UK mosque becomes COVID-19 vaccination center

A woman leaves after receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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A woman leaves after receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
People queue to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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People queue to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
A worker cleans chairs in the waiting area for people receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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A worker cleans chairs in the waiting area for people receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
Medical staff prepare a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine dose, at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Britain, January 21, 2021. (Reuters)
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Medical staff prepare a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine dose, at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Britain, January 21, 2021. (Reuters)
A woman receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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A woman receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
A woman receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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A woman receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
A member of the medical staff works at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination centre, at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Britain, January 21, 2021. (Reuters)
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A member of the medical staff works at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination centre, at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Britain, January 21, 2021. (Reuters)
A man grimaces as he receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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A man grimaces as he receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
A man waits to receive the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Britain, January 21, 2021. (Reuters)
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A man waits to receive the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Britain, January 21, 2021. (Reuters)
An Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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An Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2021

UK mosque becomes COVID-19 vaccination center

An Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre in Birmingham, central England on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
  • Move is important in fighting fake news surrounding COVID-19 jabs, imam tells Arab News
  • ‘It means a lot to us. It has presented us the opportunity to contribute to the fight against coronavirus’

LONDON: A mosque is among dozens of new vaccination hubs that have opened in the UK to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the nation’s most vulnerable people.

By partnering with the National Health Service (NHS) and local pharmacies, the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre in Birmingham has become the first mosque in the UK to provide its premises as part of the country’s vaccination drive.

Sheikh Nuru Mohammed, the mosque’s imam, told Arab News that he and his congregation are delighted to be taking part in the UK’s vaccination drive.

“It means a lot to us. It has presented us the opportunity to contribute to the fight against coronavirus,” he said.

“Members of my community were elated, excited to take a practical step against the pandemic. People are moved about it, without a doubt.”

Mohammed said the move is important in countering some of the fake news surrounding vaccines that has been circulating in some minority communities in the UK.

“It’s crucial that we send a strong, positive signal toward the vaccine among our community,” he added. “Some Muslims are of the view that the vaccine’s ingredients aren’t halal — we’re doing this to show that this is fake news, and the most practical way of doing this is to take it into the mosque.”

NHS engagement lead Claire Deeley told Arab News that the mosque has the advantage of already being a trusted community hub.

“It’s very busy. It’s fully booked for the next few days,” she said. “It’s an ideal space right within the community — we’re really pleased.”

The mosque’s dimensions have made it a perfect place to safely deliver vaccines. With two large halls, each with a capacity of over 500 people, visitors are received and check in for their vaccines in one, before moving into the other to receive their jabs.

Social distancing is possible because of the large spaces, and the parking capacity for worshippers means the mosque can facilitate the high numbers of people arriving to receive their vaccines.

Carpets have been covered with vinyl flooring to protect them and provide a safe environment.

“It’s fantastic to see the vaccine program expand so fast,” said Nadim Zahawi, the UK’s minister for vaccine deployment. “Each week the NHS is making it easier for people to get a jab closer to home, in places at the heart of their community, from the local pharmacy to the local mosque.”


Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
Updated 6 sec ago

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
  • Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2
TAIPEI: A strong earthquake struck northeastern Taiwan on Sunday, with residents reporting violent shaking in the capital Taipei but there were no immediate reports of widespread damage.
Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2.
It hit northeastern Yilan county at 1:11 p.m. (0511 GMT) at a depth of 67 kilometers (42 miles).
An AFP reporter who lives in Yilan said the shaking seemed to last some 30 seconds.
“The walls of the house were shaking, both sideways and up and down, it felt quite strong,” the reporter said.
There was no damage in his neighborhood.
The main quake was followed by a 5.4-magnitude aftershock and Taipei’s MRT metro system shut down as a precaution for a little under an hour before service resumed.
Tom Parker, a British illustrator who lives in Taipei, said he was riding the subway when the quake hit.
“First time I’ve felt a quake on the MRT. Like a tame rollercoaster,” he tweeted, adding he and other commuters were told to shelter in place in the station for now.
Many others reported the tremor on social media.
“I was scared to death, I screamed in my room,” Yu Ting wrote on Facebook.
“This earthquake is really big, glass has shattered in my living room.”
Some grocery stores reported food and other goods were thrown from shelves by the shaking.
Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.
Some earthquakes of this magnitude can prove deadly, although much depends on where the quake strikes and at what depth.
Hualien, a scenic tourist hotspot, was struck by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 2018 that killed 17 people and injured nearly 300.
In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.
However, a 6.2 earthquake struck in December 2020 in Yilan with no major damage or injuries reported.

