WHO’s Tedros says ‘vaccine nationalism’ would prolong pandemic

By Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that “vaccine nationalism” would only slow the effort to quash the pandemic and called for vaccines to be used fairly and effectively.

Tedros said 78 high-income countries had now joined the “COVAX” global vaccine allocation plan, bringing the total to 170 countries, and the “number is growing”. He urged others to join by the Sept. 18 deadline for binding commitments.

Joining the plan guaranteed those countries access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccines, with nine candidates currently in the pipeline, he said, adding that a further four were “promising”.

The WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance are leading the COVAX facility, aimed at helping buy and distribute vaccination shots fairly around the world.

But some countries that have secured their own supplies through bilateral deals, including the United States, have said they will not join COVAX.

“Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it,” Tedros told a WHO briefing in Geneva, without mentioning any specific countries.

“If and when we have an effective vaccine, we must also use it effectively … In other words, the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries,” he said, adding that priority should be given to healthcare workers, the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

Tedros thanked Germany, Japan, Norway and the European Commission for joining COVAX during the last week.

“Certainly by the middle of 2021 we should start to see some vaccines actually moving into countries and populations,” said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, reiterating earlier comments.

Noting that there were 13 experimental vaccines currently in clinical trails, Swaminathan called it an “optimistic scenario” since the typical success rate of 10% could mean several vaccines are approved.

But Swaminathan said that no vaccine should be approved for a worldwide rollout until it had undergone sufficient scrutiny.

“No vaccine is going to be mass-deployed until regulators are confident, governments are confident, and the WHO is confident it has met the minimum standard of safety and efficacy,” she said.

Results were expected from some of the candidates already in phase 3 trials, each involving thousands of participants, by the end of the year or early 2021, Swaminathan said.

“We are not going to have enough for the whole world right at the beginning,” she said adding that scaling up of manufacturing would take time.

“Eventually there will be enough for everyone but it will mean prioritization,” she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)

Exclusive: Vaccine group says 76 rich countries now committed to ‘COVAX’ access plan

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – Seventy-six wealthy nations are now committed to joining a global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) that aims to help buy and fairly distribute the shots, the project’s co-lead said on Wednesday.

Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI vaccines alliance, said the plan, known as COVAX, now has Japan, Germany, Norway and more than 70 other nations signed up, agreeing in principle to procure COVID-19 vaccines through the facility for their populations.

“We have, as of right now, 76 upper middle income and high income countries that have submitted confirmations of intent to participate – and we expect that number to go up,” Berkley told Reuters in an interview.

“This is good news. It shows that the COVAX facility is open for business and is attracting the type of interest across the world we had hoped it would.”. COVAX coordinators are in talks with China about whether it might also join, Berkley said.

“We had a discussion yesterday with the (Chinese) government. We don’t have any signed agreement with them yet,” but Beijing had given “a positive signal”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing on Wednesday that China “supports COVAX and has been in communication with WHO and other parties” about it.

COVAX is co-led by GAVI, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It is designed to discourage national governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to focus on first vaccinating the most high-risk people in every country.

Its backers say this strategy should lead to lower vaccine costs for everyone and a swifter end to the pandemic that has claimed some 860,000 lives globally.

Wealthy countries that join COVAX will finance the vaccine purchases from their national budgets, and will partner with 92 poorer nations supported through voluntary donations to the plan to ensure vaccines are delivered equitably, Berkley said.

Participating wealthy countries are also free to procure vaccines through bilateral deals and other plans.

The United States said on Tuesday it would not join COVAX due to the Trump administration’s objection to WHO involvement, a move described by some critics as “disappointing.” Berkley said he was not surprised by the U.S. decision, but would seek to continue talks with Washington.

In what appeared to be a change of position on Wednesday, the European Union said its member states could buy potential COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX.

COVAX coordinators sought to add flexibility to joining agreements to encourage greater participation, Berkley said.

