India sees early vaccine launch as AstraZeneca deliveries run late

India sees early vaccine launch as AstraZeneca deliveries run late
A test tube labelled with the Vaccine is seen in front of AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken, September 9, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 November 2020

India sees early vaccine launch as AstraZeneca deliveries run late

India sees early vaccine launch as AstraZeneca deliveries run late
  • An Indian government-backed vaccine could be launched as early as February, months earlier than expected
  • A launch in February would make COVAXIN the first India-made vaccine to be rolled out

NEW DELHI: India raced ahead with work on its coronavirus vaccine while Britain’s AstraZeneca said its deliveries were running “a little bit late” as countries around the world sought to conquer the pandemic and rescue their economies.
A vaccine is seen as the world’s best bet for taming a virus that has infected more than 48 million people, led to more than 1.2 million deaths, roiled economies and disrupted billions of lives since it was first identified in China in December.
Australia is beefing up its prospective arsenal against the pandemic to 135 million doses of various vaccine candidates.
“We aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
Some 45 vaccine candidates are in human trials worldwide, with Pfizer Inc. saying it could file in late November for US authorization, opening up the possibility of a vaccine being available in the United States by the end of the year.
Moderna and AstraZeneca are close behind the largest US drugmaker and are likely to have early data on their vaccine candidates before the end of the year.
An Indian government-backed vaccine could be launched as early as February — months earlier than expected — as last-stage trials begin this month and studies have so far showed it is safe and effective, a senior government scientist told Reuters.
Bharat Biotech, a private company that is developing COVAXIN with the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), had earlier hoped to launch it only in the second quarter of next year.
“The vaccine has shown good efficacy,” senior ICMR scientist Rajni Kant, who is also a member of its COVID-19 task force, said at the research body’s New Delhi headquarters.
“It is expected that by the beginning of next year, February or March, something would be available.”
Bharat Biotech could not immediately be contacted.
A launch in February would make COVAXIN the first India-made vaccine to be rolled out.
AstraZeneca has signed multiple deals to supply more than three billion doses of its candidate to countries around the world.
But a summer dip in British coronavirus infections had pushed back test results, leading the drugmaker to delay deliveries of shots to the government.
Britain’s vaccines chief said on Wednesday it would receive just 4 million doses of the potential vaccine this year, against initial estimates for 30 million by Sept. 30.
AstraZeneca said on Thursday it was holding back deliveries while it awaits the data from late-stage clinical trials in order to maximize the shelf-life of supplies.
“We are a little bit late in deliveries, which is why the vaccine has been kept in frozen form,” CEO Pascal Soriot said on a conference call.
AstraZeneca and its partner on the project, the University of Oxford, said that data from late-stage trials should land this year.
The United States leads the world in both the number of COVID deaths and infections and the pandemic was a polarizing issue in Tuesday’s presidential election in which votes were still being counted.
Australia’s Morrison said the government would buy 40 million vaccine doses from Novavax and 10 million from Pfizer and BioNTech.
That adds to the 85 million doses Australia has already committed to buy from AstraZeneca and CSL Ltd. should trials prove successful.
Among other vaccine candidates around the world, a growing number of Russians are unwilling to be inoculated once a vaccine becomes widely available, the Levada Center, Russia’s only major independent pollster, said this week.
Russia, raising eyebrows in the West, is rolling out its “Sputnik V” vaccine for domestic use despite the fact that late-stage trials have not yet finished.


Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
Updated 07 March 2021

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
  • Protests erupted last month after the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Security forces have already killed more than 50 people protesting to restore democracy, United Nations says

YANGON: Myanmar security forces fired gunshots as they carried out overnight raids in the main city Yangon after breaking up the latest protests against last month’s coup with teargas and stun grenades.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1. Daily demonstrations and strikes have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More protests were planned on Sunday after local media reported that police fired tear gas shells and stun grenades to break up a protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, on Saturday. There were no reports of casualties.
The General Strike Committee of Nationalities protest group said protests would be held in Yangon, the second city of Mandalay and Monywa, also centers for protests in which the United Nations says security forces have killed more than 50 people.
Into the early hours of Sunday, residents said soldiers and police moved into several districts of Yangon, firing shots. They arrested at least three in Kyauktada Township, residents there said. They did not know the reason for the arrests.
“They are asking to take out my father and brother. Is no one going to help us? Don’t you even touch my father and brother. Take us too if you want to take them,” one woman screamed as two of them, an actor and his son, were led off.
Soldiers also came looking for a lawyer who worked for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy but were unable to find him, a member of the now dissolved parliament, Sithu Maung, said in a Facebook post.
Reuters was unable to reach police for comment. A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.

