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.

Born without arms but full of moxie, Pakistani boy excels at school and cricket

Born without arms but full of moxie, Pakistani boy excels at school and cricket
Updated 6 min 33 sec ago

Born without arms but full of moxie, Pakistani boy excels at school and cricket

Born without arms but full of moxie, Pakistani boy excels at school and cricket
  • Syed Rafiullah Shah was encouraged by his family to write with his feet when he was 4 years old

QUETTA: On a cold November morning, Syed Rafiullah Shah arrived sleeveless at an examination hall in Quetta, southwestern Pakistan, to sit for an eighth-grade test. He finished it faster than many other students, writing swiftly on the paper with a pen held in his right foot.
Born without arms, 13-year-old Shah is one of millions of Pakistanis living with disabilities. While the exact number is not known, Human Rights Watch estimates it could be up to 27 million, or over 12 percent, of the country’s population.  
Although Pakistan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and last year passed its own Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, in many parts of the country disability is still considered a taboo, keeping people confined within the walls of their homes.
Shah’s story is different.
“I am a living example that people with physical impairments can have a normal life,” he told Arab News.
“I have learnt to do my daily work with my feet. Even now I am able to play cricket, soccer and other sports with my cousins and friends,” he said. “Physical impairment has never deterred me.”
Shah has been encouraged by his family members to master the same skills as physically able children. It did take more effort, he said, but through his spirit, he has managed to excel.
“My aunt encouraged me to write with my feet when I was just four years old,” he said. “Today I am studying in eight standard and I’m able to write in both English and Urdu.”
When it comes to sports, he regularly practices cricket with his elder brother, Syed Mujeebullah, for whom Shah is a source of pride.
“Rafi hits the ball with his legs,” Mujeebullah said. “I feel pride when I see my younger brother competing with normal students in school and sports.”
Syed Zahoor Ahmed, who was overseeing Shah’s exams, told Arab News he was surprised to see the boy’s confidence as he wrote with his foot.
“I have asked Rafi a couple of times if he needed extra time, but he refused and completed his papers within the given timeframe,” Ahmed said, adding that Shah was even faster than other students.
“I have never considered Rafi a physically impaired student, but a talented child,” he said.
It was his grandfather who, from the beginning, believed the boy was a “blessing.”
Syed Sadar-ud-Din, Shah’s father, remembered calling his father to tell him his child had been born without arms and shoulders. “He told me to accept it as God’s decision, since it would prove to be a blessing for me,” he said.
When he was a toddler, Shah could not crawl like other babies, but soon, he started to walk.
“He got many face and head injuries during his childhood because he wasn’t able to protect his face while falling down on the ground,” the father said. “But the days of our worries ended when he enrolled in school, and now can handle any situation.”
While the family has never seen Shah’s disability as a burden, Sadar-ud-Din is well aware of the difficulties he will have to face in Pakistani society as he grows older.
“I want to request all parents who have children with any disability to start supporting them and encourage them,” he said. “If we don’t believe in them, no one else will.”


UN expert: Contemporary forms of slavery exist in Sri Lanka

UN expert: Contemporary forms of slavery exist in Sri Lanka
Updated 50 sec ago

UN expert: Contemporary forms of slavery exist in Sri Lanka

UN expert: Contemporary forms of slavery exist in Sri Lanka
  • Women and girls are disproportionately affected by contemporary forms of slavery

