South African crowds rampage, hospital operations disrupted

South African crowds rampage, hospital operations disrupted
Police walk past a shop looted in protests following the jailing of former South African President Jacob Zuma, in Durban. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 July 2021

South African crowds rampage, hospital operations disrupted

South African crowds rampage, hospital operations disrupted
  • Soldiers have been sent onto the streets to help outnumbered police contain the unrest

JOHANNESBURG: Crowds looted shops and offices in South Africa on Wednesday, defying government calls to end a week of violence that has killed more than 70 people and wrecked hundreds of businesses.
The unrest, the worst in South Africa for years, also disrupted hospitals struggling to cope with a third wave of COVID-19 and forced the closure of a refinery.
Protests triggered by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry last week have widened into looting and an outpouring of general anger over the hardship and inequality that persist 27 years after the end of apartheid.
Shopping malls and warehouses have been ransacked or set ablaze in several cities, mostly in Zuma’s home in KwaZulu-Natal province, and the financial and economic center Johannesburg and surrounding Gauteng province..
Overnight it spread to two other provinces — Mpumalanga, just east of Gauteng, and Northern Cape, police said.
A Reuters photographer saw several shops being looted in the town of Hammersdale, Kwazulu-Natal, on Wednesday. Local TV stations meanwhile showed more looting of shops in South Africa’s largest township Soweto, and in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban.
Soldiers have been sent onto the streets to help outnumbered police contain the unrest and order was being restored in some places on Wednesday, such as the northern Johannesburg township of Alexandra, local TV reported.
The National Hospital Network (NHN), representing 241 public hospitals already under strain from Africa’s worst COVID-19 epidemic, said it was running out of oxygen and drugs, most of which are imported through Durban, as well as food.
“The impact of the looting and destruction is having dire consequences on hospitals,” the NHN said. “And the epicenter of the pandemic is within the affected provinces currently under siege.” Staff in affected areas were unable to get to work, it said, worsening shortages caused by a third wave of infections.
As authorities in Durban seemed powerless to stop looting, vigilantes armed with guns, many of them from South Africa’s white minority, blocked off streets to prevent further looting, Reuters TV footage showed. One man shouted “go home and protect your homes.”
Other residents gathered outside supermarkets waiting for them to open so they could stock up on essentials.
The poverty and inequality fueling the unrest has been compounded by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at curbing COVID-19. The United Nations in South Africa expressed concern that disruptions to transport for workers from the riots would exacerbate joblessness, poverty and inequality.
South Africa’s largest refinery SAPREF in Durban has been temporarily shut down, an industry official said on Wednesday.
The rand hovered around three-month lows in early trade on Wednesday, a retreat for what had been one of the best performing emerging market currencies during the pandemic. Government bonds were slightly weaker.
The mayor of Ethekwini, the municipality that includes Durban, estimated that 15 billion rand ($1.09 billion) had been lost in damage to property and another billion in loss of stock.
Some 40,000 businesses had been hit by the unrest, he said.
“A large portion of these may never recover,” he told reporters on Wednesday, which put almost 130,000 jobs at risk.
Zuma, 79, was sentenced last month for defying a court order to give evidence at an inquiry investigating high-level looting during his nine years in office until 2018.
He also faces trial in a separate case on charges including corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. The former president pleaded not guilty in court in May. His foundation said on Tuesday that violence would continue until his release.
The national prosecuting authority has said it will punish those caught looting or destroying property, a threat that so far has done little to deter them. Security forces say they have arrested more than 1,200 people.
Though triggered by Zuma’s jailing, the unrest reflects growing frustration at failures by the ruling African National Congress to address inequality decades after the end of white minority rule in 1994 ushered in democracy.
Roughly half the population lives below the poverty line, according to the latest government figures from 2015, and growing joblessness since the pandemic has left many desperate. Unemployment stood at a new record high of 32.6 percent in the first three months of 2021. ($1 = 14.7161 rand)


Filipino president threatens arrest for COVID-19 vaccine dodgers

Filipino president threatens arrest for COVID-19 vaccine dodgers
Updated 28 September 2021

Filipino president threatens arrest for COVID-19 vaccine dodgers

Filipino president threatens arrest for COVID-19 vaccine dodgers
  • Philippines to begin vaccinating 12-17-year-olds, general public from October to help achieve herd immunity for population

MANILA: Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to invoke police powers of arrest against members of the public refusing to receive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination jabs.

