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Hate preachers in the UK to be treated as ‘priority threat’ amid extremism resurgence concerns

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians came to each other’s defense on Saturday, days after being blamed for a rapid rise in COVID-19 infections across the country, with several slamming the government for its “incompetence” in handling the health crisis a year into the pandemic. Despite successfully avoiding the worst of the pandemic last year, Malaysia witnessed a…

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians came to each other’s defense on Saturday, days after being blamed for a rapid rise in COVID-19 infections across the country, with several slamming the government for its “incompetence” in handling the health crisis a year into the pandemic.

Despite successfully avoiding the worst of the pandemic last year, Malaysia witnessed a dangerous new outbreak and surge in cases in early April, resulting in Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announcing a strict two-week lockdown from June 1.

Authorities imposed restrictions in all social and commercial areas, with only essential services and economic sectors allowed to operate, as listed by the national security council.

However, despite concerted attempts to flatten the infection curve, most citizens were accused of crossing state borders while several streets of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, remained abuzz with activity.

It generated much debate and bitterness online, with the hashtag RakyatGagal (#failed citizens) trending on social media and the health ministry’s director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah asking Malaysians on Facebook “where they were heading to?”

Citizens, however, said that it was “unfair and dangerous” to accuse all for the mistakes of a few.

“What the hashtag seeks to achieve, essentially, is to paint the entire population as failing to adhere to SOPs, (which) is completely unfair and disingenuous,” Harris Zainul, 29, an analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) in Malaysia, told Arab News.

“It goes without saying that although there are some pockets of society that remain irresponsible by flouting restrictions, it does not represent the rest of the population,” he said.

PM Muhyiddin’s government has also faced intense criticism over its “double standards” in enforcing the SOP’s — many businesses, including factories, are allowed to operate at 60 percent capacity — and is reeling from grievances, including difficulties faced in booking vaccine appointments.

“A year into the pandemic, this should be seen as an issue of governance,” Aaron Denison Deivasagayam, 29, a member of the Demokrat Kebangsaan youth movement, told Arab News.

He added that people didn’t “fail the government” during the first lockdown in March 2020, “which was a good start.”

“However, the main issues which began contributing to the (surge in) cases were the Sabah state elections and a blatant disregard of the rules by those in power. The mixed messages about quarantine for those who were returning from Sabah and the ministers that returned and didn’t quarantine opened a huge can of worms,” Aaron said.

Pandemic fatigue, he explained, was also a “huge” contributing factor.

“Hence, bad governance led to the increase in cases and with good governance people would not have had pandemic fatigue and, therefore, trusted the authorities,” Aaron said.

Meanwhile, experts fear that if the current infection rate persists, the lockdown could be extended beyond the 14-day limit initially set by the government.

Economic Officer Syed Mohamed Arif told Arab News that increasing the number of vaccines administered, however, could “stabilize the rate of infections.”

Malaysia has already begun its COVID-19 inoculation drive, even though critics say the rollout has been slow. Only 3.4 million people out of a population of 32.7 million have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

“There is room for better coordination for the vaccination process, prioritizing people that need to go to work every day compared to the people that can work from home,” Syed, 29, said.

Asked whether the Malaysian economy could remain resilient against a lockdown extension that would see only essential businesses operating, Syed explained that Malaysia has the means for “monetary cushions” as it is a developing country.

“However, I believe it is not fair to blame it on the rakyat (general public). We can survive. However, a proper mechanism to ensure there is food on the table for the lower and middle-income groups (is needed),” Syed told Arab News.

Former health minister and chairman of Selangor’s COVID-19 taskforce, Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, agreed, adding: “Failures of the people reflect on the failures of the government and leaders of the day.”

“If anything, the buck stops at the political leaders, and I cannot understand how we can directly blame the people whose unfortunate accusation affects the nation’s morale tremendously,” Dzulkefly told Arab News.

He criticized the government for painting everyone with the same brush.

“Accusing all people by generalizing many for breaching COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures shouldn’t have happened,” he said, adding that authorities should have conducted compliance checks and “made conclusions based on evidence and data.”

Dzulkefly explained that “many factors” could have led to non-compliance of SOPs “as if they were only complying out of fears of being punished.”

“There must be a self-drive for people to regulate themselves for the betterment of the nation,” he said, before flagging another issue — the frequent change of regulations “that have left many people confused.”

“The challenge is to educate and not simply to punish,” Dzulkefly said.

PM Muhyiddin’s government has faced a litmus test since last year, with experts warning of “bigger challenges ahead.”

Politically, too, Muhyiddin’s position remains shaky as party allies have called him out over his failure to manage the health crisis.

In January, a state of emergency was declared in Malaysia after its monarch, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, agreed to the government’s request for this.

According to the palace, the approval of the emergency measures came as a “proactive move to control and flatten” the daily COVID-19 positive cases that have continuously breached four figures since December.

However, that initiative, too, proved to be a failure, with more than 610,574 cases and 3,186 deaths registered to date.

