India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive

India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive
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Health workers are seen outside a COVID-19 vaccination center in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP)
India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive
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A health worker gestures as she gets her photograph taken next to a COVID-19 vaccination banner at a hospital in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP)
India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive
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Nurse Shimray Wungreichon, 43, speaks to colleagues who will administer her the COVID-19 vaccine at the District Hospital in Ukhrul, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP)
India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive
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Shimray Wungreichon, 43, smiles into the camera after being administered the COVID-19 vaccine at the District Hospital in Ukhrul, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP)
India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive
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A health worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a person at a Hospital in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 17 January 2021

India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive

India begins ‘world’s biggest’ vaccination drive
  • Two locally produced jabs — Covishield and Covaxin — used in campaign
  • About 300k healthcare workers inoculated amid efficacy concerns

NEW DELHI: India on Saturday launched what Prime Minister Narendra Modi called “the world’s biggest vaccination drive” to inoculate 1.3 billion people against the coronavirus.

In the first stage of the campaign, which will run through August, the main target will be 30 million front-line health workers, followed by 270 million people above the age of 50, who are deemed to be at a higher risk. Two locally produced vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin — will be used in the nationwide immunization drive.

“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said, as he praised the “skills and talents of Indian scientists” while launching the campaign in New Delhi.

Covishield is a form of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine locally produced by the Serum Institute of India in Pune. Covaxin was developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad.

“It takes years to make a vaccine, but in such a short time, not one, but two made-in-India vaccines were developed. This is a testimony to the skills and talent of our scientists,” Modi said.

About 300,000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated in 3,006 centers across the country. After 28 days, each will have to take another vaccine dose.

“We are lucky to have a vaccine in our country on a high priority. Vaccination is the only way to address the viral disease,” Dr. Sumi Nandwani of the Super Specialty Pediatric Hospital in the Indian city of Noida told Arab News after getting her jab.

Nitu Kumar, who works as a lab technician at the same hospital, also took the jab, describing it as “a necessity if one has to free the country from coronavirus.”

However, doctors are raising concerns over the efficacy of Covaxin, which had been approved for emergency use by India’s drug regulator despite lacking late-stage clinical trials.

“We would like to bring to your notice that the residents are a bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trials in the case of Covaxin and might not participate in huge numbers, thus defeating the purpose of the vaccination campaign,” the Resident Doctors Association of the government-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi said in a letter to hospital authorities.

“We request you to vaccinate us with Covishield, which has completed all stages of the trial before its rollout,” they said.

On Thursday, a group of 13 renowned scientists asked the government to release the Covaxin Phase Three trial results.

“It is imperative that relevant data from the larger Phase Three trial becomes available before administering the vaccine to large numbers of people,” the group said in a statement said, adding that “providing a vaccine without adequate efficacy data can lead to a false sense of security among vaccine recipients.”

During Saturday’s vaccination campaign launch, Modi dismissed similar concerns as “rumors,” citing the vaccine’s approval by the Drug Controller General of India.

Dr. Avinash Bhondwe, president of Maharashtra state’s chapter of India’s premier medical body, the Indian Medical Association, said that people should get vaccinated “without fear and doubt.”

He said: “The Indian Medical Association has gone through all the papers and data available and it is found that both the vaccines are worth taking and do not cause any major side effects.”

Noida-based pulmonologist Dr. Loveleen Mangla said that he feels that “people should go in for vaccination,” but added that, as there is much speculation, people should “decide for themselves” whether they want to be inoculated.

“It should be voluntary,” he said.

However, according to Delhi-based health expert Dr. Anant Bhan, more transparency on vaccine data would help build trust.

“The launch of a vaccination program is welcome as a key public health response to the pandemic,” he said.

“More transparency would hence have been welcome, which would have built further trust in the vaccination efforts.

“Having clear data on safety, immunogenicity and efficacy is crucial,” he told Arab News, adding that regulatory decisions, even during emergency situations, “need to be grounded in science and evidence.”


UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 27 February 2021

UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Charity slams govt’s ‘abdication of responsibility’ over ‘Daesh bride’ Shamima Begum

LONDON: The UK risks creating a “new Guantanamo” in Syria through the practice of revoking the citizenships of Daesh accomplices, the director of a human rights charity has warned.

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday.

The director of human rights charity Reprieve, Maya Foa, who was involved in Begum’s case, said the ruling has left the 21-year-old in a “legal limbo,” where she cannot return to the UK or mount a legal challenge remotely.

“The court has said she can appeal against the decision, but they do not say how it can be done. It leaves her in the hands of the British government, which is unwilling to assist,” Foa added.

“That is less of a policy and more of an abdication of responsibility — unless the policy is to create a new Guantanamo in Syria.”

Supporters of Begum claim that she regrets her decision to leave the UK to join Daesh, and is remorseful about her actions.

