Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes

Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes
Singapore has been a model for coronavirus mitigation since the pandemic began with mandatory masks, effective contact tracing and a closed border. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes

Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes
  • Singapore has been a model for coronavirus mitigation since the pandemic began with mandatory masks, effective contact tracing and a closed border
  • Singapore has not made vaccination compulsory because the Pfizer and Moderna shots only have emergency approval in the country

SINGAPORE: Some health experts in Singapore are calling for mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus with a growing toll of severe COVID-19 among unvaccinated people as infections surge and with vaccine take-up plateauing at 82 percent of the population.
The government has linked reopening to vaccination targets but it paused the easing of restrictions this month to watch for signs that severe infections could overwhelm the health system.
“I would love to see vaccine mandates in over 60s, they are the group most likely to die,” said Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert at the National University Hospital in Singapore.
“It’s the same reason that age group was selected early for vaccines, the same reason that age group has been selected for booster jabs.”
Singapore has been a model for coronavirus mitigation since the pandemic began with mandatory masks, effective contact tracing and a closed border.
In all, 62 of its 5.7 million people have died and new daily infections were for months no more than a handful.
But, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Delta variant has in recent months been spreading and new daily cases have risen to about 1,000.
Several countries including the United States, France and Italy have announced mandatory vaccination programs, concerned the Delta variant and a slowdown in vaccinations will thwart plans to get back to normal.
Of vaccinated people in Singapore who caught the virus from May 1 to Sept. 16, only 0.09 percent of them had to go into intensive care or died. The rate for the unvaccinated was 1.7 percent.
Data for the elderly is particularly striking.
Of infected unvaccinated people aged 80 or older, 15 percent of them had to be treated in intensive care or died. Only 1.79 percent of the vaccinated in that age group needed intensive care or died.
Singapore has not made vaccination compulsory because the Pfizer and Moderna shots only have emergency approval in the country although it has limited activities such as eating out for the unvaccinated.
Neither company responded to a query on whether it had applied for full approval in Singapore.
With about 87,000 seniors still unvaccinated, some experts say full approval could pave the way for a mandate.
“Vaccination is much more protective than the other measures we have in place, and less economically and socially damaging,” said Alex Cook, an infectious disease modelling expert at the National University of Singapore.
“If we are not to enforce vaccination, it seems odd to enforce weaker and more costly measures.”
The number of patients requiring oxygen support or intensive care jumped more than five-fold this month to 146, including 18 in ICU.
The government is worried the numbers in ICU could grow quickly on an exponentially rising base of infected people, especially if they are elderly and unvaccinated.
Singapore has about 100 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, and it can increase that to nearly 300 at short notice.
A vaccine mandate could take the form of curtailing activities for unvaccinated people related to their work, leisure and use of public transport, said infectious diseases doctor Leong Hoe Nam.
“You cannot go to the malls or take public transport or eat out unless vaccinated,” he said, giving examples of possible restrictions.
Only vaccinations against diphtheria and measles are mandated by law in Singapore.
The government has been offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for free and it has also approved payouts to 144 people who suffered serious side effects, media reported.
Singapore has a long record of imposing rules, including a famous 1992 ban on the sale of chewing gum to prevent littering, but nevertheless compulsory vaccines would be a significant step.
“It will take political courage, there’s no doubt about that, but the science would say you will save hundreds of lives if you vaccinate the last 100,000 seniors,” said Fisher.


Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul

Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul
Updated 4 sec ago

Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul

Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul
  • Explosion happened during rush hour in the Deh Mazang district in the west of the capital
KABUL: A grenade was thrown at a Taliban vehicle in the Afghan capital on Wednesday morning, wounding two fighters and four nearby school children, government officials said.
“This morning a grenade was thrown at a mujahideen vehicle in Deh Mazang, wounding two mujahideen,” Taliban interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti said.
Another official said: “Our initial information shows four school students wounded.”
The explosion happened just before 8 a.m. (0330 GMT) during rush hour in the Deh Mazang district in the west of the capital, a witness said.
“I was on my way to work, it was 7.55am and I heard this very big explosion on the road. I managed to escape,” said Amin Amani.
“I saw a lot of smoke in the mirror of the car and I saw people running,” the 35-year-old translator said.
Images shared on social media showed plumes of smoke and dust rising into the air on the streets of the capital.

