Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2021

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis
  • Most Mumbai vaccine centers closed, city mayor tells Arab News

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of complacency and missteps in the handling of the pandemic by the country’s main opposition party, after six states reported a shortage of coronavirus vaccines and more than 145,000 new infections were recorded on Saturday.

The Congress Party also blamed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for prioritizing “vaccine diplomacy” by exporting vaccine doses instead of reserving them for domestic use.

“The Modi government has mismanaged the situation – exported vaccines and allowed a shortage to be created in India,” Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi said during a special meeting on Saturday to address the COVID-19 crisis.

“We must focus on India’s vaccination drive first and foremost, then only export vaccines and gift them to other countries.”

She emphasized the need for “responsible behavior” and adhering to all laws and COVID-19 regulations “without exception.”

But the government insisted there were enough vaccines in stock, accusing the opposition of “playing politics” even as India grappled with a deadly second wave of infections.

“There is no shortage of vaccines,” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma told Arab News, adding that state governments were following the “procedure laid down by the center.”

Six opposition-ruled states said earlier this week that they were running out of vaccines and would be forced to discontinue the vaccination drive if the central government did not send supplies.

One of the worst affected states is western India’s Maharashtra, which recorded 58,993 new cases on Saturday out of the nationwide total of 145,384.

“There are 108 vaccines centers in Mumbai, but most of them have been closed due to a lack of vaccines,” Mumbai Mayor Kishori Kishore Pandekar told Arab News.

“The number of doses we have cannot last more than two days. If this is the situation in India’s financial capital Mumbai, imagine the case in remote areas of the state.”

Pune, one of Maharashtra’s biggest cities, has also run out of vaccines.

“We have not been vaccinating since Thursday in Pune, and we don’t know when the next lot of doses will arrive in the city,” Dr. Avinash V. Bhondwe, president of the Indian Medical Association’s Maharashtra wing, told Arab News.

The eastern state of Odisha has reported a shortage in doses, leading to the closure of 700 vaccination centers, according to media reports.

Verma said the current situation was due to the “desperate” measures taken by state governments.

“People above 45 years was the target group for the vaccination (drive). Some state governments are getting desperate, and they want to give vaccines to one and all. This is not possible for a (country with a) size like India. Vaccine production and export needs have been calibrated.”

But the BJP’s explanation did not satisfy Pankaj Vohra, from the New Delhi suburb of Noida, who went to hospital on Friday for his second jab but could not get vaccinated due to a shortage.

“A day before going to the hospital, I got a confirmation that I should come for the second dose,” he told Arab News. “But when I reached the hospital, I was told that the Covishield vaccine was available and not Covaxin. If the government cannot fulfil its domestic demand, why is it exporting vaccines?”

India has allowed permission for the emergency use of Covishield – the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India – and Covaxin, directed by Bharat Biotech in the south Indian city of Hyderabad.

It launched its vaccination drive on Jan. 16 and has inoculated 94 million people, far below the initial target of 300 million.

Only 12.5 percent of the 94 million have received the second dose, based on an advisory by the Health Ministry, which recommends a 28-day gap between the first and second dose.

“The government did plan the vaccination drive,” Dr. Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based public health expert, told Arab News. “Most of the developed countries made arrangements that they get enough doses of vaccines when they need them, but the Indian government did nothing about it.”

He wondered why just two companies in India were producing vaccines, and suggested the government use a compulsory licensing policy and allow other local companies to produce them.

“That way, you could have a large number of vaccines available,” he added.

There has been increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in the past few weeks following a leap in cases, with Saturday’s daily infections rising by a record for the fifth time this week.

Last week experts told Arab News that India was on its way to becoming the “ground zero and global epicenter” for the coronavirus outbreak.

“The rising number of cases is due to the government’s failure to implement preventive measures,” Jesani said. “Political leadership is unhindered in their political campaigns addressing huge gatherings without following any COVID-19 protocol.”

Bhondwe urged the government to allow more companies to produce vaccines in India and to allow more foreign vaccines to come to India.