The leader’s warning came ahead of the government’s announcement on Tuesday that from October the Philippines would be stepping up its inoculation program to include the general public and children aged between 12 and 17 in a bid to achieve herd immunity and a gradual return to normal life.

The southeast Asian country of 110 million people has recorded one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Asia, prompting authorities to impose strict anti-virus measures in the worst-affected areas and relax curbs in other parts to spur economic activity.

However, vaccination measures have been slow, with only 20.3 million or 26 percent of the population fully vaccinated and 23.6 million receiving their first dose since March when the government launched its vaccination drive for priority groups including health workers, senior citizens, those with more than one medical condition, economic frontliners, and the needy.

In a recorded address aired on Monday night, Duterte urged the public to get immunized, specifically Filipinos residing in areas with plentiful supplies of COVID-19 vaccine.

He said: “Government has no power to compel any religion, faith, or church. We can only cooperate. But the police power of the state can be invoked if you pose a threat to others ... (because) then you are already a danger to society.”

Once the Philippines had achieved herd immunity through mass immunization, it would be “safe to gradually ease restrictions,” he added. “I now encourage you — those who have yet to receive the vaccines — to get inoculated. We are almost pleading on our knees.”

During a press conference on Tuesday, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said: “The good news is, the president has approved the vaccination of the general population beginning October. We will also start inoculating children (between 12 to 17 years of age) in October. This has also been approved by the president.”

Roque also urged parents to register their children for vaccination.

Malacanang’s announcement came a day after Duterte’s threat to invoke police power of the state on those who refused to get vaccinated. The president also warned government employees to leave their office if they refused vaccination, especially those on the frontline or tasked with interacting with people.

Citing a report from the Food and Drug Administration, he said that unvaccinated people who got infected with COVID-19 were likely to get hospitalized with more severe or critical conditions compared to those who were already inoculated.

National Union of People’s Lawyers Secretary-General Edre Olalia on Tuesday told Arab News that it was a “tricky, debatable, and complicated” matter as to whether the president could implement police powers against those choosing not to receive a jab.

He said: “As a general rule, the state can invoke police power for the protection of life, public health, and for the public interest. But there are loose ends that need to be tied up. These include questions of liberty, necessity, privacy, proportionality, coverage, parameters, and even sanctions of specific measures to make it compulsory or mandatory.

“Yet resorting to the use of police power under the circumstances in the country dodges or ignores questions on availability and access to the vaccines as well as to the who, when, and where,” he added.

Meanwhile, in his report to the president, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer secretary, Carlito Galvez Jr., said that the Philippines was expecting the delivery of COVID-19 jabs to reach 100 million by the end of October.

He added that economic centers such as Metro Manila, and the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao had surpassed the 50 percent vaccination targets in their areas.

On the government’s announcement, Mariel San Diego, a fully vaccinated government employee based in Luzon island’s Pampanga province, said it would be better for the president to allow local government units to act on the matter. “If he really wants to do it, maybe he should start in his home city, Davao.”

Virginia Pasalo, a resident of Pangasinan province, said: “The virus does not come from the unvaccinated. Both vaccinated, and unvaccinated can be carriers or transmitters. My choice of not getting the vaccine is from my family’s history of allergic reactions. I could die with just a shot.”


Bangladesh to vaccinate over 8 million in a day as birthday gift for PM Hasina

Bangladesh to vaccinate over 8 million in a day as birthday gift for PM Hasina
Updated 28 September 2021

Bangladesh to vaccinate over 8 million in a day as birthday gift for PM Hasina

Bangladesh to vaccinate over 8 million in a day as birthday gift for PM Hasina
  • Nearly 10 percent of its population of 170 million people have received both doses as experts urge authorities to ramp up vaccination measures

DHAKA: Bangladeshi health authorities launched a nationwide campaign to vaccinate a record 8 million people in a single day on Tuesday as part of a special inoculation drive to mark Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s birthday.

