Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

Motorists queue up to cross a bridge as they head to their home villages to celebrate the Eid holidays, in Indonesia’ Surabaya province on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 13 May 2021

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

  • Some defy safety rules to celebrate end of Ramadan with families despite spike in virus cases

JAKARTA: Indonesians are preparing for a second successive year of muted Eid celebrations after the government rolled out new travel restrictions aimed at combating a spike in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.

The Southeast Asian nation has witnessed a steady rise in virus infection rates over the Ramadan holiday season and on May 6 imposed a 12-day nationwide travel ban in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

However, Jakarta police said on Tuesday that an estimated 1.5 million people had still left the capital city by car to travel to their hometowns throughout Indonesia’s main island of Java, although the exodus was in stark contrast to the usual 8 million in pre-pandemic years.

The country’s transport ministry said almost 138,000 vehicles had driven out of Jakarta each day since the start of the travel ban.

Those staying in the capital were on Tuesday rocked when regional governments in Jakarta and its satellite cities made a joint last-minute announcement restricting people from traveling within the urban areas during the Eid holidays starting Wednesday.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan ordered shopping centers, restaurants, public places, entertainment venues, and even cemeteries, to close down until Sunday to prevent public gatherings during the holidays.

Indonesians also celebrate Eid by paying respects to deceased family members by praying at their graves.

Police set up checkpoints to monitor people traveling in and out of Jakarta to its suburban areas, which administratively are under neighboring West Java and Banten provinces.

The move has left Jakarta residents faced with the prospect of being unable to celebrate Eid with family members often only a 30 to 60-minute drive away.

“The government realizes that the Eid travel ban is not perfect in its implementation, but we still carry out the policy in accordance with the regulations,” national COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito told a press briefing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there were reports of some travelers going the extra mile to meet relatives in defiance of the ban.

On the first day of the travel restrictions, police discovered a group of people hiding under vegetables in a truck during an inspection at Cikampek toll road, which connects Jakarta to cities across Java.

Others took the less-traveled routes, known as the rat road, to get to their destination despite the journey taking more time.

By the third day of the ban, police said at least 70,000 vehicles had been turned back from 318 checkpoints throughout the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali.

Aang Surmana, who works as a garbage collector in South Jakarta, told Arab News that he managed to reach his hometown in Tegal, Central Java, on Wednesday afternoon, after traveling on a motorcycle with his son for eight hours, as opposed to the regular travel time of six hours.

“I dodged the checkpoints by taking detours on village roads, and I tried to blend in like locals by traveling light, with just a small bag, so we didn’t look like we were traveling long distance with big bags,” he said.

Java, Indonesia’s most populated island where about half of its 270 million people live, has been contributing about 60 to 70 percent to the national COVID-19 caseload, with authorities saying people traveling out of the island to less-infected regions could lead to a surge in local infections.

Adisasmito said: “COVID-19 is not just Java’s problem. There could be a surge in cases in regions out of Java, even in less crowded and populated areas. If we don’t anticipate it, you could bring COVID-19 to your hometowns even though there were no cases there previously.”

On Wednesday, Indonesia reported 4,608 new infections, registering an average of 5,000 cases daily in recent weeks.

On Monday, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that three new variants of COVID-19 – from the UK, South Africa, and India – had been detected and were a cause for concern.

Nadia Yovani, a sociologist at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the rationale of COVID-19 prevention measures of avoiding mass gatherings defied the norms that Indonesians ascribed to festivities with their extended family members during the Eid holiday.

“Despite the hassles in the travel, people still travel to celebrate Eid, pandemic or not. It is part of their struggles to fulfill their spiritual needs to conclude Ramadan by celebrating it with their families,” she said.

“In pandemic times, authorities and spiritual leaders should introduce a new perspective on how to celebrate Eid with a different format than the usual one,” she added.


1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

Updated 18 June 2021

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

  • Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes

SURPRISE, Arizona: One person was killed and 12 others injured in reported drive-by shootings over a 90-minute span Thursday in three cities west of Phoenix, authorities said.
A suspect was in custody, and authorities said a weapon was found in his vehicle. But it remained unclear if the man was responsible for all of the shootings.
The suspect’s name wasn’t immediately released. Authorities believe he acted alone, although a motive wasn’t immediately known.
“We don’t know the nexus, we don’t know what the motive was, we don’t have an idea of what this person was thinking when he went out and did this,” Peoria police spokesman Brandon Sheffert said at a news conference. “Obviously we want to figure this out because there’s a lot of scared people and people this affected.”
Police departments in Peoria, Surprise and Glendale were investigating the shootings in their cities, along with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes, Sheffert said.
Four people suffered gunshot wounds, and one of those victims died, he said. That person was found dead in a vehicle along a Peoria freeway.
The other victims had a range of injuries such as shrapnel from broken glass or injuries related to a car crash, Sheffert said.
Officials at Banner Health said they received nine patients at three of their hospitals. But the extent of the victims’ injuries and their conditions were not immediately released.
Peoria police got the initial call about a shooting shortly after 11 a.m., and eight more incidents were reported in the following 90 minutes, Sheffert said.
Witnesses provided authorities with a description of the getaway vehicle, and the suspect was detained after a traffic stop in Surprise.


Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Updated 18 June 2021

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

FASTFACT

Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”


Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

Updated 17 June 2021

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

  • The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi
  • Inquiry heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the show’s end

LONDON: Security teams at Britain’s Manchester Arena “should have prevented or minimized” the impact of the 2017 terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people, a public inquiry found Thursday.
The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a Mancunian of Libyan descent.
In a report examining security measures at the venue in northwest England, inquiry chairman John Saunders said Arena operator SMG, security provider Showsec and British Transport Police all missed opportunities to either prevent or mitigate the attack, which took place on May 22, 2017.
“The security arrangements for the Manchester Arena should have prevented or minimized the devastating impact of the attack,” he wrote.
“Salman Abedi should have been identified on 22nd May 2017 as a threat by those responsible for the security of Arena and a disruptive intervention undertaken.
“Had that occurred, I consider it likely that Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device, but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less,” he added.
The inquiry had heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the end of the show, where the bomb was detonated, but nobody was there.
A Showsec security guard also told the inquiry that he had a “bad feeling” when he saw Abedi around five minutes before the attack, but did not approach him for fear of being called a racist.
“I felt unsure about what to do,” said Kyle Lawler, who was aged 18 at the time of the attack.
“I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race.”
Lawler said he had tried to radio the control room, but that he gave up as he could not get through due to radio traffic.
A member of the public had reported Abedi, who was dressed in black and carrying a large rucksack, to security 15 minutes before he detonated the bomb, packed with 3,000 nuts and bolts.
Abedi’s brother was last year jailed for life for playing an “integral part” in the attack, that also injured hundreds.
The Daesh group-inspired suicide bombing targeted crowds of mostly young people.
The youngest victim was aged just eight. Others included parents who had come to pick up their children.

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Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

Updated 17 June 2021

Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

  • Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles
  • To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s minority government could be toppled next week after a group of four parties in parliament announced Thursday they would back a no confidence vote, potentially triggering a snap election.

The far-right Sweden Democrats party announced it was calling for a motion of no confidence for Monday after the Left Party earlier warned it would seek a similar move over a dispute on rent controls for newly constructed apartments.

“There is now a majority in parliament that wants to dismiss the prime minister,” Henrik Vinge, parliament group leader for the Sweden Democrats, told a press conference.

Vinge said they hoped the government would fall a year ahead of the next general election.

Both the conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats followed suit, securing a parliamentary majority for the no confidence motion against the government of Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

“We were against the Lofven government when they took power. We were against the Lofven government then, we are against the Lofven government now,” Ebba Busch, party leader of the Christian Democrats, told a press conference.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson echoed this sentiment in a post to social media.

“Our opinion is very clear, this government should never have taken office,” Kristersson wrote in a post to Facebook.

Speaker of the house, Andreas Norlen, confirmed in a statement the vote would be held on Monday.

Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles to secure support for a government following the 2018 election.

To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties, and was propped up by the Left Party.

The deal included liberal market reforms, including a government inquiry into allowing landlords to freely set rents for new apartments.

Several of these reforms have irked the Left Party, and after multiple calls on the government to abandon the “market rents,” party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said earlier on Thursday that they were looking for support among other parties for a vote of no confidence.

“Someone has to stand up for Sweden’s tenants,” Dadgostar told a press conference adding that it wasn’t an “easy announcement.”

Speaking in parliament, Lofven responded by saying it was “not responsible” to call for the vote.

Lofven has announced a press conference of his own at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT).


France weighs mandatory vaccination for reticent health workers

Updated 17 June 2021

France weighs mandatory vaccination for reticent health workers

  • Vaccination rate among health workers in care homes is lagging behind that of the general adult population
  • New daily virus infections in France are projected to fall to 2,000 within a week

PARIS: COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccinations could become compulsory for health workers if they do not drop their resistance to getting the jab, France’s health minister warned Thursday.

The threat came on the first day that people in France were authorized to be outdoors without wearing face masks, as vaccinations pick up and new COVID-19 cases drop.

The vaccination rate among health workers in care homes, however, is lagging behind that of the general adult population, 60 percent of which have now received at least one COVID-19 jab, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

He made a “solemn appeal” to health workers, especially in care homes, to “take the plunge.”

“If by the end of the summer there is no improvement we will have to consider making vaccinations for those specific groups obligatory,” Veran told BFM television.

“It is necessary and ethical to get vaccinated when you are in contact with vulnerable populations,” he added.

The coronavirus affected elderly people in care homes particularly severely, especially during the first and second virus waves last year before vaccinations became widespread and social distancing the norm.

Veran would not be drawn on a possible similar move for hospital staff, saying that “we’ll wait and see.”

New daily virus infections in France, at just over 3,000 on Wednesday, are projected to fall to 2,000 within a week and to 1,000 by the end of the month, Veran said.

A daily 11:00 p.m. curfew will be lifted on Sunday, a week ahead of schedule.

Although people can now take off masks when outdoors, there are exceptions including when on busy shopping streets or at crowded events. Masks must still be worn indoors and on public transport.