Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Workers unload boxes containing doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at Belgrade Airport on Feb. 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
  • The vaccines arrived on a Turkish Airlines plane from Istanbul and were produced in India
  • More than 730,000 people, or a little over 10% of the population, have been vaccinated against COVID-19 since December

BELGRADE: A shipment of 150,000 COVID-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University arrived at Belgrade airport on Sunday, making Serbia the first country in the Western Balkan region to receive supplies of the shot.
The vaccines, which arrived on a Turkish Airlines plane from Istanbul, were produced in India, said President Aleksandar Vucic, who came to the airport to meet the shipment.
Vucic said the price of the vaccine was “very good as both AstraZeneca and Oxford gave up their profits.” He added that another shipment of 150,000 vaccines is expected in 12 weeks time.
“This vaccine was developed by a young team at the Oxford University which also included young people from Serbia,” British ambassador Sian MacLeod told reporters at the airport.
More than 730,000 people, or a little over 10% of the population, have been vaccinated against COVID-19 since December with one or two doses of the vaccines available in Serbia.
Under the state vaccination program, Serbians have been able to choose between shots from Pfizer-BioNTech , China’s Sinopharm or Russia’s Sputnik V.
Despite the inoculcations, case numbers in Serbia are rising again, with more than 2,000 daily new infections currently being reported. However, epidemiologists expect the numbers to come down in a month or two.


New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’

New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’
Updated 2 min 59 sec ago

New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’

New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’
  • New Delhi recorded 26,000 coronavirus cases on Monday, a record jump since April 1

NEW DELHI: India’s government on Monday announced a week-long lockdown in the national capital, New Delhi, after its health system reached “breaking point” due to a scarcity of hospital beds and oxygen tanks for coronavirus patients.

On Monday, India witnessed an unprecedented spike in coronavirus infections, with 273,810 cases reported in a single day.

At least 1,620 people were killed by the virus, creating another record on Monday and bringing the country’s death toll to 178,769.

New Delhi recorded 26,000 coronavirus cases on Monday, a record jump since April 1, when daily case numbers hovered around the 1,000 mark. The city also recorded 161 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours.

New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described the situation as “pretty critical,” adding that imposing the lockdown was “the only option left to avoid a bigger disaster.”

He said in a televised address: “Delhi’s health system is at a breaking point. I will not say it has collapsed, but the situation is pretty critical.”

Kejriwal added that the decision to impose a lockdown was “not an easy one to take.”

He said: “I have always been against a lockdown, but it will reduce the transmission rate and give us time to boost our infrastructure. We will use this week-long lockdown to improve our healthcare.”

Kejriwal acknowledged that Delhi was facing an acute shortage of hospital beds and oxygen supply, highlighting the issue in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday while seeking help from the federal government to avert the crisis.

A majority of hospitals in Delhi reported chaotic scenes on Monday with patients desperately searching for bed space in coronavirus wards.

All of the 18,933 beds reserved for coronavirus patients were reportedly full on Monday, including 1,436 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 2,881 ICU beds without ventilators.

However, residents are warning that existing facilities cannot accommodate the surge in infections, with several losing relatives due to a lack of oxygen supply and medical support.

“I lost my wife on Sunday because she could not get ventilator support on time,” Dr. Anwar Sadat, a Delhi resident, told Arab News.

“We never thought that such a tragedy would strike us and that our whole life would become disoriented within a matter of days. We desperately looked for beds in the hospital for her, but by the time she got ventilator support, my wife had collapsed,” Sadat said.

Besides New Delhi, the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) also posted a grim picture, with medical infrastructure in its capital city Bhopal “overstretched” amid reports of residents suffering due to a lack of medical attention.

MP has also imposed a lockdown until April 26 in several cities, including Bhopal. 

On Monday, it reported almost 12,500 coronavirus infections across the state.

However, media reports alleged that government figures do not reflect the reality on the ground in crematoriums and burial grounds.

“There was hardly any space to burn the dead bodies in the crematorium ground. We had to wait eight hours,” Santosh Mishra, who lost his uncle to coronavirus, told Arab News about the situation at the Bhadbhada crematorium in Bhopal.

Doctors, too, said they were struggling to cope with the massive influx of patients.

“The situation is grim,” Dr. Sarman Singh, director of Bhopal’s premium medical institution, the All India Institute of Medical Science, told Arab News.

