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.


England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
Updated 33 min 48 sec ago

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
  • Data from the UK’s statistics office also revealed that atheists were the least likely to die, on average, from COVID-19
  • Ethnicity and faith are difficult to separate, and understanding the disparity in fatality rates is a complex problem, experts say

LONDON: Data on COVID-19 death rates in England has revealed that Muslims are by far the worst-affected religious group, with death rates twice as high as among Christians, and nearly three times higher than atheists.

Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that, up to the end of February this year, 4,191 Muslims had been killed by the virus.

Muslim men had a death rate of 966.9 per 100,000 people, while that of women was about 519.1 per 100,000.

Muslims were followed by Hindus — 605.2 among men and 346.5 for women — Sikhs — 573.6 and 345.7 — Jews — 512.9 and 295.4 — and Christians — 401.9 and 249.6.

Atheists, as a group, were the least affected, experiencing 336.6 deaths per 100,000 among men, and 218.2 among women.

The ONS report did not examine the cause of the disparity between religious groups.

However, after factoring in other risk indicators such as age, wealth and location, it said: “After adjustments, the Hindu population and Muslim men were disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic.

“For other religious groups, the excess risk relative to the Christian group was only observed in the first wave (Jewish and Buddhist men) or second wave (Sikh men and women and Muslim women).”

Experts have suggested that ethnic minorities are more likely to be on low incomes and working in public-facing jobs that increase their exposure to the virus. 

When the ONS stripped out the effects of people’s health and lifestyles, the death risk supposedly linked to faith dropped significantly. 

Previous research has shown that South Asians are the worst affected ethnic group.

“For some religious groups, there is considerable overlap with ethnic background. This means that it is difficult to separate the observed association between COVID-19 mortality risk and religion from the risk associated with ethnic background,” said the ONS report.

A separate study by Queen Mary University in London, published in January, found that black, Asian and ethnic minority people were up to 50 percent more likely than white people to die of COVID-19 in hospital. It also found that the likelihood of needing significant medical intervention through a ventilator was 54 percent higher among Asian patients — many of whom are Muslim — than for their white compatriots.


Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK

Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK
Updated 38 min 27 sec ago

Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK

Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK
  • “It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it," Johnson said
  • Imperial College London said overall cases have fallen to their lowest level since August

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday he was “anxious” about a rise in the UK of the coronavirus variant first identified in India.
His worries surfaced after a closely-monitored study of infections in England found the variant is becoming more prevalent just ahead of the next big easing of lockdown restrictions.
“It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do. There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.”
In its latest assessment published Thursday, Imperial College London said overall cases have fallen to their lowest level since August following a strict lockdown and a successful rollout of vaccines. However, it warned that the Indian variant should be closely monitored.
The so-called REACT study found that the Indian variant, designated “of concern” because it could be more transmissible, was identified in 7.7 percent of the 127,000 cases tested between Apr.15 and May 3.
Professor Steven Riley from Imperial College said it’s unclear whether the Indian variant is more transmissible but warned that “this is a risk.”
Though the British government and scientists have said new cases may start to go up in coming weeks, it’s unclear whether that will lead to a big increase in hospitalizations and deaths given that most of those people deemed vulnerable have been vaccinated.
Over the past few weeks as India has suffered a catastrophic resurgence of the virus, concerns have grown around the world about potential new variants bypassing the protections offered by vaccines.
Across the UK, lockdown restrictions are being lifted. The next easing in England is set to take place on Monday when two households will be able to mix indoors and pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers inside, among other changes. The other nations of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have also laid out similar plans for the coming weeks.
The government hopes to lift most remaining restrictions on social contact in June.
“At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get,” Johnson said.
The government’s scientific advisory committee, known as SAGE, will be making recommendations about the pandemic’s path. It is due to meet later.
Currently there are few signs the previous easing has led to an increase in new infections, which are averaging around 2,300 a day across the UK, compared with nearly 70,000 recorded in January at the peak of the second wave.
The fall in infections has led to a sharp decline in daily coronavirus-related deaths, with 11 reported on Thursday. Still, the UK has recorded Europe’s highest virus-related death toll, at more than 127,600.
The successful rollout of vaccines has also helped keep a lid on infections alongside the lockdown. Around 54 percent of the British population has had at least one dose of vaccine with about a quarter having received two doses. The rollout is being expanded further, with vaccines now being made available to people aged 38 and 39.


Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations
Updated 13 May 2021

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations
  • Qari Asim urged Muslims to “not drop the ball before restrictions are eased”
  • British Muslims have now celebrated two Ramadans while adhering to social distancing measures

LONDON: One of Britain’s leading imams has urged British Muslims to exert caution and continue to observe coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on personal contact and indoor gatherings during Eid celebrations.

Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said it would be “excruciatingly painful” to celebrate Eid without gathering in numbers and embracing loved ones — but that everyone should “take that extra step” to keep people safe before restrictions are lifted.

Thursday marks the end of the second Ramadan Muslims in Britain have spent adhering to restrictions on personal contact and large gatherings — both of which are hallmarks of traditional Ramadan and Eid celebrations.

Asim said: “This Eid will be very different in the sense that we will not be able to greet each other in the traditional way of embracing each other, hugging and handshaking with each other.

