UN trip to ‘Rohingya island’ delayed

UN trip to ‘Rohingya island’ delayed
Rohingya refugees attend a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, August 25, 2019. (AFP/File)
Updated 25 November 2019

UN trip to ‘Rohingya island’ delayed

UN trip to ‘Rohingya island’ delayed
  • The new date of the visit will be fixed after receiving the details of the terms of reference from the UN

DHAKA: A proposed visit by a UN technical team to an island built exclusively for Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh has been postponed after Dhaka insisted on seeing the “terms of reference” for the trip, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

In a bid to decongest the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh’s government set up housing facilities for nearly 100,000 Rohingya on Bhasan Char island, located in the Bay of Bengal.

Calling the island “isolated” and “flood prone,” the UN and some other humanitarian organizations have opposed the relocation idea for the past two years.  

However, in a recent development during the second week of November, the UN agreed to send a joint technical team to oversee the safety measures and facilities available on the island, which has been built at a cost of $275 million by the Bangladeshi government. The proposed visit was supposed to take place from Nov. 17-19.

Bangladesh government’s senior secretary of disaster management ministry, Shah Kamal, said that a UN team had visited the island earlier, but requested another visit. 

“We wanted to know exactly what are the areas the UN technical team will examine during their visit to Bhashan Char island so that our government can ensure the necessary preparations accordingly,” Kamal told Arab News. 

“The new date of the visit will be fixed after receiving the details of the terms of reference from the UN. To date, we know that they will send a 11-member team,” he said.  

Kamal added that a technical expert team from Bangladesh will accompany the UN team during their visit to the island.  

Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) at Cox’s Bazar, said that Bangladesh and the UN are “discussing the next steps.”

“The UN is prepared to move forward with the initial assessment missions at the earliest possible date. The government and the UN have agreed, however, to postpone the visit proposed for Nov. 17 to 19, to ensure that the right experts are on hand and all necessary logistical arrangements are in place,” Donovan told Arab News.  

“We are awaiting confirmation of an alternative date and are also submitting terms of reference to the government for these onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” Donovan said on Sunday, adding that “they have not yet been submitted.”

Kamal said that so far nearly 10,000 Rohingya have voluntarily enrolled to relocate to the island.  

“After the visit of the UN assessment team, we will send a group of Majhi (Rohingya community leaders) to the island to witness the preparations over there so that they can share and motivate others about the living facilities we have built for them,” he said.  

To protect Bhasan Char island from tidal floods and natural disasters, the Bangladesh navy has built a 13km- long embankment with a height of three meters and a width of 37 meters.

A total of 120 cluster villages are ready to accommodate about 100,000 Rohingya. Each of the houses has concrete breeze-block rooms measuring 2m x 2.5m with small barred windows and here one toilet is designated for every 11 people. At Cox’s Bazar refugee camps the ratio is 1:22.  

To ensure the safety of the Rohingya during cyclones, there are 120 cyclone shelters that were built 4 ft above the land, and these shelters will be used as hospitals, schools and community centers throughout the year. 

The first floor of these shelters is 10 ft above the ground floor, providing safety from tidal surges up to a height of 14 ft. Deep tube wells are in place for safe drinking water. 

There are also playgrounds for the Rohingya children and prayer halls for the community. 

In addition, the Rohingya will have livelihood opportunities through farming, cattle rearing and fishing. 

Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution orchestrated by the Myanmar army in the predominantly Buddhist majority country.


Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
Updated 19 min 9 sec ago

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
  • Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control

BEIJING: In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to give them a boost.
Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses in other countries while also trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of Western vaccines.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.
The effectiveness rate of a coronavirus vaccine from Sinovac, a Chinese developer, at preventing symptomatic infections has been found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil. By comparison, the vaccine made by Pfizer has been found to be 97% effective.
Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China, where the coronavirus emerged in late 2019.
Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but mentioned mRNA, a previously experimental technique used by Western vaccine developers while China’s drug makers used traditional technology.
“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
Gao previously raised questions about the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.
Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, which uses mRNA.
As of April 2, some 34 million people have received both of the two doses required by Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness rates. Trials around the world are looking at mixing of vaccines or giving a booster shot after a longer time period. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.


Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
Updated 55 min 53 sec ago

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
  • Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30
  • The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines capital and four adjacent provinces will be eased from April 12, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.
Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30, spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual briefing.
Roque gave the briefing from hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19. He gave no details on which restrictions will be eased but said details would be released on Monday.
The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health recorded 11,681 new COVID-19 cases and 201 more deaths, bringing the country’s tallies to 864,868 confirmed infections and 14,945 fatalities.
New cases have surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on April 2, most of those in the congested capital.
Last week, Duterte canceled a weekly televised address and a meeting with his coronavirus task force as some of his staff and security detail were found to be COVID-19 positive.
Roque and Duterte’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, also tested positive.
Roque said the government will work to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in health care facilities and free up more room in hospitals.
Under the current quarantine classification for Manila and surrounding areas, non-essential movement is banned, along with mass gatherings and dining in restaurants, with longer-than-usual curfews also in place since March 29.
The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record.


South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30

South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30
Updated 11 April 2021

South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30

South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30
  • South Korea on Wednesday suspended providing the AstraZeneca shot to people under 60
  • Risks of coronavirus are far worse than the rare possibility of side effects from the vaccines

SEOUL: South Korean authorities said on Sunday they will move ahead with a coronavirus vaccination drive this week, after deciding to continue using AstraZeneca PLC’s vaccine for all eligible people 30 years old or over.
South Korea on Wednesday suspended providing the AstraZeneca shot to people under 60 as Europe reviewed cases of blood clotting in adults.
People under 30 will still be excluded from the vaccinations resuming on Monday because the benefits of the shot do not outweigh the risks for that age group, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a statement.
Three vaccinated people in South Korea are reported to have developed blood clots, with one case determined to be correlated to the vaccine, Choi Eun-hwa, chair of the Korea Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told a briefing.
That case was a type of blood clot considered less serious than the type being examined by European authorities, she said.
For most people, the risks of coronavirus are far worse than the rare possibility of side effects from the vaccines, Choi said, adding that the best way to end the pandemic was to vaccinate everyone who can receive it.
But she said, “the benefits are not as great for those under 30 years old, so we will not recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for them.”
The AstraZeneca shot’s benefit-to-risk ratio rises the older people get as the risk of serious harm due to vaccination falls and ICU admissions prevented by vaccination rise sharply, according to the University of Cambridge’s Winton Center for Risk and Evidence Communication.
The drugmaker has said its studies have found no higher risk of clots because of its vaccine, millions of doses of which have been administered worldwide. The World Health Organization has said the benefits outweigh the risks.
Global controversy over the efficacy and side-effects of some COVID-19 vaccines has caused some delays in South Korea’s vaccination campaign, which kicked off in late February with the goal of reaching herd immunity in November.
The second-quarter vaccination program includes special disability school teachers and vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities and the homeless, the KDCA said.


Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill

Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill
Updated 11 April 2021

Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill

Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill
  • The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III reiterated the importance of the two countries’ Visiting Forces Agreement

MANILA: Philippine and US defense chiefs on Sunday expressed hopes to resume the joint “Balikatan” military exercise that was canceled last year, as they discussed the situation in the South China Sea.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III also discussed in a telephone conference recent developments in regional security, according to a statement issued by Lorenzana’s department.

“Both are looking forward to the conduct of Exercise Balikatan,” the statement said.

Their conversation comes just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, also in a phone call, expressed their shared concerns about Chinese vessels, which Manila believes are manned by militia, in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has protested against the presence of the Chinese boats inside its 200-mile exclusive economic zone at Whitsun Reef in the strategic waterway, repeatedly asking China to move the vessels away.

Chinese diplomats, however, have said the fishing boats were just sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.

Austin, during the telephone conference, reiterated the importance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries, while Lorenzana committed to discussing the matter with President Rodrigo Duterte.

In February, Duterte said he had not made a decision yet on the future of the two-decade-old troop deployment agreement with the United States.

The VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.

Relations between the United States and its former Asian colony have been complicated since 2016 when Duterte, who has repeatedly made statements condemning US foreign policy while befriending China, rose to power.

Duterte has said the United States must pay more if it wants to maintain the VFA, which he unilaterally canceled last year in an angry response to an ally being denied a US visa.

The VFA’s withdrawal period has been twice extended, creating what Philippine officials say is a window for better terms to be agreed.

Lorenzana likewise sought the assistance of Austin in expediting the delivery of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna that the Philippines has ordered.

Austin “would look into the issue and bring it to the attention of the office concerned,” the statement said.


India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections

India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections
Updated 11 April 2021

India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections

India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections
  • The number of new fatalities stood at 839, the most deaths in more than five months

NEW DELHI: India reported a record 152,879 new COVID-19 cases, health ministry data showed on Sunday, as a second-wave of infections continued to surge and overwhelm hospitals in parts of the country.
The number of new fatalities stood at 839, the most deaths in more than five months, taking the toll to 169,275.
India’s tally of more than 13.35 million cases is the third-highest globally, behind only Brazil and the United States.