Punched and kicked"
Well over 1,700 people had been detained under the junta by Saturday, according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group. It did not give a figure for overnight detentions.
“Detainees were punched and kicked with military boots, beaten with police batons, and then dragged into police vehicles,” AAPP said in a statement. “Security forces entered residential areas and tried to arrest further protesters, and shot at the homes, destroying many.”
Myanmar authorities said on Saturday they had exhumed the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin, who has become an icon of the protest movement after she was shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK.”
State-run MRTV said a surgical investigation showed she could not have been killed by police because the wrong sort of projectile was found in her head and she had been shot from behind, whereas police were in front.
Photographs on the day showed her head turned away from security forces moments before she was killed. Opponents of the coup accused authorities of an attempted cover-up.
The killings have drawn anger in the West and have been condemned by most democracies in Asia. The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta. China, meanwhile, has said the priority should be stability and that other countries should not interfere.
Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election — which her party won in landslide but which the army rejected. The army has said it will hold democratic elections at an unspecified date.
Israeli-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe, hired by Myanmar’s junta, told Reuters the generals are keen to leave politics and seek to improve relations with the United States and distance themselves from China.
He said Suu Kyi had grown too close to China for the generals’ liking.
Ben-Menashe said he also had been tasked with seeking Arab support for a plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom were driven from Myanmar in 2017 in an army crackdown after rebel attacks.
Junta leader and army chief Min Aung Hlaing had been under Western sanctions even before the coup for his role in the operation, which UN investigators said had been carried out with “genocidal intent.”


Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests
Updated 07 March 2021

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests
  • At least five people have died in protests sparked by Wednesday’s arrest of Ousmane Sonko
  • The most prominent opposition leader was arrested on rape charges, which he said was a fabrication

DAKAR: A 17-year-old boy was killed by gunfire in southern Senegal on Saturday, a government official said, and several police stations were ransacked as opponents of President Macky Sall called for more protests next week.
The boy was killed during clashes in the southern town of Diaobe, said the official, who asked not to be named. Protesters also burned down a military police station and ransacked several government buildings, the official said.
At least five people have died in protests sparked by Wednesday’s arrest of Ousmane Sonko, Senegal’s most prominent opposition leader. It is the worst political unrest in years for a country widely seen as one of West Africa’s most stable.
A spokesman for Senegal’s military police confirmed one person had died during clashes in Diaobe but did not say under what circumstances. He said protesters ransacked six police stations across the country on Saturday.
Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, was arrested after an employee of a beauty salon accused him of raping her. Sonko denies the allegation and says it is an attempt by Sall to kneecap a political rival.
The government denies this.
The mostly young protesters cited a range of other grievances too, including high unemployment and strict measures to control the coronavirus that have inflicted economic pain, especially on informal workers.
Many are especially dubious about the accusation against Sonko because two other top rivals of Sall were previously targeted by criminal charges that prevented them from running for president in 2019.
In a statement, the opposition Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D) coalition called for three days of nationwide protests beginning on Monday.
“M2D ... calls on the Senegalese people to pursue its mobilization and peaceful struggle by using all of its constitutional rights to reject the dictatorship of Macky Sall,” it said.


UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh
Updated 06 March 2021

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh
  • Series of business agreements were signed during a Jakarta visit of UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui
  • They are part of a $22.9 billion investment deal inked during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Abu Dhabi visit in January last year

JAKARTA: The UAE is to develop several major infrastructure projects in Indonesia, including a multimillion-dollar tourism resort in its westernmost Aceh province, top Emirati and Indonesian ministers have confirmed.

A series of business agreements were signed by the two nations during a Jakarta visit of UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui on Friday. The agreements are a part of a $22.9 billion deal signed during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Abu Dhabi visit in January last year. The investment deal, also covering energy, infrastructure and mining, is seen as the biggest in Indonesia’s history.

The tourism resort development project, which according to Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan is valued at between $300 million and $500 million, is expected to start in Aceh Singkil district in May.

Aceh, a semi-autonomous province on the northwest tip of Sumatra Island, is the only region in Muslim-majority Indonesia that imposes Shariah.

“I think within two months’ time, we can see the progress of this project in the Singkil area,” Pandjaitan said during a joint conference with Al-Mazroui.

While authorities have not revealed more details, in response to a question by Arab News, Al-Mazroui said that some islands off the main coast of Aceh have been identified for the resort.

“Hopefully the team will finalize (it) and then we will be moving to the next stage of having some definitive agreements,” he said.

The project agreement was signed by Aceh Governor Nova Iriansyah and Amine Abide, executive director of Murban Energy, a UAE company whose investment portfolio includes the development of luxury resorts in the Maldives and Seychelles.

According to a statement by the Indonesian Ambassador to the UAE, Husin Bagis, one of the considerations for developing the project in Aceh is that it is only five hours away from the UAE by plane. He said that Abide had visited nine islands in the Aceh Singkil district that were shortlisted for the project.

Among the agreements inked in Jakarta, which Al-Mazroui said are follow-ups to those signed in Abu Dhabi last year, is a $1.2 billion deal between UAE’s logistics company Dubai Port (DP) World and Indonesia’s Maspion group to develop a port and an industrial zone in Gresik, East Java.

