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.


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.