“But I’m really hopeful that next Eid we will be able to be with each other and embrace each other and share a meal with our extended family and friends.”

He added: “It’s excruciatingly painful because the easing of restrictions is taking place next week when we will be able to hug each other and we will be able to embrace each other.

“We just have to take that one extra step to get us through this pandemic and make sure that we do not drop the ball before the restrictions are completely eased.”

On May 17, Britain will see a raft of pandemic-related restrictions to social life relaxed — including a cap on the number of worshippers allowed into mosques and other places of worship.

Asim said: “It’s been extremely challenging to follow the restrictions that have been in place but people have made incredible sacrifices and the Muslim community has strictly followed the guidelines given by the government.”

Instead of the traditional shared iftar meal, mosques in the UK have chosen to share food with vulnerable members of their local communities.

His own mosque, Asim said, has handed out more than 7,000 food parcels in the local area throughout Ramadan.


Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
Updated 13 May 2021

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
  • German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days
  • Two synagogues were attacked and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since violence erupted in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

BERLIN: Germany’s leading Jewish group on Thursday sharply condemned protests in front of a synagogue in the western city of Gelsenkirchen as “pure antisemitism.”
Several other German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days.
At least two synagogues were attacked, and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since the latest eruption of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany tweeted a video of dozens of protesters in Gelsenkirchen waving Palestinian and Turkish flags and yelling expletives about Jews.
“Jew hatred in the middle of Gelsenkirchen in front of the synagogue. The times in which Jews were cursed in the middle of the street should have long been over. This is pure antisemitism, nothing else!” the group tweeted.
The German government repeatedly condemned anti-Israeli and antisemitic attacks earlier this week and said that “the perpetrators must be found and held responsible and Jewish institutions must be protected thoroughly.”
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Funke Media Group that “there must be zero tolerance for attacks on synagogues in our country.”
“All of us are called on to make it very clear that we do not accept if Jews in Germany are made responsible for the events in the Middle East — neither in the streets nor on social media,” Maas added.
The protests in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday were dispersed by police, German news agency DPA reported, but authorities reported further incidents in other parts of the country.
Some cities which had hoisted Israeli flags in front of their city halls on Wednesday in remembrance of the start of German-Israeli diplomatic relations on May 12, 1965, reported that the flags were torn down and sometimes burned.
An Israeli flag in front of a city hall in the western town of Solingen was torn and burnt and two Israeli flags in Berlin were also torn down late Wednesday night.
On Tuesday night, police stopped 13 suspects in the western city of Muenster near a synagogue after an Israeli flag was burned there. In the western city of Bonn, police said several people damaged the entrance of a synagogue with stones and investigators found a burned flag as well. In nearby Duesseldorf, somebody burned garbage on top of a memorial for a former synagogue.
Several cities and states in Germany have since upped their security and raised police presence in front of Jewish institutions, dpa reported.
In Berlin, some 100 people also assembled for a pro-Israel rally on Wednesday night in front of the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate waving Israeli flags and holding a banner saying “We stand with Israel — Now and Forever.”


Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
Updated 13 May 2021

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
  • Members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which numbers around 20,000, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea
  • Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases

ROME: Thousands of Muslims in Palermo gathered in the capital of Sicily’s waterfront to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr and pray for the victims in Palestine.

Several members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which counts around 20,000 members, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea.

Everyone was wearing a mask and carrying their own carpet. Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

Prayers were led by Mustafà Boulaalam, the imam of the mosque of Piazza Gran Cancelliere, which before 1998 was a Catholic church and was donated to the Islamic community by the late Cardinal of Palermo Salvatore Pappalardo. Imams from the city’s other mosques and Islamic centers also joined this moment of reflection.

The Mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando represented the city, and gave his best wishes to the Islamic community.

Orlando said: “In this moment we are all called to build fraternity in order to create peace and feel that we are children of one God. Unfortunately, this fraternity we all long for continues to be mortified by the deaths in the Mediterranean of migrants who try to reach Europe from North Africa but also from the bombs and blood that in these hours are tearing Palestine apart.”

He added: “We must all fight to defend life and pursue fraternity between individuals and peoples in the wake of peace.”

The mayor told Arab News: “Even this year Eid Al-Fitr is a feast for the entire city of Palermo and all of its citizens, not only for the Muslims who live and work here.”

Fr. Piero Magro read a message of participation from the Palermo Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, who was represented at the prayer by Biagio Conte, a lay missionary who since the late 1990s has run the “Missione di Speranza e Carità,” a charity in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Palermo.

“In our mission we have every day hundreds of Muslim brothers coming to seek for help. We try to do whatever we can to help them, especially in this particularly difficult time of the pandemic. Because we are all brothers and only if we are together we will overcome the hardship,” Conte told Arab News.

In Rome, only 1,000 were admitted for prayers in the grounds of the Great Mosque in the north of the Italian capital. 

The Islamic Cultural Center advised those over 70 and children to not attend. The center ordered everyone to bring their own disinfected Sajjada and to practice ablutions at home before reaching the mosque.

“It is so nice to be here again, all together, to pray in respect of the precautions. This Ramadan has been more normal than the one we had last year, when the pandemic reached its peak. At least we can go to the Islamic centers, and now we can celebrate,” Hussein Garoub, 20, a student at the La Sapienza University in Rome, told Arab News after the prayer.