Malaysia secures 6.4m doses of COVID-19 vaccine to treat 40% of population

Malaysia secures 6.4m doses of COVID-19 vaccine to treat 40% of population
Shoppers wearing face masks, amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, spend time along the staircase of a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2020

Malaysia secures 6.4m doses of COVID-19 vaccine to treat 40% of population

Malaysia secures 6.4m doses of COVID-19 vaccine to treat 40% of population
  • Govt previously inked a preliminary agreement with COVAX and Pfizer

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government on Tuesday revealed that it had signed a deal to procure 6.4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine which would cover 40 percent of the country’s population.

In a televised announcement, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the government was also in talks with China and Russia to secure further supplies to increase Malaysia’s total vaccination coverage to 80 percent or 26.5 million of the population.

“Through all the negotiations and agreements that have been and will be signed, for now, the government will spend a total of $504.4 million,” Muhyiddin added.

The government had previously inked a preliminary agreement with COVAX and Pfizer facilities for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines which will be administered to 30 percent of the population.

Public health experts, however, questioned the usage and administration of the vaccines acquired by the government.

Dr. Lim Chee Han, a senior researcher at the Third World Network, an international research and advocacy organization based in Malaysia, told Arab News that although the newly acquired vaccines would cover a large proportion of the population, their administration would still rely on regulatory approvals by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) and the Ministry of Health.

“We wouldn’t know how the government is going to distribute the various vaccine brands based on demographics, region, and state across Malaysia,” Lim said.

He pointed out that there could be some ethical implications due to differences in the effectiveness and side effects of the vaccine.

“Any vaccine which goes wrong would have negative consequences to the population, fueling the deep suspicion of anti-vaxxers,” he added.

Muhyiddin, however, in his announcement assured the public that the vaccines were safe.

“To convince the people that the vaccine obtained is safe and effective, I will be among the first individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccination followed by front liners, and high-risk target groups such as the elderly, and those with non-communicable diseases and chronic respiratory diseases,” he said.

The premier added that the country’s special vaccine supply guarantee committee, established and co-chaired by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, would ensure vaccine supplies could be secured immediately.

“The government expects the first supply of 1 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer to be received and will be given to the target group as early as February 2021.”

The PM said that the NPRA and Ministry of Health would continue to monitor the effectiveness and safety of vaccines after they had been obtained and used.

Last Friday, Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah arrived in the UAE for a five-day visit at the invitation of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, during which Abu Dhabi donated 500,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to the southeast Asian country.


Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
Updated 1 min 16 sec ago

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
UNITED NATIONS: Myanmar’s UN ambassador strongly opposed the military coup in his country and appealed for the “strongest possible action from the international community” to immediately restore democracy, in a dramatic speech to the UN General Assembly Friday that drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body.
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun began his statement saying he represented Aung San Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” in November, and supported their fight for the end of military rule.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the Feb. 1 coup, and to refuse to recognize the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. He also urged stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” Tun said, agreeing with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that military coup “is not acceptable in this modern world and the coup must cease.”
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” he vowed.
Tun’s surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting including ambassadors representing the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the new US ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield. She joined others in describing the speech as “courageous,” “powerful” and “brave.”
In her first appearance at the assembly since presenting her credentials to Guterres in Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “stands in solidarity” with the people of Myanmar who are in the streets protesting the coup. And she reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that “we will show the military that their actions have consequences” and demand to the military “to immediately relinquish power.”
In a tweet later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Myanmar by its former name Burma and said “the United States commends the courageous and clear statement” of Ambassador Tun, “and by those in Burma who are making their voices heard. We must all heed their call to restore democracy in Burma.”
The assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup and the military pushing democratic processes aside, violating the constitution, reversing reforms instituted by Suu Kyi, and arresting peaceful protesters, civil society representatives and members of the media.
She pointed to restrictions on the Internet and communication services and the detention of about 700 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, and she called “the use of lethal force and rising deaths unacceptable.”
The huge protests in the country are not about a fight between Suu Kyi’s party and the military, she said, “it is a fight without arms.”
Addressing diplomats in the General Assembly chamber by video link, Schraner Burgener urged “all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
The military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term that day, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
Myanmar’s military says it took power because November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta. The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.
Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly that democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the constitution on Feb. 4 and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw (National Assembly), known as CRPH, and are seeking “to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them.”
Tun began his remarks by reading a statement from CRPH stressing the legitimacy of the election results and declaring that the military overthrew the democratically elected government. He cited the massive opposition by the people, saying “now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar military.”
The CRPH, saying it represented some 80 parliamentarians, asked the UN, the Security Council and the international community “that aspires to build a peaceful and civilized global society to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people of Myanmar.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose neighboring country has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar and is its biggest trading partner, called on all parties to handle differences through dialogue “under the constitutional and legal framework,” avoid violence, “and continue to promote the domestic democratic transformation process in an orderly manner.”
Never mentioning the military or a coup and describing what happened in Myanmar as “in essence Myanmar’s internal affairs,” he said the international community should help the parties “bridge their differences and solve problems.”
Zhang backed efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Myanmar belongs to, “in playing an active role in easing the current state of affairs.”
ASEAN countries are discussing holding an informal foreign ministers meeting and “we look forward to its early convening on the basis of consensus, thus providing a useful platform and opportunity for promoting problem solving,” he said.

