Indonesia imposes stringent COVID-19 curbs amid deadly second wave

Indonesia imposes stringent COVID-19 curbs amid deadly second wave
Officials turn back vehicles at the border with Jakarta in Bekasi, West Java on July 3, 2021, as Indonesia launches a partial lockdown in the capital. (AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2021

Indonesia imposes stringent COVID-19 curbs amid deadly second wave

Indonesia imposes stringent COVID-19 curbs amid deadly second wave
  • Vaccination drive ramps up with plans to inoculate ‘100% of the population above 18’

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s densely populated island of Java and the neighboring resort island of Bali went under partial lockdown on Saturday to fight a surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, exacerbated by the more virulent and highly contagious delta variant.

As part of the restrictions, in place until July 20, all employees of nonessential businesses will have to work from home, while shopping malls, places of worship, and public spaces will be shut down, and indoor dining banned.

Travel by air or train will be allowed only if passengers provide a negative antigen test result and vaccination certificates.

Indonesia’s capital Jakarta is one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with all five of its municipalities listed among the more than 40 red zones where stringent mobility restrictions have been imposed, with police setting up road blocks at dozens of locations across the city and along borders with its suburbs.

“We have set up 63 checkpoints across and surrounding Jakarta to reduce people’s activity in the city. We are restricting the movement of people with noncritical purposes,” Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus told Arab News on Saturday.

In recent weeks, Indonesia’s daily positive rate has multiplied from the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 5 percent.

It peaked at 25.1 percent on Friday amid reports of overloaded hospitals turning away infected patients, and patients dying during home isolation or after failing to receive proper treatment.

On Saturday, Indonesian health authorities registered 493 deaths and a record-breaking 27,913 cases, taking the total infection tally to more than 2.2 million since the outbreak last year.

The total fatality count stood at 60,027 as of Saturday.

Despite the grim situation in Java and Bali, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that the conditions in other areas of the sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands remained under control.

“We monitor the situation daily using the WHO’s new pandemic guidelines. We have indicators for every province and down to the district level,” Sadikin said during a media briefing with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club on Friday.

“So far, outside Java (and Bali), the situation is still under control. That is why we only impose mobility restrictions on Java and Bali ... Not all cities in Java are affected; it is only concentrated in certain epidemiological areas,” he added.

On enquiring when Indonesia hoped to flatten the curve in Java, Sadikin said: “My answer is, to be honest, and to be humble, I don’t know. Even many epidemiologists have made mistakes in their mathematical modeling.”

He predicted that "the peak will happen within five to seven weeks after the [Eid Al-Fitr] holiday", or around the first week of July although "it may be different with the Delta variant whose transmission rate is much faster."

In addition to the stringent restrictions in place, Indonesia has also ramped up its vaccination drive with plans to inoculate 181.5 million people, or “100 percent of the population above 18 years old” by year-end, according to Sadikin.

It has also issued emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine’s use on children aged 12-17 and China’s Sinovac vaccine for those between three and 17 years of age.

Many citizens have been inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine, despite Indonesia having other brands in store or in the pipeline. Sinovac is the only vaccine manufacturer that has kept its commitment to deliver 150 million doses, Sadikin said, while others such as AstraZeneca could only send 30 million doses.

“(AstraZeneca) has failed to meet its commitment to deliver 50 million doses by the end of this year because of whatever problem they have,” he added.

Indonesia is expecting more deliveries from vaccine manufacturers and contributions from other countries, including the first delivery of its order of 50 million Pfizer doses in early August.

This is in addition to 4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine from the US, 3 million from the Netherlands and an unspecified number from the UK.

Nearly a million AstraZeneca doses arrived from Japan, as a donation, on Thursday.

However, Sadikin said that the second wave was not due to the vaccine brands in use in Indonesia.

“It is not about the difference in efficacy in every vaccine; it is primarily because of the Delta variant. It happens everywhere,” Sadikin said, adding that countries such as the UK, which uses AstraZeneca, has also seen a surge in infections recently.

In Indonesia’s case, he said, Sinovac jabs have reduced the risk of infections from severe to mild, and from mild to asymptomatic, in addition to a “reduced death percentage in the second wave of the outbreak as compared to the first.”

With a vaccine shortage globally, Sadikin said Indonesia has been active in becoming the co-sponsor of the Trade-Related Aspects of IP Rights (TRIPS) waiver proposal to demand a suspension on intellectual property (IP) rights protection on COVID-19 vaccines and related medical supplies.

However, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that while waivers for IP rights could be a solution, it does not mean production can start soon “as it requires the industrial capacity, a lot of skills, and a lot of know-how.

“Even if you have the right to produce, it would be useless if you don’t have the tools to do that,” Borrell said in a limited interview with Indonesian and foreign media during his visit to Jakarta in June.

What the EU is doing, Borrell explained, is boosting its production capacity and exporting half of its production in Europe, with plans to expand production in Africa since it produces only 2 percent of the vaccines they need.

“This can be done without waiting to have an agreement on the IP, it is part of the solution, but it is not the automatic solution,” Borrell said.

But Indonesia is confident it can produce the vaccines if the IP rights are waived, Sadikin said.

“We have sent a formal letter to the WHO that Indonesia is extremely interested in building vaccine production capacity. We don’t need the money ... We have the expertise. What we need is access to the technology to produce the vaccine and also the therapeutic medicine,” he added.


