Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives a dose of COVAXIN vaccine developed by India’s Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research on March 1, 2021. (India’s Press Information Bureau via Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.


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.
bur-lpm/oho


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.


India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short

India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short
Updated 21 April 2021

India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short

India COVID-19 surge hits new record as oxygen runs short
  • India dealing with a second wave of infections blamed on lax government rules and a new ‘double mutant’ virus variant

NEW DELHI: India’s brutal new COVID-19 outbreak set new records on Wednesday with more than 2,000 deaths in 24 hours as hospitals in New Delhi ran perilously low on oxygen.
India has been in the grips of a second wave of infections blamed on lax government rules and a new “double mutant” virus variant, adding almost 3.5 million new cases this month alone.
Health ministry data on Wednesday showed 295,000 new cases in 24 hours and 2,023 fatalities, among the world’s biggest daily totals of the pandemic and on a par with numbers seen in the United States in January.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country of 1.3 billion people was “once again fighting a big fight.”
“The situation was under control till a few weeks back, and then this second corona wave came like a storm,” Modi said.
There had been hopes that despite its packed cities and poor health care, India had managed to dodge largely unscathed a pandemic that has killed more than three million people around the world.
Recent weeks have seen mass gatherings including millions attending the Kumbh Mela religious festival, political rallies as well as lavish weddings and cricket matches against England.
Production of key coronavirus drugs slowed or even halted at some factories and there were delays inviting bids for oxygen generation plants, according to press reports.
Now distraught relatives are being forced to pay exorbitant rates on the black market for medicine and oxygen and WhatsApp groups are awash with desperate pleas for help.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who on Tuesday went into self-isolation after his wife tested positive, tweeted late Tuesday that some hospitals in the capital “are left with just a few hours of oxygen.”
The health minister of the megacity of around 25 million inhabitants, Satyendar Jain, urged the federal government to “restore oxygen supply chain to avert a major crisis.”
Hospitals in the western state of Maharashtra and its teeming capital Mumbai, the epicenter of the surge, were also experiencing dire shortages, press reports said.
“Normally we would shift some patients to other hospitals... none in the city have spare oxygen,” NDTV quoted one doctor in the state as saying.
“The (central government), states and private sectors are trying to ensure every needy patient gets oxygen,” Modi said in his address.
States across India have imposed restrictions, with Delhi in a week-long lockdown, all non-essential shops shut in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh set for a weekend shutdown.
Delhi’s lockdown prompted tens of thousands of migrant workers to flee the mega-city, in scenes reminiscent of the national shutdown a year ago that inflicted economic and human misery.
The United States now advises against traveling to India, even for those fully vaccinated, while Britain has added India to its “red list.” Hong Kong and New Zealand have banned flights.
India has administered more than 130 million shots so far and from May 1 all adults will be eligible for a shot.
Some local authorities have however been running short of supplies, and India has put the brakes on exports of the AstraZeneca shot.
“I think in the coming week or two we will have a more quantitative estimate of and if any effect of this variant on the vaccine,” Rakesh Mishra from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology said.
In total India has recorded 15.6 million cases, second only to the United States, and more than 180,000 deaths.