Bangladesh sends hundreds more Rohingya refugees to island

Bangladesh sends hundreds more Rohingya refugees to island
The UN signed an agreement with Bangladesh’s government in October to facilitate sending Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char Island off the Bay of Bengal. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2021

Bangladesh sends hundreds more Rohingya refugees to island

Bangladesh sends hundreds more Rohingya refugees to island
  • The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group, over 700,000 of whom fled persecution and violence in neighboring Myanmar in August 2017

DHAKA: Bangladesh on Thursday began relocating hundreds of Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal, despite ongoing concerns from rights groups over the conditions on the vulnerable low-lying island and that no refugees should be sent forcibly.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group, over 700,000 of whom fled persecution and violence in neighboring Myanmar in August 2017. Bangladesh has been sheltering 1.1 million of the refugees in crowded camps near its coast.
A UN-sponsored investigation in 2018 recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the violence against the Rohingya.
A senior Bangladeshi official overseeing the relocation, Mohammad Shamsud Douza, said that a navy ship would take 379 refugees from Chattogram city to the Bhashan Char Island which lies off the country’s southeastern coast.
“They are going there voluntarily. All the 379 refugees have chosen to live there for a better and secure life,” he said.
“Authorities will take care of everything— from food to medicine,” he added.
The government began sending Rohingya refugees to the island eleven months ago, and says it can now accommodate up to 100,000.
Douza said a total of 1,500 refugees would be transported to the island in phases over the next few weeks. Previously, about 19,000 refugees were relocated to the island from Cox’s Bazar where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live in crowded camps.
It was not clear when the next batch will travel to the island.
The government says the relocation is a temporary arrangement and eventually they will have to return to their home country in Myanmar, although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also said she will not force the refugees to return.
In October, the UN signed an agreement with Bangladesh’s government to facilitate sending refugees to the island. The UN and other groups had earlier criticized the relocation, saying the island, which is regularly submerged by monsoon rains, was not fit for habitation. The government has spent more than $112 million on development, adding sea walls, hospitals, schools and mosques.
The UN agreement allows for close cooperation between the international body and the government to supply services and aid for the island’s residents.
Rights groups, however, have continued to express concerns over the plans. This week, the International Federation of Red Cross urged in a statement that urgent action was needed to protect the refugees from cyclones and the COVID-19 pandemic on Bhashan Char Island. It said Bangladesh’s Red Crescent has been working directly with the refugees so that lifesaving measures are in place ahead of the next big cyclone, as big storms regularly threaten the Bay of Bengal from September until December.
It said vaccinations have been underway for people aged over 55 on the island, and more doses are due for the remaining adults.
The Rohingya are not recognized as citizens in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, rendering them stateless, and face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination and violence.


No bilateral nuclear talks with US, says Iran

No bilateral nuclear talks with US, says Iran
Updated 6 sec ago

No bilateral nuclear talks with US, says Iran

No bilateral nuclear talks with US, says Iran

 

DUBAI: Iran will not hold bilateral talks with the U.S. delegation during the nuclear talks in Vienna, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday at a news conference.


Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry
Updated 29 November 2021

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry
  • Manila announced plans last week to allow fully vaccinated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1
  • The decision is a major blow to tourism operators across the archipelago nation

MANILA: The Philippines has temporarily suspended a decision to allow fully vaccinated tourists entry in a bid to prevent a new, heavily mutated coronavirus variant taking off in the country where most of the population remains unvaccinated.
It comes as the Southeast Asian nation on Monday launched a three-day vaccination drive targeting nine million people as young as 12 in an effort to accelerate the roll-out of jabs.
So far, the country has not reported any cases of the omicron strain, which was first detected in South Africa and has since spread around the globe.
Manila announced plans last week to allow fully vaccinated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1 as it seeks to revive the nation’s battered economy.
But the government’s COVID-19 task force reversed course over the weekend as it announced the suspension of flights from seven European countries, in addition to an earlier ban on arrivals from several African nations.
“The IATF deemed it necessary to suspend the entry of foreign tourists, given worldwide concerns over the omicron variant,” Bureau of Immigration commissioner Jaime Morente said Monday, using the acronym for the task force.
The decision is a major blow to tourism operators across the archipelago nation, which have been devastated by a plunge in international visitors and restrictions on domestic travel since borders shut in March 2020.
Tourism is a major driver of the country’s economy, accounting for nearly 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2019, when more than eight million people visited, official data shows.
That slumped to 5.4 percent last year as tourist arrivals plummeted 82 percent to 1.48 million.
The government has eased virus restrictions in recent weeks as the daily infection rate hovers at the lowest level since the beginning of the year and the nationwide vaccination rate increases.
But the emergence of omicron has raised fears curbs could be reimposed.
Around one-third of the country’s 110 million people are fully vaccinated.
The Philippines has recorded more than 2.8 million infections since the start of the pandemic, including over 48,000 deaths.


Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant
Updated 29 November 2021

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant
  • South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant

CANBERRA: Australian authorities announced on Monday a third case of the omicron COVID-19 variant as government leaders reconsidered plans to relax border restrictions this week.
A South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant at Australia’s most secure quarantine facility at Howard Springs, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.
New South Wales state authorities reported on Sunday that two travelers from South Africa to Sydney had become Australia’s first omicron cases. Both were fully vaccinated, showed no symptoms and were in quarantine in Sydney.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said Monday there could be a third omicron case in Australia’s most populous state.
In the 24 hours since Sunday, 141 passengers on five flights arrived from the nine countries affected by the omicron variant, officials said. All the travelers were in quarantine.
Senior federal government ministers are meeting Monday to consider the national response, including whether to alter plans to relax border restrictions starting Wednesday.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian authorities “will not hesitate to take additional steps if the medical evidence is that more” action is required.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that starting Wednesday, vaccinated students, skilled workers and travelers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without quarantining.
Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea with certain Australian visas would also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas, the government said last week.
Morrison on Monday urged a calm response to omicron, which the World Health Organization has designated a variant of concern.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that this leads to any more severe disease. If anything, it’s suggesting a lesser form of disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated,” Morrison told Nine Network television.
“Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It’s about whether people are getting a worse illness or it’s going to put stress on your hospital system,” Morrison said.
New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, as well as the national capital Canberra have introduced a blanket 72-hour quarantine requirement for all international arrivals.
Hunt announced on Saturday that because of the concerns about omicron, non-Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
Australians will be allowed in but must quarantine for 14 days.


New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat
Updated 29 November 2021

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat
  • New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world
  • New Zealand has had about 11,000 cases so far and 43 related deaths

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the country will move into a system of living with the COVID-19 virus later this week despite the new omicron variant posing a fresh health threat to the world.
There were no cases of the omicron variant in New Zealand at this stage but the developing global situation showed why a cautious approach was needed at the borders, she said.
“omicron is a reminder of the risk that still exists at our borders,” Ardern said at the news conference.
New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world and plans to keep borders closed to most international travelers for a further five months.
It also introduced fresh border measures for travelers from nine southern African nation on the weekend, announcing that only citizens from these countries can travel to New Zealand and will have to stay in state quarantine for 14 days.
Ardern said a lot of evidence still needed to be gathered to know the impact of the omicron variant.
“It may impact on our vaccines, but it may not. It may be more severe or it may be more mild than Delta ... we simply dont know,” Ardern said.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said authorities were looking at whether more needed to be done at the borders to keep omicron away.
“It’s really just looking to keep it (omicron) out while we learn more about it,” Bloomfield told reporters at the news conference.
New Zealand moves into a new “traffic light” system from Friday that rates regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates. Auckland, the epicenter of the country’s Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings at public places.
New Zealand has had about 11,000 cases so far and 43 related deaths.


Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days
Updated 29 November 2021

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days
  • Immunization campaign was scaled back from an earlier target of 15 million shots
  • The Philippines has faced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: The Philippines launched on Monday an ambitious drive to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 over three days, deploying security forces and using tens of thousands of volunteers to help administer the program.
The immunization campaign was scaled back from an earlier target of 15 million shots, but would still be a record in a country where vaccine hesitancy remains an obstacle and there are logistical hurdles to reach people in the sprawling archipelago.
Three million vaccinations per day is nearly four times the average of 829,000 daily shots in November. An official said news of the omicron variant made the campaign even more vital.
“It is better to be prepared for the effects of omicron,” Carlito Galvez, the country’s vaccination chief, told CNN Philippines on Monday.
The spread of the omicron variant, which the World Health Organization has described as a “variant of concern,” has sparked global travel restrictions and rattled financial markets.
The Philippines has faced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia and has been slower than many of its neighbors in immunizing its people. About 35.6 million people have been fully vaccinated, or a third of its 110 million population.
The country aims to immunize 54 million people by the end of 2021 and 77 million by next March.
New infections have fallen sharply to an average of 1,679 a day in November from a peak of 18,579 average daily cases in September, paving the way for a wider economic reopening.
Vaccination rates have remained uneven, with 93 percent of the capital region’s residents fully inoculated as of mid-November compared with 10.9 percent of the predominantly Muslim regions in the southern Philippines, government data show.
The government has said it would deploy 160,000 volunteers in 11,000 vaccination sites nationwide for the three-day campaign.