World Bank fury as Lebanon MPs jump vaccine queue

World Bank fury as Lebanon MPs jump vaccine queue
Abdul Rahman Bizri, head of Lebanon's COVID-19 vaccination committee, talks during a press conference in Sidon, Lebanon February 23, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 February 2021

World Bank fury as Lebanon MPs jump vaccine queue

World Bank fury as Lebanon MPs jump vaccine queue
  • $34m aid at risk after presidential entourage ‘given jab in secret’

BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians have been accused of jumping the queue for the coronavirus vaccine, with the World Bank on Tuesday joining a chorus of condemnation and threatening to suspend its multi-million-dollar backing for the country’s vaccination drive.

The controversy erupted after some MPs secretly received the COVID-19 jab in the parliament building — despite not being in priority groups.

Allegations of favoritism mounted after it was revealed President Michel Aoun and his wife were inoculated last Friday by a medical team sent to the Baabda Palace.

The claims added to widespread frustration among Lebanese over delays and breaches of the vaccination campaign.

World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha tweeted that if the allegations were shown to be true, “it would be a breach of the national plan.”

He warned that the bank may suspend financing for vaccines and support for the country’s coronavirus response.

“I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn,” Jha added.

The World Bank’s reallocation of $34 million has enabled Lebanon to receive its first two batches of about 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses this month. The bank had said it would monitor the vaccine rollout and warned against favoritism.

A number of MPs are believed to have received the vaccine inside the parliament building in breach of an established plan that requires individuals to register through a dedicated platform and then wait for a hospital appointment.

The first stage of vaccination rollout, which entered its 10th day on Tuesday, includes doctors, nurses and paramedics treating virus patients, as well as those over 75 years of age.

The MPs’ breach sparked a furious public response on social media under the hashtag #NoWasta (no favoritism).

Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, head of the National Committee for the Administration of the Coronavirus Vaccine, threatened to resign in protest at the breach, but later said he would wait on an official explanation by Wednesday.

Less than two hours later, information was leaked to local media that Aoun, along with his wife and 16 people from his presidential team, was given the vaccine last Friday.

Jha tweeted: “This is not in line with the national plan agreed with (the) World Bank, and we would record it (as a) breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination. Everyone has to register and wait their turn.”

A leaked list of MPs who secretly received the vaccine showed that many were not in the priority groups.

Among politicians who sought to justify receiving the jab, Anis Nassar said he had registered through the platform and received a phone call from parliament.

“I was not aware of any of violation, and if a violation has taken place, I apologize profusely. Despite that I am not responsible for what happened.”

Parliament Secretary-General Adnan Daher claimed that the vaccinations were supervised by a team from the Ministry of Health and the Lebanese Red Cross.

He claimed the aim was to “help hospitals avoid overcrowding.”

However, the Red Cross said that it had no supervisory or operational role in the vaccination campaign.

“Our teams are present in all vaccination centers exclusively to assist or aid citizens of the age group 75 and over in the event of an emergency,” it explained.

Bizri later told a press conference: “What happened is a terrible thing and must be explained. The World Bank has said there will be consequences. The Ministry of Health committed this mistake and must explain it.”

He added: “This is discrimination.”

Doctors’ Syndicate chief Sharaf Abu Sharaf said that the vaccination rollout “has been slow, chaotic and far from transparent.”

He warned that without an improvement in the rollout, Lebanon “faces a great disaster.”

“We must accelerate the vaccination plan to reach herd immunity,” Abu Sharaf said.


Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib
Updated 47 min 12 sec ago

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

DUBAI: Yemen’s information minister has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis in the governorate of Marib that “cannot be contained” due to continued fighting by the Iran-backed Houthi militia. 

Minister Muammar al-Eryani told the country’s state news agency Saba that the governorate holds the biggest number of refugee families, who have been displaced due to the ongoing Houthi violence. 

Eryani said Marib had received more than two million refugees who have settled there since the war broke out, saying they make up 60 percent of refugees in the country. Those refugees represent 7.5 percent of the total population in Yemen.  

The minister was citing a report on from the Executive Unit for IDPs Camps Management that was released Friday. 


Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
Updated 28 February 2021

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
  • He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”

ISTANBUL: Mujdat Gezen’s half-century career as an acclaimed Turkish writer and actor has included awards, a stint as a UN goodwill ambassador and a taste of prison after a 1980 putsch.
Now aged 77, the wry-witted comedian and poet with an easy smile and a bad back risks returning to jail on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”
“I am even banned from appearing in crossword puzzles,” Gezen quipped.
Gezen landed in court with fellow comedian Metin Akpinar, 79, over comments the pair made during a television show they starred in on opposition Halk TV in 2018.
In the broadcast, Gezen told Erdogan to “know your place.”
“Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place,” Gezen said on air.
His parter Akpinar went one step further, saying that “if we don’t become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar.”
These are risky comments to make in a country still reeling from a sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a failed coup in 2016.
Their trial is coming with Erdogan rattled by a burst of student protests that hint at Turks’ impatience with his commanding rule as prime minister and president since 2003.
Prosecutors want to put the two veteran celebrities behind bars for up to four years and eight months. The verdict is expected on Monday.