The WHO describes COVAX as an “invaluable insurance policy” for all countries to secure access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are developed and approved. The plan’s coordinators have set a deadline of Sept. 18 for countries signing up to make binding commitments.

Asked to comment on the U.S. decision not to join COVAX, and on talks with China, a WHO spokesperson said: “Countries have until Sept. 18 to sign binding agreements…, so we’ll have more to say on countries that have joined then.”

COVAX’s objective is to procure and deliver 2 billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021. It currently has nine COVID-19 vaccine candidates in its portfolio employing a range of different technologies and scientific approaches.

A handful are already in late-stage clinical trials and could have data available by year end.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Mark Heinrich)

How quarantine in my childhood home brought my family closer

By Nora Savosnick

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) – When President Trump announced the ban on travel from Europe last month, I was more than 3,000 miles away from my Norwegian childhood home, a 24-year-old photographer creating a life of my own in New York City.

I had to start thinking about whether I would risk my U.S. work visa – and my newfound freedom – to go home for nationalized health care and, most of all, to see my family. My mum recovered from cancer a few years ago: What if I couldn’t see her if she became sick again?

That evening I went on a first date to a trendy and still-crowded New York City restaurant. We said goodbye with a wave after applying hand sanitizer. As I eagerly awaited the after-text to see if he was into me, he sent me a message to go home to Norway while I still had the chance.

The next morning my parents called. “I want you to be here in case you should be sick,” said my mum, Chava Savosnick. “It’s kind of scary to have my daughter on the other side of the world in these times.”

In a panic, I bought a ticket back to Norway. I braced myself for a return to childhood, quarantined in my parents’ basement.

The basement looks the same as it did when I was 16, drinking my first few sips of hard cider with my friend Elena. The same books, the same movies, the same sofa bed. It felt comforting and a little claustrophobic at the same time.

So far, my mum hasn’t caught me drinking – or even snagging a scoop of forbidden ice cream. My childhood had very few sugary treats. As an adult rebelling against those childhood restrictions, I’d buy at least three Ben and Jerry’s pints a week.

Now, because I had to be in quarantine for two weeks after my arrival from America, my parents were in total control of my diet. I was rationed on the number of days I can fry my breakfast or have even a single egg. My mum is worried about my cholesterol and potential for high blood pressure.

I’ve learned that my 60-something parents are healthier than me. My mum walks as fast as a New Yorker, uses weights, and exercises every day. My dad, Mats Haraldsson, rides his bike for hours as a warm-up to his fitness regimen. He’s an amateur lumberjack who still chops his own wood for the fireplace. It’s how he heats our home. I probably will never live up to their fitness lifestyle, but I should take more yoga classes.

This time of enforced togetherness has been a time of discoveries – of differences, but also of finding common ground that we might have forgotten about, or never even known before.

In my bedroom there’s a giant photograph of a tree that my father took when he was young. When I was a child, it had hung in the room where I slept when we visited my grandmother, so I’ve known it my whole life. When I went to art school, my father gave me the camera he used to take the photo.

I never pieced it together before living in quarantine, but my dad helped inspire my love of photography. He thought about being a professional photographer, but he was worried about if he could make a living at it. He’s very security-minded.

“I didn’t think I had the skills to take it to a professional level, but it was something I enjoyed for a few years,” he says.

Now, during the quarantine, I’ve inspired him to pick up his camera again.

As my mum says: “How you look at the quarantine is your choice. You can look at the quarantine as a problem, or you can look at the quarantine as something that gives you two weeks to be with yourself, to think about things, and to develop things which you have no time for otherwise.”

One night during my quarantine, we sat down and interviewed each other about what this time has meant to us, and to the world at large. We’d never done anything like that before, and it was fun and sometimes moving.

My mother said it was hard to keep her distance from me when I arrived home.

“When you came from New York, you know, the natural thing for me is to go forward to you and kiss you and hug you, you know, my little girl,” she said. But even though we couldn’t touch, “it’s nice to, you know, have this feeling of having you close to me.”