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
Updated 26 February 2021

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
  • Campaigner tells Arab News he welcomes “proactive” approach to reaching Muslim communities
  • Report: British Asians have highest mortality rate during second wave of COVID-19

LONDON: A night-time vaccine drive is reportedly being planned by the UK government during Ramadan, following reports that the country’s Asian community had the highest mortality rate during the second wave of COVID-19.
The government hopes to mitigate a potential vaccine uptake drop-off by Muslims during the holy month, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Ramadan 2021 will begin on April 12, a critical time in the UK’s vaccine rollout and just three days before the government’s planned date to have offered all over 50s the jab.
Concerns over the impact of Ramadan on vaccine uptake are compounded by a government report that British Asians, many of whom are Muslim, are the demographic with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate per 100,000 people in the UK’s second wave.
“A large part of this continued disparity for South Asian populations can be explained from geographic, socioeconomic and health factors,” the report read.
Kawsar Zaman, founder of the Take the COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign, told Arab News that he welcomes the government’s “proactive” approach in reaching out to and inoculating the UK’s Muslim community.
“I think the plan is excellent. Anything that we can do to promote uptake, particularly within communities where we’ve found it difficult to encourage people to take the vaccine, is positive,” he said.
“Particularly during Ramadan, where nine times out of 10 people are awake late into the night and early morning, anything that makes receiving the jab more accessible is great news.”
Zaman also hailed the government’s outreach to, and consultation with, Britain’s Muslim communities throughout the country’s world-leading vaccine rollout.
“What’s quite unique about this vaccine drive is that they’re being proactive about it, as well as consulting with a very wide range of people in many communities, including the Muslim community — which isn’t always the case,” he said.
Zaman singled out for praise Nadhim Zahawi, who is in charge of the UK’s vaccine rollout, saying he has done “a lot of really good work” and has been “very open in meeting with communities.” Zaman added: “What’s great here is that they’re listening first, then acting.”


Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker
Updated 12 min 22 sec ago

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker
  • Vessel was seized along with Panamanian ship in January
  • Crew members face charges including violation of the right to innocent passage

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities said on Friday that firearms and ammunition have been found on an Iranian supertanker, one of the two vessels seized in the country’s waters over a suspected illegal oil transfer last month.
The Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Freya were impounded by the Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) in waters bordering the South China Sea off Pontianak, West Kalimantan province, on Jan. 24, over suspicions of illegal fuel transfer between ships, polluting the water with oil, violation of the right of innocent passage, turning off their identification systems, illegal anchorage, and not flying their national flags.
On Friday, authorities said they had also found weapons on the Iranian tanker. “Investigators found a sniper rifle, three assault rifles, two pistols, and ammunition on the Iranian-flagged tanker MT Horse,” Bakamla spokesperson Col. Wisnu Pramandita told Arab News.
Earlier on Friday, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said during a joint press conference with Bakamla that all other suspicions had also been confirmed.
“We concluded they deliberately did all those violations, and they were caught doing them in tandem,” he said, as Bakamla chief Vice Admiral Aan Kurnia told reporters that the two tankers had trespassed 25 nautical miles into Indonesia’s territorial waters when the agency caught them.
The tankers were impounded after a patrol ship detected an idle signal indicating that the automatic identification system of the vessels was turned off. When Bakamala personnel arrived at the location they caught the tankers conducting a ship-to-ship fuel transfer from MT Horse to MT Freya, with their hulls covered to conceal their identities.
The vessels have been anchored at Bakamla’s base in Batam, Riau Islands province near Singapore, since their seizure.
Investigators are still questioning 25 crew from the MT Horse and 36 Chinese crew members of the MT Freya, which is managed by a Shanghai-based company.
Deputy Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Sugeng Purnomo said the inter-departmental task force investigating the case will soon press charges against the suspects. 
In the wake of the incident, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has ordered stricter law enforcement in the country’s waters, ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati told Arab News.
“We are committed to enforcing the law on Indonesia’s territorial waters, in accordance also with the international law as enforced by the International Maritime Organization,” Irawati said.


