Singapore to open vaccinated travel lanes with Indonesia, Middle East

Singapore to open vaccinated travel lanes with Indonesia, Middle East
Undated file photo shows Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, left, with Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi. (MFA, Singapore)
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Updated 17 November 2021

Singapore to open vaccinated travel lanes with Indonesia, Middle East

Singapore to open vaccinated travel lanes with Indonesia, Middle East
  • Singapore will launch travelers on a point-to-point basis for Indonesians on Nov. 29
  • Vaccinated travel lane will start with two daily designated flights between Singapore and Jakarta and will progressively increase to four

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met her Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan in the island state on Tuesday to hold talks on the opening of a travel lane between the two neighboring Southeast Asian countries.

The meeting follows Singapore’s announcement on Monday that it will extend its vaccinated travel lane scheme with Indonesia, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE.  

The Foreign Mnistry said in a statement that Indonesia and Singapore have agreed to discuss arrangements for the vaccinated travel lane based on reciprocity and to work out further details on the unilateral vaccinated travel lane that Singapore will launch on Nov. 29 for Indonesian travelers on a point-to-point basis between Jakarta and Singapore.

“Singapore’s foreign minister conveyed that the unilateral vaccinated travel lane that Singapore applies [to Indonesia] is based on trust, improved COVID-19 situation in Indonesia, and high vaccination rate,” Marsudi said in the statement issued after their meeting.

The two foreign ministers also held talks on establishing a safe travel bubble between Singapore and Indonesia’s resort island of Bintan, which is only about an hour away from Singapore by ferry ride.

On Monday, Singapore’s Transport Minister S. Iswaran said during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) multi-ministry task force press conference that in pre-pandemic time, Indonesia was among the top five markets for passenger arrivals at its Changi Airport and made up about 10 percent in 2019 as both countries have close people-to-people ties and Singapore is among the top foreign investors in Indonesia.

The vaccinated travel lane will start with two daily designated flights between Singapore and Jakarta and will progressively increase to four.

Indonesia reopened its borders on Oct. 14 for tourists from 19 countries, excluding Singapore, to arrive at Bali International Airport, but a month since the official reopening, no international flights have landed yet on the resort island.

“We hope that Indonesia will likewise soon reopen its borders to travelers from Singapore,” Iswaran said.

He added that in addition to Indonesia, Singapore also plans to launch vaccinated travel lanes with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE starting Dec. 6 and with India on Nov. 29, citing Singapore’s strong bilateral and economic links with the Middle Eastern countries. More than 400 Singaporean companies set up their base in the UAE, while Singapore hosts a significant presence of Middle Eastern companies that often establish their southeast Asian headquarters in the country.

“It is essential that we re-establish our connectivity with the Middle East,” Iswaran said, adding that extending Singapore’s vaccinated travel lane schemes to the three Gulf countries will restore two-way movement between these countries without requiring travelers to quarantine upon arrival.

Fully vaccinated travelers from Singapore can already enter both the UAE and Saudi Arabia without quarantine, while Qatar requires travelers to self-isolate until they obtain a negative on-arrival PCR result.

“Collectively, we aim to have three to four daily vaccinated travel lane flights with these countries,” Iswaran said.

Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE are listed among Singapore’s Category 2 countries, out of its Health Ministry’s four-tiered health measure framework, with Category 1 — comprising Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China and Taiwan — being the safest.

Travelers from countries included in the vaccinated travel lane will not be required to quarantine on arrival but will have to show a negative PCR test result taken within two days prior to departure and take another test upon arrival.

Travelers from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE can start applying for the vaccinated travel pass for short-term and long-term visits on Nov. 29.