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
Updated 20 min 55 sec ago

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
  • Junta says it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the ASEAN
  • Myanmar leadership accuses ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference

Myanmar’s military rulers pledged on Sunday to cooperate “as much as possible” with a peace plan agreed with ASEAN, despite a stern rebuke of the regional bloc for excluding the country’s top commander from a summit this week.
In an announcement in state media on Sunday, the junta said it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in following a five-point “consensus” agreed in April, a plan backed by the West and China.
ASEAN foreign ministers decided on Oct. 15 to sideline Min Aung Hlaing, leader of a Feb. 1 Myanmar coup, for his failure to implement that plan, which included ending hostilities, initiating dialogue, allowing humanitarian support and granting a special envoy full access in the country.
The junta struck back late on Friday, accusing ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference. It refused to agree to send a politically neutral Myanmar representative instead of Min Aung Hlaing.
ASEAN chair Brunei has not responded to Myanmar’s rejection.
A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Saturday, citing the sensitivity of the matter, while Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, said ASEAN’s consensus on who would represent Myanmar at the summit was the “common guide for all ASEAN members.”
The exclusion is an unprecedented snub from a bloc long criticized for being tardy and ineffective at dealing with member governments accused of atrocities.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in a post-coup crackdown in Myanmar, with thousands more detained, many tortured or beaten, according to the United Nations, citing activists. The junta is accused of using excessive military force against civilian populations.
The junta has insisted many of those killed or detained were “terrorists” determined to destabilize the country. The junta chief last week said opposition forces were prolonging the unrest.
ASEAN’s special envoy, Erywan Yusof of Brunei, had sought a meeting with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military government said that was impossible because she was detained and charged with crimes.
The junta warned Erywan not to engage with opposition forces it has outlawed, including the shadow National Unity Government, an alliance of pro-democracy and armed ethnic groups, Japanese broadcaster NHK said, citing an unpublished report.
A Myanmar military spokesman and Erywan’s office did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment on Sunday on the reported warning.
In Sunday’s announcement, Myanmar’s rulers first reaffirmed their own five-point plan for restoring democracy, which they announced after the coup.
The military insists it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and its takeover was not a coup, but a necessary and lawful intervention against a threat to sovereignty posed by Suu Kyi’s party, which it said won a fraudulent election last year.


US urges North Korea to stop missile tests

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests
Updated 24 October 2021

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests
  • Tuesday’s launch was the latest in a series of recent weapons tests by Pyongyang

SEOUL: The US on Sunday urged North Korea to stop “counterproductive” missile tests, but expressed hope Pyongyang would respond positively to Washington’s call for dialogue.
It comes after North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Tuesday, prompting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
US special representative on North Korea Sung Kim met his southern counterpart Noh Kyu-duk after a meeting with their Japanese counterpart in Washington.
He labelled Tuesday’s launch a “provocation,” and urged Pyongyang to stop “concerning and counterproductive” missile tests.
“We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach,” Kim told reporters in Seoul, using the acronyms of North Korea’s official same.
Tuesday’s launch was the latest in a series of recent weapons tests by the country, including a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon, and what it said was a hypersonic warhead.
Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blamed the United States for sanctions, dismissing Washington’s assertions that it does not have hostile intentions.
Kim met three times with former president Donald Trump, who boasted of stopping a war but failed to reach a comprehensive agreement on ending the country’s nuclear program.
President Joe Biden has promised to keep seeking diplomacy but with a more low-key approach.


Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears
Updated 24 October 2021

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears
  • Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured nearly nine months of stay-at-home restrictions

MELBOURNE: Melbourne, the world’s most locked-down city that emerged from its latest spate of COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, will see more curbs eased next week when Victoria state reaches an 80 percent full vaccination rate, officials said on Sunday.
Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of stay-at-home restrictions during six lockdowns since March 2020, longer than the 234-day continuous lockdown in Buenos Aires.
Starting on Friday, when 80 percent of people across Victoria — of which Melbourne is the capital — are expected to be fully vaccinated, Melburnians will be free to travel throughout the state and masks will no longer be required outdoors.
“There’s a fundamental agreement that we have reached with the Victorian community, we asked you to get vaccinated, you have done that in record time and record numbers,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
With a once-sputtering vaccine rollout now at full speed, authorities across Australia no longer plan to rely on extended lockdowns to suppress the virus. Victoria recorded 1,935 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths on Sunday.
As the state moves toward a “vaccinated economy” in which only fully inoculated people will be allowed into venues, a 90 percent percent rate is expected around Nov. 24, Andrews said.
He added that he wanted to see crowds in excess of 80,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Boxing Day Test on Dec. 26 between Australia and England.
“It’s our approach to try and achieve life as close to normal as possible,” Andrews said.
Australians overwhelmingly support vaccinations, with research by the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne, showing in October that only 6.9 percent of the population were unwilling to be inoculated.
New South Wales state, whose capital Sydney spent 100 days in a lockdown that ended earlier this month, recorded 296 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths. Nearly 85 percent of the state’s population have been fully vaccinated.
New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the virus through vaccinations, had 80 cases on Sunday, all in the North Island. On Saturday, it reported a first COVID-19 infection in nearly a year in the country’s South Island.


Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing

Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing
Updated 24 October 2021

Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing

Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing
  • The EU suspects Belarus is masterminding the unprecedented influx of migrants into Poland as a form of retaliation against EU sanctions

KLESZCZELE, Belarus: Exhausted and trapped in a cold, “cruel” forest, Lebanese barber Ali Abd Alwareth said he regretted his week-long bid to enter the European Union via the Belarus-Poland border.

“It’s miserable. Something that you don’t wish for your worst enemy ... A nightmare,” the soft-spoken 24-year-old with Crohn’s disease told AFP.

Sitting cross-legged on a bed of pine needles and dead leaves near the border town of Kleszczele in eastern Poland, Abd Alwareth described being a ping-pong ball for the guards.

“I tried crossing like five, six times, and every time I got caught and deported back to the border” by Poland, he said in English.

The Belarusian side meanwhile refused to let him return to Minsk to fly home.

Abd Alwareth said security forces told him: “You have only two choices: either you die here or you die in Poland. That’s it.”

One of thousands of migrants — mostly from the Middle East — who have tried to penetrate the 400-km border since August, Abd Alwareth said he left the financial crisis in Lebanon in search of a better life.

The whole journey from his home region of Bekaa cost $4,000 and involved help from a Minsk-based company he found on social media.

The EU suspects Belarus is masterminding the unprecedented influx of migrants into Poland as a form of retaliation against EU sanctions, but the regime has put the blame on the West.

Poland has sent thousands of troops, built a razor-wire fence and implemented a three-month state of emergency that bans journalists and charity workers along the immediate border area.

During his grueling time in the woods, Abd Alwareth said he drank water off of leaves, was too cold to sleep, and was once hit on the head by either the Polish army or police.

Though “exhausted” and “devastated,” he said he understood that the border guards “are doing their job. They are protecting their country. We are illegal.”

On Friday, Abd Alwareth and his Syrian walking companions managed to get in touch with Polish activists, who met them in the forest with warm clothes and food as well as offering support when the guards arrived.

His fate up in the air, Abd Alwareth hopes to receive asylum in Poland — or at the very least, to return to Lebanon.

“Okay, you don’t want me here, you don’t want me in Belarus. Just deport me back home. That’s all I’m asking for,” he said.

“What is happening in the forest is cruel ... I feel like a puppet. It was my decision, I came this way -- but not to be treated like this,” he added.

“I refuse to die at the border. I just want to see my mum.”