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal
Updated 6 min 7 sec ago

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal
  • In Uttarakhand in northern India officials said that 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing
  • In Kerala in the south chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the death toll had hit 39 there

NEW DELHI: The death toll from floods and landslides in India rose to 85 on Wednesday, officials said, while Nepal also reported 31 fatalities and 43 missing.
In Uttarakhand in northern India officials said that 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing. In Kerala in the south chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the death toll had hit 39 there.
In Nepal, disasters management division official Humkala Pandey said: “In the last three days, there have been 31 deaths from floods and landslides triggered by heavy post-monsoon rainfalls across the country. Forty-three people are missing.”


Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda
Updated 20 October 2021

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda
  • It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders

BAMAKO: Mali’s government has asked the country’s Islamic High Council to begin a dialogue with Al-Qaeda-linked groups in a new effort to address a nearly decade-long insecurity crisis.

It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Kouffa of the Al-Qaeda-linked group known as JNIM, the council said.

Mohamed Kibiri, spokesman for the council, said on Tuesday that he was asked by the government last week to launch discussions. He said they are working with their representatives in the country’s north.

“The only directive we have received is to negotiate only with the Malians,” he said. “The other jihadists we consider invaders.”

Mali’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Worship Mamadou Koné confirmed that the government asked the council to lead discussions with the two groups.

This is not the first time the Malian government has asked the council to open dialogue with jihadist groups. Earlier this year, the council reached a ceasefire agreement between an Al-Qaeda-linked group and local fighters in a village in the Niono circle in central Mali. The jihadists granted freedom of movement to the villagers, and peaceful cohabitation with the army and local armed groups, in exchange for compulsory veiling of women, collection of taxes and traditional justice.

Mali has been fighting growing insecurity since 2012, when Al-Qaeda-linked groups took over parts of the north. Despite a French-led military operation that forced many rebels from their northern strongholds in 2013, insurgents quickly regrouped and have been advancing year after year toward the south of the country, where the Malian capital is located.

Meanwhile, the French army said Tuesday its troops shot dead a woman while conducting an anti-terror reconnaissance operation with Malian soldiers in the west African country, prompting an investigation.

The woman died on Monday during a joint patrol “in an area where elements of an armed terrorist group has been detected east of Gossi” in the north, the French general staff said.

The soldiers saw two individuals riding a motorbike, but they left it behind to flee into the undergrowth when they spotted the French and Malian troops, said the statement.

“An abandoned assault rifle, ammunition and a military bag are discovered near the motorbike,” it added.

The soldiers “engage in the pursuit of one of the two individuals in the woods. Four warning shots are fired to stop him but the latter moves further away.”

“The individual turns sharply toward the soldiers who fire to neutralize” the target and then “discover that it is a woman,” suspected of being one of the people on the motorcycle.

“Residents of the nearest village are called to give the identity of this person” but “no one knows her,” said the general staff, adding that the body was buried at the site.

An investigation has been opened “to clarify the exact sequence of events and to shed full light on this combat action,” the statement concluded.

Deployed to Mali since 2013 because of deadly jihadist activity, a force of some 5,000 French troops is now being drawn down, potentially by as much as half by early next year.


Pakistan confirms Indian invite to meeting on Afghanistan, but not participation

Pakistan confirms Indian invite to meeting on Afghanistan, but not participation
Updated 20 October 2021

Pakistan confirms Indian invite to meeting on Afghanistan, but not participation

Pakistan confirms Indian invite to meeting on Afghanistan, but not participation
  • India offers to host November gathering of national security advisers

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office has said Islamabad had received an invitation from India to attend a national security advisers’ meeting on Afghanistan in New Delhi next month but had not yet taken a decision on whether it would participate.

