Philippines to begin vaccinating children against COVID-19 from October

Philippines to begin vaccinating children against COVID-19 from October
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has urged the public to get immunized, specifically Filipinos residing in areas with plentiful supplies of COVID-19 vaccine. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 29 September 2021

Philippines to begin vaccinating children against COVID-19 from October

Philippines to begin vaccinating children against COVID-19 from October
  • Health authorities to widen program to include 12-17 year olds, general public to reach herd immunity, government says

MANILA: The Philippines said on Tuesday it will expand its COVID-19 vaccination program to include the general public and children aged 12-17 years old for the first time from October to achieve herd immunity and gradually return to normal life.
The Southeast Asian nation of 110 million people has reported one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Asia since the pandemic began last year, prompting authorities to impose strict anti-virus measures in the worst-affected areas and relax curbs in other parts to spur economic activity.
Still, vaccination measures have been slow, with only 20.3 million or 26 percent fully vaccinated and 23.6 million receiving their first dose since March when the government launched its vaccination drive for five priority groups, including health workers, senior citizens, those with comorbidities, economic frontliners, and indigents.
"The good news is, the president has approved the vaccination of the general population beginning October," President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson, Harry Roque, said in a press briefing.
"We will also start inoculating children (between 12 to 17 years of age) ...in October. This has also been approved by the president," he added, urging parents to register their children for the vaccination.
Malacañang's announcement comes a day after Duterte threatened to invoke police power of the state on those who refused to get vaccinated.
In a recorded address aired on Monday night, Duterte implored the public to get immunised, specifically Filipinos residing in areas with ample COVID-19 vaccine shots.
“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,” he said.
Duterte further explained that once the Philippines had achieved herd immunity through mass immunization, it would be "safe to gradually ease restrictions."
“I now encourage you — those who have yet to receive the vaccines — to get inoculated...We are almost pleading down on our knees," he said.
The Philippines leader warned government employees to leave their office if they refuse vaccination, especially those at the frontline or tasked with interacting with people.
Citing a report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Duterte said that unvaccinated persons who got infected with COVID-19 are likely to get hospitalized with more severe or critical conditions compared to those who were already inoculated.
Meanwhile, Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL),  said on Tuesday that whether or not the president could implement police power to compel those who refuse to get vaccinated was a "tricky, debatable and complicated" matter.
"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," he told Arab News.
"Yet resort 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.
Olalia said the move also "glosses over the fact that all measures or responses of the government thus far have been confused and confusing."
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 October end.
Galvez added that economic centers such as Metro Manila, Baguio City, Cebu City, Iloilo City, and Davao City had surpassed the 50 percent vaccination targets in their areas.
Locals, for their part, elicited mixed reactions to the government's move.
One parent who asked not to be named, said "it would be better if vaccination against COVID-19 is compulsory but not coercive", just as it is in the case of other vaccines.
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. "Or if he really wants to do it, maybe he should start in his home city, Davao," San Diego told Arab News.
Others said individuals should be allowed to exercise their choices.
"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," Virginia Pasalo, a resident of Pangasinan province, said.
"These vaccines also lack clinical trials. I will wait for other medications to be available," she added.


Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery

Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery
Updated 5 sec ago

Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery

Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery
  • Level of coronavirus restrictions in Southeast Asia is the highest in the world
  • Intra-ASEAN travel typically accounts for around 40 percent of travel in the region and is key to reviving tourism in the region
KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged Southeast Asian countries to speed up plans to create a regional travel corridor to help revive tourism and speed up a recovery from the economic damage of the pandemic.
Citing UN and World Trade Organization data, Widodo said Monday that the level of restrictions in Southeast Asia was the highest in the world. With coronavirus cases in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations now declining, those limits should be eased to allow people to travel more freely, he said.
Speaking at a regional business forum Widodo urged immediate adoption of a regional travel corridor, a concept initiated by Indonesia in 2020, that would include faster immigration lanes, recognition of vaccine certificates and standardized health measures for departure and arrival, among other things.
“After 20 months of facing the daunting COVID-19 pandemic, we now see a light of hope. In the past week, COVID-19 cases in ASEAN fell by 14 percent, far exceeding the global average, which fell by 1 percent.,” he told the forum organized ahead of a three-day ASEAN leaders summit, which starts Tuesday.
“With the COVID-19 situation getting more under control, these restrictions could be eased, mobility could be relaxed, while also ensuring that it’s safe from the risk of the pandemic,” he said.
“If all ASEAN countries immediately facilitate the safe mobility of people, the wheels of economy shall soon run again,” he said.
Intra-ASEAN travel typically accounts for around 40 percent of travel in the region and is key to reviving tourism in the region.
Some countries, including Thailand, are cautiously moving to reopen to international tourism.
Indonesia re-opened its holiday resort island of Bali to foreign tourists this month after more than 80 percent of its population was fully vaccinated. Widodo said the government will gradually open up other areas in the country where vaccination rate exceeds 70 percent. Indonesia so far has fully vaccinated about a quarter of its people.
Widodo called for more equal distribution of vaccines to ensure that at least 70 percent of ASEAN’s more than 600 million people are inoculated. Vaccination is uneven in the region, with Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia moving the fastest with over 70 percent of their population inoculated and Myanmar at the bottom with less than 10 percent vaccinated.
Widodo said ASEAN, as the region with the fastest growth in Internet use in the world, should also expand its digital economy for future growth. The value of Indonesia’s digital economy value is expected to reach $124 billion in 2025 or equivalent to 40 percent of the total value of Southeast Asia’s digital economy, he said.
“Our rapid steps together in handling health challenges, reactivation of safe travels, as well as acceleration of a fair digital economy, will become our common gateway to recover and advance together,” he added.
ASEAN leaders will hold a three-day annual summit from Tuesday. Myanmar’s top general, whose forces seized power in February, was not invited after failing to take steps to end the deadly violence that followed the military takeover.

South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North

South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North
Updated 25 October 2021

South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North

South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North
  • Moon praised himself for paving the way for a peace process on the Korean Peninsula by holding three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea’s president said Monday he’ll keep striving to promote peace with North Korea through dialogue until the end of his term next May, after Pyongyang raised animosities with a resumption of provocative weapons tests.
While launching a spate of newly developed weapons in recent weeks, North Korea has also slammed Washington and Seoul over what it calls hostility toward the North. Its actions indicate North Korea wants its rivals to ease economic sanctions against it and accept it as a legitimate nuclear state, experts say.
In his final policy speech at parliament, President Moon Jae-in said he’ll “make efforts to the end to help a new order for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula be established through dialogue and diplomacy.”
Moon, a champion of greater reconciliation with North Korea, once shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to help facilitate now-stalled nuclear diplomacy between the two countries. Pyongyang turned a cold shoulder on Moon after its diplomacy with Washington broke down in early 2019 amid bickering over the sanctions.
Moon praised himself for paving the way for a peace process on the Korean Peninsula by holding three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and helping arrange the first-ever North Korea-US summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump in 2018.
But Moon acknowledged his push for peace through dialogue remains “incomplete.”
Moon’s single five-year term ends next May, and he’s barred by law from seeking reelection. The presidential candidate of Moon’s ruling liberal party has unveiled a similar North Korea policy as Moon’s. Surveys indicate a neck-and-neck race with a potential conservative candidate, who will likely take a harder line on the North.
Moon’s appeasement policy on North Korea has been divisive, with his supporters call him a peace-making mediator while his opponents accused him of helping North Korea find ways to weaken international pressure and perfect its weapons systems.
The North Korean weapons systems tested recently are mostly short- and medium-range weapons that place South Korea and Japan within their striking ranges. Last Tuesday, North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine in its most significant weapons test since President Joe Biden took office in January.
Some experts say North Korea may test a longer-range missile that could pose a direct threat to the American homeland to increase its pressure on Washington in coming weeks.
In part of his efforts to ease tensions, Moon has recently been pushing for a symbolic declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. When Moon meets Pope Francis at the Vatican this week during his European tour, they’ll discuss a possible North Korea trip by Francis as the pope has repeatedly expressed hopes to visit the North, according to Moon’s office.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday the government will make efforts to help realize Francis’ trip to North Korea if related talks have progress. Spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said a North Korea visit by the pope would make a big contribution to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak
Updated 25 October 2021

