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.


Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 5 sec ago

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
Updated 1 min 50 sec ago

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
  • Move follows government ban on all arrivals to combat spread of omicron variant
  • Irish carrier is largest airline in Europe, which is facing severe COVID-19 outbreak

LONDON: Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has canceled all flights to Morocco until February 2022.

The move follows a total ban by the Moroccan government on flights arriving in the North African country until Dec. 13 to combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

It is not yet clear whether the ban will extend beyond the initial December deadline.

Other countries, including Japan and Israel, have also implemented stringent flight bans in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Irish carrier Ryanair usually flies thousands of flights a day across Europe and beyond. The continent’s COVID-19 outbreak is far worse than many other places in the world, including Morocco, which recorded just 90 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 50,000 in Britain.


One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
Updated 45 min 56 sec ago

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
  • Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary

SANARY-SUR-MER,France: French rescue workers on Tuesday recovered a man’s body from the rubble of a residential building destroyed overnight in a suspected gas explosion, and were scrambling to find two other people still missing after extracting a woman and a baby alive.
The woman and baby as well as three others were injured in the blast in the Mediterranean coastal city of Sanary-sur-Mer, which was heard from as far as eight kilometers (five miles) away.
“It’s very likely that the victim is the father of the baby,” Houda Vernhet, director of the government’s regional authority for the Var region, told AFP.
He was unconscious when located and declared dead after rescue workers spent more than two hours removing him from the unsteady wreckage of the three-story building.
The two people still missing “are a mother, an elderly woman, and her son” who lived on the ground floor, Vernhet said.
“For now, we haven’t yet found any signs of life from the rubble, but we didn’t hear the baby right away, either,” said Col. Eric Grohin, director of the fire service for the Var department.
Authorities said rescue workers smelled gas when they arrived at the site.
“The causes aren’t known for now. There was smell of gas, but we can’t say anything more while the police inquiry is underway,” the regional authorities said in a statement.
Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary, a city of around 15,000 people southeast of Marseille.


Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
Updated 7 min 31 sec ago

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
  • Among the billionaire's collection were items from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq

NEW YORK: Billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt has agreed to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities, the Manhattan district attorney announced Monday.
In return, Steinhardt, a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces that were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection."
Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that he was "pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”
According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.
New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt's collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.
The items surrendered by Steinhardt include a stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, dating from to 400 B.C., which prosecutors say appeared without provenance on the international market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. The stag's head is valued at $3.5 million, the district attorney said.
There was also the chest for human remains from the Greek Island of Crete, called a larnax and dating from around 1300 B.C., which prosecutors said was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.


Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
Updated 58 min 26 sec ago

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
  • Thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25
  • ‘These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’

LONDON: Britain’s Foreign Office abandoned many of the nation’s allies in Afghanistan and left them to the mercy of the Taliban during the fall of the capital, Kabul, because of a dysfunctional and arbitrary evacuation effort, a whistleblower alleged Tuesday.
In devastating evidence to a parliamentary committee, Raphael Marshall said thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25. The former Foreign Office employee estimated that only 5 percent of Afghan nationals who applied to flee under one UK program received help. At one point, he was the only person monitoring the inbox.
“There were usually over 5,000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment, including many unread emails dating from early in August,” he wrote to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. “These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’.”
Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was moved from the Foreign Office to become Justice Secretary after his handling of the crisis, defended his actions.
“Some of the criticism seems rather dislocated from the facts on the ground, the operational pressures that with the takeover of the Taliban, unexpected around the world...” he told the BBC. “I do think that not enough recognition has been given to quite how difficult it was.”
The Taliban stormed across Afghanistan in late summer, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away. The Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15.
Many who had worked for Western powers or the government worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against them.
Many also feared the Taliban would reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. At the time, women had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside. The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.