“We are facing a scarcity of beds and oxygen like everywhere in the world, and the patient load is increasing,” he added.

Arab News on Sunday reported similar events in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and the western state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

Experts said they were unsure how long the spike in coronavirus infections would continue, but blamed ongoing regional election campaigns and an ongoing Hindu festival, the Kumbh Mela — where millions converge to sacred sites for a ritual dip in holy waters — for “adding to the existing trouble.”

Dorairaj Prabhakaran, general secretary of the Public Health Foundation of India, said: “It will take another two to three weeks before the cases peak in major cities.”

He said that imposing the lockdown was “one of the options to contain the virus,” adding: “Lockdown is an important option right now. At least a decentralized lockdown is a better option than a countrywide lockdown. This keeps the mobility going.”

However, Dr. Jayesh Lele, general secretary of the Indian Medical Association, blamed the “pathetic management” of the government for the crisis.

“Why is the government going ahead with the election campaigning and not stopping mass gatherings? It’s a pathetic management of affairs,” Lele told Arab News.

“The government should have done some preparation. Today, cities across India have collapsed. In rural areas, the situation is probably grimmer,” he added.


Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
Updated 17 min 27 sec ago

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
  • In TV address, PM Imran Khan said breaking ties with France in protest against the caricatures will hurt Pakistan more
  • Religious political party TLP has demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan before April 20

ISLAMABAD AND KARACHI: Unrest has gripped Pakistan since April 12 when Saad Rizvi, leader of the recently outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore for threatening a campaign of civil disobedience against the government unless it expelled the French ambassador over the re-publication last year in France of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

Violent protests have paralyzed major cities and highways all week, leading to the death of six police officers and injuries to more than 800, according to the government.

Photographs of police officers taken hostage by TLP supporters, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, have been posted on social media throughout the week.

On Sunday, the TLP said three of its members had been killed in clashes outside its headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore. The religious party also took several police and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 officers in the early hours of Monday following negotiations with the government.

Saad Rizvi (center) leader of the recently outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore for threatening a campaign of civil disobedience. (AFP/File)

The riots have prompted the French embassy to urge its citizens to temporarily leave the country.

Rizvi became leader of the TLP in November after the sudden death of his father, the firebrand cleric Khadim Hussein Rizvi. His party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections promising to defend the country’s blasphemy laws, which call for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.

The party has a history of staging protests to pressure the government to accept its demands. In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.

Now the TLP is calling on the government to honor what it says was a commitment made in February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of the cartoons. Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, insists his government is only committed to debating the matter in parliament.

Traders in Islamabad shout anti-France slogans in a closed market during a nationwide strike to show their solidarity with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). (AFP)

On Monday, Khan said that meeting the TLP’s demands to break diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the EU and lead to poverty, unemployment and inflation.

“The biggest effect (of breaking ties with France) will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time, our rupee is strengthening,” Khan said in a televised address to the nation.

He added that breaking ties with France would be tantamount to severing relations with the entire EU.

“Half of our textile exports go to the EU and that will be stopped, resulting in unemployment, devaluation of the rupee, increase in inflation and poverty,” Khan said.

“We will be at loss but this won’t make any difference to France.”

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said meeting the TLP’s demands to break diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the EU. (AFP/File)

Rather than act unilaterally, Khan said the leaders of Muslim countries should collectively take up the issue of blasphemy with UN and EU.

“We should tell the Western countries that blasphemy to our prophet in the name of freedom of speech hurts us. And if they don’t stop it, we can then collectively do the trade boycott,” he said.

Khan said this was the only way to “achieve the objective” of creating an environment in which no one would dare to disrespect the prophet, and pledged to personally lead such a global campaign to ensure this.

Khan’s address came as the government went into a third round of negotiations with the TLP.

“We believe in negotiations and it’s our policy,” Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, the federal minister for religious affairs, said in a policy statement in the National Assembly on Monday.

“No political, democratic and elected government can afford such things and whatever happened in the past few days is regrettable to everyone.”

On Sunday evening, Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, the information minister, said the government was forced to launch an armed operation against protesters after they kidnapped law enforcement officials.

“The government believes in negotiations but can’t be blackmailed,” he said. “The operation was started after police and Rangers personnel were kidnapped ... Imran Khan has the strongest affection with the prophet and he has talked about this at every (national and global) forum.”

Earlier on Sunday, police spokesperson Arif Rana said the operation against the TLP had been halted as the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and a tanker with 50,000 liters of petrol.