My dad said he was glad I was home. “We have to gather in these days,” he said.

We talked about what we were most worried about. For me, it’s my mum. She’s in a higher-risk category, and she’s been coughing. I’m afraid that without showing any symptoms, I’ve brought the disease with me from New York.

My mum fears getting ill, but she also worries about her country and the world as a whole.

“I’m a bit worried about how this is going to develop. Yes, not only because I’m in the risk group, but for the whole society. What’s going to happen?” she said. “What kind of a Norway will this be when the virus is over or if it will be over?

“I am scared that it should get up the worst in people. And I hope it will take up the best in people.”

We looked for the blessings in this time we never wanted or expected.

“There have been many plagues in the history of humanity, and we have always continued in one way or another,” my dad said. “Maybe it will put us back to enjoy today because we don’t know so much about tomorrow.”

My mum, who knows something about not taking life for granted, said: “You have to live every day. And maybe don’t think so much about the future. The future will come, but what the future will be, we don’t know. But it will come. So it is to live every day as good as possible and enjoy every day.”

This disease has shown us how interconnected we all are, in scary ways, but possibly also good ones. We’ve seen how one place in the world might affect the rest of us.

“So it’s in everybody’s interest that things are going fine all over the place, because it might affect us,” my mum mused. “So maybe we will be more responsible and more conscious about how we act towards other places in the world.”

For me, I think we’re facing a huge change. We’ve been treating this planet terribly for a long time, and I think we might come out of this as better people but also with a better planet.

But on a more personal level, even though I’ve sometimes felt restless and confined in my old home, this quarantine has given me a precious time with my parents.

I’m the journalist, but they interviewed me that night too. This is what I said.

“The best part is that I’m getting a lot closer to you guys, and I don’t think I would ever get this close if it hadn’t been for me literally being locked down in this house. … And I think a lot of people will come out of this knowing the people they lived in the house with better. And I’m very grateful for that.”

(Reporting by Nora Savosnick; editing by Kari Howard)

On Norway’s icy border with Russia, unease over military buildup

On Norway’s icy border with Russia, unease over military buildup
By Gwladys Fouche

SETERMOEN/KIRKENES, Norway (Reuters) – Under a soft winter sun in northern Norway, U.S. Marines train in the ice and snow as they learn how to fight in the freezing cold.

“Which country is to the northeast?” Staff Sergeant Daniel Croak bellows at a group of 20 soldiers in camouflaged combat jackets and white trousers in a pine forest near the town of Setermoen.

“Russia!” they shout back.

The troops are part of a contingent of 650 Marines staging a recent joint military exercise with 3,000 soldiers from NATO-member Norway at a time when both NATO and Russia have increased their military presence in the Arctic.

A few hundred kilometers from Setermoen, Russia is modernizing its forces on the Kola Peninsula, home to its Northern Fleet. Russia has also carried out maneuvers in recent weeks, staging a major submarine exercise in the North Atlantic, according to intelligence sources cited by Norwegian media.

“Do not use your GPSes. They may be jammed,” Croak barks to the Marines, a warning stemming from NATO accusations – denied by Russia – that Moscow has in the past jammed GPS systems in Norway.

The rising tension is unsettling many Norwegians, not least in the town of Kirkenes, which for three decades has been trying to foster cooperation with Russia.

Residents can cross the nearby border quickly with a visa-free permit. Many go to the nearby Russian town of Nikel to buy petrol because it is much cheaper there, and street signs use both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts.

“I don’t like it that they build up the military on both sides of the border. We don’t want rising tensions,” said Eirik Wikan, co-owner of the Kimek shipyard in Kirkenes, which gets two-thirds of its revenues from repairing Russian vessels.

“Here in the north, we work together to reduce tensions … We are trying not to be part of them.”

