Malaysia to start COVID-19 vaccination drive early as first doses arrive

Malaysia to start COVID-19 vaccination drive early as first doses arrive
A cargo container (C) containing Malaysia's first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines being unloaded. (Fila/AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Malaysia to start COVID-19 vaccination drive early as first doses arrive

Malaysia to start COVID-19 vaccination drive early as first doses arrive
  • Malaysia aims to vaccinate at least 80% of its 32 million people within a year
  • A total of 312,390 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were delivered to Malaysia on Sunday morning

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia moved up its COVID-19 inoculation drive by two days as the first batch of vaccines arrived in the Southeast Asian nation on Sunday.
Malaysia aims to vaccinate at least 80% of its 32 million people within a year as it pushes to revive an economy that, slammed by coronavirus-related curbs, recorded its worst slump in over two decades in 2020.
It has imposed more lockdowns this year amid a fresh wave of coronavirus infections. The country has recorded 280,272 cases and 1,051 deaths.
A total of 312,390 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were delivered to Malaysia on Sunday morning, with more expected in coming weeks.
“The second delivery will be made on Feb. 26, and we will continue to receive (Pfizer) deliveries every two weeks until it is completed,” Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a virtual news conference.
Malaysia has secured 32 million doses from Pfizer and BioNTech.
Vaccine doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech are scheduled to be delivered in bulk on Feb. 27, pending approval from local regulators, Khairy said.
The national vaccine rollout will begin Wednesday, earlier than initially scheduled, with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Health Ministry Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah set to receive the first doses, Khairy said.


Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance
Updated 14 sec ago

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military this week regained control of territory previously claimed by Tigrayan rebels, a potential validation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to join soldiers in conflict-hit areas.

Yet how the government scored its wins and what they mean for an eventual outcome in the year-old war remain points of fierce debate as fighting enters a new, uncertain phase.

Just a month ago, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebel group appeared to be on the offensive, claiming to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha, towns on a key highway headed toward the capital Addis Ababa.

They reportedly reached as far as Shewa Robit, around 220 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.

But after Abiy announced last week he would lead operations in the field, the government announced a string of victories and the rebels acknowledged making adjustments to their strategy.

State media has responded with triumphalist wall-to-wall coverage.

“The enemy is destroyed, disintegrated,” the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Abiy as saying Thursday.

There’s little doubt the government can claim to have the “upper hand” in specific areas, said Awet Weldemichael, a Horn of Africa security expert at Queen’s University in Canada.

“Only time will tell if these can be translated into [the] upper hand in the war,” he said.

The war in northern Ethiopia broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Though Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, promised a quick victory, by late June the TPLF had retaken most of Tigray, and it soon launched offensives into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions.

The rebels’ march toward Addis sparked international panic, with a host of embassies urging their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

All the while, though, the exact nature of the TPLF advance was in dispute.

“I don’t know whether we should call it an advance,” one Western security official told AFP in mid-November.

“There’s not a huge column of tanks and armored vehicles driving down the road toward Addis. It’s more complex than that. There are foot soldiers going into the mountains, they shoot and surround certain areas” but do not seem to fully control cities and towns, the official said.

The TPLF also never explicitly said it wanted to enter Addis Ababa, instead simply declining to rule out such a move.

The latest battlefield shifts unfolded swiftly.

The government first claimed towns in Afar, near a critical highway bringing goods to Addis Ababa, then on Wednesday it declared victory in Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site that fell to the TPLF in August.

On Friday state media announced that towns on the road heading north toward Dessie and Kombolcha had been “liberated.”

The news could be a sign that government forces, as well as many thousands of new recruits who have enlisted in recent months, have more fight than they’ve gotten credit for.

“I was quite surprised by the latest counteroffensive by the government,” said Mehdi Labzae, a sociologist who studies land issues and mobilization in Ethiopia.

“I have seen all the people who were mobilized ... but the thing is I thought they were not trained and I thought they would just be destroyed.”

The African Union is trying to broker a cease-fire to avert further bloodshed, though there has been little progress so far.

The TPLF insists it will have the advantage in whatever fighting is to come.

