Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during the mass vaccination program for the elderly people at a school in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 26, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 February 2021

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies
  • Move part of efforts to speed up inoculation, achieve herd immunity

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Friday said it would allow private companies to run coronavirus vaccination programs for workers and families alongside a nationwide drive to expedite efforts in achieving herd immunity.

The country is aiming to inoculate 181.5 million people out of the total 270 million population by year-end.

“The companies will provide the vaccines for free for workers,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, health ministry spokesperson for the vaccination program, said during a press conference.

Tarmizi added that the ministry’s revised regulation, which serves as the main reference for the vaccination program, was issued on Wednesday to include articles regulating the private sector’s involvement in the vaccination drive.

“The number of vaccines distributed in the private-run program will match the number that the companies requested, and the inoculations will be conducted at private healthcare facilities or the companies’ own facilities,” Tarmizi said.

Additionally, the vaccines used in the program will be different from the free CoronaVac, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer vaccines that the government has distributed since mid-January.

While initial population targets included health workers, senior citizens, frontline public workers, teachers and lecturers, athletes, journalists, and lawmakers, the general population or those in their productive age will receive their first vaccine jab in April.

The private scheme, which the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) proposed, will require companies to purchase the vaccine from Bio Farma, a state-owned vaccine manufacturer appointed as the sole importer for all jabs that Indonesia procures.

Bio Farma spokesperson Bambang Heriyanto said the company is in discussions with Moderna and Sinopharm to procure vaccines for the private scheme, which has been dubbed “Gotong Royong,” an Indonesian term for mutual cooperation.

“In accordance with its name, this is a mutual cooperation initiative. The government will provide a space for any members of society that will want to assist the government in the vaccination program,” Arya Sinulingga, a spokesperson for the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said on Friday.

He added that the private drive will run in parallel with the government’s program and will not alter the existing schedule or priority groups being targeted.

Kadin said that about 7,000 companies had already registered for the vaccination drive as of Saturday.

“The enthusiasm is really high to take part in this program because it is quite costly for the companies to swab test regularly. It is better for the companies to allocate the cost to vaccinate their workers,” Shinta Kamdani Widjaja, Kadin deputy chairwoman, said at a press conference earlier this week.

She dismissed concerns that the program will commercialize vaccines, saying the government would closely monitor the program to avoid any violations of terms and conditions.

“There are also companies that are willing to vaccinate not only their workers, but also their families. It would be difficult for the economy to recover if we don’t achieve the herd immunity target. The business community is ready to support the government in the vaccination drive and economic recovery program,” Widjaja said.

However, opponents of the scheme said the private vaccination drive will “only enable queue jumpers who don’t really need the vaccine compared with the more vulnerable groups, and disregard the principle of equity for all citizens in a vaccination program.”

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist, said in an online discussion: “There is also no guarantee that we will achieve herd immunity by inoculating 181.5 million people. This could be misleading the public and making them have the wrong expectation.

“This is also prone to make the government, the companies, and the public relax its compliance to the health protocols, testing, tracing and treatment,” Budiman added.

He said that achieving herd immunity is a long-term goal and that the vaccination drive could not stand alone in battling the pandemic without a comprehensive public health approach.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed and said that the private vaccination program focused mainly on economic recovery targets instead of controlling the pandemic.

“It is clear from the start that the government does not view the vaccine as one of the ways to handle the pandemic, but it has been more about economic recovery,” Riono said.


Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help
Updated 40 min 31 sec ago

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s navy is searching for 53 people on board a missing submarine and is seeking help from Australia and Singapore, the country’s military chief told Reuters on Wednesday.
The German-made submarine, KRI Nanggala-402, was conducting a torpedo drill in waters north of the island of Bali on Wednesday but failed to relay the results as expected, a navy spokesman said.
Representatives of the defense departments of Australia and Singapore did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin
Updated 21 April 2021

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia is aiming for herd immunity against the coronavirus by autumn and hailed his country’s development of three vaccines.
“Vaccination is now of paramount importance... to allow herd immunity to develop in the fall,” Putin said during his annual state of the nation address, adding that “our scientists have made a real breakthrough. Now Russia has three reliable vaccines against the coronavirus.”


Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter
Updated 21 April 2021

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

A son of Chad's slain leader Idriss Deby Itno is to take over as president in place of his father, according to a charter released Wednesday by the presidency.
It said General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, 37, who on Tuesday was named transitional leader as head of a military council following his father's death, will "occupy the functions of the president of the republic" and also serve as head of the armed forces.


Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
Updated 21 April 2021

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
  • At least 738 people killed and 3,300 in jails as political prisoners
  • “The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe”

YANGON: The Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protesters has displaced close to a quarter of a million people, a United Nations rights envoy said Wednesday.
The military has stepped up its use of lethal force to quash mass demonstrations against a February 1 coup which ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 738 people have been killed and 3,300 are languishing in jails as political prisoners, according to a local monitoring group.
“Horrified to learn that... the junta’s attacks have already left nearly a quarter (of a) million Myanmar people displaced, according to sources,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews tweeted on Wednesday.
“The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Free Burma Rangers, a Christian aid group, estimated last week at least 24,000 people were displaced in northern Karen state amid military ground attacks and airstrikes earlier in the month.
Karen National Union brigade five spokesperson Padoh Mann Mann said Wednesday that more than 2,000 Karen people have now crossed Myanmar’s border into Thailand and that thousands more are internally displaced.
“They all hide in the jungle nearby their villages,” he said.
Amid mounting violence, South East Asian leaders and foreign ministers are set to hold talks on the Myanmar crisis in Jakarta on Saturday.
Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing’s expected involvement in the summit has angered activists and human rights groups.
“Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created,” Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams said.
Overnight, authorities released freelance video journalist Ko Latt, who had been held in custody for a month in the capital Naypyidaw.
At least 70 reporters have been arrested since the coup and 38 are in detention, according to Reporting ASEAN.
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South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
Updated 21 April 2021

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
  • Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision
  • Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty

SEOUL: A South Korean court on Wednesday rejected a claim by South Korean sexual slavery victims and their relatives who sought compensation from the Japanese government over their wartime sufferings.
The Seoul Central District Court based its decision on diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant states immunity from jurisdiction of foreign courts. This appeared to align with the position maintained by Tokyo, which had boycotted the court proceedings and insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations with South Korea.
Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision and said the Seoul Central District Court was ignoring their struggles to restore the women’s honor and dignity. They said in a statement that the plaintiffs would appeal.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect relations between the estranged US allies. They spent years escalating their feud in public over issues stemming from Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea through end of World War II before facing pressure from the Biden administration to mend ties and coordinate action in the face of threats from China and North Korea.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katunobu Kato noted the decision conflicted with a previous ruling on a separate case that found the Japanese government responsible for compensating sexual slavery victims.
Kato said he wouldn’t comment on the new ruling before examining the details more closely, but he added that Tokyo’s stance on the sexual slavery issue remains unchanged. He said the previous ruling violated international law and was unacceptable.
“Japan continues to strongly ask South Korea to take appropriate steps in order to correct the state of international violation,” he said.
The 20 plaintiffs, who had sued Japanese government in 2016, included 11 women who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II and relatives of other women who have since died.
The court said international law and previous rulings from South Korea’s Supreme Court make it clear that foreign governments should be immune from civil damage suits in respect of their sovereignty.
“If we go against the (principles) of current customary international law regarding the immunity of states and deny immunity for the defendant, a diplomatic clash with the defendant will become unavoidable following the verdict and the process to forcibly execute it,” the court said in a statement.
One of the plaintiffs – 92-year-old Lee Yong-soo – has been campaigning for South Korea and Japan to settle their decades-long impasse over sexual slavery by seeking judgment from the UN’s International Court of Justice.
She has said it has become clear the issue cannot be resolved through bilateral talks or rulings by South Korea’s domestic courts that have been repeatedly rejected by the Japanese government, and that the friction between governments has hurt friendships between civilians.
“Regardless of the verdict, we will go to the International Court of Justice,” she told reporters after Wednesday’s ruling.
The same court in a largely symbolic ruling in January had called for the Japanese government to give 100 million won ($89,000) each to a separate group of 12 women who sued in 2013 over their wartime suffering as sex slaves.
Tens of thousands of women across Japanese-occupied Asia and the Pacific were moved to front-line brothels used by the Japanese military. About 240 South Korean women registered with the government as victims of sexual slavery by Japan’s wartime military – only 15 of whom are still alive.
Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty, in which Tokyo provided $500 million in economic assistance to Seoul.
Amnesty International in a statement called Wednesday’s ruling a “major disappointment that fails to deliver justice to the remaining survivors of this military slavery system and to those who suffered these atrocities before and during World War II but had already passed away, as well as their families.”
Referring to the January court ruling, Arnold Fang, Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher, said, “What was a landmark victory for the survivors after an overly long wait is again now being called into question.”
The ruling came as the Asian US allies struggle to repair their relations that sank to post-war lows in recent years over history, trade, and military issues.
Their recurring animosity could possibly complicate President Joe Biden’s efforts to bolster three-way cooperation with US regional allies, which declined under years of President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Besides the impasse over sexual slavery, South Korea and Japan have feuded over South Korean court rulings that called for Japanese companies to compensate Koreans who were forced to work in factories during the war.
The countries have made little progress in repairing their relations despite South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s vow last month to build “future-oriented ties” with Tokyo. Those comments came after Moon during a January news conference described that month’s ruling on the sexual slavery survivors as “honestly a complicating” development for government efforts to improve bilateral relations.
Moon’s office didn’t immediately comment on Wednesday’s ruling. Aside from the history issues, fresh tensions have risen after Japan confirmed it would release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
In 2015, South Korea’s previous conservative government reached a deal with Japan to “irreversibly” resolve the sexual slavery dispute. Under that deal, Japan agreed to fund a foundation to support victims in return for South Korea ceasing its criticism of Japan over the issue.
But Moon’s government took steps to dissolve the foundation after he took office in 2017, saying the 2015 deal lacked legitimacy because officials failed to properly communicate with victims before reaching it.