Indian police mark unvaccinated people with skulls to ‘raise awareness’ of vaccine drive

Indian police mark unvaccinated people with skulls to ‘raise awareness’ of vaccine drive
On a national level, it is not hesitancy but a shortage of vaccines that remains India’s biggest challenge. (Photo courtesy: R. B. Parmar)
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Updated 10 June 2021

Indian police mark unvaccinated people with skulls to ‘raise awareness’ of vaccine drive

Indian police mark unvaccinated people with skulls to ‘raise awareness’ of vaccine drive
  • Police, doctors say anti-vaccine sentiment, especially in rural areas, is a matter of concern
  • ‘True patriot’ badges given to vaccinated residents of Niwari district in Madhya Pradesh

NEW DELHI: Residents in a central Indian state who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 receive badges marking them as “true patriots,” while those who have not been vaccinated are marked with pictures of skulls by local police who say they are raising vaccination awareness.

As India undergoes a devastating second wave of the pandemic, which has brought its official COVID-19 death toll to over 318,000, the country’s vaccination rate remains low, with only 4 percent of the 1.3 billion population having received at least one vaccine dose.

India’s vaccination campaign has been marred not only by vaccine shortages, but also hesitancy. In the central state of Madhya Pradesh, police in Niwari have been deployed to the district’s 105 villages, with each officer responsible for convincing as many people as possible to protect themselves and others by receiving COVID-19 shots.

“People should be made aware of the need for vaccination and more and more people should get vaccinated. This is the idea of the drive,” Niwari district police chief Alok Kumar Singh told Arab News on Thursday.

“Rumors against vaccines (are common). So, we convince the people about the advantages of the vaccine. My target is to vaccinate the people as early as possible in the district,” he continued. “That will help in the unlocking process in the district and avoid a further increase in the (infection rate).”

He blamed vaccine hesitancy on the low levels of literacy in the north of Madhya Pradesh, where only 50 percent of the population can read and write, compared with 70 percent nationwide.

Police in Niwari have started random checks on the district’s roads and residents who fail to present vaccination certificates are made to wear posters with skulls on that read “Stay away from me, I have not been vaccinated.” They are also required to pledge that they will be vaccinated within two days.

Meanwhile, those who have been vaccinated are given colorful badges bearing the message “I am a true patriot because I have been vaccinated.”

Dr. Sarman Singh, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the state capital of Bhopal, says that anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are a “matter of concern” in India, especially in rural areas.

“Vaccination is going on at a slow pace in Madhya Pradesh, and the speed (of the vaccination rollout) is a concern throughout the country,” he said. “In rural areas, people are not only non-cooperative but also violent. In rural areas the vaccination rate is very slow and it’s a challenge for us to expedite it.”

On a national level, it is not hesitancy but a shortage of vaccines that remains India’s biggest challenge, he said.

The country is currently relying on two “made in India” jabs — Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and the local Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech.

Until April, the SII and Bharat Biotech had only been able to produce around 64 million doses a month. With the government having announced financial support for the companies, production will be doubled, but that will not start until August.

India is in talks with other international vaccine producers as the government’s stated goal is to vaccinate the entire population by the end of the year.

“The problem is that there are people willing to take vaccines, but the doses are not available, Dr. Singh said. “Forget about those who are not willing to come forward — they might be a miniscule population — but make the vaccine available for the overwhelming majority of the population who are willing to take it.”


Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
Updated 12 June 2021

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
  • The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion killed one and wounded four
  • The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group

KABUL: Separate bombs hit two minivans in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in the Afghan capital Saturday, killing at least seven people and wounding six others, the Interior Ministry said.
The attacks targeted minivans on the same road about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) apart in a neighborhood in western Kabul, Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Ahmad Zia Zia, said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what type of bombs were used and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Daesh has carried out similar bombings in the area, including four attacks on four minivans earlier this month that killed at least 18 people.
The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion in front of Muhammad Ali Jinnah hospital, where a majority of COVID-19 patients are admitted, killed one and wounded four.
The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group who are mostly Shiite Muslims. Shiites are a minority in mostly Sunni Afghanistan, and the local Daesh affiliate has declared war against them.
Hundreds of Afghans are killed or injured every month in violence connected to the country’s constant war. But Hazaras, who make up around 9 percent of the population of 36 million people, stand alone in being intentionally targeted because of their ethnicity and their religion.
Violence and chaos continue to escalate in Afghanistan as the US and NATO continue their withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and 7,000 allied forces. The last of the troops will be gone by Sept. 11 at the latest.


After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
Updated 12 June 2021

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
  • On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project
  • She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”

LONDON: Fresh from charming leaders at the Group of Seven summit, Queen Elizabeth II was back at her residence at Windsor Castle on Saturday to view a military parade to mark her official birthday.
The 95-year-old monarch sat on a dais to watch the ceremony that despite ongoing social distancing restrictions did not disappoint on the pomp and pageantry front. If she was tired after meeting G-7 leaders, including US President Joe Biden, on Friday evening, it didn’t show.
The ceremony is a gift from the Household Division of army regiments, which has a close affinity with the monarch. It featured soldiers who have played an integral role in the COVID-19 response, as well as those who have been serving on military operations. She was seen beaming from ear to ear as the nine planes of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows flew past in formation and let loose their red, white and blue smoke.
The traditional Trooping the Color ceremony is normally staged in London and features hundreds of servicemen and women and thousands of spectators. However, for the second year running, that was not possible and it was a slimmed-down affair in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which is around 27 miles (44 kilometers) west of the capital.


