Malaysia’s COVID-19 vaccination drive to start next month as cases soar

A nationwide state of emergency was declared in Malaysia on Jan. 12 to curb the spread of COVID-19. (AFP/File Photo)
A nationwide state of emergency was declared in Malaysia on Jan. 12 to curb the spread of COVID-19. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 23 January 2021

Malaysia’s COVID-19 vaccination drive to start next month as cases soar

A nationwide state of emergency was declared in Malaysia on Jan. 12 to curb the spread of COVID-19. (AFP/File Photo)
  • State of emergency was declared on Jan. 12

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s coronavirus vaccination program will start on Feb. 26, the country's health minister said on Saturday, as the country grapples with a surge in cases.

A nationwide state of emergency was declared on Jan. 12 to curb the spread of COVID-19. Malaysia reported 4,275 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, its highest daily number of infections to date, raising the total number of confirmed cases to 180,455.

“The government of Malaysia will start the vaccination program's rollout on Feb. 26,” Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba told Arab News. “All preparations for the program enhanced at the moment. It will be free to all Malaysians.”

The National Immunization Program is expected to cover 27 million of the country’s 32 million population by the first quarter of 2022.

Last week Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the government was confident of meeting the 12-month program’s target of vaccinating more than 80 percent of the population.

Baba and Science and Technology Minister Khairy Jamaluddin set up a special committee in October to fortify vaccine procurement in a transparent manner while giving priority to the national immunization campaign. The government has allocated RM3 billion ($742 million) for the initiative.

The committee has already secured vaccine supplies to cover 12.8 million people through agreements signed with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and COVAX, which is the global pooled procurement mechanism for COVID-19 vaccines.

Malaysia is expected to receive its first batch of Pfizer vaccines by the end of February. More vaccine procurement is underway, with the government finalizing deals to buy vaccines developed by China’s Sinovac and CanSino Biologics.

The Russian Sputnik V vaccine is also being considered.


Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters
Updated 39 min 13 sec ago

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters
  • Confrontation underscores rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and Myanmar’s generals
YANGON: Security forces in Myanmar’s largest city on Friday fired warning shots and beat truncheons against their shields while moving to disperse more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters.
The demonstrators had gathered in front of a popular shopping mall in Yangon, holding placards and chanting slogans denouncing the Feb. 1 coup even as the security presence increased and a water-cannon truck was brought to the area.
When around 50 riot police moved against the protesters, warning shots could be heard, and at least one demonstrator was held by officers. Security forces chased the protesters off the main road and continued to pursue them in the nearby lanes, as some ducked into houses to hide.
The confrontation underscored the rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and Myanmar’s generals who toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a takeover that shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.
On Thursday, supporters of Myanmar’s junta attacked people protesting the military government, using slingshots, iron rods and knives to injure several of them. Photos and videos posted on social media showed groups attacking people in downtown Yangon as police stood by without intervening.
The violence erupted as hundreds marched in support of the coup. They carried banners in English with the slogans “We Stand With Our Defense Services” and “We Stand With State Administration Council,” which is the official name of the junta.
Late Thursday, police turned out in force in Yangon’s Tarmwe neighborhood where they tried to clear the streets of residents protesting the military’s appointment of a new administrator for one ward. Several arrests were made as people scattered in front of riot police who used flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd.
No pro-military rally appeared to be scheduled for Friday.
In Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, anti-coup protesters also took to the streets Friday. They included a contingent of Buddhist nuns holding placards that read “We Immediately Need Action by Force from US Army.” Other demonstrators carried signs reading “Free our leader Aung San Suu Kyi,” “Pray for Myanmar,” and “Reject Military Coup.”
By midday, security forces had blocked the main road in downtown Mandalay to prevent the protesters from gathering.
Suu Kyi has not been seen since the coup. Around 50 of her supporters held a prayer Friday opposite her home in Yangon. The rambling mansion on University Avenue is where she spent many years under house arrest during previous military governments, and the residence has long had iconic status among her supporters.
“Because of the situation, on this day of the full moon we are sending love to, and reciting Buddha’s teachings for Mother Suu, President U Win Myint and all those unlawfully detained,” said Hmuu Sitt yan Naing, who joined the prayer group.
It is believed Suu Kyi is currently being detained in the capital Naypyitaw. She is due to face a court on Monday on charges brought against her by the military junta that are widely seen as politically motivated.
Several Western countries have imposed or threatened sanctions against Myanmar’s military. On Thursday, Britain announced further measures against members of the ruling junta for “overseeing human rights violations since the coup.”
Amid the international outrage, Facebook also announced Thursday it would ban all accounts linked to the military as well as ads from military-controlled companies.