Pakistani wildlife team cradles green turtles babies from beach to sea

Pakistani wildlife team cradles green turtles babies from beach to sea
Updated 12 sec ago

Pakistani wildlife team cradles green turtles babies from beach to sea

Pakistani wildlife team cradles green turtles babies from beach to sea
  • Green turtles seen on Karachi beaches jumped to 15,000 last year from 8,000-8,500 in 2019, Sindh Wildlife says

KARACHI: A female turtle lumbers across the beach in Pakistan's bustling port city of Karachi late at night, looking for a place to lay her eggs.
Waiting for her, staff from Sindh Wildlife watch quietly as the green turtle buries a hundred or more eggs in the sand before heading back out into the Arabian Sea.
Because of to COVID-19 and movement restrictions, beaches around the world have more sparsely inhabited by humans since last year. Sea turtles have taken the opportunity to return to their birthplaces in large numbers, reclaiming the now less-polluted, serene beaches to lay their eggs during the main September-November breeding season.
Green turtles seen on Karachi beaches jumped to 15,000 last year from 8,000-8,500 in 2019, Sindh Wildlife says. Lockdowns ended by the start of this year's season, but conservation experts still expect a large number of the endangered animals to visit.
Among the largest sea turtles and the only herbivores, adult green turtles can weigh more than 90 kg (200 pounds).
They nest in more than 80 countries and live in tropical and subtropical coastal areas of more than 140. Conservation group Sea Turtle Conservancy says there are 85,000 to 90,000 nesting females worldwide.
The weather in Karachi can be conducive to egg-laying as late as January, and wildlife officials will keep up their vigil until then.
"The turtles have still had an ample egg-laying opportunity during this period. In this season, too, we have had a large number of turtles coming here. The result is that within a period of three months, we have nested around 6,000 eggs so far," said Ashfaq Ali Memon, who is in charge of Sindh Wildlife's Marine Turtle Unit.
As soon as the mother turtle leaves, staff hurry to dig out the eggs and move them to a three-foot (1-metre) deep pit in a hatchery until the babies hatch, 40-45 days later. The hatchlings are taken to the beach immediately and released into the sea.
The Sindh turtle unit has released 860,000 turtle babies into the Arabian Sea since being set up in 1970. Memon said 900 have been released so far this season.
Conservationists say that in the past, sea turtle populations were threatened by demand for their fat, meat and eggs, but in recent years loss of habitat due to pollution and land reclamation have also taken their toll.


Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine
Updated 35 min 29 sec ago

Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday voiced hope for a quick approval of the country’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine by the World Health Organization, saying the move is essential to expand its global supplies.
Speaking during a video call with Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Putin said receiving the WHO’s vetting is necessary to spread the Russian vaccine more broadly around the world, including free supplies.
“We intend to expand such assistance,” Putin said.
The Russian leader also argued that WHO’s approval should open the door for Russians and others who have had the Sputnik V vaccine to travel more freely around the world. He said about 200 million people worldwide have received Sputnik V.
Putin was vaccinated with Sputnik V in the spring, and last month he received a booster shot of Sputnik Light, the one-dose version. He also said he took an experimental nasal version of Sputnik V days after receiving his booster shot, adding that he was feeling fine and felt no side effects.
The Gamaleya Institute that developed Sputnik V has said the vaccine should be efficient against the omicron variant of COVID-19, but announced that it will immediately start working on adapting it to counter the new variant.
Russia was the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine, launching Sputnik V in August 2020, and has plentiful supplies. But uptake has been slow, blamed in part on conflicting signals from Russian authorities.
Russia in recent months has faced its deadliest and largest surge of coronavirus cases, with infections and deaths climbing to all-time highs and only slowing in the last few weeks. Russia has Europe’s highest confirmed pandemic death toll at over 281,000, according to the government’s coronavirus task force. But a report released Friday by the state statistics agency Rosstat, which uses broader criteria, put the the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 to over 537,000 — almost twice the official toll.
Putin, who despite a surge in infections in Russia has repeatedly argued that vaccinations should remain voluntary, emphasized Sunday that Russian authorities have been tried to use “persuasion and not pressure” and worked to dispel “prejudices and myths driving the aversion to vaccination.”
Russia’s quick approval of Sputnik V drew criticism abroad, because at the time it had only been tested on a few dozen people. But a study published in British medical journal The Lancet in February showed the Sputnik V is 91 percent effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
Russia has actively promoted Sputnik V around the world but faced bottlenecks in shipping the amounts it promised. Countries in Latin America have complained about delays in getting the second Sputnik V shot.
The World Health Organization has been reviewing data about Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as part of the approval process. Such approval could pave the way for its inclusion into the COVAX program that is shipping COVID-19 vaccines to scores of countries around the world based on need.