Dubbed a mini Trooping the Color, it featured soldiers in ceremonial scarlet coats and bearskin hats. The servicemen and women on parade numbered almost 275, with 70 horses, compared with the 85 soldiers who took part in the ceremony last summer. A small handful of seated guests lined part of the quadrangle — a change from last year when only the military were present.
The ceremony originated from traditional preparations for battle. The colors — or flags — were “trooped,” or carried down the lines of soldiers, so they could be seen and recognized in battle.
Lt. Col. Guy Stone, who planned the queen’s official birthday celebrations in Windsor Castle’s quadrangle, said he wanted to create a “memorable and uplifting day” for the monarch.
The ceremony took place a couple of months after the death of her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, whose funeral also took place at Windsor Castle.
Though she has been mourning the loss of her husband of 73 years, the queen has carried on performing her duties, including delivering a government-scripted speech to mark the new session of parliament.
On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project, a futuristic botanical garden housed inside domes that features the world’s largest indoor rainforest.
She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”
Though the queen’s actual birthday is on April 26, she celebrates another one in June when the British weather — it is hoped — is more conducive to outdoor celebrations. It’s a royal tradition that goes back to 1748 and the reign of King George II, whose actual birthday was in November.
One of the major parts of the queen’s official birthday is her award of honors to those deemed to have made a positive contribution to society.
This year’s honors list has celebrated those at the forefront of the UK’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines over the past few months, which has been credited with turning around the country’s pandemic response.
Sarah Gilbert, the professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford who was instrumental in the development of the vaccine being manufactured by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and Kate Bingham, the former head of the UK Vaccines Taskforce credited for the country’s successful procurement program, have both been recognized with damehoods.
Though the UK has seen Europe’s highest virus-related death toll, with nearly 128,000 people having lost their lives, its vaccination program has been deemed one of the world’s speediest and most coherent rollouts.


At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas
Updated 12 June 2021

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS: Officials in Texas say at least nine people have been injured following a shooting Saturday morning in downtown Austin.
Police said in a tweet that multiple victims had injuries. The Austin-Travis County EMS said in a series of tweets that at least 12 patients had received treatment or been transported to local hospitals.
It was unknown how many of the injuries may have been gunshot wounds.
It was unclear what sparked the shooting. Police have not announced any suspects or arrests.


France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word

France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word
Updated 12 June 2021

France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word

France’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word
  • Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured

CARBIS BAY, England: French President Emmanuel Macron offered on Saturday to reset relations with Britain as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood by the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the European Union.
Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured, with Macron becoming the most vocal critic of London’s refusal to honor the terms of part of its Brexit deal.
At a meeting at the Group of Seven world’s most advanced economies in southwestern England, Macron told Johnson the two countries had common interests, but that ties could only improve if Johnson kept his word on Brexit.
“The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationship,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
“This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans,” the source said, adding that Macron spoke in English to Johnson.
Johnson will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Saturday, where she could also raise the row over part of the EU divorce deal, called the Northern Ireland protocol.
The British leader, who is hosting the G7 meeting, wants the summit to focus on global issues, but has stood his ground on trade with Northern Ireland, calling on the EU to be more flexible in its approach to easing trade to the province from Britain.


Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
Updated 12 June 2021

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
  • Russian leader describes Biden as a ‘career man’ who has spent his life in politics
  • Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as ‘a killer’

WASHINGTON: Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope Friday that US President Joe Biden will be less impulsive than his predecessor Donald Trump, ahead of his first summit with the new US leader.
In an interview with NBC News, Putin described Biden as a “career man” who has spent his life in politics.
Though he described relations with the United States as having “deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years,” Putin said he expects he can work with Biden.
“It is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements on behalf of the sitting US president,” he said, according to a translation by NBC News.
“I believe that former US president Trump is an extraordinary individual, talented individual... He is a colorful individual. You may like him or not. But he didn’t come from the US establishment,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Biden plans to raise a range of US complaints, including over purported Russian election interference and hacking, in the summit with Putin on Wednesday in Geneva at the end of the new president’s first foreign trip.
Putin has openly admitted that in the 2016 vote he supported Trump, who had voiced admiration for the Russian leader. At their first summit, Trump infamously appeared to accept Putin’s denials of election interference.
Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as “a killer” in light of a series of high-profile deaths including of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.
Asked directly if he is “a killer,” Putin chuckled but did not give a yes or no answer.
“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons and of different caliber and fierceness, and none of it surprises me,” he said, adding that the term “killer” was a “macho” term common in Hollywood.
Such discourse “is part of US political culture where it’s considered normal. By the way, not here, it is not considered normal here,” he said.
Putin also dismissed as “fake news” a report in the Washington Post that Russia is planning to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that would allow it to track potential military targets.
“At the very least, I don’t know anything about this kind of thing,” the Russian leader said, speaking from the Kremlin. “It’s just nonsense garbage.”
According to interviewer Keir Simmons, Putin also denied any knowledge of cyberattacks on the United States, and called on Biden to strike a deal with Russia on cyberspace.