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak
  • China is giving booster shots to adults whose last dose was at least six months earlier, with priority groups including essential workers, older people and those with weaker immune systems

BEIJING: China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak is increasingly likely to spread further, a health official said on Sunday, as authorities urged all regions to step up monitoring and called for a reduction in travel across provinces.

China has largely contained the virus but it is determined to stamp out any sporadic local outbreaks, particularly in the run-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics in February.

More than 100 locally transmitted cases have been confirmed over the last week across 11 provincial areas, with most linked to 13 different tour groups.

There is increasing risk that the outbreak might spread further, helped by “seasonal factors,” said Mi Feng, spokesman at the National Health Commission.

The Delta variant causing the outbreak is also highly transmissible, said commission deputy director Wu Liangyou, adding that sequencing showed it to be different from the source of an earlier outbreak, and suggesting that the new cases came from a new source from abroad.

Authorities have banned travel agencies from arranging cross-provincial tours that involve regions deemed of higher virus risk, and has imposed nationwide suspension on some travel services linking multiple tourist attractions.

The capital Beijing has said it will impose strict restriction on travels to the city by people who have been to counties with at least one infection.

Health authorities also said on Sunday that about 75.6 percent of China’s population had received complete vaccine doses as of Oct. 23, or some 1.068 billion people.

China is giving booster shots to adults whose last dose was at least six months earlier, with priority groups including essential workers, older people and those with weaker immune systems.

Data showed antibodies elicited by vaccines, including the most-used shots from Sinovac and Sinopharm, declined within months.

Wang Huaqing, chief expert for the immunization program at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said China would not keep giving people booster shots indefinitely.

“Even if it needs to be strengthened later, the number of boosters is limited,” Wang told the briefing.

“We hope in the future there will be better vaccines and better vaccination procedures to achieve solid protection among the public.”


COVID-19 cases recorded in eastern Europe hit 20 million

COVID-19 cases recorded in eastern Europe hit 20 million
Updated 25 October 2021

COVID-19 cases recorded in eastern Europe hit 20 million

COVID-19 cases recorded in eastern Europe hit 20 million
  • Three of the top five countries reporting the most deaths in the world are in eastern Europe — Russia, Ukraine and Romania

LONDON: The number of coronavirus infections recorded so far in eastern Europe surpassed 20 million on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally, as the region grapples with its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and inoculation efforts lag.

Countries in the region have the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, with less than half of the population having received a single dose.

Hungary tops the region’s vaccination rates with 62 percent of its population having gotten at least one shot, whereas Ukraine has given just 19 percent of its residents a single dose, according to Our World in Data.

New infections in the region have steadily risen and now average over 83,700 new cases per day, the highest level since November last year, Reuters data through Friday showed.

Although it has just 4 percent of the world’s population, eastern Europe accounts for roughly 20 percent of all new cases reported globally.

According to a Reuters analysis, three of the top five countries reporting the most deaths in the world are in eastern Europe — Russia, Ukraine and Romania.

More social gathering indoors after the lifting of restrictions just as winter sets in is driving a rise in COVID-19 infections in many countries across Europe, the World Health Organization’s emergency director Mike Ryan said on Thursday.

As the wave of infections intensifies, many people in eastern Europe are torn between defiance and regret over not getting vaccinated.

