the first wave of vaccinations could prevent up to 99% of Covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that would be possible if everyone on the first priority list took the vaccine and it was highly effective. He said it was key to distribute the vaccine "as fast" and at the "highest volume" as possible, but he acknowledged there would need to be some flexibility in the list.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are made in Belgium and have travelled to the UK via the Eurotunnel. The order in which people will get the jab is recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and decided by the government.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

However, because hospitals already have the facilities to store the vaccine at the necessary -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place there - for care home staff, NHS staff and patients - to lower the risk of wasting doses.

Prof Van-Tam said: "If we can get through phase one [of the priority list] and it is a highly effective vaccine and there is very, very high up take, then we could in theory take out 99% of hospitalisations and deaths related to Covid 19.

"That is why the phase one list is what it is, that is the primary ambition." The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, has since said that the UK was not as rigorous as the US in its Covid-19 vaccine approval process.

"The UK did not do it as carefully," he told Fox News. "If you go quickly and you do it superficially, people are not going to want to get vaccinated." But the UK has defended its process, and said the jab is safe and effective.

Dr June Raine, the head of the UK medicines regulator, said "no corners had been cut" in vetting the jab. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reviewed preliminary data on the vaccine trials dating back to June.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19.

The UK's 40 million doses will be distributed as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, with the first load rolled out next week and then "several millions" throughout December, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said. But the bulk of the roll-out across the UK will be next year.

And it could take until April for all those deemed most at-risk to receive the new vaccine, according to NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.

Suhaila Siddiq, Afghanistan's only female lieutenant general and one of a small number of women to hold a ministerial post in the country, died in hospital at the age of 72. She had Alzheimer's disease for about six years.

The country's top leaders, medical professionals and women were among those mourning her death.

Abdullah Abdullah, a former de facto prime minister and foreign minister, said her role in establishing a place for women in the fields of medicine, military and in wider society had been "commendable and undeniable".

"She was a pioneer for countless others in uniform and will continue to be an inspiration," one social media user wrote.

"Your memories and your entire life has been a true inspiration to all of us," another said.

Ms Siddiq was born in 1948 in Afghanistan's capital Kabul to a wealthy family.

She studied medicine in the city and completed her medical training in Moscow before returning to Afghanistan to work as a doctor.

Ms Siddiq first came to prominence during the Soviet era, when she was awarded the title of general by the pro-Moscow government. She soon became widely known in the country by the name "General Suhaila", and built a reputation as the country's most respected surgeon.

Her work saw her spend decades in Kabul's 400-bed military hospital, where her abdominal surgery was credited with saving hundreds of lives.

She also played a key role in keeping the hospital going in the 1990s, when rocket attacks killed and injured thousands.

Her former colleague and student Dr Yaqoob Noorzai said that she would regularly distribute her salary among the workers in need in the hospital.

"She was a serious defender of the rights of her colleagues," he said

When the Taliban took power in 1996, women's rights in Afghanistan were eroded.

During their rule, the Taliban barred women from education and employment and imposed their own austere version of Islamic laws. But months after leaving her job, Ms Siddiq said the Taliban took the extraordinary step of asking her to return, realising they needed her surgical skills.

"They needed me and they asked me to come back," she recalled.

She agreed, but only on the condition that she and her sister did not have to wear the all-covering burka.

"It was not exactly a victory for me, but they certainly needed me to be there. Even when I went to Kandahar (the birthplace of the Taliban) I never wore a burka," she told the Guardian.

She was also, however, dismissive of emphasis being placed on the burka.

"The first priority should be given to education, primary school facilities, the economy and reconstruction of the country but the West concentrates on the burka and whether the policies of the Taliban are better or worse than other regimes," she was quoted as telling reporters in late 2001.

After the fall of the Taliban, she made her move into government, when she was appointed minister of public health.

She was one of two women ministers appointed to the country's post-Taliban government.

As minister, she oversaw the vaccination of millions of children against polio, and spoke about the need to tackle HIV and Aids.

She asked the UN to help train female medical workers, and the UN Population Fund to help coordinate efforts to improve the reproductive health of Afghan women.

After finishing her role as minister in 2004, she returned to her medical work.

Dr Noorzai said that when colleagues used to ask her why she had not married, she said it was because she was "in love with her profession and her profession was her life".

She was 72