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.


Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi

Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi
Updated 25 sec ago

Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi

Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi
  • Enes Kanter, who is Turkish and has a history of activism, tweeted a two-minute video of himself expressing support for Tibet and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of the Dalai Lama
  • An outspoken critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Kanter, 29, was indicted in his home country in 2018 on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group

SHANGHAI: Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter was pilloried on Chinese social media and his name appeared to be blocked on the popular Weibo messaging platform after he criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping and China’s treatment of Tibet.
Kanter, who is Turkish and has a history of activism, tweeted a two-minute video of himself expressing support for Tibet and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of the Dalai Lama, its exiled spiritual leader.
“I’m here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet. Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are non-existent,” Kanter said in the video posted on Wednesday in US time, along with text describing Xi as a “brutal dictator.”
Kanter posted similar messages on his Instagram feed. On Wednesday, he wore shoes emblazoned with the phrase “Free Tibet’ during the game against the New York Knicks made by Baidiucao, a dissident China-born cartoonist and artist based in Australia.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing on Thursday that Kanter was “trying to get attention” and that his remarks “were not worth refuting.”
“We will never accept those attacks to discredit Tibet’s development and progress,” he said.
Kanter’s remarks, and the backlash, come two years after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s comments in support of the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong prompted state broadcaster CCTV to cease broadcasting NBA games and e-commerce vendors to remove listings for Rockets merchandise.
The tweet also followed the Wednesday arrival of the Olympic torch in Beijing, whose scheduled hosting of the Winter Games in February 2022 has prompted calls for boycotts over Chinese treatment of Tibet, Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong.
As of mid-Thursday in China, Kanter’s Chinese-language surname and full name yielded only one result, compared with multiple results earlier in the morning.
Weibo did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the NBA in China did not respond to an emailed request for comment, and the Boston Celtics did not respond to a request for comment sent outside business hours.
Beijing has ruled the remote western region of Tibet since 1951, after its People’s Liberation Army marched in and took control in what it calls a “peaceful liberation,” and considers the Dalai Lama a separatist.
A Weibo fan page for the Boston Celtics with over 650,000 followers wrote that it would cease updating its social feed after Kanter’s tweets.
Twitter is blocked in China.
“Any information on the team will cease to appear on this Weibo. Any behavior that undermines the harmony of the nation and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!” the page’s administrator wrote.
On the Celtics’ official Weibo page, more than 100 commentators left comments on Thursday criticizing the club and Kanter, with some calling for him to be sacked.
“I’ve been an old Celtics fan for more than 10 years. After Kanter did this, I won’t support the Celtics team a single day any longer. Between my hobbies and my country, there’s no comparison,” wrote one commentator.
An outspoken critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Kanter, 29, was indicted in his home country in 2018 on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group, which he denies. Turkey, which revoked his passport, is seeking his extradition.


Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry

Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry
Updated 20 min 40 sec ago

Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry

Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry
  • Salman Abedi blew himself up at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena venue, as parents arrived to collect their children
  • A lawyer representing bereaved families said they had "the very gravest of concerns and the most extreme sense of frustration that this has occurred"

LONDON: The brother of a suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Manchester in May 2017 failed to appear on Thursday at a public inquiry investigating the attack, angering bereaved families seeking answers about the killer’s motivations.
Salman Abedi blew himself up at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena venue, as parents arrived to collect their children. Among those killed were seven children, the youngest aged eight, while 237 people were injured.
Ismail Abedi, the bomber’s older brother, had been summoned to give evidence at the public inquiry, which has been running for more than a year to examine issues raised by the bombing.
Paul Greaney, counsel to the inquiry, told Thursday’s public hearing that Abedi was stopped at Manchester airport on Aug. 28 while trying to leave the country. But he boarded a flight at the same airport on Aug. 29 and has not returned to Britain.
Duncan Atkinson, a lawyer representing bereaved families, said they had “the very gravest of concerns and the most extreme sense of frustration that this has occurred” and accused Abedi of “profound disrespect” toward them.
The inquiry chairman, retired judge John Saunders, said the circumstances of his departure, and whether the police, the courts or the inquiry itself could have done more to prevent it, were matters that were not yet fully understood.
“The means of enforcing someone’s attendance at an inquiry are not straightforward,” he said, urging people not to jump to conclusions about who or what was to blame.
The inquiry was due to hear evidence later on Thursday from a friend of Salman Abedi, Ahmed Taghdi. He was arrested on Monday as he tried to leave the country and is in custody.
Another brother of Salman Abedi, Hashem Abedi, was found guilty of murder and jailed for at least 55 years in August 2020 for helping Salman plan the attack.
The brothers were born to Libyan parents who emigrated to Britain during the rule of Muammar Qaddafi. The parents and their younger children are in Libya and are also refusing to cooperate with the inquiry.


Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group

Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group
Updated 46 min 14 sec ago

Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group

Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group
  • Guttenberg, who has become a nationally known activist in the years since the shooting, visited his daughter's grave this week and “asked her for guidance”
  • Brady PAC supports candidates who promote gun violence prevention and spent $5 million during the 2020 election cycle

WASHINGTON: The father of a 14-year-old girl killed in the 2018 Florida high school shooting massacre announced Thursday that he’s joining the top ranks of a progressive anti-gun group. This comes to promote like-minded political candidates around the country ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Fred Guttenberg will be a senior adviser to Brady PAC. His daughter Jamie, an aspiring dancer and gymnast, died with 16 others during the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of first-degree murder for that shooting and could face the death penalty during sentencing in January. Guttenberg, who has become a nationally known activist in the years since the shooting, said he visited his daughter’s grave this week and “asked her for guidance. ‘Cause Jamie is my strength.”
“Jamie may only have been 14, but she was the toughest, wisest person I ever knew,” Guttenberg said in an interview. “If you want to know my motivation for why I’m doing this with Brady PAC right now, that’s the reason.”
Brady PAC, formed leading up to 2018′s midterm elections, supports candidates who promote gun violence prevention and spent $5 million during the 2020 election cycle. It has promised to pump millions more into next year’s races.
Guttenberg, a 55-year-old former small business owner, said, “I believe we are one election cycle away from either getting this done, or one election cycle away from losing the chance.”
“We do it now,” he added, “or we never do it.”
Guttenberg noted that Democrats, most of whom agree with him and Brady PAC on top gun issues, control Congress and could hold both chambers after 2022 — even though the party that wins the White House, as Democrats did through Joe Biden in 2020, historically loses seats in the next election.
“I think people need to stop acting like everyone knows what’s going to happen in 2022 and get back to working for what you want to happen,” Guttenberg said. “I want more gun safety candidates elected to the House and the Senate. Period. Full stop. And I think that voters agree with me.”
Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members during a seven-minute rampage through Stoneman Douglas, using an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to shoot victims in hallways and classrooms. Cruz had been expelled from the school a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behavior that dated to preschool.
The shootings caused some Stoneman Douglas students to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which pushes for stronger gun restrictions nationally. Besides Guttenberg, several other parents of students killed have also become activists.
Last February, Guttenberg attended President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address and began yelling after the Republican president said, “I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Guttenberg was escorted out and later apologized via Twitter.
Guttenberg also drew attention in Congress in September 2018 when he attempted to shake hands with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during a break at the latter’s Senate confirmation hearing. Kavanaugh looked at him, turned and walked away. Kavanaugh later said that he had assumed Guttenberg was a protester and that he would have expressed his sympathy and shaken Guttenberg’s hand had he recognized him before being whisked away by his security detail. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court.
Brady PAC is the political arm of a nonprofit named in honor of former White House press secretary James Brady, who suffered a bullet wound to his head in the assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in 1981.
Together with his wife, Brady became a leading gun control activist before his death in 2014. A federal law requiring a background check on handgun buyers bears Brady’s name, as does the White House press briefing room.


Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess

Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess
Updated 21 October 2021

Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess

Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess
  • Amess’s murder has shocked Britain’s political establishment coming five years after another lawmaker was murdered
  • Ali is the son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia

LONDON: British police charged Ali Harbi Ali, 25, with murder of lawmaker David Amess, who was stabbed to death on Friday at a meeting in his constituency, saying it was an act of terrorism.
Amess’s murder has shocked Britain’s political establishment coming five years after another lawmaker was murdered, prompting calls for increased safety for members of parliament.
“We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations,” Nick Price, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division.
“He has also been charged with the preparation of terrorist acts. This follows a review of the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan Police in its investigation.”
Ali, the son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia, is due to appear at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ court later on Thursday.
“There has been considerable speculation in the media about the background, history and motivation of the man now charged,” said Matt Jukes, London police’s Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations.
“I understand the huge level of public interest in this case, but now a charge has been brought, it is vitally important that everyone exercises restraint when commenting on it publicly, to ensure future court proceedings are not prejudiced in any way.”


UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash

UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash
Updated 21 October 2021

UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash

UK troops kill 2 suspected Daesh fighters in first Mali clash
  • Soldiers came under attack while on patrol as part of UN mission

LONDON: British troops have fatally shot two Islamist fighters, believed to belong to Daesh, in Mali.

The shooting is the first contact experienced by regular UK forces since combat operations in Afghanistan drew to a close in 2014.

The soldiers came under attack while on patrol as a part of a UN mission in Mali, where local forces have required support from Western allies — predominantly France — to counter a fierce insurgency.

The UN’s role in the Sahel nation is considered to be the most dangerous peacekeeping mission to which it deploys troops. It is continuing alongside a counterinsurgency operation led by French soldiers.

The sudden firefight between the Britons and the suspected Daesh fighters took place in a remote area in the east of the country where troops from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards — a light cavalry unit — were scouting for alternative routes after popular roads had been subject to improvised explosive devices.

The gunmen opened fire on the troops who were traveling in light armored vehicles between Indelimone — a town where a Malian military base had recently fallen to Islamist attackers — and Menaka, a regional hub.

The British soldiers reportedly chased down the Islamists in a 20-minute exchange, which ended when the gunmen were pinned down in some undergrowth on Wednesday morning.

The British troops from the Long Range Reconnaissance Group are taking part in Operation Newcombe under UN rules of engagement, which makes room for appropriate action in self-defense.

The British military said its intended action was to detain the two gunmen, who fired in excess of 100 rounds.

“Today’s action demonstrates exactly what the UK is bringing to the UN’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission — a long-range force that doesn’t just find those who harm civilians, but acts as well,” said Lt. Col. Will Meddings, the commanding officer of the deployment.

“Results like this come from patrolling huge distances, day and night, in places where ISGS (a term for Daesh in the Greater Sahara) feel they have the freedom to extort and murder, and proving to them that they cannot act with impunity.”