Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping

Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping
A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. Reuters
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Updated 23 February 2021

Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping

Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping
  • World Bank threatens to pull its vaccination financing
  • Rights campaigners say row will weaken public confidence

BEIRUT: A row over Lebanese lawmakers jumping the queue for COVID-19 vaccinations erupted on Tuesday with the World Bank threatening to pull its funding for the inoculation drive and human rights campaigners accusing authorities of mismanagement.
The spat broke out after a correspondent from the Thomson Reuters Foundation tweeted confirmation from parliament's secretary general that lawmakers aged over 75 would get their shots in the legislature in Beirut on Tuesday.
That led the World Bank's middle east regional head, Saroj Kumar Jha, to respond: "This is not in line with the national plan agreed with @WorldBank and we would record it breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination."
He added that the lender "may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!" if the violation was confirmed.
Last month, the bank agreed to provide Lebanon with a $34 million loan to fund vaccinations for roughly a third of the country's six million people, amid a surge in new COVID-19 cases that it said was exacerbating a deep economic crisis.
Lebanon kicked off vaccinations on Feb. 14, giving first priority to healthcare workers and the over-75s who registered on an online platform.
But in the first week of the roll-out, 40% of vaccination sites breached those regulations, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is monitoring the vaccine campaign along with the World Bank.
That raised fears of favouritism in a country that regularly ranks among the most corrupt in the world, and rights groups warned that Tuesday's incident would further damage public confidence in the vaccination programme and state institutions.
"Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID crisis, Lebanese public confidence in government institutions has been exceedingly low," said Lama Fakih, a Beirut-based crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.
"This has only declined given the mismanagement of this crisis," she said.

'GRAVE INFRACTION'
A total of 16 MPs (members of parliament) and five parliamentary staff received their vaccines on Tuesday, said Secretary-General Adnan Daher.
He initially said there had been no violation of the programme's regulations, but later conceded that some of the group were in fact under 75 and therefore not in the top priority group.
The head of the country's COVID-19 vaccination committee, Abdel-Rahman Bizri, said earlier he would quit over the incident but later vowed to stay on to keep the inoculation programme from unravelling.
He told a news conference the MPs' queue-jumping was "a grave infraction that cannot be repeated".
The lawmakers' vaccinations also fueled concerns that vulnerable groups - such as thousands of migrant workers and a million refugees - might be left out.
"While (authorities) say they will cover everyone in Lebanon, plans in place will not make that happen," Fakih said, noting that a government mandate to bring ID for vaccination could result in the exclusion of undocumented people.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon died from COVID-19 at a rate more than four times the national average, some 4.5% compared to around 1% nationally, according to U.N. data obtained exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
With nine out of 10 refugees living in extreme poverty, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon said fear of movement restrictions and other socio-economic considerations were likely to blame.
Lebanon has had one of the region's highest infection rates, and ordinary people took to social media to express their anger and frustration over the pace of the vaccination programme and Tuesday's events in parliament.
"My 92-year-old grandpa, who uses an oxygen machine, till date didn't receive an sms and they're getting theirs! Messed up!" Twitter user Jessica Kassab wrote. 


‘We must cooperate’ to curb virus, avoid tough measures, Saudi Ministry of Interior warns

‘We must cooperate’ to curb virus, avoid tough measures, Saudi Ministry of Interior warns
A Saudi woman walks on a social distancing marker at a shopping center, as preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 3, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 min 45 sec ago

‘We must cooperate’ to curb virus, avoid tough measures, Saudi Ministry of Interior warns

‘We must cooperate’ to curb virus, avoid tough measures, Saudi Ministry of Interior warns
  • Makkah police arrest 13 people for violating isolation, quarantine instructions

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Interior (MoI) announced on Sunday that authorities have detected a surge of “worrying” behaviors in the Kingdom since the beginning of Ramadan, warning citizens to avoid ignoring anti-coronavirus health measures.