“In battle, it’s known there will be adjustments and limited retreat as well as significant moves forward,” TPLF military boss Tadesse Worede said in an interview that aired Friday.

“We decided that to reduce problems and vulnerabilities in some areas we had reached, to leave some of those places voluntarily.”

For Labzae, such statements recall the government’s announcement that it was withdrawing from most of Tigray in late June — a claim that elided military setbacks even as TPLF fighters celebrated in the streets of the regional capital Mekele.

“They were so close [to Addis]. Why would they turn back now?” Labzae said of the TPLF.

“It means there was something worrying them or something that did not look good for them.”

One possibility, said Awet of Queen’s University, is that the government’s superior air power has turned the tide — at least for now.

“Drones are claimed to have played a decisive role in active combat, the full extent of which we are yet to find out,” he said.

“But so far, it appears like they have helped halt Tigrayan counterattacks and advances.”


Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
Updated 11 min 23 sec ago

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
  • Pope Francis has long championed cause of migrants, visit comes a day after he made a stinging rebuke to Europe

LESBOS ISLAND: Pope Francis on Sunday returned to the island of Lesbos, the migration flashpoint he first visited in 2016, calling the neglect of migrants the “shipwreck of civilization.”

The pope has long championed the cause of migrants and his visit comes a day after he delivered a stinging rebuke to Europe which he said was “torn by nationalist egoism.”

“In Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them,” the pope said as he spent some two hours at Lesbos’ Mavrovouni camp where nearly 2,200 asylum seekers live.

On the second day of his visit to Greece, he met dozens of child asylum seekers and relatives standing behind metal barriers and stopped to embrace a boy called Mustafa. 

People later gathered in a tent to sing songs and psalms to the pontiff.

Pope Francis warned that the Mediterranean “is becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones” and that “after all this time, we see that little in the world has changed with regard to the issue of migration.”

He said the root causes “should be confronted — not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda.”

The European Union has been locked in a dispute with Belarus over an influx of migrants traveling through the former Soviet state seeking to enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in recent months.

Britain and France have traded barbs over the increasing number of migrants making the deadly Channel crossing to reach the UK in the wake of the November 24 mass drowning which claimed 27 lives.

“His visit is a blessing,” said Rosette Leo, a Congolese asylum seeker at the site.

The temporary Mavrovouni tent camp was hurriedly erected after the sprawling camp of Moria, Europe’s largest such site at the time, burned down last year.

Greek authorities blamed a group of young Afghans for the incident and security was substantially enhanced for the pontiff’s visit.

The pope’s trip to Lesbos was shorter than his last as he will hold a mass for some 2,500 people at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall later Sunday.

In Cyprus, where the pope visited before Greece this week, authorities said that 50 migrants will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.

Greek officials have not ruled out the possibility that some migrants from Mavrovouni could accompany him back to Italy.

He took 12 Syrian refugees with him during his last visit to Lesbos in 2016.

At the start of his Athens visit on Saturday, Francis “today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” , warning against populism’s “easy answers.”

In 2016, Francis visited Moria with Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop Ieronymos II, head of the Church of Greece.

The Mavrovouni camp currently holds 2,193 people and has a capacity of 8,000, a facility official said this week.

Authorities insist asylum procedures and processing times are now faster.

With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.

Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.

Once migrants receive asylum they are no longer eligible to remain in the camps with many then unable to find accommodation or work, drawing criticism from NGOS and aid agencies.

The groups have also raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted as well as claiming Greek border officers have pushed back migrants.

Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.

The pope flew back to Athens after the visit and will return to Rome on Monday.


UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
Updated 05 December 2021

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
  • Girls, young women were coerced into traveling to northeast Syria, where “rape, forced marriage were widespread”

LONDON: The grieving families of British “Daesh brides” were treated as suspects and criminals by police, The Observer has reported.

Several family members of girls and young women who had traveled to join Daesh described being “treated as criminals” and used as sources of intelligence by the authorities.

One individual said that their home was raided and searched after they informed police of their daughter’s decision to join Daesh in Syria.

The revelations came during a parliamentary session last week. The media were prohibited from reporting on the session due to harassment concerns, but separately, four of the families later gave accounts of their experiences to The Observer.

They warned that their daughters have been “left stranded” in Syrian refugee camps.

