Indonesia gets tough on COVID-19 vaccine skeptics as phase two of inoculations begins

Indonesia gets tough on COVID-19 vaccine skeptics as phase two of inoculations begins
A man reacts as a medical worker collects his nasal swab samples during a test for coronavirus at North Sumatra University Hospital in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 17 February 2021

Indonesia gets tough on COVID-19 vaccine skeptics as phase two of inoculations begins

Indonesia gets tough on COVID-19 vaccine skeptics as phase two of inoculations begins
  • People who refuse to accept vaccination will face a fine and the withdrawal of social aid as part of government sanctions

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s government said it will impose a series of progressive sanctions on individuals who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The penalties include fines, the withdrawal of social aid and the loss of access to administrative and public services.

The second phase of a nationwide inoculation campaign begins on Wednesday, during which senior citizens and front-line public workers will be inoculated.

“I call on the public to take part in the vaccination program so that we can reach herd immunity, since the obligation to participate in the program is laid out in the presidential regulation,” Wiku Adisasmito, spokesman for the national COVID-19 task force, said on Tuesday.

He was referring to a presidential order issued at the weekend for a national COVID-19 vaccination drive, which includes the possible sanctions on those who refuse to participate. The regulations will also serve as a legal reference for regional governments to issue their own bylaws regulating the vaccine program. The provincial administration in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, has already issued a regulation under which citizens who refuse to be vaccinated could be fined five million rupiah ($360).

Adisasmito urged the public to ignore false rumors and misconceptions about the vaccine.

“There is no need to doubt that the vaccine is safe and halal,” he said. “The vaccine has not caused any serious side effects so far.”

Indonesian authorities aim to inoculate about 181.5 million people of the 270 million population. The nationwide drive was launched a month ago, when President Joko Widodo was among the first to receive the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Chinese company Sinovac.

More than a million of a targeted 1.46 million health workers — mainly in the virus-infested islands of Java and Bali — have so far received the first of two required doses of the vaccine.

From Wednesday, work will be begin to inoculate 21.5 million residents over the age of 60, plus 16.9 million front-line public workers.

Experts said that sanctions should be used only “as the last resort,” against people who refuse to be vaccinated and that authorities should attempt to employ educational and persuasive methods first.

Masdalina Pane, an expert on health policies with the Indonesian Epidemiologists Association, said there is a long way to go before sanctions should be considered.

“We are still far from meeting the target to inoculate the priority groups, such as health workers and front-line public workers, let alone the general population, and we still don’t have enough doses of vaccine,” she told Arab News.

“What matters more is to get the vaccine supplies ready first. The government should not occupy themselves too much with sanctioning people. It should be the last resort. What the public needs more now is persuasive communications and promotions.”

According to a national online survey of 115,000 people from all 34 provinces carried out in September last year, about 65 percent of respondents said they would be willing to have the COVID-19 vaccine if the government provides it. Nearly 8 percent said that they would not accept it.

The survey, jointly conducted by the Health Ministry, the Indonesian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, found that the remaining 27 percent had doubts about the government’s intention to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. The people in this group are critical to a successful vaccination program, but the survey pointed out that their numbers should be interpreted cautiously as there may be varying levels of concerns about the vaccines due to the limited information that was available at the time of the survey about the type of vaccine, when it would be available and safety profiles.

On Tuesday, Indonesian food and drugs regulator BPOM authorized the emergency use of 13 million doses of vaccine that state-owned Bio Farma finished producing last week, using materials provided by Sinovac.

“We are currently increasing our production capacity to produce vaccine from Sinovac’s bulk material, while we would (also) still be importing vaccines from other manufacturers, such as Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Novavax,” said Bio Farma CEO Honesti Basyir.

As of Tuesday, 1,233,959 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Indonesia, including 10,029 new infections. Of those, more than 160,000 remain active, and the death toll in the country has surpassed 33,000.


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 4 min 14 sec ago

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.


US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
Updated 23 min 50 sec ago

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
  • Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions

MOSCOW: Washington’s envoy to Moscow will return to the United States for consultations, the US embassy said on Tuesday, after Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions.
“Ambassador Sullivan is returning to the United States for consultations this week,” the US diplomatic mission in Moscow said in a statement sent to AFP, quoting the envoy as saying he needed to “speak directly” with senior officials on the state of US-Russia relations.