Other deals signed on Friday, Panjaitan said, included an agreement between Indonesia’s state-owned weapons manufacturer Pindad and UAE’s small-arms manufacturer Caracal to develop assault rifles, drones and defense system technologies.

LuLu Group International is also expected to enter the Southeast Asian country, as its president director also signed a property lease agreement on Friday to open a hypermarket on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Minister Al-Mazroui hinted that other deals may also follow in the wake of the newly forged economic ties between the UAE and Indonesia. 

“Some new deals have been considered, which was not discussed before, and this is the nature of the relationship,” he said.

Al-Mazroui is the first high-level government official from the UAE to visit Indonesia since the signing of a bilateral safe travel corridor agreement in July last year.

He and members of his delegation are in Indonesia to attend a series of events during Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week, held in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya on March 1-8.


Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband expresses uncertainty over her release

This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
Updated 06 March 2021

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband expresses uncertainty over her release

This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
  • UK Foreign Office: ‘The (Iranian) regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals’

LONDON: The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national detained in Tehran, says he still does not know if she will be released following the end of her sentence on Sunday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced in 2016 to five years’ imprisonment over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime — charges she has consistently denied.

The 43-year-old charity worker was arrested while in Tehran on a regular visit with her young daughter.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told Sky News that he is still trying to find out whether she will be allowed to return to London and reunite with her daughter after the completion of her sentence.

“We’re obviously sitting very anxiously here, and she’s sitting anxiously waiting in Iran,” he said. “The judiciary has confirmed on the computer and shown that yes, indeed tomorrow is the last day and she should be released, but the arrangements haven’t been clarified.”

Ratcliffe said his wife’s lawyer in Iran had visited the prosecutor’s office to find further information regarding post-release protocol.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was transferred from prison to house arrest in her parents’ home last year as the coronavirus pandemic swept across Iran.

She has been forced to wear an electronic tag and is forbidden from traveling further than 300 meters from the residence.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the family that British officials are “trying really hard” to finalize a release, but warned that it was unlikely that Iranian authorities would follow a strict schedule, Ratcliffe said.

He added that if Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not released on Sunday, it will be a “watershed moment” that represents a serious failure on the part of the UK Foreign Office.

“We’ve had a calendar that our daughter has been counting down, because her mother did one in Iran, so she wanted to do one here,” Ratcliffe said.

“As we’ve got closer she’s picked up on the uncertainty, and obviously children do pick up on the mood. She started asking last night, ‘Is mummy really coming home?’ And I had to say ‘I really don’t know’.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said it is “in close contact” with Zaghari-Ratcliffe and will “continue to provide support.”

A statement said: “We do not accept Iran detaining dual British nationals as diplomatic leverage. The regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals.

“We continue to do everything we can to secure the release of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals so that they can be reunited with their loved ones.”


Great British Bake Off’s Nadiya encourages UK Bangladeshis to get COVID-19 jab in video campaign

Great British Bake Off’s Nadiya encourages UK Bangladeshis to get COVID-19 jab in video campaign
Updated 06 March 2021

Great British Bake Off’s Nadiya encourages UK Bangladeshis to get COVID-19 jab in video campaign

Great British Bake Off’s Nadiya encourages UK Bangladeshis to get COVID-19 jab in video campaign
  • “By educating ourselves around vaccination it allows us to encourage our family members, loved ones and communities to get the vaccine,” Hussain said
  • Asma Khan, from Netflix’s Chef’s Table series, and MasterChef’s Dr. Saliha Mahmood Ahmed are also starring in the campaign

LONDON: Great British Bake Off star Nadiya Hussain has joined forces with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake among British Bangladeshis.
Her appearance in a video campaign comes after NHS data revealed that only 15 percent of people of Bangladeshi ethnicity — 76,106 people— have so far received a first dose of the vaccine in England.
“Education is empowering. By educating ourselves around vaccination it allows us to encourage our family members, loved ones and communities to get the vaccine,” Hussain said in the video.
Asma Khan, from Netflix’s Chef’s Table series, and MasterChef’s Dr. Saliha Mahmood Ahmed are also starring in the campaign, which is backed by the UN and aims to increase vaccine confidence.
“I am so grateful for the support brought by Nadiya, Asma and Saliha, who can help us to reassure people that the vaccine is safe, effective, and our best way out of the pandemic,” the national director for primary care at NHS England, Dr. Nikki Kanani, said.
The NHS wants to encourage as many eligible people as possible to get inoculated, including those from black, Asian and ethnic minority groups.
MasterChef 2017 winner, Dr. Mahmood Ahmed, who also works for the NHS, said: “It is imperative we talk the language of these communities. As an NHS doctor, but also as a woman and mother from this community, I hope to use this platform to spread a positive message around vaccination as far as possible.”
Khan added: “Food is at the heart of our communities and our families and the quicker we get vaccinated the quicker we will be able to enjoy meals together with our loved ones.”