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.


Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat
Updated 11 sec ago

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat
YANGON: Myanmar’s junta on Thursday slammed a UN decision to deny its chosen representative a seat at the world body and keep in place an envoy appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.
The committee responsible for approving nominations of ambassadors to the New York body met Wednesday but deferred a decision over the rival claims to Myanmar and Afghanistan’s seats, diplomats said.
The deferral keeps in place envoys appointed to the body by both governments before they were toppled — by a coup in Myanmar in February and the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan in August.
“This decision does not reflect the reality on the ground and existence of our country,” Myanmar junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP.
“We will continue submitting (to the UN) as usual according to diplomatic procedure and the right to representation in accordance with international and local laws,” he added.
The deferral leaves Kyaw Moe Tun, appointed by Suu Kyi’s government, in place as Myanmar’s envoy.
He made headlines shortly after the putsch by flashing the three-finger salute of democracy protesters from his UN chair, brazenly defying the junta’s insistence that he no longer represents the country.
In August US prosecutors said they had charged two Myanmar citizens in a plot to attack him.
The junta has denied any involvement and chosen former soldier Aung Thurein as its envoy to the body.
The Taliban in September asked the UN to accept its former Doha-based spokesperson Suhail Shaheen to succeed Ghulam Isaczai, a cabinet member of ousted President Ashraf Ghani.
Isaczai continues to occupy Afghanistan’s offices at the UN headquarters and even participated in a recent Security Council meeting in which he openly criticized the Taliban.
There was “consensus” within the credentials committee to delay the decision, two diplomats told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“China, Russia and the United States were in the same position,” one of them said.
The nine-member committee is due to submit its report next week to the General Assembly, which will be left to decide via a possible vote if its 200 members fail to reach a consensus, diplomats said.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government, sparking huge democracy protests which have triggered a bloody crackdown from the junta.
NLD lawmakers make up the majority of a shadow “National Unity Government” which is working to overturn the military regime, which the junta has branded “terrorists.”
Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup, and faces a catalogue of charges that could see her jailed for decades.

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
Updated 54 min 21 sec ago

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
  • China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia triggers unease in Washington

SEOUL: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region” and vowed the US would maintain its capability to deter potential threats posed by China.
Austin made the remarks in Seoul following annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart that focused on challenges from China and North Korea and other issues facing the allies.
“We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. Again, the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the region,” Austin said referring to China’s latest hypersonic weapons test in July and using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name.
“It just underscores why we consider the PRC to be our pacing challenge,” Austin said. “We’ll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies.”
China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia has triggered unease in Washington. China’s efforts to accelerate its military capabilities were highlighted by its July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting the Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target.
Experts say the weapons system is clearly designed with a purpose of evading US missile defenses, although China insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile.
On North Korea, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook discussed a wide range of topics including bilateral unity in the face of the threat from the North. The two agreed that North Korea’s advancement of its missile and other weapons programs “is increasingly destabilizing for regional security,” Austin said.
The US and South Korea remain committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea, he added.
Suh said the allies share an understanding that “diplomacy and dialogue based on previous commitments between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States is essential for achieving permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Despite severe pandemic-related economic hardships, North Korea has continuously rebuffed US offers to resume talks, saying Washington must first abandon its hostility toward the North. The Biden administration maintains that international sanctions on North Korea will stay in place unless the country takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon released the results of a global posture review that directs additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea.” The review also informed Austin’s approval of the permanent stationing of a previously rotational attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.


Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms

Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms
Updated 02 December 2021

Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms

Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms
  • The ministry said Thursday it has retracted the request after receiving criticisms that the ban was too strict and tantamount to abandoning its own people
  • A limit remains in place because the daily cap of 3,500 arrivals is being maintained

TOKYO: Japan says it has retracted a ban on new incoming international flight bookings to defend against the new variant of the coronavirus only a day after the policy was announced, following criticisms that it was an overreaction.
The transport ministry on Wednesday issued a request to international airlines to stop taking new reservations for flights coming into Japan until the end of December as an emergency precaution to defend against the new omicron variant.
The ministry said Thursday it has retracted the request after receiving criticisms that the ban was too strict and tantamount to abandoning its own people.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the quick reversal of the policy took into consideration Japanese nationals’ traveling needs. Kishida has been pushing to take strong precautionary measures after his predecessor Yoshihide Suga virtually lost his leadership position amid public criticism that his virus measures were too limited and too slow.
“I have instructed the transport ministry to fully pay attention to the needs of Japanese citizens to return home,” Kishida said.
The request had aimed to reduce Japan’s daily international arrivals to 3,500 from an earlier level of 5,000 to tighten border controls as the new variant spread around the world, officials said.
“The request, issued as an emergency precaution, triggered confusion,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Thursday. He said the transport ministry has retracted the request for a uniformed stoppage on new bookings.
But a limit remains in place because the daily cap of 3,500 arrivals is being maintained. New bookings can be made as long as there is room under this cap, said transport ministry official Hitoshi Inoue.
Japan has already banned entry of foreign nationals from around the world, except for spouses of Japanese nationals, those with permanent residency permits and others subject to special considerations.
Japan has reported two cases of the omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa last week.
Japan had been easing social and economic restrictions after infections rapidly slowed since September.
The booking ban request was a disappointment for many people who were planning trips during the holiday season, including Japanese citizens living overseas hoping to return home for the New Year period.
Many on social media criticized the measure as too strict, and one user compared it to Japan’s feudal-era national isolation policy.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.


DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979

DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979
Updated 02 December 2021

DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979

DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: The remains of a man found on Fire Island just west of Anchorage in 1989 have been identified through DNA and genome sequencing, Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.

Troopers said the victim was Michael Allison Beavers, who owned an excavation business in Chugiak. He was reported missing in 1980.
The decadeslong investigation started when human remains were discovered July 24, 1989. An autopsy concluded it was a Caucasian male between the ages of 35 and 50, and evidence found on the remains indicated the death was criminal, troopers said. Officials said it appeared the remains had been on the beach for at least a year, but the date of death couldn’t be determined.
A DNA profile entered into the national missing persons database in 2003 came back with no match.
Earlier this year, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Investigation Unit reopened the case. Bone samples retained in the case were sent to a private lab, where DNA was extracted and genome sequencing was used to create a comprehensive DNA profile.
That was uploaded to a genealogy database and linked to other people, including some with ties to Alaska. Later, a DNA sample taken from a close relative confirmed Beavers’ identity.
Beavers’ spouse reported him missing two months after he was last seen alive, in November 1979.
Beavers, 40, left his home in Chugiak to travel to Seattle by car to contact a business associate. He never arrived, troopers said.
The investigation into his disappearance stalled and closed in 1982. Ten years later, he was declared dead.
Troopers say the investigation into his death continues, and anyone with information about his disappearance and death should contact authorities.
In October, troopers were able to use the same method to identify Robin Peleky, one of the unidentified victims of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen who was killed in the early 1980s.
Hansen abducted woman, many of them sex workers, off the streets of Anchorage, and hunted them in the wilderness north of Anchorage. In total, 12 bodies have been found, and 11 of those have been identified, troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel told The Associated Press in October.
The only person not yet identified is known only as Eklutna Annie, who is believed to have been Hansen’s first victim, McDaniel said. Her body was found near Eklutna Lake north of Anchorage.
Genetic genealogy efforts are underway in hopes of identifying her, Randy McPherron, an Alaska State Troopers cold case investigator, said in October.


WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory COVID-19 jabs

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory COVID-19 jabs
Updated 02 December 2021

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory COVID-19 jabs

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory COVID-19 jabs
  • WHO: It could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible

GENEVA: The WHO issued stern warnings Wednesday on the dangers of vaccination apathy and the European Union put mandatory jabs on the table, as the United States registered its first case of the fast-spreading omicron strain of the coronavirus.
The new variant, first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa a week ago, has quickly popped up across continents, darkening economic forecasts and deepening fears of another difficult winter in the northern hemisphere.
“Globally, we have a toxic mix of low vaccine coverage, and very low testing — a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reminding the world that the delta variant “accounts for almost all cases.”
“We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from omicron,” he said.
The WHO says it could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible, and whether it results in more severe disease — as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against the variant.
Its detection and spread, however, have highlighted that the now nearly two-year global fight against COVID-19 is far from over.
In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the bloc — although only individual member states can impose vaccine mandates.
Austria has already said it will make COVID jabs compulsory next February, Germany is considering a similar approach, and Greece said Tuesday it would mandate vaccines for over-60s.
The United States, officially the world’s hardest-hit country, announced it had detected its first omicron case, a fully vaccinated traveler from South Africa who is recovering from mild symptoms.
Top American infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci stressed that fully vaccinated adults should seek a booster when eligible to give themselves the best possible protection.
“Our experience with variants such as the delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn’t specifically targeted to the delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also recorded their first cases of omicron, making the Gulf the latest region to be affected.

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The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control meanwhile recommended that children aged five to 11 who are at risk of severe COVID-19 should be considered a “priority group” for vaccination.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned omicron threatens the world’s recovery and lowered growth estimates for 2021 from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent.
The Paris-based OECD said the recovery had “lost momentum and is becoming increasingly imbalanced” and would remain “precarious” until vaccines were deployed worldwide.
omicron has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, mostly targeting southern Africa. Japan has suspended new flight bookings into the country.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary Guterres Antonio Guterres added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism against such bans, calling them deeply unfair and punitive” as well as “ineffective.”
Rising infection rates have already seen some European governments reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns in a desperate attempt to limit hospitalizations, but leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.
Portugal, which has Europe’s highest vaccination rate, reintroduced mask mandates in indoor settings, and aims to administer a third COVID-19 jab to almost one-fifth of its population by the end of the year.
From Wednesday, every adult in Italy became eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot, previously only open to those aged over 40.
Despite new restrictions recently introduced in Denmark, the country on Wednesday registered a record number of new COVID-19 cases with 5,120 infections in the last 24 hours.
Even as governments acted unilaterally in imposing travel restrictions, WHO member states came together in Geneva to work on an international accord on handling the next pandemic.
An intergovernmental negotiating body will be established to reach an agreement on responding to future pandemics with a first meeting due before March 1, 2022.
While the European summer of fleeting COVID-19 freedoms may be over, in the southern hemisphere, Pacific nation Fiji ended 615 days of international isolation on Wednesday and reopened to tourists.
Traditional dancers in grass skirts welcomed waving holidaymakers from Sydney, the first of an expected flood of desperately needed tourists in the coming weeks.