Cases of vaccine easing long COVID reported

Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 February 2021

Cases of vaccine easing long COVID reported

Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Doctors call for formal studies of what is currently anecdotal evidence
  • Expert: ‘This is a very interesting and potentially important observation’

LONDON: Anecdotal reports that people with long COVID are making dramatic recoveries after being vaccinated are intriguing and should be followed up with formal studies, according to scientists.

While most people recover quickly from COVID-19, roughly one in 10 people experience symptoms that include fatigue, headaches and shortness of breath three months later — a phenomenon known as long COVID.

But some of these patients are reporting rapid improvements to their health after receiving the vaccine, doctors have said.

“This is a very interesting and potentially important observation,” said Charles Bangham, who holds the chair in immunology at Imperial College London. “At present these are just anecdotes, and systematic studies would be needed, but anecdotes can sometimes point the way to important discoveries.”

Prof. Ian Hall, who runs a long COVID clinic in Nottingham, said he has been contacted by several patients who told him their symptoms improved dramatically after a jab.

It is possible, he said, that being vaccinated gives some people a “psychological boost” that causes them to feel better.

“But I think, anecdotally, that there is enough here to suggest that there might be some interesting consequences of the vaccine, presumably altering the immunological balance, which is contributing to resolution of low-grade inflammation, which is making people feel better,” he added.

“I would not go as far as to say it proves a connection, but science is based upon following up interesting observations.”

The World Health Organization has warned that the burden of long COVID is “real” and “significant.”

King’s College London is running a project tracking 600,000 people who have received COVID-19 vaccines.

The study’s lead scientist Tim Spector said he hopes to have data on how vaccines affect long COVID within weeks.


UN rights chief cites ‘need’ to assess rights in Xinjiang

UN rights chief cites ‘need’ to assess rights in Xinjiang
Updated 26 February 2021

UN rights chief cites ‘need’ to assess rights in Xinjiang

UN rights chief cites ‘need’ to assess rights in Xinjiang
  • Concerns about detention centers for Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang have provoked human rights concerns
  • Bachelet’s office and Chinese authorities have so far failed to arrange a visit for her to the region

GENEVA: The United Nations’ human rights chief on Friday cited the need for an “independent and comprehensive assessment” of the rights situation in China’s Xinjiang region, while emphasizing that activists, lawyers and rights defenders face unfair charges, detention and trials in China.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office is working to find “mutually agreeable parameters” for her to visit China, including Xinjiang. Efforts to arrange such a visit for the human rights commissioner date to before she took office in September 2018.
Bachelet discussed China while giving the UN’s Human Rights Council her regular update on the rights situation worldwide, this time involving some 50 countries.
Bachelet credited China’s progress in curbing COVID-19 but said “fundamental rights and civic freedoms continue to be curtailed in the name of national security and the COVID-19 response.” She said over 600 people are being investigated for participating in protests in Hong Kong.
Concerns about detention centers — which China calls training centers — for Muslim Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang have provoked human rights concerns for many months, and Bachelet’s office and Chinese authorities have so far failed to arrange a visit for her to the region.
“In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, information that is in the public domain indicates the need for independent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation,” Bachelet said, adding that her office was looking into reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and sexual violence in institutions, among other rights issues.
Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said discussions were continuing for a “preparatory technical mission” that could pave the way for Bachelet to visit China. Shamdasani said such a mission was needed before a Bachelet visit “to ensure meaningful access.”
Bachelet’s address ran through an array of rights concerns and issues, including “the growing expansion of the definition of ‘foreign agent’” in Russia; a “serious contraction of civic space” in several countries in southeast Asia; “excessive use of force” against demonstrators in some South American countries, and “charges of sedition against journalists and activists” in India for reporting or commenting on protests by farmers there.
She noted several European governments restricted the work of groups that defend migrants’ rights, and cited some 50 cases opened in Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain over the last five years involving humanitarian search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.
The comments were separate from other Bachelet speeches and council discussions on “major country situations” about places that included Belarus, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Venezuela
Overall, Bachelet cautioned about the impact of COVID-19 on human rights.
“Today, in every region of the world, people are being left behind — or pushed even further behind — as the coronavirus pandemic continues to gather pace,” she said.