Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
Only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

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Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”


Malaysian PM postpones parliament as calls for his resignation grow

Hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against the mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (Reuters/File Photo)
Hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against the mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

Malaysian PM postpones parliament as calls for his resignation grow

Hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against the mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • More than 500 Malaysians protested against government’s handling of COVID-19 crisis on Saturday amid a rise in infections 

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has deferred a key parliamentary session set for Monday amid intense pressure to step down from office.

This comes a day after hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against his mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has worsened since January.

More than 500 black-clad Malaysians participated in the “Keluar dan #LAWAN” protest in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, defying a ban on mass gatherings under COVID-19 curbs, with experts saying that Muhyiddin was “fighting for his political life.”

“This guy (Muhyiddin) is basically fighting for his political life, and we will get a clearer picture of his fate in the coming week, but he does have one advantage — the prime minister’s office,” said Prof. James Chin, Tasmania University professor of Asian Studies and inaugural director of the Asia Institute.

He told Arab News that while the protests were initially meant to “express disdain against the government and its incompetence in dealing with the pandemic,” new developments in parliament “had renewed the drive.”

Muhyiddin’s decision to postpone parliament, citing COVID-19 infections among staff, allows him to avoid a no-confidence vote amid growing calls to resign.

A notification issued to lawmakers on Saturday said that the session would be held “at a later date” after 11 staff and others tested positive on Thursday.

Parliament reopened last Monday following a months-long suspension during a COVID-19-related state of emergency that ends on Sunday.

The state of emergency allowed Muhyiddin to rule by ordinance without legislative approval until Aug. 1, but it has fueled public anger after a significant spike in infections since January.

On Sunday, Malaysia reported 17,150 new cases while the total number of infections since the pandemic rose to 1.1 million, with more than 8,800 deaths. Nearly 20 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

This is the third time that parliament has been suspended due to the coronavirus.

It was shut down for several months after Muhyiddin assumed office in March 2020 and since January this year, after the king approved the premier’s plan to impose a state of emergency to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, Malaysia’s political crisis deepened on Thursday after its monarch Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah rebuked Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan over remarks that emergency laws had been revoked as of July 21, ahead of the Aug 1 expiration, “which make the parliamentary debate on the matter unnecessary.”

Sultan Abdullah said that he had yet to give his consent on the cancelation of laws imposed without legislative approvals throughout Malaysia’s seven-month emergency but told the government to debate them in Parliament — which may lead to a vote that could test the prime minister’s majority.

The palace, in a statement, said the rushed move to cancel the laws and the conflicting announcement “undermines the functions and powers of His Majesty as the reigning Head of State.”

There was no immediate comment from the government on Sunday.

However, the opposition, which has filed a no-confidence motion against PM Muhyiddin, said that the delay in convening parliament was an “excuse” for him to stay in power.

“Many parties feel it’s not because of COVID-19. This political crisis must be resolved immediately. This constitutional crisis must be addressed,” Ahmad Maslan, a lawmaker in the biggest party in Muhyiddin’s alliance that has backed calls for the premier to quit, said in a Twitter post.

The two-hour protest on Saturday, organized by the Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (SSR), saw Malaysians occupy the main street opposite the historical Merdeka Square and follows a similar demonstration outside the parliament building in April.

“It was an attack on the government for their failure in dealing with the pandemic, but now the prime minister has been seen as being disloyal to the king,” Chin said.

Police told local media on Sunday that protesters would be called in for questioning as they had violated a ban on gatherings.

Federal Police Chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said that probes were launched under Act 342, or The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.

“We have identified 29 individuals who will be called in to assist with investigations, and more will be identified from videos and photos that have been uploaded,” Acryl said.

Others worry that the demonstrations could trigger a spike in infections.

“Although the protesters had taken efforts to enforce safety procedures, risks were still present,” Dr. Lim Chee Han, a senior researcher from Third World Network and public health expert, told Arab News.

He added that “even if 95 percent of the protesters complied with safe practices, there was a 5 percent risk of those who could possibly spread the virus.”

“Of course, whenever there are people grouping in great numbers that increases the risk of disease transmission, given right now the local transmission is still at the height, so it cannot rule out any spread of the virus in the transmission chain,” Lim said.


