Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive against the coronavirus disease with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Saturday. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 20 June 2021

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
  • Bangladesh had stalled initiative for nearly two months after failing to procure 30 million doses of Covishield from New Delhi

DHAKA: Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Saturday, nearly two months after halting the initiative due to a failed supply of 30 million doses from India.

Starting from January, New Delhi had vowed to deliver the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, to Dhaka, in a phased manner.

Bangladesh’s health authorities launched the anti-virus drive in early February after India sent 7 million doses of the Covishield vaccine in two installments.

However, after a sudden spike in COVID-19 infections across the country, New Delhi held back its vaccine exports for domestic consumption, resulting in a stalled supply of the crucial jabs for Dhaka from April.

Bangladesh currently has 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China in recent weeks, which authorities began administering at 67 centers across the country from Saturday.

“We resumed vaccinations on a limited scale, targeting 5.5 million people. It will take two to three weeks to inoculate these people,” Dr. Shamsul Haque, line director at the Directorate General of Health Services, told Arab News.

He added that authorities had devised 10 categories of people to receive the vaccines on a priority basis.

These include frontline health workers; police officials; migrant workers registered with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training; municipal staff; public school students; employees of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority; and Chinese nationals, among others.

In addition to the 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, Bangladesh has also signed a deal for an additional 15 million jabs of Sinopharm for an undisclosed amount.

“We are expecting to receive the first batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in July. All the procedures are complete at our end. Now, the Chinese authorities are doing some formalities,” Dr. A. S. M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told Arab News on Sunday.

Alamgir added that nearly 1.4 million people have already registered to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

“Our immediate task is to inoculate these people,” he said, adding that the mass vaccination drive will gain traction next month after more doses arrive.

In addition to China’s Sinopharm vaccines, talks are also under way to procure 1 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing facility for developing countries led by the World Health Organization (WHO), by the first week of August.

“We are also putting maximum effort to source Russia’s Sputnik vaccines. Discussion is at the final stage now. We can expect Sputnik in the country anytime now,” Alamgir said.

Out of 166 million, only 4.3 million Bangladeshis have received both doses of the vaccine, with experts urging the government to “purchase the COVID-19 vaccines from anywhere as soon as possible.”

“We have to complete this mass inoculation drive in 1.5 to 2 years. Otherwise, the immunity derived from the vaccine will start decreasing, and then we will need to administer another booster dose,” Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser at WHO Southeast Asia, told Arab News.

He added that the government should also focus on the domestic production of vaccines.  

“Our government can achieve capacity by producing vaccines in the country through technology transfer from other countries,” Huq said.

“It will take only three months to produce vaccine this way. Private sector pharmaceuticals also should be engaged in this regard,” he added.

One way to do this, he explained, is to increase health infrastructure and human resources at the sub-district level to ensure better health services to the public during the pandemic.  

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has witnessed a spike in COVID-19 infections, with a current infection rate of more than 18 percent.

As of Sunday, the country had registered nearly 850,000 cases and over 13,500 deaths since March last year.


Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
Updated 53 min 22 sec ago

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
  • Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18

LONDON:  The families of Afghans studying in the UK are being threatened by the Taliban, a British politician has claimed.

Five students evacuated from Afghanistan when the group recently regained control the country, and who are due to start at the University of Sussex on Chevening scholarships, had not been allowed to bring their families with them to the UK, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said.

Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18, the Guardian reported.

The students told Lucas that they had received WhatsApp messages from the Taliban threatening the lives of their elderly dependents and dependent siblings still in Afghanistan.

Lucas said: “(The five students) are absolutely desperate about their families’ safety with their anguish heightened by the knowledge that their families are at risk precisely because of their decision to take up their Chevening placements – placements which mark them out as collaborators with the UK.”

She added that the fathers of two of the students had been murdered by the Taliban two years ago, and one claimed to have heard reports that the group had put pressure on a relative of school age.

The former Green Party leader said she had raised the issue with the Foreign Office, Home Office, and the Chevening secretariat but had received only “a deafening silence” in response.

She has accused the British government of failing to offer any clear assurances to people attempting to leave Afghanistan, after it pledged to take 5,000 refugees in the first 12 months and up to 20,000 over a five-year period. The scheme is yet to start.

In a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Lucas said the government had told Parliament that individuals needed to wait for the scheme to open but had given no indication of when that would be.

And she pointed out that given the number of British nationals from Afghanistan living in her constituency who were seeking help, the scheme would be oversubscribed.

Her letter added: “My estimate based on my caseload is that there could be more than 33,000 family members alone that meet the scheme’s criteria, let alone those in the specified at-risk groups, so even 20,000 places over five years falls shamefully short.

“The government does not appear to know how many of the 5,000 places on the scheme will need to be allocated in the first instance to eligible Afghans already in the UK, such as 500 who were evacuated on Operation Pitting (UK military initiative to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover) flights but did not qualify for Arap (the Afghan relocations and assistance policy), or to those that have crossed the border and are in refugee camps.