Hundreds have protested in Sofia and other cities against mandatory certificates that came into force on Thursday, limiting access to many indoor public spaces to those who have been vaccinated.

A European Commission poll, the Eurobarometer, has shown that at least one person in three in most countries in the European Union’s east does not trust the health care system, compared to a bloc average of 18 percent.

More than 40 percent of all new cases reported in eastern Europe were in Russia, with 120 people testing positive every five minutes, according to a Reuters analysis. The country’s health care system is operating under great strain, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Wednesday.

The nation on Friday reported record COVID fatalities for the fourth straight day.

So far, Russia has vaccinated about 36 percent of its population with one vaccine shot.

Moscow, the country’s most populous city and capital, will next week shutdown all businesses except essential stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies to stem the spread of the disease.

Slovakia reported 3,480 new COVID-19 cases on Oct. 19, its highest daily tally since March, health ministry data showed Wednesday. The country has one of the lower vaccination rates in the EU, with just over half the adult population fully inoculated in the country of 5.5 million. This has contributed to a faster rise in infections than in some neighboring countries.

In Romania, hospitals are stretched to breaking point, with emergency beds fully occupied across the country.

Morgues were also running at full capacity. The country reported record numbers of daily coronavirus fatalities and infections on Tuesday.

The virus was killing one person every five minutes on average this month in a country where the inoculation rate is low.

Ukraine registered a record daily high of new coronavirus infections and related deaths for the second consecutive day on Friday.

It also extended a state of emergency that allows authorities to impose curbs until year-end to rein in infections.


Myanmar activist arrested in junta raid: Wife

Myanmar activist arrested in junta raid: Wife
Updated 25 October 2021

Myanmar activist arrested in junta raid: Wife

Myanmar activist arrested in junta raid: Wife
  • 52-year-old Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, was arrested when soldiers raided a housing complex in the North Dagon township of Yangon

BANGKOK: An activist who rose to prominence during Myanmar’s 1988 student uprising has been arrested in an overnight raid, his wife said Sunday, the latest blow to the anti-junta movement as the military cracks down on dissent.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the generals ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February coup, triggering nationwide protests that have seen more than 1,100 people killed by security forces.

Junta opponents — including allies of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party and activists — have gone into hiding across the country, while some villagers have taken up arms, forming local militias to defend themselves.

On Saturday evening, 52-year-old Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, was arrested when soldiers raided a housing complex in the North Dagon township of Yangon.

“He was staying in a safe house together with two other activists who escaped from the back door,” his wife Nilar Thein said, adding that police had not informed her of his whereabouts.

Nilar Thein and Ko Jimmy are part of the so-called 88 Generation movement that challenged Myanmar’s previous military government.

They also played a major role in anti-government protests in 2007 — nicknamed the “Saffron Revolution” for the participation of orange-robed monks.

The couple have been in and out of prison for their activism.

Ko Jimmy’s last stint behind bars was from 2007 to 2012. He was released as the generals loosened their grip to start opening up Myanmar in preparation for 2015 elections.

After the February 1 putsch this year, the junta issued an arrest warrant for him alleging that he had incited unrest with his social media posts. Another 88 Generation member, Ko Ko Gyi, confirmed Ko Jimmy’s arrest, expressing worry for him and his family.

While the couple are intimately aware of the risks of activism in Myanmar, Nilar Thein said the situation is “riskier” under the current regime, which has dubbed itself the State Administration Council.

“I am afraid that I won’t see him alive” again, she said, adding that she was afraid to go to the police for fear of her own arrest.

“I urge the international community to keep their eyes (on the situation) to save the lives of Myanmar people.” Groups including the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners — which tracks arrests under the regime — have alleged that torture has taken place during the interrogation of dissidents.

The UN special rapporteur on Myanmar on Saturday raised alarm about troops amassing in the country’s north, warning the international community to be prepared for “more mass atrocity crimes.”