“A RUSSIAN TOWN IN NORWAY”

About a third of the company’s 180 employees are Russian, 22 of whom work in the Russian port city of Murmansk.

Nikolai Chagin, a mechanic from the Russian town of Severodvinsk, has worked at the shipyard in Kirkenes since 2006.

“I don’t have those problems I used to have in Russia before: I have a good job, a normal salary,” he said.

About 10% of Kirkenes residents are now from the Kola Peninsula.

Kirkenes’ Samovar theater company performs in both Norway and Russia, and has Russian and Norwegians employees. Russian choreographer Nikolai Shchetnev feels at home and is thinking of applying for dual nationality.

“Kirkenes is a Russian town in Norway,” said Rune Rafaelsen, the mayor of Soer-Varanger municipality which includes Kirkenes.

He said he would not welcome more tanks on the border though he saw Norway’s NATO membership as “a guarantee that I can do my job.”

Russia denies responsibility for the rise in tensions. It blames the recent basing of U.S. Marines in Norway, which it sees as a security challenge.

But Norway’s worries grew after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then staged Arctic military exercises including maritime maneuvers with ballistic missile-capable vessels present.

“These were clear messages from Moscow,” said Lieutenant-General Rune Jakobsen, Commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters — the Norwegian Armed Forces operational command center. “Do not be part of (NATO’s) ballistic-missile defense.”

Despite the tensions, he says Russian forces are behaving less aggressively on the frontier with Norway than in some other border zones between Russia and NATO, such as the Baltic Sea.

In efforts to build trust, Jakobsen has in recent weeks had talks with the regional head of Russia’s FSB security service in the Kola Peninsula, and met the new head of the Northern Fleet, Alexander Moiseyev, in Kirkenes.

“As a small nation neighboring a superpower, you have to strike the right balance between deterrence and reassurance,” Jakobsen said.

But the military exercises are also important for Norway.

“Working together is what makes it possible to fight together, if we have to,” said Brigadier Lars Lervik, commander of the Northern Brigade based in Setermoen.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Russia rocket accident likely had two explosions, Norway monitor says

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a board on a street of the military garrison located near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk Region, Russia October 7, 2018. The board reads: "State Central Naval Range". Picture taken October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Yakovlev

OSLO (Reuters) – An explosion that killed five Russian scientists during a rocket engine test this month was followed by a second blast two hours later, the likely source of a spike in radiation, Norway’s nuclear test-ban monitor said on Friday.

The second explosion was likely from an airborne rocket powered by radioactive fuel, the Norsar agency said – though the governor of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, where the blast took place, dismissed reports of another blast.

“The aftermath of the incident does not carry any threat,” the governor, Igor Orlov, told the Interfax news agency. “Everything else is yet another round of disinformation.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Reuters on Friday.

There has been contradictory information about the Aug. 8 accident near the White Sea in far northern Russia and its consequences.

Russia’s Defence Ministry initially said background radiation remained normal, while the state weather agency said radiation levels had risen.

Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said on Aug. 10 the accident involved “isotope power sources” but did not give further details.

Rosatom has acknowledged that five of its workers were killed. Two military personnel were also reported to have been killed.

Norway’s DSA nuclear safety authority said on Aug. 15 it had found tiny amounts of radioactive iodine near Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, although it could not say whether it was linked to the Russian accident.

Norsar’s detection of a second blast was first reported by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.

“We registered two explosions, of which the last one coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” Norsar Chief Executive Anne Stroemmen Lycke told Reuters. She added that this likely came from the rocket’s fuel.

The second explosion was detected only by infrasonic air pressure sensors and not by the seismic monitors that pick up movements in the ground, she added.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Ros Russell and Andrew Heavens)

Russia vows consequences after Norway invites more U.S. Marines

U.S. Marines test night optics during Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2018 (ANTX-18) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, U.S. March 20, 2018. U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel/Handout via REUTERS

OSLO (Reuters) – Russia vowed on Thursday to retaliate for a plan by Norway to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed there.