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing
Updated 54 min 6 sec ago

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing
  • The United Nations refugee agency had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat

NEW DELHI/DHAKA: India’s coast guard found 81 survivors and eight dead on a boat crammed with Rohingya refugees adrift in the Andaman Sea, an Indian foreign ministry official said on Friday, adding the survivors would not be allowed to enter Indian territory.
Another refugee was missing, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday, giving news of the rescue.
The United Nations refugee agency had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat, which had set off on Feb. 11 from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where refugee camps have been established for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled neighboring Myanmar.
After four days at sea the boat’s engine failed, and those on board had run out of food and water, Srivastava said. Many were ill and suffering from extreme dehydration by the time they were rescued.
Two Indian coast guard ships were sent to help the refugees, 23 of whom were children, and the Indian government is in discussions with Bangladesh to ensure their safe return, he said.
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. It does not have a domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including some Rohingya from Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a deadly crackdown by security forces in Myanmar in 2017.
“Bangladesh is respectful of its international obligations under the UNCLOS (The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
On earlier occasions when other littoral countries of the region repeatedly denied access to the Rohingyas adrift on the sea, it was the Bangladesh that came to the rescue, the ministry added.
The statement said the boat had been traced approximately 1,700 km away from Bangladesh and 147 km from India.
“Other states, particularly those on whose territorial water the vessel has been found, bear the primary responsibility and they should fulfil their obligation under international law and burden-sharing principle,” the ministry said.


Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 9,997

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 9,997
Updated 26 February 2021

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 9,997

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 9,997
  • The reported death toll rose by 394 to 69,519

BERLIN: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 9,997 to 2,424,684, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday. The reported death toll rose by 394 to 69,519, the tally showed.


Dutch parliament: China’s treatment of Uighurs is genocide

Dutch parliament: China’s treatment of Uighurs is genocide
Updated 26 February 2021

Dutch parliament: China’s treatment of Uighurs is genocide

Dutch parliament: China’s treatment of Uighurs is genocide
  • Motion says Chinese measures amount to genocide
  • PM Rutte’s party votes against motion

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch parliament on Thursday passed a non-binding motion saying the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in China amounts to genocide, the first such move by a European country.
Activists and UN rights experts say at least one million Muslims are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilizations.
China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
“A genocide on the Uighur minority is occurring in China,” the Dutch motion said, stopping short of directly saying that the Chinese government was responsible.
The Chinese Embassy in The Hague said on Thursday any suggestion of a genocide in Xinjiang was an “outright lie” and the Dutch parliament had “deliberately smeared China and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
Canada passed a resolution labelling China’s treatment of the Uighurs genocide earlier this week.
The Dutch motion said that actions by the Chinese government such as “measures intended to prevent births” and “having punishment camps” fell under United Nations Resolution 260, generally known as the genocide convention.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party voted against the resolution.

'Great concern'
Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the government did not want to use the term genocide, as the situation has not been declared as such by the United Nations or by an international court.
“The situation of the Uighurs is a cause of great concern,” Blok told reporters after the motion was passed, adding that the Netherlands hoped to work with other nations on the matter.
The author of the motion, lawmaker Sjoerd Sjoerdsma of the center-left D-66 Party, has separately proposed lobbying the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics away from Beijing.
“Recognizing the atrocities that are taking place against the Uighurs in China for what they are, namely genocide, prevents the world from looking the other way and forces us into action,” he told Reuters in an emailed response to questions.
In a statement on its website, the Chinese Embassy in The Hague said the Uighur population in Xinjiang has been growing in in recent years, enjoying a higher standard of living, and a longer life expectancy.
“How can you call this a genocide?” it said. “Xingjiang-related issues are never about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about combating violent terrorism and succession.”
China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva accused Western powers on Wednesday of using the Uighur issue to meddle in his country’s internal affairs.


US, EU say vaccine programs on track as global deaths hit 2.5 million

US, EU say vaccine programs on track as global deaths hit 2.5 million
Updated 26 February 2021

US, EU say vaccine programs on track as global deaths hit 2.5 million

US, EU say vaccine programs on track as global deaths hit 2.5 million

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday hailed progress in turning around its troubled Covid-19 vaccine rollout, and the European Union said it was also on track to meet jab targets as global coronavirus deaths topped 2.5 million.
Brazil hit 250,000 fatalities — the second-highest national death toll after the US — while the worldwide vaccine campaign received the royal endorsement of Queen Elizabeth II, 94, who urged people not to be wary of the injection.
President Joe Biden declared the US rollout is now “weeks ahead of schedule” as he celebrated 50 million vaccines administered since he took office on January 20, but he warned Americans to keep masking up.
“We’re moving in the right direction despite the mess we inherited,” Biden said, referring to the program under his predecessor Donald Trump.
The United States is the world’s hardest-hit country, with coronavirus deaths crossing the 500,000 mark earlier this week.
Biden said that there would be “enough supply” for all adult Americans by the end of July.

The EU announced Thursday it expected to vaccinate 70 percent of adults by the end of the summer, after months of problems and friction.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said fully vaccinating just under three-quarters of adults by late summer was a “goal that we’re confident with.”
 

But in Brazil, the grim quarter-million deaths milestone came one year after the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the country, which is struggling with severe vaccine shortages and a devastating second wave.
The coronavirus has hit especially hard in Brazil’s impoverished “favelas,” among indigenous communities and in the Amazon rainforest city of Manaus, where there have been haunting scenes of mass graves and patients suffocating to death with no oxygen.
President Jair Bolsonaro has flouted expert advice on managing the pandemic, railing against lockdowns and face masks and instead touting the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, despite studies showing it is ineffective against Covid-19.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth said in a video message Thursday that her coronavirus jab “didn’t hurt at all” and encouraged those reluctant about receiving the vaccine to “think about other people.”
The monarch was vaccinated along with her husband Prince Philip in January.
In total, 2,500,172 deaths and 112,618,488 cases have been reported, with almost half of the fatalities occurring in just five countries: the United States, Brazil, Mexico, India and Britain, according to an AFP count based on official figures.
Vaccine rollouts have been patchy so far, and most of the 217 million vaccine doses administered globally have gone to wealthier countries.
In China, where the virus first emerged in late 2019, the national drug authority approved two more vaccines made by domestic companies for public use, bringing the number of Chinese vaccines to four.
Two Cuban vaccines will undergo advanced clinical trials from March after they reportedly elicited a “powerful immune response” in early tests, one of the scientists in charge of the project said Thursday.

In further vaccine developments, frozen vials of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine may be stored at temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers for up to two weeks, the US Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.
The move loosens a previous requirement that the vaccine should be stored at ultra-low temperatures, between -112 and -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-80 to -60 degrees Celsius).
The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, urged governments to try to better understand the long-term consequences of coronavirus on some sufferers who have prolonged symptoms such as tiredness, brain fog, and cardiac and neurological disorders.
“It’s a clear priority for WHO, and of the utmost importance. It should be for every health authority,” said Hans Kluge, regional director for WHO Europe.
Britain, which has forged ahead with its vaccine drive, said Thursday it was lowering its alert level from the highest tier, citing a dip in cases.
In France, hopes of a return to normal on the sports front were dashed after more than a dozen rugby players and staff tested positive, forcing Sunday’s Six Nations match against Scotland to be scrapped.
In another sign of the toll the pandemic is taking on populations, the number of babies born in France in January also fell by 13 percent, the biggest drop in 45 years.
And in Japan, organizers of the delayed Olympic torch relay said fans could line the route when it kicks off next month, but cheering is strictly banned and social distancing will be enforced.
Some sex workers in Bangladesh’s largest brothel started getting their vaccines, a health official said Thursday.
Beauty, 40, who goes by one name, said she was initially hesitant about getting the shot.
“But the health officials reassured us. Now we understand it is important as we meet many people every day,” she said.
Syria will start giving coronavirus vaccines to its health care workers across the war-ravaged country from next week.