Africa’s COVID-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis

Not one vial has left a European factory for Africa, according to African Union special envoy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2021

Africa’s COVID-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis

  • The criticism revealed African leaders’ sheer exasperation at the world’s dramatic vaccine divide
  • Just one percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19

NAIROBI: The African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the continent is blasting Europe as Africa struggles amid a crushing third surge of infections, saying Thursday that “not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa.”

Strive Masiyiwa also took aim at the global effort meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information including that key donors hadn’t met funding pledges. He didn’t name which donors.

“The situation could be very different had we known back in December that ‘Listen, this help is not coming, do for yourselves,’” Masiyiwa told reporters, adding that “many countries were just sitting back saying, ‘the vaccines are coming.’ ... We as Africans are disappointed.”

The criticism revealed African leaders’ sheer exasperation at the world’s dramatic vaccine divide, with Masiyiwa describing vaccinated, unmasked Europeans attending football matches while just one percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

He stressed that Africa has purchased 400 million vaccine doses and can buy more, but he challenged donors: “Pay up your money ... We will no longer measure pledges, we will measure vaccines arriving at our airports.”

The African continent of 1.3 billion people is now in the grip of a third surge of infections that is “extremely aggressive,” the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters. Health officials have described overflowing COVID-19 wards, dangerous oxygen shortages and a growing spread of the virus to extremely vulnerable and unequipped rural areas.

Masiyiwa said COVAX had promised to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to Africa by December. But at mid-year, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.

“We are very far away from our target,” Nkengasong said. “We don’t want to be seen as the continent of COVID ... (In Europe) the stadiums are full of young people shouting and hugging. We can’t do that in Africa.”Spokespeople for COVAX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, Nkengasong and Masiyiwa announced that the first shipments of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines with US support will begin arriving next week. It was not clear how many doses would be in those first shipments.

Meanwhile, more African-purchased doses will arrive in August, Masiyiwa said.

The African continent has had 5.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and has seen a “remarkable” 23 percent increase in deaths over the past week, the Africa CDC director said.

He said the continent needs 1.6 billion doses in a double-dose regime, or 800 million for a single-dose regime, to meet the goal of vaccinating 60 percent of the population.

Masiyiwa gave a frank accounting of where global efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 had sputtered. “It became pretty clear by December that the hope that we would all as a global community buy vaccines together through COVAX was not being adhered to, particularly by the rich and powerful nations,” he said.

COVAX aimed to provide 20 percent of Africa’s vaccine needs, with African nations stepping up for the rest, he said. But “it really doesn’t matter how much money your country has, they couldn’t buy vaccines ... I never saw presidents try so hard, calling chief executives.”

The African continent has relied on vaccine manufacturing capabilities elsewhere in the world, but the COVID-19 vaccine crisis has jolted African leaders into pursuing their own production power.

Step by step, Masiyiwa laid out the challenges: Vaccine suppliers require advance purchases, and the World Bank could only lend to countries once vaccines are available. African nations scrambled via the Africa Export-Import

Bank, owned by member states, to come up with some $2 billion. African countries created a purchasing platform to improve their buying power.

But the vaccines have been hard to find as countries with manufacturing capabilities imposed controls on export sales in the interest of vaccinating their own citizens first. “It was the same whether we were talking to the East, to the West, whatever,” Masiyiwa said. “This has created a massive crisis.”

He took special aim at Europe: “When we go to talk to their manufacturers, they tell us they’re completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe, we’re referred to India.” But the European Union now imposes public health restrictions on people vaccinated with Covishield, the Indian-produced version of the EU-accepted AstraZeneca vaccine.

“So how do we get to the situation where they give money to COVAX, who go to India to purchase vaccines, and then they tell us those vaccines are not valid?” Masiyiwa said. “It’s self-evident where the problem is.”

Without mentioning the EU issue, COVAX in a statement on Thursday warned that “any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the re-opening of travel into and within that region would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide.”

Some countries engage in so-called vaccine diplomacy and those bilateral donations are welcome, Masiyiwa said, but they’re not enough to “move the needle.”


At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

Updated 02 October 2022

At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

  • Arema FC supporters rioted after their team lost to the visiting team Persebaya Surabaya
  • Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, says police and rescuers

MALANG, Indonesia: At least 129 people died at a football stadium in Indonesia when thousands of fans invaded the pitch and police fired tear gas that triggered a stampede, authorities said Sunday.
The tragedy on Saturday night, in the eastern city of Malangm was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.
Arema FC supporters at the Kanjuruhan stadium stormed the pitch late on Saturday after their team lost 3-2 to the visiting team and bitter rivals, Persebaya Surabaya.
Police, who described the unrest as “riots,” said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed.
Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, according to police.
East Java police chief Nico Afinta said many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit.
He initially said a total of 127 people had died, but the toll was later raised to 129.
A hospital director told local TV that one of the victims was five years old.
Images captured from inside the stadium during the stampede showed huge amounts of tear gas and people clambering over fences.
People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.

Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out, Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.
“We would like to convey that... not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” Afinta said.

Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning. Police said 13 vehicles in total were damaged.
The Indonesian government apologized for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.
“This is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organization of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals.

Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
However Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organizers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
And he said the government had recommended only 38,000 tickets be printed, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.
“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches... and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favorite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.
The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia’s top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.
It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.
“We’re sorry and apologize to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.
Indonesia is to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in May at six stadiums across the country. The Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang is not included in that list.
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at Britain’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium.


At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

Updated 02 October 2022

At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

  • Arema FC supporters rioted after their team lost to the visiting team Persebaya Surabaya
  • Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, says police and rescuers

MALANG, Indonesia: At least 129 people died at a football stadium in Indonesia when thousands of fans invaded the pitch and police fired tear gas that triggered a stampede, authorities said Sunday.
The tragedy on Saturday night, in the eastern city of Malangm was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.
Arema FC supporters at the Kanjuruhan stadium stormed the pitch late on Saturday after their team lost 3-2 to the visiting team and bitter rivals, Persebaya Surabaya.
Police, who described the unrest as “riots,” said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed.
Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, according to police.
East Java police chief Nico Afinta said many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit.
He initially said a total of 127 people had died, but the toll was later raised to 129.
A hospital director told local TV that one of the victims was five years old.
Images captured from inside the stadium during the stampede showed huge amounts of tear gas and people clambering over fences.
People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.

Soccer fans carry an injured man following clashes during a soccer match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo) 

Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out, Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.
“We would like to convey that... not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” Afinta said.

Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning. Police said 13 vehicles in total were damaged.
The Indonesian government apologized for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.
“This is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organization of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals.

Officers examine a damaged police vehicle following a clash between supporters of two Indonesian soccer teams at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP)

Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
However Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organizers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
And he said the government had recommended only 38,000 tickets be printed, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.
“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches... and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favorite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.
The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia’s top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.
It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.
“We’re sorry and apologize to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.
Indonesia is to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in May at six stadiums across the country. The Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang is not included in that list.
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at Britain’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium.
 


Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

Updated 02 October 2022

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

  • Four rockets landed in the Green Zone on Wednesday during a partial lockdown as parliament was convening, wounding seven security personnel, and another four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad landed around the zone on Thursday

STOCKHOLM: Sweden has reauthorized exports of war materials to Turkey in an apparently significant concession to Ankara, which is threatening to block the Nordic country’s NATO membership.

Ankara requested the lifting of the restrictions — which were introduced in 2019 following a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria — after Sweden applied to join NATO in mid-May.

“The government has made the assessment that a Swedish membership in NATO is the best way to protect Sweden’s and the Swedish people’s security,” the Inspectorate of Strategic Products said in a statement.

The government had already announced in June that Swedish membership of the military alliance could affect policy around military exports.

“Sweden’s application for NATO membership to a large degree strengthens the defense and security policy arguments for approving exports of war materials to other member states, including Turkey,” the authority said.

The ISP said it had approved exports relating to “electronic equipment,” “software” and “technical assistance” to Turkey in the third quarter of 2022.

To date, 28 of the 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland. Only Hungary and Turkey remain. New members to the alliance require unanimous approval.

Turkey’s parliament is due to resume work on Saturday after the summer break. But the country is heading for parliamentary elections in June 2023 and this could make it cautious about voting on membership for the Nordic countries.

As of Friday, Ankara had not reacted to the Swedish announcement.

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UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

Updated 02 October 2022

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

  • The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso and called on all parties to refrain from using violence in the restive West African country.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the unfolding developments in Burkina Faso. He strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen.

The new putschists were quick to introduce an overnight curfew.

The army officers who have seized power in Burkina Faso said in televised comments that toppled junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base.”

Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” they said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Capt. Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new strongman.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied any involvement.

An hour before the televised comments by the military figures, who overthrew Damiba on Friday, the French Embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”

The embassy also denied “rumors that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military.”

According to the coup plotters, the actions by Damiba and the French forces are in response to their willingness “to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin which is some 30 km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January.

He had installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.


Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Updated 01 October 2022

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

  • The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities

MEXICO CITY: Cultural ministers and representatives from 150 countries committed to expanding efforts to return historical artifacts to their countries of origin, according to a declaration released on Friday, following a UNESCO conference in Mexico City.

Major museums, auction houses and private collectors have faced growing pressure in recent years to repatriate priceless works of art and other antiquities from Latin American and African nations, among others, which argue the goods were often taken unethically or illegally.

The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities.

The declaration deems culture a “global public good” that should be included in the UN development goals.

Restitution of cultural artifacts is often politically sensitive and raises questions over the transport and care of often delicate antiquities.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has renewed calls in India for the return of one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds from Britain’s crown jewels, while Chile has for years demanded the return of a Moai statue from the British Museum.

Mexico’s government has previously called for the return of a 500-year-old Aztec crest known as Montezuma’s headdress from a Vienna museum, but experts have deemed its centuries-old iridescent quetzal feathers, dotted with golden pendants, too fragile for transport.

During the conference, ministers also discussed how to protect heritage from wars and climate change.

Ernesto Ottone, a senior UNESCO official, expressed hope that old attitudes are shifting in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

“In the last three years there has been a change, a turning point, on how restitution can be made,” he said, pointing to recent bilateral deals that have led to the return of artifacts. “Today, doors are opening for us.”

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