At a joint press conference between the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, MoI spokesperson Lt. Col. Talal Al-Shalhoub warned that the rising number of coronavirus cases in the Kingdom could potentially lead to citywide lockdowns, as well as the banning of certain activities.
“We must cooperate and not trivialize the dangers. We do not want to have to resort to tough measures,” he said.
Al-Shalhoub added that the Kingdom was continuing to crack down on rule-breakers and those who violate safety precautions, including people using social media to spread misinformation about safety measures and ways to circumvent them.
Meanwhile, Makkah’s regional police spokesman said that 13 people were arrested in Jeddah and Taif for violating isolation and quarantine instructions after they tested positive for coronavirus.
Preliminary legal procedures were taken against them and their cases were referred to the Public Prosecution. The MoI previously warned that violators will face up to a two-year prison sentence, a fine of up to SR200,000 ($53,300), or both.
Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly revealed that the Kingdom has seen a slight rise in the percentage of women contracting coronavirus, warning that the number of women coming forward to be vaccinated was lower than expected.
“We have also seen a rise in the number of female cases that become critical and end up needing intensive care. Women also make up 55 percent of the overall number of cases in the Kingdom,” he said.
The MoH announced that 917 new coronavirus cases were reported on Saturday, raising the total number of cases to 404,970.
There are now 9,445 active cases, 1,044 of which are in critical care.

INNUMBERS

404,970 Total cases

388,702 Recoveries

6,823 Deaths

Of the new cases, 402 were in Riyadh, 203 in Makkah and 131 in the Eastern Province. Baha and Jouf reported the lowest cases on Saturday, with just six cases each.
Al-Aly said that appointments for second vaccine doses would be automatically updated, following news that some appointments had been canceled. The Saudi strategy aims to immunize the largest number of people possible with at least the first dose, Al-Aly added.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that more than 15 million people have benefited from its Eatmarna app.
The ministry said that only people who have taken at least the first dose of the vaccine will be permitted to perform Umrah, or pray at either the Grand Mosque in Makkah or the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
Violators will be prosecuted for attempting to perform the pilgrimage without the proper permissions, officials said, adding that authorities are encouraging safety precautions in order to ensure safe, smooth, and seamless pilgrimages for all visitors.
There were 907 new recoveries reported in the Kingdom, raising the total number of recoveries over the course of the pandemic to 388,702. The Kingdom’s death toll rose to 6,823 after 13 new coronavirus-related deaths were recorded.
Almost 7.1 million coronavirus vaccines have been administered in Saudi Arabia so far.


KSrelief chief meets Swedish envoy for Yemen

Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center meets Swedish special envoy for Yemen Peter Semneby. (SPA) 
Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center meets Swedish special envoy for Yemen Peter Semneby. (SPA) 
Updated 29 sec ago

KSrelief chief meets Swedish envoy for Yemen

Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center meets Swedish special envoy for Yemen Peter Semneby. (SPA) 
  • KSrelief also continued distributing Ramadan food baskets to Lebanon and Pakistan

RIYADH: The General Supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah met with Sweden’s special envoy for Yemen Peter Semneby in Riyadh.
During the meeting, Al-Rabeeah, who is also adviser at the Royal Court, reviewed the 590 humanitarian and relief projects that the Kingdom has carried out through the center in Yemen.
Both sides also discussed matters of common interest related to humanitarian and relief affairs in Yemen and the efforts made to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.
Semneby praised the pioneering role provided by the Kingdom through KSrelief in support of countries in need, and the special attention given to the Yemeni people.
Meanwhile, KSrelief distributed more than 27 tons of food baskets to displaced families in Yemen’s Marib governorate, benefiting 1,554 individuals. 
The center also continued distributing Ramadan food baskets to Syrian and Palestinian refugees and Lebanese families in Lebanon.
About 1,000 Ramadan food baskets were distributed in the Katarmaya area in Mount Lebanon, benefiting 5,000 people.
The center also distributed 1,713 Ramadan food baskets in Wadi Khaled in northern Lebanon, Arsal in northern Bekaa and Jiyeh in Mount Lebanon, benefiting 8,500 individuals.
KSrelief also continued distributing Ramadan food baskets in Pakistan. Nearly 1,200 Ramadan food baskets were distributed in the Sibi and Qalat districts of Balochistan region, benefiting 7,056 individuals.
KSrelief has implemented 1,556 projects worth more than $5 billion in 59 countries. The initiatives have been carried out in cooperation with 144 local, regional and international partners since the inception of the center in May 2015.
According to a recent KSrelief report, the countries and territories that benefited the most from the center’s various projects were Yemen ($3.53 billion), Palestine ($363 million), Syria ($305 million) and Somalia ($203 million).


