Message of hope: Indonesian WhatsApp groups helping tackle pandemic

Message of hope: Indonesian WhatsApp groups helping tackle pandemic
A man receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination for traders at Tanah Abang Market in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Message of hope: Indonesian WhatsApp groups helping tackle pandemic

Message of hope: Indonesian WhatsApp groups helping tackle pandemic
  • Crowdfunding supplying urgent hospital beds and isolation housing 
  • As of Sunday, Indonesia reported 7,300 new cases, raising the national tally to more than 1.2 million

JAKARTA: Locals in Yogyakarta, a province of Indonesia’s Java, have turned to online chat rooms on WhatsApp to cope with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and provide solutions.
The first group was set up in March last year as the country’s first infections were reported.
Today, the movement has multiplied into 14 groups to address pandemic-related issues. One of the chat rooms helped communities set up shelters and neighborhood units to isolate coronavirus patients after hospitals in Yogyakarta’s Bantul district became overloaded following the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Another group, the Sonjo Tangguh, was formed in early January to help villages in Bantul crowdsource donations for mattresses and pillows, particularly for isolation facilities in 48 villages of the district, including Sumbermulyo, where a shelter house for 50 patients has also been set up.
“The shelter has been very useful for our village as the hospitals and district-run shelters were full, and we had villagers isolate. We were able to isolate those confirmed with infections but without any symptoms in the village-run shelters. As of today, we have 22 patients in isolation,” Ani Widayani, Sumbermulyo village chief, told Arab News on Sunday.
Rimawan Pradiptyo, who founded the Sonjo movement, said that each WhatsApp group established by Sonjo members, including the Sonjo Tangguh, was designed to help locals in the district amid the pandemic.
“Sonjo Tangguh was established when we saw that villages in Bantul needed about 446 mattresses and pillows to set up shelter facilities at a time when hospitals in the district faced a surge of patients,” Pradiptyo, who is also head of the economics department at the School of Economy and Business in Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, told Arab News.
“We connected the demand and supply, and so far, we have been able to donate 181 mattresses to be distributed in shelters throughout the district,” Pradiptyo added.
Agus Budi Raharjo, head of the Bantul health agency, said that while all three district-run shelters were funded and set up by the local government, the agency welcomes public donations and cooperation, including funds raised by Sonjo group members.
“We appreciate that Sonjo has played its part to mobilize funds from various parties to collectively donate to shelters, hospitals and other agencies working to tackle the pandemic in Bantul,” he told Arab News.
Sonjo is a Javanese word for cooperation and a moniker of Sambatan Jogja.
Sambatan, too, is a Javanese word that translates to “the spirit of togetherness” when villagers in Java develop a house or public facility.
The first Sonjo chat group, now named Sonjo HQ, is used as the coordination center to discuss issues faced by communities other chat groups.
“All 14 WhatsApp groups remain active as a forum dealing with their specific issues, although there are also some that are less active now as the members have managed to deal with problems, such as the Sonjo Rewangan,” Pradiptyo said.
Sonjo Rewangan was formed on Dec. 14 last year based on an initiative by Bantul health workers — including hospital directors and supporting staff — to respond to the failing online patient referral system between hospitals.
“We used a system similar to an auction, based on patient data to input on a document accessible by WhatsApp group members. Hospitals can choose to admit patients based on their data that matched with each hospital’s respective conditions. So far, the chat group has managed to refer 108 patients between them,” Pradiptyo said.
However, the group is much quieter now that the online referral system between hospitals has improved, following a discussion on a Sonjo chat group involving IT professionals and local health officials.
The latest WhatsApp chat group formed by the Sonjo community in January produced a video guide on handling the bodies and burials of coronavirus victims.
Villagers could not always rely on health workers to follow protocols, and many have handled bodies themselves.
“The Sonjo movement has been able to work due to local leaders and community members’ willingness to act. Many of us have never met in person, but we are actively connected in the chat groups. It is a social capital that has helped us to address problems we face during this pandemic,” Pradiptyo said.
Yogyakarta, a special region with 3.8 million people, reported 175 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, raising total case numbers to 26,456 in the area.
The province, along with five others on Indonesia’s densely populated island of Java, remains a hot spot for coronavirus infections in the country.
As of Sunday, Indonesia reported 7,300 new cases, raising the national tally to more than 1.2 million.
The pandemic has claimed more than 34,000 lives out of Indonesia’s 270 million people, making it one of the worst affected countries in Asia.

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 10 min 10 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 29 min 46 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 57 min 4 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 20 April 2021

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.”