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HACKERS

Chinese hackers accused of stealing data from Spanish vaccine lab

Chinese hackers have stolen information from Spanish laboratories working on a vaccine for Covid-19, El Pais newspaper reported Friday.

Chinese hackers accused of stealing data from Spanish vaccine lab

The report emerged as drug companies around the world race to produce an effective jab to counter a virus that has now killed more than 940,000 people and infected 30 million.

It was not clear what information was taken, when it happened, nor how important it was, with the paper citing sources privy to the attack.   

Quoted in the article, Spain's secret service chief Paz Esteban said hackers had mounted “a particularly virulent campaign targeting laboratories working on the search for a vaccine” not only in Spain but elsewhere.

Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Esteban who heads the CNI intelligence services, said there had been a “qualitative and quantitative” increase in attacks during lockdown, with hackers targeting “sensitive sectors such as
healthcare and pharmaceuticals”.   

Such attacks had multiplied in other countries involved in efforts to develop a vaccine, prompting an exchange of information between their respective spy services, she said.

Most attacks were carried out by hackers from China and Russia, often from state organisations, but also by criminal organisations and universities who trade in hacked data, security sources said.

But the attack in which Spanish data were stolen was launched by Chinese hackers, they said.

The CNI was not immediately available to comment on the report.    

In July, a court in the US state of Washington charged two Chinese nationals with stealing terabytes of data from hundreds of computer systems all over the world, in some cases on behalf of Chinese government agencies.

The hacking, which took place over a decade, had more recently involved looking for vulnerabilities in the systems of firms developing Covid-19 vaccines, testing technology, and treatments, the US justice department said.

Spain was one of 11 countries named in the indictment as being targeted by the attacks.

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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