India reviews AstraZeneca side effects after concerns in Europe

India reviews AstraZeneca side effects after concerns in Europe
New Delhi decided to conduct the review after several countries suspended AstraZeneca’s rollout over blood clot fears. (AFP)
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Updated 13 March 2021

India reviews AstraZeneca side effects after concerns in Europe

India reviews AstraZeneca side effects after concerns in Europe
  • New Delhi decided to conduct the review after several countries suspended rollout over blood clot fears
  • India had registered 23,285 new cases in the last 24 hours

NEW DELHI: India will carry out a deeper review of post-vaccination side effects from the AstraZeneca shot next week although no cases of blood clots have been reported so far, an official told AFP Saturday.
New Delhi decided to conduct the review after several countries suspended rollout over blood clot fears even as the World Health Organization said there was no reason to stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 jab.
Denmark, Norway and Iceland paused use of the drugmaker’s shot as a precaution after isolated reports of recipients developing blood clots.
“We are looking at all the adverse events, particularly serious adverse events like deaths and hospitalization. We will come back if we find anything of concern,” N.K. Arora, a member of India’s national task force on COVID-19, said.
India has given at least 28 million shots in its vast vaccination program, most of them AstraZeneca’s which are produced at the Serum Institute of India.
New Delhi has also gifted and allowed exports of millions of these jabs to around 70 countries over the last few weeks as a part of its vaccine diplomacy.
Arora said there was “no immediate issue of concern as number of adverse events (in India) is very, very low. We are relooking at (adverse events that were reported) to see if there was any issue of blood clotting.”
“As of yesterday there were 59 or 60 deaths, and they were all coincidental,” the doctor said, adding hospitalization cases were being re-examined.
“In fact there is a real effort from our side that once complete investigation is done, to put its results in public domain, on the ministry of health website,” Arora added.
India has been using AstraZeneca and indigenous vaccine giant Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin in its rapidly expanding vaccination drive at home.
At least two million people were vaccinated on Friday alone, and this ramp up comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising across different Indian states after weeks of decline.
The western state of Maharashtra has announced fresh restrictions and a week-long lockdown in one of its big cities, Nagpur, after the recent spike across the region.
Fresh restrictions including curbs on movement and public gatherings were also reintroduced in some pockets of the state, which is also expected to impact the economic recovery in its industrial belt.
“Some states in the country have been reporting very high number of daily new COVID cases. Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu continue to report a surge in COVID daily cases,” the health ministry said in a statement on Friday.
India had registered 23,285 new cases in the last 24 hours, with the six states accounting for 85.6 percent of the new infections, it added.


Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections
Updated 04 August 2021

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections
  • Ramped-up vaccination drive crucial to curbing the outbreak, officials say

DHAKA: More than 50 percent of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections and nearly 44 percent of virus-related deaths across Bangladesh have been traced to the highly transmissible delta variant of the disease, health authorities confirmed on Tuesday.

The government’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on Monday said over 15,000 infections and 246 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 1,280,317 and death toll to 21,500 since the pandemic began in March last year.

“Some of our organisations, including the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), conducted genome sequencing on small-sized samples. It shows that more than 50 percent of recent infections are caused by the delta (variant),” Dr. Mushtuq Hussain, an adviser to the IEDCR, told Arab News, adding: “Of the recent deaths, around 44 percent were infected with the delta variant.”

The worrying trend comes amid several warnings by health experts that the outbreak might worsen after authorities relaxed the COVID-19 curbs ahead of the Eid Al-Adha festival in late July.

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis traveled from various cities, including the capital Dhaka, to their home villages before lockdown was reimposed for two more weeks until Aug. 5.

Speaking to reporters at the time, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the crisis was “most difficult,” citing a nearly 90 percent occupancy rate at hospitals, before calling upon the public to follow health restrictions to curb the outbreak.

“We failed to follow the health safety protocols and the lockdown initiative also failed miserably since factories and banks were in operation during those days,” Prof. Robed Amin, a DGHS spokesperson, told Arab News.

“Most people were reluctant to comply with health safety measures, especially wearing masks while going outside. We should have engaged people more in building awareness in this regard,” he said, adding that a strict lockdown was necessary to “reap good results.”

Bangladesh, which shares a long border with India, began experiencing an upward trend in delta variant cases in mid-May, which peaked two months later as the country started recording more than 200 daily deaths in the first week of July.

Dr. Hussain said that while the variant has impacted eight bordering districts, Dhaka remains the “worst affected.”

“If the current trend continues, it may take a couple of weeks to reduce the infection rate,” he said.

However, despite a surge in delta variant cases rattling several parts of the country, Hussain said Bangladesh was “still doing better than other regional countries” grappling with the pandemic.

“Compared to neighboring India, Nepal, and some other regional countries, Bangladesh is not lagging in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. In India, it took three months to contain the surge caused by delta,” he said.

In April, the South Asian nation of nearly 170 million was forced to suspend its nationwide inoculation drive after a halt in exports of the AstraZeneca jabs from India. Bangladesh resumed the vaccination campaign with China’s Sinopharm and the Pfizer vaccine supplied by the Covax facility, a global vaccine sharing initiative.

However, less than 3 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 1.

Prof. Amin said it was imperative to achieve herd immunity against the deadly virus with a “massive vaccination drive.”

“If we can inoculate around 10 million people per month according to the plan which will begin from next Saturday, the infection rate will reduce soon,” he said.

“In the next two months, we will be able to inoculate around 20 million people with the vaccines sourced from the Covax initiative and purchased by the Bangladesh government.”


US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts

US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts
Updated 04 August 2021

US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts

US says Myanmar poll plan shows need for ASEAN to step up efforts
  • Washington had proposed expanding engagement with ASEAN to include five new ‘multi-ministerial’-level dialogues, which it hoped the bloc would agree to soon

WASHINGTON: The plan by Myanmar’s ruling generals to hold elections in two years shows they are stalling for time and the need for Southeast Asian countries to step up pressure on them, a senior State Department official said on Monday.

“It’s clear that the Burmese junta is just stalling for time and wants to keep prolonging the calendar to its own advantage,” the official told reporters ahead of a ministerial meeting this week between the United States and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar.

“So, all the more reason why ASEAN has to engage on this and ... uphold the terms of the five point consensus that Myanmar also signed up to,” he said referring to a plan by ASEAN leaders to tackle the turmoil.

The official briefing reporters ahead of a week of virtual meetings involving US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and regional counterparts said Washington had proposed expanding engagement with ASEAN to include five new “multi-ministerial”-level dialogues, which it hoped the bloc would agree to soon.

The official said one of the areas was climate, but did not list the others.

He said he expected Blinken to provide details to ASEAN ministers of continued US support for Southeast Asia in the fight against COVID-19, which has hit the region hard.

Blinken would also raise what Washington sees as China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, he said.

Asked about China’s warnings that if Washington expected cooperation on issues such as climate, it would need to de-escalate tensions, the official replied:

“Look, if we can’t force China to cooperate, we can continue to point out the advantages, and hopefully they’ll see that this is also in their advantage to work with us on climate issues.”

Washington is seeking to show through Blinken’s participation in five consecutive days of regional meetings that the Biden administration is serious about engaging with allies and partners in its bid to push back against China’s growing influence.

As well as the US-ASEAN ministerial talks, Blinken will also participate virtually this week in ministerial meetings of the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Mekong-US Partnership and the Friends of the Mekong initiative.


Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO
Updated 03 August 2021

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO
  • The ECHR decision told the Vienna government to delay until Aug. 31 the planned deportation of the man
  • The court asked the government to explain how it planned to conduct the removal given

ZURICH: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has temporarily halted the imminent deportation from Austria of an Afghan whose request for asylum was turned down, a relief group supporting the man said on Tuesday.
The ECHR decision, published on the website of the non-governmental organization Counselling for Deserters and Refugees, told the Vienna government to delay until Aug. 31 the planned deportation of the man, whose identity was not released.
The court asked the government to explain how it planned to conduct the removal given that Afghanistan has informed EU members that it has stopped accepting such deportations until Oct. 8.
It also asked whether “there is a real risk of irreparable harm” to the applicant’s rights given the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban have intensified across the country, with the insurgent group gaining control over check points, trading posts and infrastructure projects.
The court ruling applied only to the man in question.
The European Union is weighing a new package of financial aid to Afghanistan and its neighbors to help limit the flow of refugees from the country, ravaged by intense fighting between government forces and the Taliban, officials told Reuters last month.


US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark

US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark
Updated 03 August 2021

US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark

US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark
  • Taliban have seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began withdrawing in May
  • Fighting is raging for Lashkar Gah with the UN saying at least 40 civilians were killed in the last 24 hours

RIYADH:  The US Sate Department has said that a recent attack in the Afghan capital is consistent with previous attacks carried out by the Taliban, though it is not yet in a position to officially indicate who exactly carried it out. 

A car bomb explosion followed by several blasts and rapid gunfire rocked Kabul, not far from the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission.
“We’re not in a position to attribute it officially just yet but of course it does bear all the hallmarks of the spate of Taliban attacks that we have seen in recent weeks,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. 
“It’s important for the Taliban to recognize that it cannot achieve its objectives by seizing power through violence,” he added.
No one immediately took responsibility for the attack that apparently targeted the country’s acting defense minister, but it came as Taliban insurgents have been pressing ahead with an offensive that is putting pressure on the provincial capitals in the south and west of the country.
Clashes have intensified since early May after President Joe Biden announced US troops would leave the country by September after almost 20 years battling the group. 
Unidentified gunmen were killed at Tuesday’s attack site which is home to Afghan officials, lawmakers and prominent residents.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai said the blast happened in the posh Sherpur neighborhood, which is in a deeply secure section of the capital known as the green zone. It is home to several senior government officials.
Stanekzai said it appeared the guesthouse of acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was targeted in the attack. His Jamiat-e-Islami party was told the minister was not in the guesthouse and his family had been safely evacuated.
A party leader and former vice president, Younus Qanooni, reassured the party in a message shared on social media that the minister and his family were safe.
The Defense Ministry released a video in which Mohammadi says that his guards had been wounded in a suicide attack. “I assure my beloved countrymen that such attacks cannot have any impact on my willingness to defend my countrymen and my country,” he says.
Details of the attack were sketchy even as it ended but it appeared that gunmen had entered the area after the explosion. Stanekzai said three attackers were killed by security personnel and a clean-up operation was conducted by police. All roads leading to the minister’s house and guesthouse were closed, he said.
Hundreds of residents in the area were moved to safety, said Ferdaws Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief. He said security personnel had also carried out house-to-house searches.
At least 11 people were wounded in the attack and were taken to hospitals in the capital, said Health Ministry spokesman Dastgir Nazari.
Daesh has claimed some recent attacks in Kabul but most have gone unclaimed, with the government blaming the Taliban and the Taliban blaming the government.
After the attack, hundreds of civilians in Kabul came out on to the streets and chanted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) to express their support for Afghan government forces and opposition to the Taliban.
The night-time march spilled across the city with mostly men and some women joining in the demonstrations, carrying candles and Afghan flags to signal united opposition to the hardline Islamist group.
“The whole world can choose to be silent about what is going on in Afghanistan but we can’t and won’t stay quiet anymore...we will stand side by side with our security forces until our last breath,” said a demonstrator in Kabul on condition of anonymity.
The country’s first Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the demonstrations were “historic moments” of “emotions and patriotism.”
“Allah o Akbar, death to Talib terrorists & their backer,” he said in a tweet at a time when Afghan forces flushed out militants in the overnight operations.
Last week, residents in the western province of Herat braved the streets despite nearby fighting to protest against the Taliban. Other cities quickly organized to join from their homes in the evenings, as a message of support for embattled security forces.
Afghan forces appealed to residents of the southern city of Lashkar Gah to leave their homes and stay away from areas where the Taliban were taking control, as they intend to launch operations against the group where its fighters were traveling freely.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a huge strategic defeat for the government, which has pledged to defend strategic centres after losing much of the rural parts to the Taliban in recent months.
The Taliban said their fighters killed a district governor of central Maidan Wardak province on Tuesday, the latest in a series of killings by the insurgent group aimed at eliminating senior government officials and social activists. 

— with input from AP, Reuters, AFP


Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away
Updated 03 August 2021

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away
  • Lithuania says the migrant influx in the past months is an act of retaliation to increased sanctions by the European Union
  • Interior Ministry distributed a video shot from a helicopter as a proof that large groups of immigrants were being escorted to Lithuania's EU border

VILNIUS, Lithuania: Lithuania has ordered its border guards to turn away, by force if needed, migrants attempting to enter the Baltic country.
This comes amid a surge of Iraqis and others coming in from neighboring Belarus has emerged as a major foreign policy issue.
Lithuania says the migrant influx in the past months is an act of retaliation by Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to increased sanctions by the European Union toward his country over an air piracy incident.
The Interior Ministry distributed a video shot from a helicopter as a proof that large groups of immigrants were being escorted to Lithuania’s EU border by vehicles belonging to Belarus border guards.
Lithuania’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday that at least three large migrant groups were stopped in thick woods in the border between the two countries, and Lithuanian border guards ordered them to return back to Belarus.
“First of all, (Lithuanian border) officers tell them (migrants) that they are lost; that they have arrived in the beautiful country of Belarus and got the wrong way while enjoying its nature but now they must continue the tourist track back into that country,” Vice Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius told reporters.
If that method proves unsuccessful, he said Lithuania has reserved the right to use force to keep the migrants away but “the use of force depends on circumstances.”
“It cannot be ruled out that (border guard) officers will face aggression” from migrants, Abramavicius said, adding the measures were necessary to stop illegal border crossings. “Lithuania can not accept this influx, which grows day by day.”
Some 4,026 migrants, most of them from Iraq, have crossed from Belarus into Lithuania, a EU and NATO nation of slightly less than 3 million, this year. Lithuanian officials turned away 180 migrants attempting to enter the country on Tuesday.
Lithuania officials estimate that more than 10,000 more migrants might try to arrive this year as the number of direct flights from Iraq to the Belarus capital of Minsk tripled in August. The country has no physical barriers for its almost 679 kilometer (420-mile) long border with Belarus.
On Monday, EU officials pledged millions of euros to help Lithuania tackle its migrant crisis.
Lithuania wants to build a physical barrier with Belarus, which it estimates will cost more than 100 million euros ($119 million) but EU funding is not usually permitted to finance border barriers.
Some Lithuanian politicians, meanwhile, urged the government to still respect the migrants’ rights.
Tomas Vytautas Raskevicius, the head of the parliamentary human rights committee, said he saw the measures taken by Lithuanian authorities as “necessary” but acknowledged that the migrant situation “is sensitive from the point of view of human rights, and that should be assessed.”
Raskevicius, a member of the liberal Freedom Party, said attention should be paid in particular to women who migrate with children.