4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
Updated 30 November 2021

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
  • Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County
  • The investigation was in the preliminary stages

FORT WAYNE, Indiana: The bodies of four people were found at a home in northeastern Indiana following a report of shots being fired, authorities said.
Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County, near Fort Wayne, sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Griffith said at the scene.
One person described as a witness was uninjured, Griffith said, and investigators interviewed that person.
The investigation was in the preliminary stages Monday night, Griffith said, but authorities didn’t believe there was any current danger to the public. Circumstances of the deaths weren’t immediately given.
Additional information was expected to be released Tuesday.


Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
  • Dozens of civilians were killed in successive airstrikes
  • A US legal officer ‘flagged the strike as a possible war crime’ but the leadership are alleged to have taken no action

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon launched a fresh probe Monday into a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria, two weeks after a New York Times investigation claimed the US military concealed dozens of non-combatants’ deaths.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instructed Army General Michael Garrett to “review the reports of the investigation already conducted into that incident” and “conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Garrett’s three-month review will assess “civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war, record keeping and reporting procedures,” Kirby added.
It will also probe whether measures taken after the earlier investigation were effectively implemented, if “accountability measures” should be taken and if “procedures or processes should be altered.”
According to a Times investigation published mid-November, a US special force operating in Syria — sometimes in complete secrecy — bombed a group of civilians three times on March 18, 2019, near the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Baghouz, killing 70 people, mainly women and children.
The Times report says a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” but that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
The Times found the strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State,” but was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.
“The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” the report said, adding findings of a Pentagon probe were “stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.”
A statement released by the Pentagon after the report said the initial investigation into the incident by the US Army Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, found the strikes were “self-defense,” “proportional” and that “appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians.”
A US-led coalition and Kurdish-led allies announced the defeat of the IS proto-state, known as the “caliphate,” at the end of March 2019 after overcoming the last jihadist holdout of Baghouz.


India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
Updated 30 November 2021

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
  • State governments warned last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic

BENGALURU: India’s health ministry said on Tuesday states should ramp up COVID-19 testing as the world battles the new coronavirus variant omicron, while some cities delayed the reopening of schools as a precautionary measure.
The ministry also said the omicron variant “doesn’t escape RT-PCR and RAT (testing),” appeasing some concerns among domestic health workers that changes in the spike protein of the virus could lead to conventional tests failing to detect the variant.
It comes as the ministry warned state governments last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic.
While India has not reported any omicron cases yet, authorities are studying the sample of a man who tested positive for COVID-19 after recently returning from South Africa to see if he is infected with the omicron or another variant.
Also on Tuesday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said it was delaying reopening schools for younger children to Dec. 15 instead of Wednesday as a precautionary measure given the global situation involving omicron. In-person classes for senior students began about two months ago.
The city of Pune, which is also located in the western state of Maharashtra, has also postponed the reopening of schools, local media reported.
After battling a record jump in infections and deaths in April and May, cases have come down substantially in India.
Its COVID-19 cases rose by 6,990 on Tuesday — the smallest increase in 551 days — to 34.59 million. Only the United States has reported more total infections.
Deaths rose by 190, taking the total to 468,980, health ministry data showed.


Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
Updated 30 November 2021

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
  • About 63 percent of the population of about 11 million is fully vaccinated
  • Greece has recorded a spike in infections this month, with daily cases hitting record highs

ATHENS: Greece said on Tuesday it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over in a move to quell a resurgent virus that is burdening a frail health care system.
Authorities said those who failed to comply from Jan. 16 would face a recurring monthly fine of 100 euros.
Tuesday’s announcement marks an EU-wide first in targeting a specific age group. Other countries make vaccines mandatory for health workers and other high-risk groups of workers.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he struggled with the decision but it was necessary to protect more than half a million elderly Greeks who had failed to get the jab.
“Its the price to pay for health,” he said.
About 63 percent of Greece’s 11 million population is fully vaccinated. While vaccine appointments have picked up in recent weeks, health ministry data shows there are 520,000 people over the age of 60 who have failed to get a jab.
“We are focusing our efforts on protection of our fellow citizens and for this reason their vaccination will be mandatory from now on,” Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.
Syriza, Greece’s main opposition party, faulted the measures as being punitive and financially excessive.
“This hasn’t happened anywhere,” it said.
Mitsotakis did not say how authorities would enforce the rule. A 100 euro fine is a hefty chunk of the average monthly 730 euro pension.
“(The decision) tortured me, but I feel a heavy responsibility in standing next to those most vulnerable, even if it might fleetingly displease them,” he said.
Greece this month barred unvaccinated people from indoor spaces including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms as daily COVID-19 cases hit record highs.
It has recorded 931,183 infections and 18,067 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.


The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online
Updated 30 November 2021

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

TOKYO: The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue was held via video conference on Monday, the foreign ministry said.

The Japanese delegation was led by Kansuke Nagaoka, director general of the Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yasushi Noguchi, director general for International Affairs of the Bureau of Defense Policy in the Ministry of Defense.

The Jordanian delegation was led by Adli Qasem Alkhaledi, director of Asia and Oceania Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Brigadier General Yousef Alkhatib, assistant of the chief of staff for planning, organization and defense resources.

The delegations exchanged views on a wide-ranging number of issues, including Japan-Jordan security cooperation and regional situations.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan