Crisis-hit Lebanon kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations

Crisis-hit Lebanon kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations
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A healthcare worker gestures during a coronavirus vaccination campaign, at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2021. (Reuters)
Crisis-hit Lebanon kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations
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Healthcare workers prepare the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2021. (Reuters)
Crisis-hit Lebanon kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations
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A Healthcare worker is pictured during a coronavirus vaccination campaign at Saint George Hospital University Medical center, in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Crisis-hit Lebanon kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations

Crisis-hit Lebanon kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Medical workers and those aged over 75 were the first to receive Pfizer/BioNTech shots at three hospitals
  • The World Bank has allocated $34 million to inoculate an initial two million of Lebanon’s six million inhabitants

BEIRUT: Lebanon kicked off Covid-19 vaccinations Sunday with jabs for health care workers and the elderly in an inoculation drive it hopes will keep the outbreak in check amid a deepening economic crisis.
The country has been under lockdown since mid-January, after an unprecedented spike in cases blamed on holiday gatherings forced overwhelmed hospitals to turn away patients.
Medical workers and those aged over 75 were the first to receive Pfizer/BioNTech shots at three major Beirut hospitals, a day after a shipment of 28,500 doses arrived at the capital’s airport.
The World Bank has allocated $34 million to inoculate an initial two million of Lebanon’s six million inhabitants.
“Finally there’s a glimpse of hope that things will get back to normal,” said medical student Dana Chatila, who was waiting in her white lab coat and mask outside the American University Medical Center where she works in the emergency department.
“It’s going to take time of course, but the darkness is ending.”
The pandemic has compounded the woes of Lebanese, who are struggling with a dire economic crisis and still reeling from Beirut’s massive port blast last summer that killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the capital.
More than half the population lives in poverty, and rights groups have warned millions will struggle to survive without help if coronavirus restrictions last too long.
Caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab said: “We hope to reach adequate community protection so life can gradually return to normal in Lebanon as soon as possible.”
The first jab was given to Mahmoud Hassoun, head of the intensive care unit at Rafik Hariri Hospital, which has been at the forefront of battling the outbreak.
“Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of this plague in the country,” he told AFP.
The second to roll up his shirt sleeves in front of the cameras was popular Lebanese comedian Salah Tizani, 93, known by his stage name Abu Salim.
“I’m telling everyone to come and get vaccinated,” he said. “Better to get vaccinated than to be knocked down by this deadly virus.”
Among those vaccinated by early afternoon were more than 100 people over the age of 75, health ministry adviser Mohamad Haidar said. From Monday, another 18 hospitals across Lebanon would join in the vaccination campaign, he said.
Authorities say 336,992 people have caught Covid since February 2020, of whom 3,961 have died.
Lebanon has ordered around six million vaccine doses in total, including two million from Pfizer/BioNTech and another 2.7 million via the international Covax distribution program.
The World Bank and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are to monitor the vaccine rollout.
Some 450,000 people have signed up to be vaccinated in Lebanon including 45,000 aged over 75 and 17,500 health sector staff, caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan said.
He has promised all residents would be vaccinated, including Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in the country.
But many in Lebanon are still hesitant to get the jab.
Of 500 people surveyed by private think-tank Information International, 31 percent said they would get vaccinated, 38 percent said they would rather not, and 31 percent were undecided.
Lebanon’s government stepped down after the August 4 port blast but remains in a caretaker capacity as a deeply divided political class has since failed to agree on a new cabinet.
Lebanon desperately needs the new government to start sweeping reforms and unlock billions of dollars in international aid.
Saad Hariri, who returned as premier designate in October almost a year after he stepped down under street pressure, said he wanted a “government of experts not affiliated with political parties.”
“Whoever prevents the government from being formed prevents reforms from being launched, delays stemming the collapse... and prolongs the suffering of Lebanese,” he said after weeks in which he and President Michel Aoun have blamed each other for the deadlock.
He spoke on the 16th anniversary of the assassination in Beirut of his father, former premier Rafik Hariri.


Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion
Updated 28 February 2021

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

DUBAI: Iran was most likely behind an explosion that occurred earlier this week on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel in the Gulf of Oman, the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said. 
The MV Helios Ray, which was carrying vehicles in the Gulf was struck on Febriuary 25.
“The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the belief that Iran was responsible, but it must still be verified," Gantz said in an interview with Israeli state television Kan.

“Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context that is my assessment,” he added.And Gantz said that it was known that Iran was intending to target Israeli assets and citizens.
Top Israeli defense and political leaders will discuss on Sunday their response to the apparent attack, Kan reported citing officials who have said it "crossed a red line."

The explosion did not cause any casualties but left two 1.5-meter-diameter holes in the side of the vessel.

The MV Ray Helios arrived in Dubai's port for repairs Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

 The Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray was seen sitting at dry dock facilities in Dubai by an AP journalist. 

Reuters quoted a statement by a spokesman for Dubai state port operator DP World saying that “an assessment can be made” when the ship arrives. DP World owns and operates the dry docks, where ship repairs and maintenance are carried out.

Iranian authorities have not publicly commented on the ship.


Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib
Updated 28 February 2021

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

DUBAI: Yemen’s information minister has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis in the governorate of Marib that “cannot be contained” due to continued fighting by the Iran-backed Houthi militia. 

Minister Muammar al-Eryani told the country’s state news agency Saba that the governorate holds the biggest number of refugee families, who have been displaced due to the ongoing Houthi violence. 

Eryani said Marib had received more than two million refugees who have settled there since the war broke out, saying they make up 60 percent of refugees in the country. Those refugees represent 7.5 percent of the total population in Yemen.  

The minister was citing a report on from the Executive Unit for IDPs Camps Management that was released Friday. 


Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
Updated 28 February 2021

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
  • He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”

ISTANBUL: Mujdat Gezen’s half-century career as an acclaimed Turkish writer and actor has included awards, a stint as a UN goodwill ambassador and a taste of prison after a 1980 putsch.
Now aged 77, the wry-witted comedian and poet with an easy smile and a bad back risks returning to jail on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”
“I am even banned from appearing in crossword puzzles,” Gezen quipped.
Gezen landed in court with fellow comedian Metin Akpinar, 79, over comments the pair made during a television show they starred in on opposition Halk TV in 2018.
In the broadcast, Gezen told Erdogan to “know your place.”
“Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place,” Gezen said on air.
His parter Akpinar went one step further, saying that “if we don’t become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar.”
These are risky comments to make in a country still reeling from a sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a failed coup in 2016.
Their trial is coming with Erdogan rattled by a burst of student protests that hint at Turks’ impatience with his commanding rule as prime minister and president since 2003.
Prosecutors want to put the two veteran celebrities behind bars for up to four years and eight months. The verdict is expected on Monday.

Jailed over book
Thousands of Turks, from a former Miss Turkey to school children, have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media and television.
Bristling at the jokes and comments, Erdogan warned in 2018 that his critics “will pay the price.”
“The next day,” Gezen told AFP in an interview by telephone, “police turned up and I was summoned to give a statement to prosecutors.”
The knock on the door reminded Gezen of how he ended up being dragged before the courts after spending 20 days in jail when a military junta overthrew Turkey’s civilian government at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Gezen’s book about Nazim Hikmet — perhaps Turkey’s most famous 20th century poet, who happened to be a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963 — was taken off the shelves after that coup.
“I was chained up while being taken from prison to court with a gang of 50 criminals, including murderers and smugglers,” he recalled.
He was freed by the court in 1980, and may yet be acquitted on Monday.
Still, Gezen is uncomfortable with the similarities, and with Turkey’s trajectory under Erdogan.
“There is a record number of journalists in jail — we have never seen this in the history of the republic. That’s what upsets me,” he said.

Irritable dictator
An author of more than 50 books and founder of his own art center in Istanbul, Gezen says he has “either criticized or parodied politicians to their faces” for decades without going to jail.
His popularity and resolve earned him a role in 2007 as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s relief fund.
But he fears that Turkey’s tradition of outspoken artists — “art is by its nature oppositional,” he remarked — is wilting under Erdogan.
“We now have self-censorship. But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical,” he said.
“The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It’s the artists who must decide.”
To be on the safe side, Gezen’s lawyers now read his books before publication to avoid legal problems.
“It is risky in Turkey,” he observed.
Many of the opposition media outlets that once flourished have been either closed or taken over by government allies, leaving independent voices with even fewer options.
But he remains doggedly optimistic, calling democracy in Turkey something tangible but just out of reach, like the shore for a stranded boat.
“And then someone up on the mast will cry: Land ahoy!“


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by autumn 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.