COLOMBO: A UN expert says contemporary forms of slavery exist in Sri Lanka, with vulnerable groups such as children, women, ethnic minorities and older people particularly affected.
Tomoyo Obokata, the U.N special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said Friday at the end of a mission to Sri Lanka that he hopes to submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council in September next year.
Obokata said about 1 percent of Sri Lankan children are involved in some type of child labor, most of it considered hazardous.
“Girls and boys work in the domestic sector, in hospitality, cleaning in the general service industry. Others are sexually exploited in the tourism sector,” he said.
Child labor is particularly severe in areas populated by ethnic minority Tamils, such as in tea and rubber plantation regions where children are forced to drop out of school and support their families, he said.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says contemporary forms of slavery include traditional slavery, forced labor, debt bondage, serfdom, children working in slavery or slavery-like conditions, domestic servitude, sexual slavery and servile forms of marriage.
“I witnessed that in Sri Lanka contemporary forms of slavery have an ethnic dimension,” Obokata said. “In particular, Malayaha Tamils, who were brought from India to work in the plantation sector 200 years
ago, continue to face multiple forms of discrimination based
on their origin.”
He said the plantation Tamils’ inability to own land has forced them to live in “line houses” built during colonial times.
“I was frankly very much distressed by the way they are living. Five to 10 people stuffed in tiny spaces. No proper kitchen or toilet or shower facilities, just appalling conditions. I have recommended to the government to do something about this because frankly I was distraught myself,” Obokata said.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by contemporary forms of slavery, with females predominantly filling jobs in demanding sectors such as plantation, garment industry and domestic labor, he said.
In the plantation sector, women must meet daily targets to earn the minimum daily wage, Obokata said.
“Similarly, increasingly high targets in the garment sector put continuous pressure on the female workers. As a consequence, some even choose not to go to the bathroom in order to meet the targets,” he said.
In some cases, such as in the planation sector, older workers are compelled to regularly perform physically challenging work because younger people choose to be employed outside the sector. They have no access to adequate health care, social protection, or paid sick leave, he said.

Rights groups welcome Council of Europe’s disciplinary action against Turkey

Rights groups welcome Council of Europe’s disciplinary action against Turkey
Updated 03 December 2021

Rights groups welcome Council of Europe’s disciplinary action against Turkey

Rights groups welcome Council of Europe’s disciplinary action against Turkey
  • HRW and Amnesty slam Turkey over ‘farcical’ detention of Osman Kavala
  • High-profile philanthropist has been detained for years on ‘politically motivated’ charges

LONDON: Prominent human rights groups have welcomed disciplinary action initiated by Europe’s top rights and democracy court against Turkey over the detention of activist Osman Kavala.

Washington-based Human Rights Watch and London-based Amnesty International — two of the most high-profile human rights groups globally — released statements in support of a move by the Council of Europe to penalize Ankara for Kavala’s continuing detention.

The disciplinary proceedings relate to a failure by Turkey to comply with a European Court of Human Rights ruling that decreed that Kavala should be released. 

“Turkey is refusing to abide by the court’s final judgment in this case,” said a statement by the council, which initiated proceedings that could ultimately see Turkey lose voting rights or even its membership of the 47-nation Council of Europe.

Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch, said: “As this is only the second time the Council of Europe has triggered such a sanction process against a member state, the decision is an acknowledgment of Turkey’s rule of law crisis.”

She continued: “In the face of Turkey’s defiance of its obligation to carry out a key judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers has taken the right course in notifying Turkey that it will trigger infringement proceedings

Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muiznieks said: “Two years ago, the European Court of Human Rights found that Osman Kavala’s right to liberty was violated with the ulterior purpose of silencing him and called for his immediate release.

“Instead of implementing this ruling, prosecutors have consistently looked for crimes to pin on him, bringing farcical charges without any evidence. Each twist and turn of this saga of injustice has pointed at the deeply politically motivated nature of the case, as clearly identified by the European Court.”

“The message from the Committee of Ministers to Turkey is crystal clear: Turkey’s failure to ensure the immediate release of Osman Kavala and end his politically motivated prosecution is an unacceptable breach of the country’s human rights obligations.”

Kavala, 64, has long advocated for the rights of Turkey’s minorities, including Armenians, Kurds, and others, and is the founder of an Istanbul-based arts and culture non-profit organization.

He was arrested in 2017 following a failed coup in Turkey, and accused of having links to the Gulenist movement — an opposition Islamist group run from the US by Fethullah Gulen.