UK joins Israel saying Iran attacked tanker; Tehran continues to deny involvement

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

UK joins Israel saying Iran attacked tanker; Tehran continues to deny involvement

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The blast killed two crew members, one British and another from Romania
  • FM Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones

LONDON: The UK joined Israel on Sunday in alleging Iran carried out a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street. It marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads. However, Israel, the UK and the responding US Navy have yet to show physical evidence from the strike or offer intelligence information on why they blame Tehran.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went further than Raab in remarks Sunday at a Cabinet meeting, making a point to stare directly into the camera and slowly warn: “We know, at any rate, know how to convey the message to Iran in our own way.”

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation. More here.

The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a US official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing. The blast killed two crew members from the United Kingdom and Romania.

The Navy said the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher escorted the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port. On Sunday, satellite-tracking information from MarineTraffic.com showed the tanker stopped off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE.

In his statement, Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” he said. “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett offered condolences to both the United Kingdom and Romania for the killing of their citizens. He said Israeli intelligence had evidence linking Iran to the attack, but did not offer it.

“Iran is the one who carried out the attack against the ship,” he said. “Iran’s aggressive behavior is dangerous not only for Israel, but harms global interests in the freedom of navigation and international trade.”

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the allegation Iran carried out the attack as “baseless.”

“It’s not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khatibzadeh said. “Wherever this regime has gone, it has taken instability, terror and violence with it.”

He added: “Whoever sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults. Shipping in the region began being targeted in the summer of 2019, about a year after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The Mercer Street, owned by Japan’s Taihei Kaiun Co., is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. In early July, the Liberian-flagged container ship CSAV Tyndall, once tied to Zodiac Maritime, suffered an unexplained explosion on board while in the northern Indian Ocean, according to the US Maritime Administration.

The attack marks the first major confrontation with Iran for Bennett, who took over as premier in June after a coalition deal unseated Israel’s long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is suspected of launching a series of attacks targeting Iran, including explosions at the country’s main enrichment site and the killing of a prominent military nuclear scientist.

However, Bennett as well has made hawkish comments in the past about needing to attack “the head of the octopus” in Tehran as opposed to Iran’s regional militias like Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attack on the Mercer Street marks the first during his time as prime minister and analysts suggest he could seek a major attack in retaliation.

“Israel may wish to deliver a resounding blow; that’s the spirit of political sources’ comments in Jerusalem,” wrote Amos Harel, a longtime military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “This blow will be aimed at ending things without a tit-for-tat that could escalate. But as usual, events also depend on the other side.”


Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties

Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties
Updated 01 August 2021

Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties

Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties
  • Several agreements expected to be signed
  • Visit first of its kind, says parliament in tweet

ISLAMABAD: Arab Parliament Speaker Adel Abdulrahman Al-Asoumi arrived in Pakistan on Sunday for a five-day visit to boost bilateral cooperation.
The parliament is the Arab League’s legislative body, with Al-Asoumi leading a high-profile delegation that will meet President Arif Ali, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Senate Chairman Muhammed Sadiq Sanjrani and other senior political leaders.
“Several memorandum of understanding and agreements will be signed between the Arab Parliament and the Upper House of Pakistan (senate) to promote institutional cooperation,” the Senate said.
Senator Sana Jamali welcomed the delegation on its arrival and described the Arab Parliament as a “very important forum.”
“The common goal is to pave the way for the development of bilateral cooperation and mutual relations,” Jamali told Arab News, saying that the delegation’s main activities would start from Monday.
“Their first engagement is at the House of Federation (Senate), where the chairman will welcome them. After meeting with (the) chairman, MOUs and agreements will be signed there.” 
Jamali added that the group would hold talks with Alvi and Khan later in the day.
“The agreements will focus on strengthening (the) bonding between Pakistani and Arab parliaments. The main areas are bilateral parliamentarian exchanges, economic and cultural cooperation between member countries,” she said.
The parliament tweeted that the visit would be the “first of its kind.”
“This visit aims to strengthen Arab parliamentary relations with the Pakistani side, especially in light of positive developments and remarkable growth in relations between the two sides in the political, economic, security and military fields,” it said.


UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects

UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects
Updated 01 August 2021

UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects

UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects
  • High Court ruled in favor of suspected Daesh member stripped of British citizenship
  • Govt decision deemed unlawful as she had not been informed

LONDON: An English court decision on Friday could pave the way for dozens of terror suspects to return to the UK.
The High Court ruled in favor of a grandmother who was stripped of her British citizenship after being suspected of belonging to Daesh, together with her daughters.
The woman, known as D4, was a suspected national security threat and had her citizenship revoked in 2019. She now resides in a detention camp in northeast Syria.
The court ruled that the UK government’s decision to revoke her citizenship was unlawful as she had not been informed of the move.
The ruling has raised concerns that other terror suspects could return to the UK. A government source told The Times: “It will open up the prospect of people judged to be a national security risk being sent back here.”
Former Conservative Cabinet member David Davis warned: “This chaotic outcome demonstrates that we need to revisit this policy so these people are treated with justice, but people liable for crimes are dealt with under British law.”
Sources said at least 28 terror suspects could use the ruling to stage their own legal cases in a bid to return to the UK.


UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 

UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 
Updated 01 August 2021

UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 

UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 
  • Tehran blamed for drone strike off Omani coast that killed Briton, Romanian
  • British silence means ‘we have let Iran get away with murder,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The UK government has been criticized for failing to retaliate after a British Army veteran was killed in an alleged Iranian drone attack on an oil tanker off Oman’s coast.
The unidentified Briton was killed on Saturday after a so-called kamikaze drone struck the oil tanker he was serving on as a security officer. 
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed Tehran for the attack on the Mercer Street vessel, and urged Britain to retaliate. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, however, has remained silent on the incident.
Lapid said: “I noted (to Raab) the need to respond severely to the attack. Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terror, destruction and instability that hurt us all. The world must not be silent in the face of Iranian terror.” 
Sam Armstrong, director of communications at the London-based Henry Jackson Society think tank, told Arab News: “Despite Iran’s regular offenses, Britain has continued to look the other way. From the kidnapping of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to drone attacks on Saudi oilfields, the hijacking of British-flagged boats and the support of terror activities that have killed Britons around the Middle East, we have let Iran get away with murder.”
He added: “Weakly ignoring these violations and attacks only inspires Tehran to commit worse atrocities. This policy will cost more British lives. Not only is this a naive approach, hoping blindly that this terroristic regime will go away, but it’s also a stupid one that threatens the security of our nation.”
Israel is expected to launch a diplomatic assault on Iran via the UN, but it remains unclear if London will react to the drone strike, which also claimed the life of a Romanian worker. 
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the incident with Lapid and other regional partners “to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps.”
On Saturday, Israeli media carried a quote from a military officer saying a response to the attack on the Mercer Street would be forthcoming, adding: “The only question is how and when we’ll respond.”
Armstrong said: “While the US and Israel are holding discussions to determine what happened and plan a response, London is staying silent despite the loss of a Briton’s life. This cowardly silence demeans Britain on the world stage.”
He added: “We’re leaving the important work of defending our citizens and countering Iranian aggression to other countries.”
The UK Foreign Office said in a statement on Friday: “We are deeply concerned by today’s incident off the coast of Oman. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the British and Romanian nationals killed in the incident. Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the allegations are “baseless,” but state TV channel Al-Alam said the drone strike was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” on a Syrian military airport.
The Syrian regime has been supported by Iranian forces, with Tehran viewing its survival as crucial to its own security.
The strike on the Mercer Street shared similar tactics and procedures to kamikaze drones operated by the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, where unmanned aircraft packed with explosives detonate on or near the intended target.

The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s internationally recognized government regularly intercepts Iranian-made drones in Yemen and the surrounding region.
The tanker was in the northern Indian Ocean — beyond Iran’s usual area of activity — when it was hit.

Zodiac Maritime, which operated the Japanese-owned tanker, said it is being directed to a “safe location” with a US naval escort.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iran and security researcher at Israel’s IDC Herzliya university, said the attack was “most probably” carried out by Iran.
The strike is a sign of rising tensions and the increasing severity of assaults on tankers. The deaths are the first fatalities following years of tanker attacks.