Critics of the government decision say Begum was a minor and a victim of trafficking, who was unable to leave Syria until she was detained in the wake of Daesh’s defeat.

About 24 adults and 35 children who left the UK to join Daesh are still detained in Syrian camps, where conditions are said to be dismal. Many have been stripped of their UK citizenship.

The ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday means that Begum is forbidden from entering the UK to fight her case.

She left London aged 15 with two friends to join Daesh in Syria six years ago. Despite being born in the UK, her citizenship was stripped in 2019 by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid after she was discovered living in a prison camp by a UK journalist.

British law permits the removal of a person’s citizenship if it is deemed “conducive to the public good.” However, it is illegal to remove a person’s citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless.

But Javid said Begum was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, where her parents were born and had citizenship.

Intelligence agencies say about 900 Britons traveled to Syria or Iraq to join Daesh. About 20 percent of them were killed and 40 percent returned home.


Academics back UK professor accused of anti-Semitism

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
Updated 27 February 2021

Academics back UK professor accused of anti-Semitism

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
  • Letter says David Miller ‘responded honestly’ to Israel-Palestine query

LONDON: Academics at the University of Bristol have urged it to abide by academic freedom and resist firing one of its lecturers, David Miller, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

A professor of political sociology, Miller said Israel wants to “impose its will all over the world,” and it is “fundamental to Zionism to encourage Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.”

He claimed that members of the British university’s Jewish Society who had submitted complaints regarding his comments are being used as “political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.”

A letter of support for Miller has been signed by several academics who said he was “approached to provide a statement on Israel and Palestine” and “simply responded honestly to the query.”

They warned that “well-orchestrated efforts” have been made to misrepresent his response as proof of anti-Semitism, and that sacking him would “crush academic freedom.” The letter was sent to Prof. Hugh Brady, president and vice chancellor of the university.

Miller has said his aim is to end “settler colonialism in Palestine” and “end Zionism as a functioning ideology of the world.”

Jewish Society President Edward Isaacs said the university is giving Miller’s views “legitimacy and power” by refusing to take action.“Jewish students have been actively seeking to ensure they are not taught by David Miller, and when they are, they are fearful of him finding out they are Jewish or associated with the Jewish Society,” Isaacs said.

“These are dangerous conspiracy theories about dual loyalty, dishonesty and Jewish students being operatives of a foreign state.”

Miller told The Times newspaper that he takes student safety “very seriously,” and that universities are governed by laws protecting the right to espouse research “that some may find discomfiting.”

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.”

The university said it is speaking to student organizations, including the Jewish Society, and the UCU, an academic union, “about how we can address student concerns swiftly, ensuring that we also protect the rights of our staff.”


Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar
Updated 27 February 2021

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Abdullah bin Yahya Al-Muallami, expressed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) concern on continuing “tragic events” that may hinder the process of a safe return of the Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.
Muallami called on Myanmar to fulfill International commitments to Rohingya Muslims during a UN general assembly meeting to hear the briefing of the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Bergner.

Muallami stated that members of the OIC were “closely” following the current events and developments in Myanmar, and urged to accelerate the full implementation of all recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to address the root causes of the crisis as well as implement other UN recommendations.
The international advisory commission – headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – was founded in 2016 to ensure the social and economic well-being of both the Buddhist and the Rohingya communities of Myanmar’s conflict-ravaged Rakhine State in the northern coastal region.
The envoy called on Myanmar to shoulder its responsibility towards the Rohingya Muslim minority and for an immediate end to all acts of violence and all violations of international law.
He calling for a full, transparent and independent investigation to report on the violations.
Muallami stressed the OIC’s position in supporting the Muslim Rohingya people, calling for ensuring their safety and security, and the recognition of their basic rights, including the right to full citizenship.
The ambassador welcomed the efforts of the international community, the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the government of Bangladesh to find a solution to the refugee crisis.


Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths
Updated 27 February 2021

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths
  • The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday reported 11,534 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,825 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,234,720 since the pandemic began.
The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 85,743.

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations
Updated 27 February 2021

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas.
The British-drafted resolution, cosponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda, from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia.
It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.”
Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.”
“This is a first step,” she stressed, and it will require further international efforts.
But Woodward said the large number of cosponsors and unanimous council approval are “a strong testament to the international commitment to seeing this happen.”
“Obviously each of these situations will require further negotiations at country and even at field and local level,” she said. “and we’ve asked the secretary-general to report back where they encounter barriers in this.”
The resolution adopted Friday recognizes “that armed conflicts can exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic, and that inversely the pandemic can exacerbate the adverse humanitarian impact of armed conflicts, as well as exacerbating inequalities.”
It also recognizes “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, of COVID-19 and its variant strains, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The Security Council stressed that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines” authorized by the World Health Organization or regulatory authorities “is essential to end the pandemic.”
It also stressed “the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy” in vaccinations.
And it called for donations of vaccines from richer developed nations to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility, the ambitious WHO program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.