Cooperate despite ‘genocide’? Biden tests ties with China, Russia

Cooperate despite ‘genocide’? Biden tests ties with China, Russia
Updated 51 min 8 sec ago

Cooperate despite ‘genocide’? Biden tests ties with China, Russia

Cooperate despite ‘genocide’? Biden tests ties with China, Russia
  • Climate envoy John Kerry issued a joint statement with China saying the two nations are “committed to cooperating with each other”

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration accuses China of genocide but reached a joint pledge to cooperate on climate. The White House is also working to arrange a summit with Russia, despite imposing harsh new sanctions.

Biden’s strategy is not about easing tensions, so often the stated goal of diplomacy, but identifying narrow areas to work together — especially on climate change — while acknowledging that much of the relationship will remain hostile.

Biden alluded to America’s Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union last week after he ordered sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats as a way to impose costs over Moscow’s alleged interference in US elections and a major hacking operation.

“We want a stable, predictable relationship,” said Biden, who proposed a summit in a neutral country during a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin even while pressing him over the health of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny.

“Throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control,” he said.

Biden’s relationship with China is guided by a similar philosophy — described, in a colloquial phrase popular in his White House, as being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a speech Monday, defended the approach from expected criticism by saying that no nation’s climate efforts would “excuse bad behavior.”

“Climate is not a trading card; it is our future,” Blinken said.

Climate envoy John Kerry, after a visit to Shanghai last week, issued a joint statement with China saying the two nations are “committed to cooperating with each other.”

However general in tone, it marked a stark contrast to a testy first meeting between top officials in March in Alaska, where Blinken raised concerns on a host of Chinese actions including what Washington has described as “genocide” against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people.

Biden has invited Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to a climate summit this week, with Kerry saying it would be tantamount to “killing yourself” not to work together on climate despite other disagreements.

Biden’s cool approach follows the highly personalized diplomacy of his predecessor Donald Trump, who voiced admiration for Putin and in his last year in office incessantly berated Beijing, which he blamed for the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who advised former president Barack Obama on China, detected a “gradual but significant shift” in the stance toward Beijing under Biden.

“His administration has dialed down the rhetorical heat and focused purposefully on concrete areas of the relationship where American interests are impacted by Chinese actions,” Hass said.

“Both sides also have slowly begun restoring direct functioning channels of diplomatic communication to address areas of concern and explore opportunities for coordination.”

China and the United States are the world’s top two economies and together account for half of global emissions responsible for climate change. Russia is the fourth biggest emitter and Putin has accepted an invitation to speak at the climate summit.

Putin’s decision to participate “signals that he, too, is interested in preserving some space in the fraught US-Russian relationship,” said Heather Conley, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But, Conley said: “Speaking at a virtual summit and mitigating climate impacts are two very different things.”

“What is striking to me is that while both Beijing and Moscow are speaking the language of climate change before international audiences, at home, they are putting their foot on the accelerator to increase global carbon emissions,” she said, pointing to Russia’s fossil-fuel industry and China’s reliance on coal plants.

In a recent essay, Andrew Erickson, a China expert at the US Naval War College, and Gabriel Collins of Rice University argued that the United States should look to compete rather than coordinate with China on climate. They said the United States could champion a carbon tax on exports — already backed by the European Union — to force China to cut back on coal.

“Xi’s bullish talk of combating climate change is a smokescreen for a more calculated agenda,” they wrote in Foreign Affairs.

“Chinese policymakers know their country is critical to any comprehensive international effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and they are trying to use that leverage to advance Chinese interests in other areas.”


Russian military build-up near Ukraine numbers more than 100,000 troops, EU says

Russian military build-up near Ukraine numbers more than 100,000 troops, EU says
Updated 55 min 26 sec ago