In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival
Updated 06 December 2021

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

KHAPLU GILGIT, Pakistan: When autumn arrives in the Khaplu Valley with its foliage of vibrant reds, yellows and copper browns, families welcome it as a “blessing” — not for the colorful spectacle but for the fuel the falling leaves will serve as when burnt come winter, helping locals survive the harsh weather in Pakistan’s mountainous north.

The valley in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan, surrounded by some of Pakistan’s highest peaks and glaciers, is home to over 24,000 people who remain largely cut off from the rest of the country in the winter months, when temperatures can fall below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

In the absence of reliable gas or electricity sources, residents have had to find alternative means of heating their homes. One option is burning the colorful leaves that fall in autumn, which locals call “gold” and diligently collect between late November and early December to use as burning fuel in the winter ahead.

“We don’t waste dried leaves because they are the main source of heating for us,” Mohammed Jaffar, a 68-year-old resident of Garbong village, told Arab News.

Jaffar, a member of the village’s welfare committee, which is responsible for leaf collection and distribution, said the dried leaves were “the biggest blessing.”

FASTFACTS

•Villagers collect dry leaves between late November and early December to use as fuel during freezing winters.

•In the absence of reliable gas or electricity sources, people have found alternative means to heat their homes. 

The collection and distribution of dried leaves among Garbong’s 130 households take almost a week. Each household nominates a woman representative and does not receive leaves if it fails to do so. The same practice is observed in all other villages in Khaplu valley.

Mohammed Ali, who summons residents using a mosque loudspeaker every morning during the week to collect their share of leaves from the nearby Stronpi village, said leaf collection rules and exact dates were established years ago to avoid conflict.

“Fifteen years ago, women would fight each other for dried leaves,” he said. “Now, the committee monitors all the affairs of the village, from the mosque to working in the fields and personal disputes as well as dried leaf collection.”

Once distributed among village households, the leaves are burnt in the open air. When they stop giving off smoke, they are brought into the kitchen in a metal pot, placed under a special square table and covered with a blanket or quilt.

“Family members nestle around the table with the burnt leaves placed under it,” Stronpi resident Sajid Ali said.

Fatima, a village elder who only gave her first name, said there was a special room in her basement to store the leaves during winter. 

“Without dried leaves, how could we spend the winter days?” she said. “It’s only seasonal dried leaves, but for us, it is like gold.”


India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland
Updated 06 December 2021

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland
  • Assam Rifles patrol opened fire on group of miners returning home after work

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Sunday ordered a special investigation into the killing of at least 14 civilians by paramilitary forces who mistook them for insurgents in the northeastern
state of Nagaland bordering Myanmar.

The Indian army has been battling separatist militants in Nagaland for years.

On Saturday night, an Assam Rifles patrol in Oting village, Mon district, opened fire on a group of miners returning home after work, killing six. Local police told reporters eight more civilians and a soldier died when angry villagers confronted troops.

The army said in a statement on Sunday it acted “based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents” and that it “deeply regretted” the incident.

The central and local government immediately ordered a probe.

BACKGROUND

Local media reported that telephone and internet services have been suspended in Mon district as the incident has fueled anger among members of the Konyak tribe, which constitutes a majority in the region.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said in a tweet that a “high-level” special investigation team “will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families.”

The Nagaland chief minister appealed for calm and tweeted that justice will be “delivered as per the law of the land.”

Local media reported that telephone and internet services have been suspended in Mon district as the incident has fueled anger among members of the Konyak tribe, which constitutes a majority in the region.

