Philippine president in ‘humanitarian’ plea to Malaysia over virus-stranded Filipinos

Philippine president in ‘humanitarian’ plea to Malaysia over virus-stranded Filipinos
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Philippine president in ‘humanitarian’ plea to Malaysia over virus-stranded Filipinos

Philippine president in ‘humanitarian’ plea to Malaysia over virus-stranded Filipinos
  • Duterte’s appeal follows war of words over disputed territory of Sabah where 3,000 Filipinos are trapped

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday brushed differences aside and appealed to the Malaysian government’s “humanitarian sense” in helping to repatriate 3,000 Filipinos stranded in a disputed part of Borneo due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Filipino leader’s plea came despite a long-standing dispute between the two countries over the territory of Sabah, a Malaysian state in the island’s north.

“That has been a very ticklish issue between our government and we are trying our best to appeal to the humanitarian sense of the Malaysian government to please help our citizens in your country, as we would do for your citizens if they are in our country,” Duterte said in an address.

The president made his request after being briefed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on the progress of repatriation efforts for overseas Filipinos.

Nearly 400 Filipinos are expected to arrive from Sabah within the week, joining about 2,000 others who have returned home from Malaysia since June when the government initiated the process.

The total number of repatriated Filipinos includes those who were affected by the cancellation of flights and Malaysia’s border closures following the COVID-19 outbreak. The majority of them are undocumented workers. This is in addition to nearly 3,000 Filipinos in Sabah who are still awaiting repatriation. 

Duterte’s appeal for help follows a war of words between the two countries in July after Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. asserted Philippines’ control over the disputed territory of Sabah by tweeting that it was “not in Malaysia.”

Locsin was reacting to a tweet by the American embassy in Manila talking about the US Agency for International Development (USAID) donating hygiene kits to “returning Filipino repatriates from Sabah, Malaysia.”

It led to Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein calling Locsin’s tweet an “irresponsible statement that affects bilateral ties.”

Two months later, in August, Malaysia issued a note verbale rejecting the Philippines’ claim over Sabah.

Meanwhile, in his address on Monday, Duterte also instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and its attaches to assist Filipino workers stranded at sea due to the pandemic.

“I would like to direct the foreign affairs department, our commercial attache, and even the police – we have police and military guys who are assigned in the different embassies – kindly check and do a validation report if there are Filipinos stranded in your ... area of responsibility in countries where you are assigned,” he said.

He added that there were Filipino seafarers stuck out at sea after their ships had been prevented from docking in ports due to COVID-19 precautionary measures.

“In so many places around the world where Filipinos are working, some are still in limbo. They do not know where they will go and whether or not they could still go home,” he said, adding that some were even “infected with COVID-19.”

Duterte said it “pained” him to think that there may be any “inadequacy in the assistance being extended by the government,” and he tasked officials from the country’s diplomatic missions abroad to work with governments in their jurisdictions to help the stranded workers.

“A human being should never, never be a commodity that is just left behind to rot. These are human beings and Filipinos,” he added.


Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries

Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries
Updated 15 January 2021

Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries

Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries
  • Pfizer said the modifications at the Puurs factory were necessary in order to ramp up its production capacity from mid-February of the vaccine
  • There will be “a significant increase” in deliveries in late February and March, the US group promised

BERLIN: A global coronavirus vaccine rollout suffered a major blow Friday as Pfizer said it would delay shipments of the jabs in the next three to four weeks due to works at its key plant in Belgium.
Pfizer said the modifications at the Puurs factory were necessary in order to ramp up its production capacity from mid-February of the vaccine developed with Germany’s BioNTech.
There will be “a significant increase” in deliveries in late February and March, the US group promised. The European Commission also confirmed that promised doses for the first quarter will arrive within the period.
But European Union nations, which are desperately waiting for more doses to immunize their populations against the virus that has already claimed almost two million lives worldwide, expressed frustration.
Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, voiced regret over the “last minute and unexpected” delay.
It urged the European Commission — which undertook joint procurement for the bloc — to “seek clarity and certainty” for upcoming shipments.
Six northern EU nations also warned in a letter to the Commission that the “unacceptable” situation “decreases the credibility of the vaccination process.”
The letter signed by ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden further asked the Commission to “demand a public explanation of the situation” from the pharmaceutical companies.
Across the Atlantic, Canada also said it was impacted by the delays, calling it “unfortunate.”
“However, such delays and issues are to be expected when global supply chains are stretched well beyond their limits,” said Canada’s Procurement Minister Anita Anand.
Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, which was developed at record-breaking speed, became the first to be approved for general use by a Western country on December 2 when Britain gave it the go ahead.
After Britain rolled out its immunization drive, the EU followed from December 27.
The latest shipment delay will likely add fuel to anger over the bloc’s vaccination campaign, which has already been criticized for being too slow compared to the United States or former EU member Britain.
The European Commission has also been accused of not securing enough doses early enough.
Just last week, the EU struck a deal to double its supply of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine to 600 million doses.
The urgency of immunizing the population has grown over fears of virus variants first seen in South Africa and Britain, which officials warn are more infectious.
But vaccine makers had repeatedly warned that production capacity was limited.
While Pfizer is augmenting capacity at Puurs, its partner BioNTech on Friday secured authorization to begin production at Germany’s Marburg.
The challenges of getting millions of vaccines around the world are also huge as the BioNTech/Pfizer jabs must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit) before being shipped to distribution centers in specially-designed cool boxes filled with dry ice.
Once out of ultra-cold storage, the vaccine must be kept at two Celsius to eight Celsius to remain effective for up to five days.