Jailed over book
Thousands of Turks, from a former Miss Turkey to school children, have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media and television.
Bristling at the jokes and comments, Erdogan warned in 2018 that his critics “will pay the price.”
“The next day,” Gezen told AFP in an interview by telephone, “police turned up and I was summoned to give a statement to prosecutors.”
The knock on the door reminded Gezen of how he ended up being dragged before the courts after spending 20 days in jail when a military junta overthrew Turkey’s civilian government at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Gezen’s book about Nazim Hikmet — perhaps Turkey’s most famous 20th century poet, who happened to be a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963 — was taken off the shelves after that coup.
“I was chained up while being taken from prison to court with a gang of 50 criminals, including murderers and smugglers,” he recalled.
He was freed by the court in 1980, and may yet be acquitted on Monday.
Still, Gezen is uncomfortable with the similarities, and with Turkey’s trajectory under Erdogan.
“There is a record number of journalists in jail — we have never seen this in the history of the republic. That’s what upsets me,” he said.

Irritable dictator
An author of more than 50 books and founder of his own art center in Istanbul, Gezen says he has “either criticized or parodied politicians to their faces” for decades without going to jail.
His popularity and resolve earned him a role in 2007 as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s relief fund.
But he fears that Turkey’s tradition of outspoken artists — “art is by its nature oppositional,” he remarked — is wilting under Erdogan.
“We now have self-censorship. But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical,” he said.
“The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It’s the artists who must decide.”
To be on the safe side, Gezen’s lawyers now read his books before publication to avoid legal problems.
“It is risky in Turkey,” he observed.
Many of the opposition media outlets that once flourished have been either closed or taken over by government allies, leaving independent voices with even fewer options.
But he remains doggedly optimistic, calling democracy in Turkey something tangible but just out of reach, like the shore for a stranded boat.
“And then someone up on the mast will cry: Land ahoy!“


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by autumn 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.


Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
Updated 28 February 2021

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
  • Patriarch calls for UN-led forum to save nation ‘from those who harbor evil’

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s influential Christian Maronite church has warned that the country is facing the threat of a “full-fledged coup,” and called for an international conference to avert “chaos, hunger and oppression.”

In an emotional address to thousands of followers on Saturday, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he was “drawing red lines for anyone who harbors evil for Lebanon, regardless of their sect.”
His comments were widely seen as a veiled reference to Iran-backed Hezbollah along with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and its founder President Michel Aoun.
“We are facing a full-fledged coup attempt,” Al-Rai told Lebanese who traveled to the church’s headquarters in Bkerke to support his demand for a UN-sponsored international conference to save Lebanon.
In response to the patriarch’s speech, people chanted: “Hezbollah is terrorist,” “Get out, Iran” and “Michel Aoun, leave.”
Cries of “Revolution! Revolution!” were also heard.
The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

We want to provide support to the Lebanese Army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.

Patriarch Bechara, Boutros Al-Rai

The FPM, led by Gebran Bassil, did not attend, saying it feared that the gathering “would be used against it,” according to affiliated websites.
Sources at Bkerke told Arab News that Al-Rai decided to speak out “because Lebanon is facing an existential threat” following the failure of a string of initiatives, including his efforts to reconcile Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Banners unfurled on the dome of the Bkerke church read: “Neutrality, sovereignty, and stability,” “Lebanon comes first and last,” and “Bkerke for all of Lebanon.”
Al-Rai said at the outset of his address: “Long live a single, united and neutral Lebanon that is active, positive, sovereign, independent, free and strong.”
He said: “We are demanding this now because all other solutions have reached a dead end, and we have not been able to agree on the fate of our country, nor even to discuss our homeland’s affairs. We support finding a solution inside Lebanon.”

BACKGROUND

The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

He added: “To let hunger and oppression destroy the country is something we do not accept in any way. Rejecting the proposed solutions means chaos and seizing the levers of power.”
Al-Rai called for an international conference to ensure Lebanon’s neutrality, so that it “is no longer a victim of conflicts and wars, and a land of division.”
He added: “We want the state to extend its authority over the entire Lebanese territory. We want to provide support to the Lebanese army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.”
Al-Rai said the UN-sponsored conference also should agree on a plan “to prevent the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees to their homeland.”
He said: “We do not want armies and camps, nor do we want Lebanon to be undermined. Lebanon’s borders are not subject to amendment, its Christian-Muslim partnership is untouchable, and its democracy is not subject to veto.”
The patriarch called on protesters to continue to speak out, saying: “Do not remain silent in the face of corruption. Do not tolerate the theft of your money, the fluid borders, the failure of the political class, the chaos in the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, or the imprisonment of the innocent.
“Do not tolerate the failure in forming a government and implementing reforms.”
Participants in the rally, many from different sects, told Arab News that Al-Rai is their last hope.
“No politician cares for the collapsing state. Politicians have left us on our own,” said one.
A Muslim woman in her 50s said: “This is an opportunity to raise our voice. The patriarch’s stances are patriotic, and history will remember him. The country is collapsing.”
A man in his 40s said: “I have come to Bkerke to say that people suffer from hunger and despair, and there is nothing left to lose.”
Internal security forces personnel were deployed on the road to the church’s headquarters, and those entering the square were searched.
Before the gathering, Hezbollah and FPM supporters took to social media to share tweets opposing the event.