“The government is also directing people toward a visa process that, by its own admission, is impossible to fulfil and, when it does get up and running, will incur all the usual charges and minimum income criteria,” she said.

Lucas also highlighted the difficulty for Afghans to provide the required biometrics for a visa, which are not available in Afghanistan, and demanded a waiver of visa requirements for family members of British nationals still stuck in the country.

The British Home Office said: “There will be many more people seeking to come to the UK under the scheme than there are places.” It added that it was taking a “considered approach, working with international partners and non-governmental organizations to identify those most eligible.”


Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
Updated 27 September 2021

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
  • Jordan Peterson was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019

LONDON: Jordan Peterson, a controversial academic who has been accused of Islamophobia, has said he will attend a series of seminars at the University of Cambridge in November, The Times reported on Monday.

The Canadian psychology professor was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019.

His proposed visiting fellowship offer was canceled by administrators after he was photographed with a man wearing an Islamophobic T-shirt.

When the photographs went viral, Prof. Stephen Toope, the university’s vice chancellor, said Peterson’s “casual endorsement” through association was “antithetical” to the efforts of the divinity faculty.

Peterson has faced opposition for his writing and talks on gender, politics, religion in general and Islam in particular.

His latest invitation to Cambridge was sent out by Dr. James Orr, also from the divinity faculty, who said Peterson will be spending between 10 days and two weeks at the university, where he will attend seminars, talks and other engagements.


South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
Updated 27 September 2021

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
  • South Korea scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose

SEOUL: South Korea said on Monday it would begin inoculations next month for children aged 12 to 17 and offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to those 75 years and above as the country starts to transition to normalcy by the end of October.
South Korea, which has been battling a fourth wave of infections since early July, scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in cases. Infections topped 3,000 for the first time fueled by last week’s public holidays.
The vaccination advisory committee of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has ruled that the benefits outweigh the risks in vaccinating children. However, parents who have healthy children, such as those who do not have underlying conditions, are advised to weigh the relative benefits in making their decision, KDCA Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a news conference on Monday.
While approving vaccinations for 12 to 17 year-olds, who will be given Pfizer shots, the panel and the government had not mandated that all children should take the shot.
The United States had by August vaccinated 50 percent of 12-17 year-olds and some European and Asian countries, including Germany and the Philippines have also been recommending vaccines for the age group.
Jeong said the initial booster doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna will go to those with weakened immune systems or deemed to be at high risk — the elderly, nursing home patients and staff.
The country aims to boost vaccination and fully immunize 90 percent of those aged 60 and older, and 80 percent of 18 to 59 years-old by the end of October.
Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose, and vaccinations are under way for those 18 and above, 86.3 percent of whom have already had the first shot.
South Korea has reported 2,383 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, bringing total infections to 303,553, with 2,456 deaths.
Despite the high daily case numbers, the country has kept its mortality rate and severe COVID-19 cases relatively low and steady at 0.81 percent and 319, respectively, as of Sunday.
Some 74.2 percent of its 52 million population have had at least one dose of a vaccine through Sunday, and more than 45 percent are fully vaccinated.


India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike
Updated 27 September 2021

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike
  • The drawn-out demonstrations have posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • Police said some 500 protesters had been taken into custody, but added that the shutdown remained peaceful

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indian farmers blocked traffic on major roads and railway tracks outside of the nation’s capital on Monday, marking one year of demonstrations against government-backed laws that they say will shatter their livelihoods.
The farmers have renewed their protests with calls for a nationwide strike on the anniversary of the legislation’s passage. The drawn-out demonstrations have posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept the polls for the second time in 2019.
Waving colorful flags and distributing free food, hundreds of farmers gathered at one of the protest sites on the edges of the capital, New Delhi. The mood on Monday was charged with determination to keep the protests going — some even brought mattresses with them, camping out as the day went on.
Along New Delhi’s southwest and eastern fringes, protesting farmers crowded highways, choking traffic and cutting off access from the capital to neighboring states. Police were deployed to three main protest sites on the outskirts of the city to maintain law and order.
A coalition of farmers’ unions — known as the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front — has called on shops, offices, factories and other institutions to shut their doors in solidarity for the 10-hour strike. All emergency services, including hospitals, pharmacies and relief work, will continue, they said.
The government has defended the legislation, saying it is necessary to modernize agriculture and that the laws will boost production through private investment. But the farmers say the new legislation will devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and force them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.
In neighboring Punjab and Haryana states — which are the country’s the two biggest agricultural producers — thousands of demonstrators also blocked highways, bringing traffic to a halt in some areas.
In the eastern state of Bihar, trains were halted as farmers squatted on railway tracks. Protesters also took to the streets, raising slogans against the Modi government, burning tires and blocking roads across the region. Police said some 500 protesters had been taken into custody, but added that the shutdown remained peaceful.
In the southern city of Bengaluru on Monday, hundreds of people marched in support of the protest against the government. In the southern state of Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front called for a total shutdown, reported local media.
Opposition parties in India, including the Congress Party, have supported the farmers. Senior leader Rahul Gandhi called the government “exploitative” and said he stood with farmers on Monday.
A number of talks between the government and farmers have failed to resolve the issue.
In November, the farmers escalated their movement by hunkering down on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they have camped out for nearly a year, pushing through a harsh winter as well as a coronavirus surge that devastated India earlier this year.
While the farmers’ protest movement has been largely peaceful, demonstrators in January broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort in the capital’s center. Clashes with police left one protester dead and hundreds injured.


Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her
Updated 27 September 2021

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her
  • The hard-liners have increasingly excluded women from public life since sweeping to power in mid-August
  • More than 1,000 women pick the brightly colored crocuses across the company’s 25 hectares of land

HERAT, Afghanistan: An Afghan business leader who employs hundreds of women on her saffron fields has vowed to speak up for the rights of her workers, and “not remain silent” under Taliban rule.
The hard-liners have increasingly excluded women from public life since sweeping to power in mid-August, pushing many female entrepreneurs to flee the country or go into hiding.
Many fear a return to their brutally oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001 when women were effectively banned from going to school or work, and only allowed to leave the house with a male relative.
“We will raise our voice so that it reaches their ears,” said Shafiqeh Attai, who started her saffron company in the western city of Herat in 2007.
“No matter what happens we won’t just sit at home, because we have worked very hard.”
Attai’s business, the Pashton Zarghon Saffron Women’s Company, produces, processes, packages and exports the world’s most expensive spice with an almost exclusively female workforce.
More than 1,000 women pick the brightly colored crocuses across the company’s 25 hectares (60 acres) of land in the Pashton Zarghon district of Herat Province, which borders Iran.
Another 55 hectares are independently owned and operate under the collective that Attai set up for women saffron pickers, who are represented by union leaders.
Employing women allows them to be breadwinners for their families, Attai said, enabling them to send their children to school, and to buy them clothing and other essentials.
“I worked hard to establish my business,” the 40-year-old said. “We don’t want to sit quietly and be ignored. Even if they ignore us, we will not remain silent.”
The ousted, Western-backed government encouraged farmers to grow the spice — used in dishes from biryani to paella — in a bid to wean them away from Afghanistan’s huge and problematic poppy industry.
Still, the country remains by far the world’s biggest producer of opium and heroin, supplying between 80 and 90 percent of global output.
During their previous stint in power, the Taliban — who used the sale of opium to fund their insurgency — destroyed much of the crop ostensibly to eradicate it, though critics said it was to drive up the value of their huge stockpiles.
The cultivation of poppies has again surged in recent years, as poverty and instability increased. Afghanistan’s production area is now roughly four times larger now than in 2002, according to the United Nations.
Herat Province produces the vast majority of Afghanistan’s saffron.
At more than $5,000 per kilogram, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and Attai’s company produces between 200 and 500 kilos each year.
The pistil of the flower has for centuries been used around the world in cooking, perfumes, medicines, tea and even as an aphrodisiac — and because of its high price has been dubbed “red gold” by those who rely on its cultivation.
Best grown in the baking hot sun, the bright purple saffron flowers are harvested in October and November by armies of workers, many of them women in their fifties and sixties, who start picking at dawn before the plants wilt later in the day.
Laborers then prise apart the delicate lilac leaves, vivid red stigmas and pale yellow stamens — painstaking work that demands concentration and skill.
Attai is concerned not just about the future of her business, but also for women across Afghanistan who are living in limbo, uncertain about jobs, education and representation in government.
“Now that the government of the Islamic Emirate is here we are very worried that they will block our work,” she said.
“They haven’t given girls the permission to go back to school and university, and they haven’t given any women posts in the government — I am worried about what will happen,” she added.
“I’m not just thinking about myself, I’m thinking about all those that this business supports to run their homes,” she said, noting that some of her employees are the sole breadwinners in their families.
“I am worried that 20 years of hard work by these women will go to waste.”
In the 20 years between the US-led ouster of the Taliban in 2001 and the Islamists’ return, many women became business leaders, particularly in cities like Herat.
Long a key commercial hub near Iran and Turkmenistan’s borders, the city has in recent months suffered from the flight of many businesswomen.
Younes Qazizadeh, head of the city’s chamber of commerce, said that he hoped the Taliban would make an official announcement to indicate that “women could come back and do business under this government as well.”
For now, the fate of businesses like Attai’s hangs on a thread.
“It is our hope to start women’s businesses again in our country,” Qazizadeh added.
Attai said that for now, she is staying in her homeland because she has “some hope” that her business can survive.
Ahead of the US pullout, a mammoth airlift saw 124,000 people evacuated from Kabul airport.
“I could have left as well. But I didn’t leave because all the hard work and effort that we put in should not be ignored,” Attai said.
“I don’t think they will block our work,” she added, referring to the Taliban.
“We are a company which is completely run by women and employs women — not a single man is brave enough to stop that. A woman who has shoveled her fields day and night cannot be ignored.”