The South Asian nation’s previous vaccination peak was 2.7 million doses administered in a single day last month, with a daily average of 500,000 shots, according to official data.

“The mass vaccination campaign will cover an additional 7.5 million people to mark this special day, while .5 million will be vaccinated as part of a regular drive,” Dr A.S.M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told Arab News.

“The campaign began at 9 a.m. and will continue until we meet targets. It’s a record number of shots for a single day in the country. Earlier, 2.7 million people received their first jab in a single day in August.”

He added that the vaccine milestone drive was a gift for PM Hasina, who turned 74 on Tuesday, amid a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections despite tight controls and anti-virus health measures imposed by the government.

More than 32,000 health workers and 48,000 volunteers have been deployed for Tuesday’s initiative, with plans to inoculate 6.9 million people from rural areas of the country, many of whom have yet to receive their first jab.

“Currently, there are around 25 million people in the queue. We want to vaccinate as many as possible during this mass vaccination campaign,” Alamgir said.

Bangladesh began its vaccination drive in February this year with the Covishield shots produced by the Serum Institute of India and, later, with vaccines from China.

So far, it has given at least one dose to 24.88 million adults and two doses to 9.93 percent of its total population of 170 million people, with plans to inoculate 80 percent by February next year.

Locals welcomed the initiative, with some saying it was long overdue.

“It’s been three weeks since I registered for the vaccine. My waiting period is over,” Sitara Begum, a 48-year-old resident of Rajshahi who received her first shot today, told Arab News.

Saiful Islam, a 23-year-old student at Dhaka University, said he was “relieved” to get his first shot before resuming studies in October.

“My university classes will resume next month. I was desperately waiting to receive the first jab before my classes. Otherwise, it would have been risky to attend in-person classes where chances of getting infected are high,” Islam told Arab News at a vaccination center in the capital, Dhaka.

Experts, for their part, said the government has taken a “timely decision” to curb the outbreak but pressed for improved mechanisms to avoid a surge in cases.

“We will be able to contain the infection rate if the government continues this mass vaccination drive,” Prof. Muzaherul Huq, former adviser, South-East Asia region, World Health Organization, told Arab News.

However, he added that it was imperative to develop contact tracing and isolation measures at the sub-district level for individuals testing positive.

“If we can ensure early treatment at the grassroots level, it will reduce the death rate,” Huq added.

As of Tuesday, the infection rate stood at nearly 4.5 percent, with 25 deaths reported, adding to the total tally of 27,500 fatalities recorded since March last year.


Italy gives COVID green light to six non-EU tourist destinations

Italy gives COVID green light to six non-EU tourist destinations
Updated 28 September 2021

Italy gives COVID green light to six non-EU tourist destinations

Italy gives COVID green light to six non-EU tourist destinations
  • Italians will be allowed to travel on what the health ministry called controlled tourist itineraries
  • Everyone leaving for the selected countries must have a 'Green Pass' showing COVID immunity

MILAN: Italy’s health ministry said on Tuesday it had given the go-ahead for travel to six non-European tourist spots without the need for quarantine as a COVID-19 precaution either on arrival or return.
Italians will be allowed to travel to the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Egypt (but only Sharm El Sheikh and Marsa Alam), Dominican Republic and Aruba on what the ministry called controlled tourist itineraries.
These popular destinations for Italians seeking winter sunshine mark an exception from other places outside the European Union, which require quarantine on return to Italy.
Everyone leaving for the selected countries must have a ‘Green Pass’ showing COVID immunity — either due to vaccination or previous infection — and must also present a negative swab at least 48 hours before departure, according to the order signed by Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
Once back in Italy, people will not be required to undergo quarantine if they have presented another negative test, conducted not more than 48 hours before boarding their plane.
These so-called COVID-free tourist corridors have been set up on an experimental basis, the health ministry said.


Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea

Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea
Updated 28 September 2021

Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea

Lava from Spanish island volcano rolls slowly toward the sea
  • Scientists said it was impossible to estimate when the black-and-red stream of molten rock would reach the shore.
  • Authorities said the lava had moved on the island of La Palma to within 800 meters (875 yards) of the Atlantic Ocean as of Tuesday morning

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Canary Islands: Lava flowing from a volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands picked up its pace on its way to the sea Tuesday.
Scientists said it was impossible to estimate when the black-and-red stream of molten rock would reach the shore.
Authorities said the lava had moved on the island of La Palma to within 800 meters (875 yards) of the Atlantic Ocean as of Tuesday morning, nine days after the volcano’s eruption. When it eventually meets sea water, the lava could trigger explosions and the release of toxic gas.
By the afternoon, officials said various factors dictated the unpredictable speed of the lava flow, including its departure from a path over an earlier flow that had hardened. The river of cooled lava had helped the moving flow slide along.
“The lava cools down as time passes and it meets uneven ground, which slows it down,” said Miguel Ángel Morcuende, technical director of the Canary Islands emergency volcano response department. “And if it comes off the highway it was going along, that slows it even more because it spreads out wider.”
A small hill and a built-up area also stood in the lava’s way, and the shore area is flatter than the hills the lava has been flowing down.
For days, officials have nervously awaited the time when lava from the Sept. 19 eruption reaches the Atlantic, but the volcano has been erratic. After calming down on Monday, the volcano became more explosive again overnight.
Authorities said they don’t expect the slow-moving lava to create a large disruption on the coast. But Eugenio Fraile, a researcher at the Spanish Oceanography Institute, told Cadena Ser radio that only scientists wearing protective gear will be inside a security perimeter when the flow hits the ocean.
The National Geographic Institute detected six earthquakes Tuesday in the area of the eruption, with the strongest measured at magnitude 3.3.
La Palma, home to about 85,000 people, is part of the volcanic Canary Islands, an archipelago off northwest Africa. The island is roughly 35 kilometers (22 miles) long and 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide at its broadest point.
Lava from the eruption has devoured everything in its path, destroying 589 buildings and 21 kilometers (13 miles) of roads on La Palma. The lava now covers 258 hectares (637 acres), mostly farmland, according to a European Union satellite monitoring agency.
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, thanks to the prompt evacuations of over 6,000 people.
But local people have lost their homes and their livelihoods at the same time. Farming is one of the island’s economic mainstays, along with tourism, and the lava and ash has ruined crops and irrigation systems, endangered aviation and poses a significant health risk to those nearby.
No flights went in or out of La Palma’s airport for a fourth straight day because of a huge ash cloud. Volcanic ash is hazardous for aircraft engines.
The Spanish government announced after its weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday it’s providing an immediate grant of 10.5 million euros ($12.3 million) to buy 107 properties to rehouse local people and also provide them with income aid.
More aid, including for the rebuilding of public infrastructure, will be sent once the current emergency is over, government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez said.
The volcano has so far spewed out more than 46 million cubic meters (1.6 billion cubic feet) of molten rock, according to the Canary Island Volcanology Institute.


Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement

Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement
Updated 28 September 2021

Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement

Greece: Afghan refugees fly to Portugal for resettlement
  • The Afghans traveled to Greece before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August
  • Another 43 are expected to fly to Portugal in the coming weeks, Greek officials said

ATHENS, Greece:
Authorities in Greece said that 41 Afghan refugees flew from Athens to Portugal on Tuesday, as part of a bilateral agreement to resettle 1,000 people who have been granted asylum.
The Afghans traveled to Greece before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August. Another 43 are expected to fly to Portugal in the coming weeks, Greek officials said.
Athens is seeking to reduce the number of refugees living in the country through bilateral agreements with other European Union members.
Greece has the fifth-highest number of pending asylum applications among EU countries, following Germany, France, Spain and Italy, according to figures from the bloc reported for the end of June.
Athens has toughened its policy on illegal migration in recent years, stepping up controls at its land and sea borders with Turkey.
Earlier Tuesday, 11 unattended migrant minors flew to Paris as part of a separate relocation program.