“People are in a state of panic, and they see some hope in vaccines. The government should not disappoint its people.”


Italian PM’s office denies Rome wants EU to pay Libya to block migrants

Italian PM’s office denies Rome wants EU to pay Libya to block migrants
Updated 11 May 2021

Italian PM’s office denies Rome wants EU to pay Libya to block migrants

Italian PM’s office denies Rome wants EU to pay Libya to block migrants
  • Italy’s PM favors EU offering financial assistance to all African countries involved in migration to Europe, an official told Reuters
  • Some 13,000 migrants have landed on Italy's coast this year

ROME: Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office denied a media report on Tuesday that Italy was proposing that the European Union should pay Libya to stop migrants leaving its shores for Europe.
Draghi favors the EU offering financial assistance to all African countries involved in migration to Europe, an official in Draghi’s office told Reuters.
But the official denied a report by La Repubblica newspaper that Draghi wanted to propose at a May 24 summit that the EU make a deal similar to one reached with Ankara in 2016, under which Turkey is entitled to financial aid in exchange for hosting refugees who try to reach Europe via the Balkans.
“At the moment there is no initiative regarding creating a similar deal to what was done with Turkey,” the official said.
“The government’s position is that the EU must pay more attention to the situation in the southern Mediterranean and be ready to offer financial help to all African countries involved in migrant flows.”
Some 13,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s coast this year, about three times as many as in the same period last year, according to interior ministry data.
More than 2,000 have since Sunday reached the island of Lampedusa, the initial arrival point for many people trying to get to Europe from Africa.
The migrants, arriving on small and perilous boats run by people-traffickers, are being transferred elsewhere in Italy.
The vast majority of African migrants heading for Europe by sea depart from Libya.
In 2019, Rome agreed a plan with other European states to redistribute migrants after they arrived, but the scheme was voluntary and has not provided a stable solution.
On Tuesday, the executive European Commission said it had received no offers from member states to accept migrants from Italy.
The migration issue has fueled the rise of anti-immigration parties across Europe. In Italy, the right-wing League is part of Draghi’s national unity government and wants action.


Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid
Updated 11 May 2021

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid
  • Most of the crowd on Tuesday in Madrid waved Palestinian flags and shouted “Israel, assassin of the Palestinian people”
  • Protestors wore face masks as stipulated by Spanish health laws to fight pandemic

MADRID: A few dozen people have gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in the Spanish capital to protest Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians.
Most of the crowd on Tuesday in Madrid waved Palestinian flags. They shouted “Israel, assassin of the Palestinian people” and “it’s Palestine, not Israel” in Spanish.
Some held up photos of Palestinians being arrested by Israeli forces. All wore face masks as stipulated by Spanish health laws to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The escalation in the conflict was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.


Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
Updated 11 May 2021

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
  • Priority for age groups and medical vulnerability waived in favour of permanent residents of nearly 100 islands
  • Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million

NAXOS, Greece: A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.
“This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism,” Mitsotakis said.
Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.
Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season will officially start Friday.


Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
Updated 11 May 2021

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
  • Sweden of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217
  • The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 13,812 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday.
The figure compared with 14,950 cases during the corresponding period last week.
The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217.
The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors’ but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.


At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
Updated 11 May 2021

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
  • RIA Novosti news agency reported that a teenager was detained
  • Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building

MOSCOW: A school shooting erupted Tuesday in the Russian city of Kazan, leaving eight students and one teacher dead, Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing local emergency services.
According to the Interfax news agency, two gunmen opened fire in the school, and one of them — a 17-year-old — has already been apprehended.

“According to preliminary information, the second attacker in the school in Kazan who remained in the building was killed,” the TASS state news agency reported, citing a law enforcement source.
Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building. Authorities said additional security measures have been put into place in all schools in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, roughly 700 kilometers (430 miles) east of Moscow.
While school shootings are relatively rare in Russia, there have been several violent attacks on schools in recent years, mostly carried out by students.