In 2020 Kavala was briefly released from custody, only to be detained hours later — this time on charges relating to his alleged involvement in organizing the 2013 Gezi Park protests that rocked Turkey after they evolved into an anti-government movement.

Amnesty’s Muiznieks said: “After more than four years behind bars on politically motivated charges, he must be allowed to finally return home to his family.”

WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic

WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic
Updated 03 December 2021

WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic

WHO chief scientist says Omicron ‘quite infectious’, must not panic
  • WHO has urged countries to boost healthcare capacity and vaccinate their people
  • "We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we're in a different situation to a year ago," WHO’s chief scientist said

DUBAI: The World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told the Reuters Next conference on Friday that while the new coronavirus variant Omicron appeared to be very transmissible, the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic.
The WHO has urged countries to boost health care capacity and vaccinate their people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant, saying travel curbs could buy time but alone were not the answer.
“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” Swaminathan said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
While the emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, she said the world was much better prepared given the development of vaccines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries. Parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the Delta variant before it emerged.
“We need to wait, lets hope it’s milder ... but it’s too early to conclude about the variant as a whole,” Swaminathan said of what was known about Omicron.
“Delta accounts for 99 percent of infections around the world. This variant would have to be more transmissible to out-compete and become dominant worldwide. It is possible, but it’s not possible to predict.”
The WHO’s top scientist said the Omicron variant seemed to be causing three times more infections than experienced previously in South Africa, meaning “it does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection.”
Vaccines did appear to be having some effect.
“The fact that they’re not getting sick .... that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection,” Swaminathan said.
Asked about the need for annual vaccine boosters, she said “the WHO is preparing for all scenarios,” which could include an additional dose, particularly among some age groups or vulnerable sections of the population, or a modified vaccine.
“Natural infection acts as a booster,” the WHO scientist said, adding that while the new variant “could have originated in a country where there isn’t a great deal of genome sequencing,” its origins were not known.
“We may never know,” Swaminathan said.

EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis

EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis
Updated 03 December 2021

EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis

EU moots suspending asylum rights in Poland to end migrant crisis
  • The bloc has accused Belarus of manufacturing a crisis for political ends
  • 13 people have died on the Belarus border due to freezing conditions

LONDON: The EU is considering suspending some rights belonging to asylum seekers in countries bordering Belarus in an effort to end the ongoing migrant crisis.

Proposals put forward by the European Commission, the executive arm of the bloc, would allow for faster deportations and the detention of asylum seekers at the border for up to four months.

The plans are aimed at mitigating the political harm caused by large numbers of people attempting to enter Poland and other EU states from Belarus, in what Brussels describes as a crisis manufactured by Minsk.

The EU argues that Belarus has flown migrants in from the Middle East in order to put pressure on its northeastern border regions and manufacture political instability, with the onus of dealing with a large influx of migrants placed disproportionately on Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Belarus has denied those accusations, calling them absurd.

The three Belarus-bordering EU states have defended their approach of pushing migrants back without individually assessing their cases or granting them a realistic chance to claim asylum.

Rights groups say that 13 people have now died in the area due to the freezing conditions and that the practice violates EU rules and international humanitarian law.

Under the EU’s proposals, migrants would be permitted to claim asylum only at designated locations, such as border crossings.

National authorities would have a longer period of up to four weeks to register asylum applications and asylum seekers could be kept for up to 16 weeks at the border, losing a standing right to be held in more suitable centers inside the country.

The proposals are a further example of the EU tightening immigration rules since more than one million people arrived in 2015 — many of them fleeing the conflict in Syria — overwhelming the bloc and dividing member states over how to respond.

Immigration is among the most contentious intra-bloc issues for EU members, in part because regulation and geography mean that the burden of managing asylum applications and inward immigration falls disproportionately on Southern and Eastern countries — many of which are less wealthy than western states, such as France and Germany.

According to Lithuania’s interior ministry, around 10,000 migrants remain in Belarus, despite Minsk initiating removal flights for some.