Egypt’s non-oil exports rise to $7.4bn in Q1 2021

Egypt’s non-oil exports rise to $7.4bn in Q1 2021
Updated 1 min 53 sec ago

Egypt’s non-oil exports rise to $7.4bn in Q1 2021

Egypt’s non-oil exports rise to $7.4bn in Q1 2021
  • Trade deficit also decreased by 1 percent to $9.5 billion in the same period

CAIRO: Egypt’s non-oil exports rose 7.2 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year, reaching $7.4 billion, said Trade and Industry Minister Nevin Jameh.

“This tangible increase came despite the current circumstances related to the coronavirus crisis that the whole world is suffering from, thanks to the efforts made by the government to support the production and export sectors during the crisis,” she added.

Egyptian imports saw a slight increase in the first quarter of 2021 to $16.9 billion, compared to $16.67 billion in the same period last year.

Jameh said these positive indicators contributed to achieving a 1 percent decrease in the trade balance deficit to $9.5 billion, compared to $9.6 billion in the same period last year.

Ismail Jaber, head of the General Organization for Export and Import Control, said the chemical products and fertilizer sectors dominated Egypt’s export list in the first quarter of 2021.

Exports of chemical products and fertilizers amounted to $1.5 billion, building materials $1.3 billion, food industries $965 million, and engineering and electronic goods $739 million.

FASTFACTS

• Chemical products and fertilizer sectors dominated Egypt’s export list in the first quarter of 2021.

• Egypt’s top export destinations were China ($3.1 billion), the US ($1.49 billion), Germany ($970 million), Russia ($855 million) and Italy ($689 million).

• These five countries accounted for 42.1 percent of Egyptian imports.

Jaber said Egypt’s top export destinations were China ($3.1 billion), the US ($1.49 billion), Germany ($970 million), Russia ($855 million) and Italy ($689 million). These five countries, he added, accounted for 42.1 percent of Egyptian imports.

Egypt is expecting economic growth of 5.4 percent in the next fiscal year 2021/2022, up from 3.3 percent expected in 2020/2021.

The country recently approved its budget, which aims to reduce the country’s deficit and focuses on pushing social protection efforts, improving citizens’ standard of living, increasing wage allocations and rewards for workers, and financing grant incentives and transportation allowances for workers transferred to the New Administrative Capital.

The proceeds of budget revenues are likely to reach about EGP1.3 trillion  ($80 billion), according to estimates for the next fiscal year 2020/2021, compared to expected revenues of EGP1.117 trillion during the current fiscal year.

The estimates reflect an annual growth in revenues of 16.4 percent, achieved by expanding the tax base, activating electronic payments, expanding the use of modern methods of risk management, collecting government revenues and working to increase linking the proceeds to economic activity.


From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla Berlin plant

From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla Berlin plant
Updated 10 min 4 sec ago

From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla Berlin plant

From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla Berlin plant
  • The extra demand could place a huge burden on a region already affected by water shortages

BERLIN: In the green forest outside Berlin, a battle is playing out between electric carmaker Tesla and environmental campaigners who want to stop its planned “gigafactory.”

“When I saw on TV that the Tesla factory was going to be built here, I could not believe it,” said Steffen Schorch.