Oslo announced on Tuesday that it would ask the United States, its NATO ally, to send 700 Marines to train in Norway from 2019, against 330 at present, and said the additional troops would be based closer to the Russian border.

“This makes Norway less predictable and could cause growing tensions, triggering an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe,” the Russian Embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“We see it as clearly unfriendly, and it will not remain free of consequence.”

Oslo has grown increasingly concerned about Russia since Moscow annexed of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, while adding that it does not regard its much larger neighbor as a direct threat.

The U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave at the end of this year after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway since World War Two.

The initial decision to welcome the Marines had prompted Moscow to say it would worsen bilateral relations and escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Northern Fleet launched a large naval exercise in the Arctic Barents Sea. Later this year, Norway will host its biggest NATO maneuver in decades.

(Reporting by Camilla Knudsen and Terje Solsvik; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Norway to invite more U.S. Marines, for longer and closer to Russia

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Marines, who are to attend a six-month training to learn about winter warfare, arrive in Stjordal, Norway January 16, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Ned Alley/via REUTERS/File Photo

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway will ask the United States to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed in the country in a move that could raise tensions with its eastern neighbor Russia.

The government in Oslo has grown increasingly concerned about Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some 330 U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave Norway at the end of this year after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for fighting in winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway, a member of NATO, since World War Two.

The initial decision to welcome the Marines irked Russia and Moscow said it would worsen bilateral relations and escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told reporters the decision did not constitute the establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Norway and was not targeted at Russia.

“There are no American bases on Norwegian soil,” she said, adding the decision had broad parliamentary support.

Oslo will ask Washington to send 700 Marines from 2019, compared with 330 presently. The additional numbers will be based closer to the border with Russia in the Inner Troms region in the Norwegian Arctic, rather than in central Norway.

The rotation of forces will last for a five-year period compared with an initial posting that ran for six months from the start of 2017, and then was extended last June.

In addition the U.S. want to build infrastructure that could accommodate up to four U.S. fighter jets at a base 65 km (40 miles) south of Oslo, as part of a European deterrence initiative launched after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Norway said the expanded invitation was about NATO training and improving winter fighting capability.

“Allies get better at training together,” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told reporters.

Soereide told Reuters in April that Oslo did not see Moscow as a military threat and that the threat of war in the Arctic, NATO’s northern flank, was “low”.

But she said Oslo saw challenges in the way Russia was developing, not only militarily but also in the areas of civil society, the rule of law and democracy.

The Russian embassy in Oslo was not available for comment.

(Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Finland is world’s happiest country, U.S. discontent grows: U.N. report

People enjoy a sunnny day at the Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Finland is the world’s happiest country, according to an annual survey issued on Wednesday that found Americans were getting less happy even as their country became richer.

Burundi came bottom in the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) 2018 World Happiness Report which ranked 156 countries according to things such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

Taking the harsh, dark winters in their stride, Finns said access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare were among the best things about in their country.

 

FILE PHOTO: Finland's flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Finland’s flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

“I’ve joked with the other Americans that we are living the American dream here in Finland,” said Brianna Owens, who moved from the United States and is now a teacher in Espoo, Finland’s second biggest city with a population of around 280,000.

“I think everything in this society is set up for people to be successful, starting with university and transportation that works really well,” Owens told Reuters.

Finland, rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top-10, as ever dominated by the Nordics, is: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year. Britain was 19th and the United Arab Emirates 20th.

One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the last half century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business and declining confidence in public institutions.

“We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government,” the head of the SDSN, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of New York’s Columbia University, told Reuters as the report was launched at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

Asked how the current political situation in the United States could affect future happiness reports, Sachs said:

“Time will tell, but I would say that in general that when confidence in government is low, when perceptions of corruption are high, inequality is high and health conditions are worsening … that is not conducive to good feelings.”

