Indonesia reports three cases of ‘delta plus’ variant as COVID-19 infections spike

Indonesia reports three cases of ‘delta plus’ variant as COVID-19 infections spike
Indonesia’s government had predicted a spike in infections after the Eid break. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 01 August 2021

Indonesia reports three cases of ‘delta plus’ variant as COVID-19 infections spike

Indonesia reports three cases of ‘delta plus’ variant as COVID-19 infections spike
  • July has been the ‘deadliest month’ so far with more than 31,000 fatalities, compared to 7,913 deaths in June, official says

JAKARTA: Indonesia has detected three cases of the new ‘delta plus’ COVID-19 variant on the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi.

The surge in infections has spread to provinces on the two islands and the Kalimantan region, or the Indonesian part of Borneo, from Bali and its most populous island of Java.

The Health Ministry’s director for prevention and control of direct communicable diseases, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, told Arab News on Saturday that the delta plus variant, or AY.1, was identified earlier this week as a result of local transmission in two patients in the Jambi province on Sumatra and Mamuju, a district of West Sulawesi province.

The delta plus variant B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1 is a sublineage of the highly contagious delta variant.

It has a renewed mutation in the virus’ spike protein and therefore, according to Tarmizi, is “just as infectious as the original delta variant.”

The findings in Jambi and Mamuju add Indonesia to a list of 10 countries — Japan, Nepal, Poland, the US, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, China, Russia and India — where the delta plus variant has been detected. It was first identified in India in April.

Amin Soebandrio, director of Jakarta-based Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology which found the delta plus variant from their whole genome sequencing tests, told Arab News they still can’t conclude whether the delta plus is more virulent.

“We do not have yet the data that supports the argument if it is more contagious. We are still sequencing the samples that were sent to us,” Soebandrio said.

Scientists said that Indonesia needed to step up its outbreak mitigation in response to the delta variant and “to detect the emergence of other new variants.”

“We need to increase our whole genome sequencing testing so that we are well aware of the variants that we have here and to mitigate them better,” public health professor Tjandra Yoga Aditama said in a statement on Saturday.

Indonesia’s government had predicted a spike in infections after the Eid al-Fitr break, despite the travel ban, citing a pattern seen during the holiday season.

However, authorities were caught off-guard with rising infections made worse by the delta variant.

There had been a rise in cases since early June, peaking on July 15, with 56,757 daily cases reported from less than 10,000 in mid-June.

Indonesia registered 37,284 new cases on Saturday, taking the total tally to 3,409,658 out of its population of 270,000 million, while its positivity rate has been consistent at about 25 percent in recent weeks.

The national caseload, mainly from infections in Java’s provinces, showed a decreasing trend after restrictions to movement were imposed on Java and Bali, which have now been added to other islands, since early June. Restrictions are expected to end on Monday.

“I see that the numbers in regions on Java Island are slowly decreasing, but now it is the other way around (on islands) outside of Java,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Friday.

The daily number of infections is still far from the 10,000 figure the government aims to achieve by imposing restrictions in Java and Bali, while the daily testing and vaccinations rate is far below the target as well.

The official death toll from COVID-19 increased to 94,119 after 1,808 new deaths were recorded on Saturday. The number of fatalities has risen consistently to more than 500 a day since early July, while the highest fatality count was recorded on July 27, with 2,067 deaths in a day.

Wiku Adisasmito, spokesman for the national COVID-19 task force, said: “July is the deadliest month during the pandemic in Indonesia,” with more than 31,000 deaths recorded throughout the month compared to 7,913 deaths in June.

Aditama, the former director of the World Health Organization’s Southeast Asia regional office, traced the high fatality count to the spike in cases.

“If infections in the community remain rampant, cases will continue to increase, and in proportion, deaths and cases with severe symptoms would also rise,” he said.