The 60-year-old from Erkner village in the Berlin commuter belt has become one of the faces of the fight against the US auto giant’s first European factory, due to open in the Brandenburg region near Berlin in July. “Tesla needs far too much water, and the region does not have this water,” said the environmental activist, a local representative of the Nabu ecologist campaign group.

Announced in November 2019, Tesla’s gigafactory project was warmly welcomed as an endorsement of the “Made in Germany” quality mark — but was immediately met with opposition from local residents.

Demonstrations, legal action, open letters — residents have done everything in their power to delay the project, supported by powerful environmental campaign groups Nabu and Gruene Liga.

Tesla was forced to temporarily suspend forest clearing last year after campaigners won an injunction over threats to the habitats of resident lizards and snakes during their winter slumber.

And now they have focused their attention on water consumption — which could reach up to 3.6 million cubic meters a year, or around 30 percent of the region’s available supply, according to the ZDF public broadcaster.

The extra demand could place a huge burden on a region already affected by water shortages and hit by summer droughts for the past three years.

Local residents and environmentalists are also concerned about the impact on the wetlands, an important source of biodiversity in the region. “The water situation is bad, and will get worse,” Heiko Baschin, a spokesman for the neighborhood association IG Freienbrink, told AFP.

Brandenburg’s Environment Minister Axel Vogel sought to play down the issue, saying in March that “capacity has not been exceeded for now.”

But the authorities admit that “the impact of droughts is significant” and have set up a working group to examine the issue in the long term.

The gigafactory is set to sprawl over 300 hectares — equivalent to approximately 560 football fields — southwest of the German capital.

Tesla is aiming to produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year at the plant, which will also be home to “the largest battery factory in the world,” according to group boss Elon Musk.


Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back
Updated 21 min 50 sec ago

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back

Quartararo wins Portuguese GP; Márquez 7th in 1st race back
  • Márquez had a lackluster race in his return after breaking his right arm at the Spanish GP last summer

PORTIMÃO, Portugal: Fabio Quartararo won the Portuguese Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday, with six-time MotoGP champion Marc Márquez finishing seventh in an emotional return after nine months.

Quartararo finished ahead of Francesco Bagnaia and defending MotoGP champion Joan Mir. The Frenchman moved into the championship lead with the victory at the Algarve circuit. Quartararo’s celebration after the race included an imitation of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal celebration.

“It’s good to be back in this mindset, I feel like I’m full of confidence,” Quartararo said. “We did an amazing job. Yesterday we were first in all the sessions, and today we won. This is a great way to start the celebrations for my birthday in two days.”

Márquez had a lackluster race in his return after breaking his right arm at the Spanish GP last summer. He missed the rest of last season and the first two races this year.

“I’m relieved,” Márquez said. “Not only about finishing the race, but about being back on a motorcycle, about feeling like a rider again, even though I couldn’t ride the way I wanted to. But this weekend wasn’t about where I finished.”

The Spaniard jumped to fourth at the start and was as high as third during the first lap, but he made contact with another rider on the second lap and eventually dropped to ninth place. He kept a decent pace but could only make up a few positions, finishing just ahead of brother Álex Márquez.

Marc Márquez couldn’t hold back his emotions as he received a round of applause from the members of his team after the race.

“I’m the kind of person who likes to keep things inside and not express my emotions, but I broke down when I returned to the box,” Marc Márquez said. “It was tough.”

Quartararo lost ground early on but was back in front by the halfway point of the race in southern Portugal, holding on for his fifth MotoGP win. He was coming off a win in Qatar two weeks ago.

Jack Miller and Miguel Oliveira crashed early in the race, while Álex Rins fell later when he was near the front. Veteran Valentino Rossi also crashed to add to his struggles at the start of the season, while Johann Zarco — the championship leader coming into the Portuguese GP — went down with six laps to go while fighting at the top.

Zarco had finished second in the first two races of the season, both in Qatar. Maverick Viñales won the season-opener.

It was the third straight win for Yamaha this season.