“I spoke to my relatives in Mon. There is tension in the area and people are angry about the incident,” Langphong Konyak, a civil society leader based in Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland, told Arab News.

“The people killed are miners working in a coal mine,” he said. “Locals confirm that 14 people were killed in the army firing, with seven injured. You cannot solve the Naga problem by killing innocent people.”

There are dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote, predominantly tribal northeast. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the main nationalist separatist group in Nagaland, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government in 1997.

But its splinter group, formed under the late Burmese insurgent leader Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, remains active in Mon district, aiming to establish a sovereign state out of all Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar and India.


Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance
Updated 06 December 2021

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military this week regained control of territory previously claimed by Tigrayan rebels, a potential validation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to join soldiers in conflict-hit areas.

Yet how the government scored its wins and what they mean for an eventual outcome in the year-old war remain points of fierce debate as fighting enters a new, uncertain phase.

Just a month ago, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebel group appeared to be on the offensive, claiming to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha, towns on a key highway headed toward the capital Addis Ababa.

They reportedly reached as far as Shewa Robit, around 220 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.

But after Abiy announced last week he would lead operations in the field, the government announced a string of victories and the rebels acknowledged making adjustments to their strategy.

State media has responded with triumphalist wall-to-wall coverage.

“The enemy is destroyed, disintegrated,” the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Abiy as saying Thursday.

There’s little doubt the government can claim to have the “upper hand” in specific areas, said Awet Weldemichael, a Horn of Africa security expert at Queen’s University in Canada.

“Only time will tell if these can be translated into [the] upper hand in the war,” he said.

The war in northern Ethiopia broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Though Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, promised a quick victory, by late June the TPLF had retaken most of Tigray, and it soon launched offensives into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions.

The rebels’ march toward Addis sparked international panic, with a host of embassies urging their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

All the while, though, the exact nature of the TPLF advance was in dispute.

“I don’t know whether we should call it an advance,” one Western security official told AFP in mid-November.

“There’s not a huge column of tanks and armored vehicles driving down the road toward Addis. It’s more complex than that. There are foot soldiers going into the mountains, they shoot and surround certain areas” but do not seem to fully control cities and towns, the official said.

The TPLF also never explicitly said it wanted to enter Addis Ababa, instead simply declining to rule out such a move.

The latest battlefield shifts unfolded swiftly.

The government first claimed towns in Afar, near a critical highway bringing goods to Addis Ababa, then on Wednesday it declared victory in Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site that fell to the TPLF in August.

On Friday state media announced that towns on the road heading north toward Dessie and Kombolcha had been “liberated.”

The news could be a sign that government forces, as well as many thousands of new recruits who have enlisted in recent months, have more fight than they’ve gotten credit for.

“I was quite surprised by the latest counteroffensive by the government,” said Mehdi Labzae, a sociologist who studies land issues and mobilization in Ethiopia.

“I have seen all the people who were mobilized ... but the thing is I thought they were not trained and I thought they would just be destroyed.”

The African Union is trying to broker a cease-fire to avert further bloodshed, though there has been little progress so far.

The TPLF insists it will have the advantage in whatever fighting is to come.

“In battle, it’s known there will be adjustments and limited retreat as well as significant moves forward,” TPLF military boss Tadesse Worede said in an interview that aired Friday.

“We decided that to reduce problems and vulnerabilities in some areas we had reached, to leave some of those places voluntarily.”

For Labzae, such statements recall the government’s announcement that it was withdrawing from most of Tigray in late June — a claim that elided military setbacks even as TPLF fighters celebrated in the streets of the regional capital Mekele.

“They were so close [to Addis]. Why would they turn back now?” Labzae said of the TPLF.

“It means there was something worrying them or something that did not look good for them.”

One possibility, said Awet of Queen’s University, is that the government’s superior air power has turned the tide — at least for now.

“Drones are claimed to have played a decisive role in active combat, the full extent of which we are yet to find out,” he said.

“But so far, it appears like they have helped halt Tigrayan counterattacks and advances.”