For the first time since it was started in 2012, the report, which uses a variety of polling organizations, official figures and research methods, ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in 117 countries.

Finland took top honors in that category too, giving the country a statistical double-gold status.

The foreign-born were least happy in Syria, which has been mired in civil war for seven years.

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said Professor John Helliwell of Canada’s University of British Columbia.

“Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” he said.

“Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Reuters television in Finland; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Norway-Russia relations to deteriorate following U.S. Marines’ base extension: Russian embassy

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Marines, who are to attend a six-month training to learn about winter warfare, arrive in Stjordal, Norway January 16, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Ned Alley/via REUTERS

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s decision to extend the presence of U.S. Marines on its soil will worsen relations with neighboring Russia and could escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank, the Russian embassy in Oslo told Reuters on Saturday.

Some 330 Marines will be stationed in Norway until the end of 2018, the government said on Wednesday, doubling the length of what was initially billed as a one-year trial period.

The deployment last January to practice winter warfare and cross-country skiing, and to participate in joint exercises, marked the first foreign troops to be stationed in the NATO member country since the end of World War Two.

“We consider that this step contradicts Norwegian policy of not deploying foreign military bases in the country in times of peace,” the Russian embassy wrote in an statement to Reuters.

It further “makes Norway (a) not fully predictable partner, can also escalate tension and lead to destabilization of the situation in the Northern region,” it added.

Norway has downplayed the significance of the deployment, emphasizing the training element and denying that the arrival of Marines was an act directed against Russia. The U.S. troops are stationed some 1,500 km (900 miles) from the Russian border.

“A high level of regular allied presence creates a stabilizing state of normality in times of peace, which contributes to deterrence and defence,” Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said in a June 21 statement.

The center-right minority government’s decision received broad support from Norwegian opposition parties, but was criticized by the far left.

“The deployment … shows the government being more concerned by being well-liked by the Americans and in NATO than by conducting responsible security policy,” Lars Haltbrekken of Norway’s Socialist Left Party told public broadcaster NRK.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, Gwladys Fouche and Terje Solsvik; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Norway unseats Denmark as world’s happiest country

General view of a small harbour and snow-capped mountains in Bals-Fiord, north of the Arctic Circle, near the village of Mestervik in northern Norway.

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Norway displaced Denmark as the world’s happiest country in a new report released on Monday that called on nations to build social trust and equality to improve the wellbeing of their citizens.

The Nordic nations are the most content, according to the World Happiness Report 2017 produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations in 2012.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, along with Syria and Yemen, are the least happy of the 155 countries ranked in the fifth annual report released at the United Nations.

“Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the SDSN and a special advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, said in an interview.

A girl stands on her hands near Vang, Norway. Svein

A girl stands on her hands near Vang, Norway. Svein Nordrum/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

The aim of the report, he added, is to provide another tool for governments, business and civil society to help their countries find a better way to wellbeing.

Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden rounded out the top ten countries.

South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic were at the bottom.

Germany was ranked 16, followed by the United Kingdom (19) and France (31). The United States dropped one spot to 14.

Sachs said the United States is falling in the ranking due to inequality, distrust and corruption. Economic measures that the administration of President Donald Trump is trying to pursue, he added, will make things worse.

“They are all aimed at increasing inequality – tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the healthcare rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction,” he explained.

The rankings are based on six factors — per capita gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

“The lowest countries are typically marked by low values in all six variables,” said the report, produced with the support of the Ernesto Illy Foundation.

People stand on the roof of the Opera House, with buildings of The Barcode Project in the background, in Oslo, Norway

People stand on the roof of the Opera House, with buildings of The Barcode Project in the background, in Oslo, Norway August 2013. Svein Nordrum/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

Sachs would like nations to follow United Arab Emirates and other countries that have appointed Ministers of Happiness.

“I want governments to measure this, discuss it, analyze it and understand when they have been off on the wrong direction,” he said.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Alistair Bell)