Russian military build-up near Ukraine numbers more than 100,000 troops, EU says

Russian military build-up near Ukraine numbers more than 100,000 troops, EU says

BRUSSELS: More than 100,000 Russian troops have massed on Ukraine’s border and in annexed Crimea, the office of the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said after EU foreign ministers were briefed by Ukraine’s foreign minister.
In a press conference on Monday, Borrell had originally spoken of more than 150,000 troops, and declined to give a source for the figure.
His office later corrected the number to more than 100,000 troops without giving a reason for the change.
Borrell said no new economic sanctions or expulsions of Russian diplomats were planned for the time being, despite saying that the military build-up on Ukraine’s borders was the largest ever.
In Washington, the Pentagon said the Russian military build-up was larger than that in 2014 and it was not clear that it was for training purposes.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Russian build-up numbered in the tens of thousands but was not aware of intelligence that pointed to more than 150,000 Russian troops.
The United States also expressed its “deep concern” over Russia’s plans to block foreign naval ships and other vessels in parts of the Black Sea, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“This represents yet another unprovoked escalation in Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine,” Price said.
Russia has temporarily restricted the movement of foreign warships and what it called “other state ships” near Crimea.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, after addressing EU foreign ministers, called on the EU to impose new sanctions on Russia.
Tensions between Moscow and Kyiv have been rising amid the military build-up and clashes in eastern Ukraine between the army and pro-Russian separatists.
The US Federal Aviation Administration on Monday urged airlines to exercise “extreme caution” when flying near the Ukraine-Russian border, citing potential flight safety risks.


US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin

US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin
Updated 20 April 2021

US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin

US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin
  • Chauvin, a White Minneapolis police officer, is accused of killing African American George Floyd while restraining him
  • There are fears that Arab American businesses could be targeted if the verdict triggers violent protests

CHICAGO: Police in cities across America were on alert Monday night as a jury began its deliberations in the trial of White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of causing the death of African American George Floyd while he was restraining him.
Floyd, 46, died on May 25 last year after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes to hold him down. Floyd’s death sparked widespread protests across the US by members of the Black Lives Matter movement, some of which turned violent.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The jury could convict him on a murder charge or they could find him innocent. Many believe a verdict of innocence could spark more violent demonstrations.
During the protests last year, which raged for more than two months, some people looted, damaged and even burnt down businesses, not only in Minneapolis but across the country. Several dozen people died in the violence and hundreds were injured.
Arab American stores in particular were targeted and looted because Floyd was arrested in front of one, called Cup Foods, owned by Mahmoud Abumayyaleh. An employee at the store had called police to report Floyd for trying, for a second time, to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
In Chicago, for example, more than a dozen stores owned by Arab Americans or Muslims were looted. Two of them were burnt down.
Hassan Nijem, president of the Arab American Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland said he hopes that protesters will not resort to violence if the jury returns a not guilty verdict against Chauvin.
“Last summer more than a dozen Arab American businesses were among the hundreds of businesses in Chicagoland that were damaged and looted by some of the protesters,” he said.
“This happened across the country, with many Arab American businesses being targeted by rage and anger. The protesters have a right to protest, whatever the jury decision, but we urge them not to damage any businesses and not to target Arab or Muslim businesses.”
Tensions are running high and were further inflamed by California Congresswoman Maxine Waters on Saturday. During an appearance at a Black Lives Matter rally at the Brooklyn Center in Minnesota she told the crowd: “Well, we’ve got to stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Minneapolis Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the Chauvin trial, described public comments about the case by elected officials, such as the congresswoman’s, as “abhorrent” but refused to grant a motion for a mistrial, which had been requested by Chauvin’s lawyers.
However he said: “I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”
Fearing violence, police in many communities across the country are on high alert to protect business districts if the verdict does not meet the expectations of activists.
Minutes after Cahill directed the jury to begin their deliberations on Monday afternoon, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker announced he was activating the Illinois National Guard. He said this was a response to a request from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to supplement the police presence.
“At the request of the City of Chicago, Gov. J. B. Pritzker is activating 125 personnel from the Illinois National Guard to stand by to support the Chicago Police Department, with a verdict expected in the trial of Derek Chauvin,” according to an official statement. The deployment will begin on Tuesday morning. The guardsmen will engage in “a limited mission to help manage street closures and will not interfere with peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Pritzker has also directed Illinois State Police to support the Chicago Police Department by providing additional troopers “to keep the community safe.”
“It is critical that those who wish to peacefully protest against the systemic racism and injustice that holds back too many of our communities continue to be able to do so,” he said. “Members of the Guard and the Illinois State Police will support the City of Chicago’s efforts to protect the rights of peaceful protesters and keep our families safe.”
Lightfoot said the request for support was critical.
“Our greatest priority at all times is ensuring the safety and security of the public,” she added. “While there is no actionable intelligence at this time, we want to be fully prepared out of an abundance of caution. Our city has a long history of peacefully expressing its First Amendment rights and I encourage residents to exercise their rights to free speech this coming week thoughtfully, respectfully and peacefully.”