Shooting in Russian university leaves at least eight dead

Shooting in Russian university leaves at least eight dead
Updated 40 min 47 sec ago

Shooting in Russian university leaves at least eight dead

Shooting in Russian university leaves at least eight dead
  • Students and staff of the university locked themselves in rooms, and the university urged those who could leave the campus to do so

MOSCOW: A gunman opened fire in a university in the Russian city of Perm on Monday morning, leaving at least eight people dead and others wounded, according to local health officials.
Other reports meanwhile put the number of deaths at five, citing investigators.
The unidentified perpetrator used a non-lethal gun, according to the Perm State University press service. Students and staff of the university locked themselves in rooms, and the university urged those who could leave the campus to do so.
The gunman was later detained, Russia’s Interior Ministry said, adding that the shooting left some people dead, but not clarifying how many.
The state Tass news agency cited an unnamed source in the law enforcement as saying that some students jumped out of the windows of a building.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether those reported wounded sustained injuries from the shooting or from trying to escape the building.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened a murder probe in the aftermath of the incident.


Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
Updated 20 September 2021

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
  • Up to a hundred public schools in areas considered ‘minimal risk’ for coronavirus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial

MANILA: The Philippines will reopen up to 120 schools for limited in-person classes for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in a pilot approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, officials said Monday.
While nearly every country in the world has already partially or fully reopened schools for face-to-face lessons, the Philippines has kept them closed since March 2020.
“We have to pilot face-to-face (classes) because this is not just an issue for education, it’s an issue for the children’s mental health,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
“It’s also an issue for the economy because we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”
Under guidelines approved by Duterte Monday, up to a hundred public schools in areas considered “minimal risk” for virus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial.
Twenty private schools can also participate.
Classrooms will be open to children in kindergarten to grade three, and senior high school, but the number of students and hours spent in face-to-face lessons limited.
Schools wanting to take part will be assessed for their preparedness and need approval from local governments to reopen. Written consent from parents will be required.
“If the pilot class is safe, if it is effective, then we will gradually increase it,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Duterte rejected previous proposals for a pilot reopening of schools for fear children could catch Covid-19 and infect elderly relatives.
But there have been growing calls from the UN’s children fund and many teachers for a return to in-person learning amid concerns the prolonged closure was exacerbating an education crisis in the country.
It is not clear when the pilot will begin or which schools will be included.
A “blended learning” program, which involves online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media, will continue.
France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the decision was “long overdue.”
Fifteen-year-olds in the Philippines were at or near the bottom in reading, mathematics and science, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Most students attend public schools where large class sizes, outdated teaching methods, lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as toilets, and poverty have been blamed for youngsters lagging behind.


‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial
Updated 20 September 2021

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial
  • Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Paul Rusesabagina
  • The trial of 67-year-old former hotelier and 20 other defendants began in February

KIGALI: A court is set to deliver its verdict Monday against Paul Rusesabagina, the “Hotel Rwanda” hero turned government critic who is charged with terrorism in a trial supporters say is politically motivated.
Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the 67-year-old former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the Hollywood film.
Rusesabagina, who used his subsequent fame to denounce Rwandan leader Paul Kagame as a dictator, was arrested in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
He is accused of supporting a rebel group blamed for deadly gun, grenade and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
His family say Rusesabagina was kidnapped and dismiss the nine charges against him, including terrorism, as payback by a vengeful government for his outspoken views.
Kagame has in turn rejected criticism of the case, saying Rusesabagina was in the dock not because of his fame but over the lives lost “because of his actions.”
“He is here being tried for that. Nothing to do with the film. Nothing to do with celebrity status,” Kagame said in television interview earlier this month, declaring that he would be “fairly tried.”
The trial of Rusesabagina and 20 other defendants began in February.
But the Belgian citizen and US green card holder has boycotted it since March, accusing the court of “unfairness and a lack of independence.”
The United States — which awarded Rusesabagina its Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 — along with the European Parliament and Belgium have raised concerns about his transfer to Rwanda and the fairness of his trial.
US rights group the Lantos Foundation this month urged Britain to reject the credentials of Kigali’s new ambassador to London, Johnston Busingye, saying that when he was justice minister he played a “key role in the extraordinary rendition and kidnapping” of Rusesabagina.
Presiding judge Antoine Muhima has defended the proceedings, saying none of the accused has been denied the right to speak.
The verdict was initially due in August but was put back until Monday.
Rusesabagina was the former manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where he sheltered hundreds of guests during the genocide that left 800,000 people dead, mostly ethnic Tutsis.
A decade later the American actor Don Cheadle played Rusesabagina, a moderate Hutu, in the Oscar-nominated blockbuster that brought his story to an international audience.
Rusesabagina soon became disillusioned with the new Tutsi-dominated government led by Kagame, the rebel leader-turned president whose forces ended the mass killings.
He accused Kagame of authoritarian tendencies and left Rwanda in 1996, living in Belgium and then the United States.
Abroad, he used his global platform to crusade for political change in Kigali, and developed close ties with opposition groups in exile.
Kagame’s government accuses Rusesabagina of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group which is blamed for the attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.
Prosecutors in June said Rusesabagina “encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts.”
But his co-defendants gave conflicting testimony about the level of Rusesabagina’s involvement with the FLN and its fighters.
His family, who have campaigned globally for his release, say Rusesabagina is a political prisoner and accuse the Rwandan authorities of torturing him in custody.
According to the Hotel Rwanda Foundation, which supports him, they regard the trial as a “farce from start to finish... put in place by the Rwandan government to silence critics” and discourage “future dissent.”
In July, a media investigation claimed that Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba, was spied on using Pegasus malware developed by Israeli company NSO.
Investigators confirmed that a cell phone belonging to Kanimba, a US-Belgian dual national, had been compromised multiple times.
For opposition official Victoire Ingabire, who spent six years in prison for terrorism, the verdict is not in doubt.
“In a country where freedom is limited, all power is in the hands of the executive,” she said.
“How could a judge dare to take a decision incompatible with the wishes of the president?”


Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
Updated 20 September 2021

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
  • Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Monday reported its lowest rise in daily COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks as some lockdown restrictions were eased in Sydney, the state capital, amid higher vaccination levels.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 935 new cases had been detected in the state, the lowest daily tally since Aug. 27, and down from 1,083 on Sunday. The state reported four more deaths.
“We’re feeling more positive than we have in a couple of weeks ... but I don’t want any of us to sit back and think the worst is behind us,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, warning of more deaths in the days ahead.
“Because we have seen the accumulation of so many cases, we know that October is going to be very challenging for our hospital system.”
Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, forcing officials there to abandon a COVID-zero target and shift to rapid vaccinations to ease curbs.
As the vaccine rollout gathers speed, with 53 percent of NSW’s adult population fully vaccinated, some restrictions were relaxed on Monday in 12 of the worst-hit suburbs in Sydney’s west. Time limits for outdoor exercise were lifted, while fully vaccinated people can gather outside in groups of five.
Neighboring Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, logged one new death and 567 new infections, its biggest daily rise this year, a day after revealing its roadmap back to freedom when vaccinations reach 70 percent, expected around Oct. 26.
So far, 44 percent of people in the state have been fully vaccinated, below the national average of 47 percent.
Meanwhile, several workers protested outside a union office in Melbourne against Victoria’s mandatory vaccination rule in the construction sector, local media reported.
The New Zealand Breakers basketball team, which play in Australia’s National Basketball League, released guard Tai Webster on Monday after he decided not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Australia has largely lived in COVID-zero for much of the pandemic, recording 1,167 deaths and some 87,000 cases. About 56,000 cases have been registered since mid-June when the first Delta infection was detected in Sydney.
While NSW and Victoria bear the brunt of the Delta outbreak, most other states with little or no community transmission fear opening up too soon could overwhelm their hospital systems.


New Zealand’s Auckland COVID-19 restrictions eased slightly

New Zealand’s Auckland COVID-19 restrictions eased slightly
Updated 20 September 2021

New Zealand’s Auckland COVID-19 restrictions eased slightly

New Zealand’s Auckland COVID-19 restrictions eased slightly
  • The city will move to alert level 3 from alert level 4 starting midnight on Tuesday

WELLINGTON: Coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland will be eased slightly from Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference.
The city, which is at the center of the latest Delta variant outbreak, will move to alert level 3 from alert level 4 starting midnight on Tuesday, Ardern said. Schools and offices will still remain closed at level 3 but businesses can operate contactless services.
The rest of the country will remain at alert level 2, she said.

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