By Sunday evening, the situation was “at a standstill,” he said, with protesters sitting on roadsides with sticks and petrol bombs in their hands and law enforcement standing guard.

Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking police and paramilitary troops and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be officially dissolved.

In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad during a civics lesson. French President Emmanuel Macron has defended the caricatures as freedom of expression.

During last year’s protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including an agreement to hold a parliamentary debate on whether or not to expel the French ambassador.

The agreed deadline to hold that debate expires on April 20.

Related


Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana
Updated 19 April 2021

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana
  • Police said Albanian man, 34, wound five people with knife attack in mosque in Tirana
  • Man was arrested by police that haven’t disclosed any motive for the attack

TIRANA: An Albanian man with a knife attacked five people Monday at a mosque in the capital of Tirana, according to police.
A police statement said Rudolf Nikolli, 34, entered the Dine Hoxha mosque in downtown Tirana about 2:30 p.m. and wounded five people with a knife.
Police reacted immediately and took him into custody.
The five wounded, all men aged from 22 to 35, were taken to a hospital and police said they are not in life-threatening situations.
Police have not disclosed any motive for the attack. They and prosecutors are investigating the case.
Ahmed Kalaja, imam of the mosque, said the armed man attacked worshipers and staff, and added he hoped it was “not a terrorist attack.”
The mosque at the time was filled with believers during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Albania’s 2.8 million people are predominantly Muslim with smaller Christian Catholic and Orthodox communities that have gotten along well with each other.
Police said Nikolli was from the northern town of Burrel and his religious background was not yet clear.


Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations

Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations
Updated 19 April 2021

Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations

Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations
  • Second round of negotiations to take place Monday morning
  • Security was beefed up in capital Islamabad overnight with heavy contingents of police

ISLAMABAD: Eleven security personnel taken hostage on Sunday by the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) religious party during police clashes in Lahore were released in the early hours of Monday morning following the first round of negotiations with the government, interior minister Sheikh Rasheed said in a video announcement on Twitter.
Rioting by the rightwing group has rocked the country since Monday last, after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore a day after he threatened the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in France last year.
The protests paralyzed major cities and highways, leading to the deaths of six policemen, according to the government, with thousands of TLP workers under arrest, police say. The riots also prompted the French embassy to recommend all its nationals temporarily leave the country last week.
“Talks have started with the TLP. The first round of negotiations went well and the second round will take place after sehr,” Rashid said.
“They [TLP] have released 11 abducted policemen hostages and have gone into the Rehmatul Lil Alameen Mosque. The police have also stepped back,” he said.


“These negotiations were held successfully by the Punjab government. We hope that the second meeting after sehr will also be successful and matters will be amicably resolved with the TLP,” he added.
Earlier, on Sunday evening, Information Minister Fawad Hussain Chaudhry said in a statement the government believed in negotiating but wouldn’t be blackmailed.
“The government believes in negotiations but can’t be blackmailed,” he said.
“The operation was started after police and Rangers personnel were kidnapped. The state can’t be blackmailed by a proscribed armed outfit. [Prime Minister] Imran Khan has the strongest affection with the Prophet (PBUH) and he has talked about this at every forum.”
Earlier on Sunday, a police spokesman, Arif Rana, said the operation against the TLP had been halted as the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and a tanker with 50,000 liters of petrol.
By Sunday evening, he said the situation was “at a standstill” with protesters sitting on roadsides with sticks and petrol bombs in their hands and law enforcement personnel standing guard.
Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be dissolved.
Talking to the media in Islamabad on Sunday, Ahmed said no negotiations were underway with the TLP.
“We tried to negotiate for two, three months with them but in vain. They are not ready to retreat from their agenda, so the government is left with no option but to establish the writ of the state,” the minister said.
Security was heightened overnight in the capital, Islamabad, the DIG operations tweeted Sunday evening.
In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils during a civics lesson.
During similar protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including that it would debate expelling the French ambassador in parliament.
A deadline to make that parliamentary move expires on April 20.


Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths

Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths
Updated 19 April 2021

Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths

Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths
  • Three deaths were reported

BANGKOK: Thailand reported 1,390 new coronavirus cases on Monday, slowing from six days of record highs, amid a third wave of infections in the Southeast Asian country.
Three deaths were reported. The new cases took the total number of infections to 43,742, with 104 deaths.