India’s invite to Pakistani National Security Adviser Dr. Moeed Yusuf comes at a time of high tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors and longtime foes.

If the talks go ahead, it would be the first meeting on Afghanistan to be convened by India since the Taliban captured power in August. Pakistan, China, Iran, Russia, and Tajikistan have reportedly also been asked to attend the discussions planned for Nov. 10 to 11.

On Monday, Pakistani foreign office spokesperson, Asim Iftikhar, said: “There is the invitation. There is no decision yet.”

Pakistan and India have a longstanding dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which they both rule in part but claim in full. They have fought two wars over the region.

India was a key supporter of the ousted regime in Kabul and as both Pakistan and China become key players in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, its nervousness has increased, analysts say.

India has bitter memories of the previous Taliban stint in power from 1996 to 2001 and the group’s links to Pakistan.

An Indian Airlines plane was hijacked in 1999 and ultimately landed in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. New Delhi freed three senior Pakistani militants in its jails in exchange for the return of the passengers and the Taliban allowed the hijackers and the released prisoners to go to Pakistan.

But over the past year, as the Taliban emerged as a dominant force in Afghanistan and US-brokered negotiations began in Doha, Indian diplomats had opened a line with the group.

But Pakistan has long insisted India has no role in Afghanistan, with which it does not share a border, and has consistently accused India of using Afghan soil to mastermind militant attacks inside Pakistan — an accusation New Delhi has denied.

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Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence

Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence
Updated 20 October 2021

Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence

Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence
  • Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in 50 locations around the country to mark the anniversary of the street protests led by students

SANTIAGO: Two people died, 56 were injured and 450 arrested as clashes broke out in Chile during mass street protests to mark the second anniversary of a social uprising, police said on Tuesday.

Monday’s demonstrations throughout the country were to mark the October 2019 protests that sparked political change in the country and led to the start of a process to rewrite the Pinochet dictatorship-era constitution.

A man was killed by gunfire during an attempted robbery of a shop in Santiago on Monday while a woman died after falling from a motorcycle, also in the capital.

Most disturbances on Monday took place in Santiago where vandals set up street barricades, attacked a police station, and looted shops and public buildings, a police report said.

Authorities detained 450 people throughout the country, 279 of those in Santiago, while 11 civilians and 45 police officers were injured.

“The numbers are very high,” said Marcelo Araya, director of order and security at Chile’s Carabineros national police force.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in 50 locations around the country to mark the anniversary of the street protests led by students and sparked by a hike in metro fares.

The unrest that followed left 34 dead and 460 people with eye injuries, including some that lost their sight, from pellets and tear gas fired by police.

Billionaire right-wing President Sebastian Pinera’s government came under fire over the at times brutal response from security forces that included some rights violations.

The protests continued for four months up to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Juan Francisco Galli, the interior undersecretary, blamed Monday’s violence on opposition candidates for next month’s presidential election, leftist Gabriel Boric and centrist Yasna Provoste, for proposing and supporting pardons for detainees that “looted, destroyed everything and threw Molotov cocktails” during the 2019 protests.

“The people responsible for the violence are those that established in our country a sense of impunity, that there are no consequences for violence,” said Galli.

The violence contrasted with the peaceful protest by 10,000 people on Plaza Italia, the central square in Santiago that was the hub of the 2019 movement, whose behavior was “largely positive,” according to Araya.

That protest lasted around four hours with minimal police presence, although authorities had earlier removed traffic lights and rubbish bins to prevent vandals from damaging them.

Some 5,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country to keep order, according to local press.

Protesters demanded universal healthcare, free and improved schooling and higher pensions.

The demonstration coincided with the constituent assembly elected to re-write the constitution beginning its work following a period of 100 days in which it set out its internal rules.

The current constitution was implemented during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-90) and was one of the main targets of the 2019 protests.