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Virus rule extension endangers Euro 2020 final at Wembley

TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed…

TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed — overseas fans are already banned — underscoring their desire to salvage the event amid deep public opposition.Japan has avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that crippled many other countries. But the vaccine roll-out has been slow and the medical system pushed to the brink in parts of the country. The government’s drive to hold the Games has been criticized by hospitals and doctors’ unions.“There is a risk the movement of people and opportunities to interact during the Olympics will spread infections and strain the medical system,” the experts, led by top health adviser Shigeru Omi, said in a report issued on Friday.They said that holding the Games without spectators was the “least risky” option and the desirable one.Yet Omi’s experts have already floated the possibility that venues could hold up to 10,000 fans in areas where “quasi-emergency” measures, such as shorter restaurant hours, have been lifted. That has heightened the perception the Games may well be held with spectators.The final decision is expected at a meeting set for Monday between organizers, including Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee, and representatives from the national and Tokyo governments.The president of Tokyo 2020, Seiko Hashimoto, said that while she accepted the Olympics would be safer without spectators, organizers were still looking for ways to have fans safely in venues, like other events.“Given that other sports events are being held with spectators, I think it’s also Tokyo 2020’s job to continue to look for ways to understand and lessen the risk of infections at the Olympics until we’ve exhausted all the possibilities,” she told a news conference following the release of Omi’s report.The Games were delayed last year as the pandemic raged. Cancellation would be costly for organizers, the Tokyo government, sponsors and insurers.Some 41 percent of people want the Games canceled, according to a Jiji news poll released on Friday. If the Games go ahead, 64 percent of the public want them without spectators, the poll found.Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government decided on Thursday to end emergency coronavirus curbs in nine prefectures including Tokyo while keeping some “quasi-emergency” restrictions.Tokyo is scheduled to be under such restrictions until July 11. The current state of emergency, the third since April last year, expires on June 20.The lifting of previous emergencies has been followed by increased infections and strains on hospitals.Organizers should be prepared to act swiftly to ban spectators or declare another state of emergency if needed, the experts said. If spectators are allowed, rules should be strict, such as limiting fans to local residents, the experts said.Omi, a former World Health Organization official, has become increasingly outspoken about the risks from the event. He told parliament this month it was “not normal” to hold the Games during a pandemic.Other Japanese health experts and medical organization have been much more vocal, calling for the Games to be canceled outright.One of the signatories of Omi’s recommendations, Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, said he believed canceling the Games would be best, but the decision was for the government and organizers.“If the epidemic situation worsened, no spectators and canceling the Games in the middle (of the event) should be debated,” he told Reuters.The country has recorded more than 776,000 cases and over 14,200 deaths, while just 15 percent of its population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination.

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UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

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…

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.

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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.”

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Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad…

LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad Al-Hakim, senior advisor on economic reform to Iraq’s prime minister, said the country’s corruption crisis extends back to the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, but is now systemic, politically sanctioned and backed by the threat of violence by Iran-backed groups.“There’s a deep problem with the structure of the Iraqi state. This is very much a legacy that needs to be addressed,” Al-Hakim said. “The Iraqi state system has been deteriorating over 50 years.”Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.Government employees from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance are engaging in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim.At the highest levels of the Iraqi state, civil servants have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their own pockets and make money for their political allies.Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said one of the underpinnings of this system is the PMF, which operates as a “cartel,” using violence to suppress any opposition or attempt to upturn the status quo.“It’s important to think about this corruption as a cartel. There are players in the cartel who agree with each other on how to divvy up the spoils that are coming in either from tariffs, from a specific project, or into the ministry,” she added.“That’s why there are no ‘turf wars’ … because everyone is benefitting from this system. As soon as the bodies start showing up, that means an economic loss.”But that has not deterred the militias from violence, Gebeily said. They just do not use it against each other.“What they’re doing is using violence against anybody who’s trying to root out corruption. Researchers, activists and others who’ve been extremely vocal about corruption have been kidnapped, murdered or otherwise harassed,” she said.Law-abiding officials have been physically threatened, beaten up or had their families attacked when they refused to be complicit in corruption.“Armed groups use violence as an enforcement mechanism to make sure their economic interests are secured,” said Gebeily.“Let’s say you want to import cigarettes. Cigarettes are extremely lucrative to import, so you need an extremely powerful group — and the one I discovered was importing them was Kata’ib Hezbollah — to be involved in that import.”Iraq’s most powerful armed militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah has directly attacked US forces in the country.It is also widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iran-backed group as “the strongest and most dangerous group in the so-called Islamic resistance.”Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said: “If we’re talking about power and where it lies in the Iraqi state, you only need look at the attempt by the prime minister to arrest Qasem Muslih, the leader of a brigade in the PMF, and why the prime minister was unable to keep someone who he accused of having a role in assassinations in jail.”Mansour added: “Actually, these aren’t just militias. They have more connectivity to Iraq’s Parliament, to Iraq’s judiciary, than the prime minister does. They’re effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional and formal heads of state.”This reveals the true and farcical nature of power in Iraq, Mansour said. “Those sitting on top of the system struggle with access to the state that they’re meant to be head of,” he added.“Those apparently sitting outside the state actually have more connectivity to the essence, the power, the core of the state.”

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