One woman said that her sister had traveled to Syria. However, after she had informed and cooperated with police, she learned that officers were uninterested in locating her sibling.

“We thought the police were there to help us. Over time, we could see the police and the authorities weren’t talking to us to help us, but only to get information. Once they had their information, they washed their hands of us,” she said.

“We were never offered any support. I felt I had to prove I was anti-extremist to them. I felt I was always under suspicion.”

Another person said: “I was interrogated as if I was a suspect, and once they had decided I wasn’t, they didn’t really want anything to do with me. It became really difficult to get in touch with them.”

Many of the families warned that the UK government had abandoned the presumption of innocence when it came to their children.

One said: “Normally, it is Western governments that talk about human rights and trafficking. However, when it is my family who have been abused and trafficked, they have decided not even to investigate their cases. They are considered guilty just for being in Syria.

“Women and children are being punished without a trial. I don’t know why Britain has decided to abandon its principles in my family’s case.”

Another family member said: “I felt really betrayed. I’ve now lost faith in the people who are supposed to help and protect us. We don’t have our rights any longer.”

The claims come in the wake of a report from legal charity Reprieve that found that many of the Daesh brides initially traveled to the war-torn country due to coercion and trafficking.

Once there, the report warned, exploitation, forced marriage and rape were widespread within Daesh territory.

There are now about 20 UK families stranded in former Daesh territories in Syria, but the UK Home Office has repeatedly denied the repatriation of women and children.

Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary and chair of the all-party parliamentary group that heard the testimonies, said: “If the government would only listen to these families, it would surely realize the inhumanity and sheer wrongheadedness of abandoning British citizens in desert detention camps.

“This terrible policy is affecting ordinary law-abiding families and fraying the fabric of our multicultural society. Whether from a security perspective or a moral one, the case for repatriation could not be more clear.”

Former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi said: “Many of us in parliament are very concerned by what is happening here, particularly in relation to the precedent that it sets.”

Maya Foa, Reprieve director, said that families in the camps were “stripped of all rights, presumed guilty without a trial, subjected to violence and abandoned by the government.”

Foa warned that the government “appeared to be seeking to inflict maximum harm on this group — which is mostly British children — to make some kind of political point.”

One family member heard during the session said: “All I want to ask the government is; you had every opportunity to protect her and failed, how can you now wash your hands of her?”


India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
Updated 05 December 2021

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
  • The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21

MUMBAI: India on Sunday reported its highest single-day COVID-19 deaths since July after two states revised their death tolls.
The eastern state of Bihar added 2,426 unrecorded deaths while the southern state of Kerala added 263 deaths to their tallies on Sunday, a federal health ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21, according to a Reuters tally.
A devastating second wave in March and April this year saw thousands of deaths and millions affected.
Indian states have continued to add unreported COVID-19 deaths in recent months, lending weight to some medical experts’ opinions that such deaths are much higher than the reported number of 473,326.


Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
Updated 05 December 2021

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
  • Local media reports said Indian security forces had mistakenly opened fire on civilians
  • It was unclear what led to the incident in the state bordering Myanmar

GAUHATI, India: Angry villagers burned army vehicles in protest after more than a dozen people were killed by soldiers who mistakenly believed some of them were militants in India’s remote northeast region along the border with Myanmar, officials said Sunday.
Nagaland state’s top elected official Neiphiu Rio ordered a probe into the killings, which occurred on Saturday, and he tweeted, “The unfortunate incident leading to the killing of civilians at Oting is highly condemnable.”
An army officer said the soldiers fired at a truck after receiving intelligence about a movement of insurgents in the area and killed six people. As irate villagers burned two army vehicles, the soldiers fired at them, killing seven more people, the officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
One soldier was also killed in the clash with protesters, he said.
Insurgents often cross into Myanmar after attacking Indian government forces in the remote area.
Nyamtow Konyak, a local community leader, said those killed were coal miners.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah expressed anguish over the “unfortunate incident” and said the state government will investigate the killings.
The army officer said the soldiers had laid an ambush for a week following intelligence that insurgents were planning to attack soldiers in the area, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.
Government forces are battling dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote northeast whose demands range from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India.

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