South Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency has allowed health workers to squeeze extra doses from vials of coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
The decision on Saturday came after some health workers who were administering the AstraZeneca shots reported to authorities that they still saw additional doses left in the bottles that had each been used for 10 injections.
KDCA official Jeong Gyeong-shil said skilled workers may be able to squeeze one or two extra doses from each vial if they use low dead-volume syringes designed to reduce wasted medications and vaccines.
However, she said the KDCA isn’t allowing health workers from combining vaccines left in different bottles to create more doses.
The KDCA had previously authorized 10 injections for each AstraZeneca vial and six for each Pfizer vial.
South Korea, which launched its public vaccination campaign on Friday, is administering the AstraZeneca shots to residents and workers at long-term care facilities and the Pfizer ones to front-line medical workers.
South Korea on Saturday reported another 405 coronavirus cases.
In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region
— Over 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday following a two-day delay due to export procedures, offering a second inoculation option for the city. The Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be offered to about 2.4 million eligible residents from priority groups such as those aged 60 and above and health care workers. About 70,000 residents who have registered for the vaccination program, which kicked off on Friday, will receive the shots developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. The Sinovac vaccines were the first to arrive last week. Registration details for those wishing to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shots haven't been announced yet. Hong Kong has struck deals for a total of 22.5 million doses, with 7.5 million each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which is delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
—- New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland is going back into a seven-day lockdown after a new unexplained coronavirus case was found. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement Saturday evening after an urgent meeting with top lawmakers in the Cabinet. She said the lockdown would take effect from Sunday morning. Auckland earlier this month was placed into a three-day lockdown after new cases of the more contagious variant first found in Britain were found. New Zealand has pursued a zero-tolerance elimination strategy with the virus, and had successfully stamped out
community spread before the latest cases were found this month. Ardern said the latest patient had experienced symptoms since earlier in the week and could have infected others. The rest of New Zealand will also have increased restrictions.
— Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry has decided to vaccinate everyone aged 30 and above in the high-risk areas of the capital Colombo and suburbs where COVID-19 cases are rising. There were 466 new cases in the last 24 hours. Sri Lankan began its inoculation drive in January starting with health workers. So far, more than 406,000 people have received their shots.
Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador strongly opposed the military coup in his country and appealed for the “strongest possible action from the international community” to immediately restore democracy, in a dramatic speech to the U.N. General Assembly Friday that drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body.
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun began his statement saying he represented Aung San Suu Kyi’s "civilian government elected by the people” in November, and supported their fight for the end of military rule.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the Feb. 1 coup, and to refuse to recognize the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. He also urged stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” Tun said, agreeing with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that military coup "is not acceptable in this modern world and the coup must cease.”
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” he vowed.
Tun’s surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting including ambassadors representing the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the new U.S. ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield. She joined others in describing the speech as “courageous,” “powerful” and “brave.”
In her first appearance at the assembly since presenting her credentials to Guterres in Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “stands in solidarity” with the people of Myanmar who are in the streets protesting the coup. And she reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that “we will show the military that their actions have consequences” and demand to the military “to immediately relinquish power.”
In a tweet later, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Myanmar by its former name Burma and said “the United States commends the courageous and clear statement" of Ambassador Tun, “and by those in Burma who are making their voices heard. We must all heed their call to restore democracy in Burma."
The assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup and the military pushing democratic processes aside, violating the constitution, reversing reforms instituted by Suu Kyi, and arresting peaceful protesters, civil society representatives and members of the media.
She pointed to restrictions on the internet and communication services and the detention of about 700 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, and she called “the use of lethal force and rising deaths unacceptable.”
The huge protests in the country are not about a fight between Suu Kyi’s party and the military, she said, “it is a fight without arms.”
Addressing diplomats in the General Assembly chamber by video link, Schraner Burgener urged “all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
The military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term that day, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
Myanmar’s military says it took power because November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta. The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.
Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly that democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the constitution on Feb. 4 and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw (National Assembly), known as CRPH, and are seeking “to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them.”
Tun began his remarks by reading a statement from CRPH stressing the legitimacy of the election results and declaring that the military overthrew the democratically elected government. He cited the massive opposition by the people, saying “now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar military.”
The CRPH, saying it represented some 80 parliamentarians, asked the U.N., the Security Council and the international community “that aspires to build a peaceful and civilized global society to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people of Myanmar.”
China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose neighboring country has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar and is its biggest trading partner, called on all parties to handle differences through dialogue “under the constitutional and legal framework,” avoid violence, “and continue to promote the domestic democratic transformation process in an orderly manner.”
Never mentioning the military or a coup and describing what happened in Myanmar as “in essence Myanmar’s internal affairs,” he said the international community should help the parties “bridge their differences and solve problems.”
Zhang backed efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Myanmar belongs to, “in playing an active role in easing the current state of affairs.”
ASEAN countries are discussing holding an informal foreign ministers meeting and “we look forward to its early convening on the basis of consensus, thus providing a useful platform and opportunity for promoting problem solving,” he said.
Rival neighbors Pakistan and India have pledged to stop firing weapons across the border in disputed Kashmir, promising to adhere to a 2003 accord that has been largely ignored, officials from both sides said on Thursday.
If indeed implemented, the move would be a major step in defusing tensions in the highly militarized Himalayan region, and open a possibility for broader detente between the two nuclear-armed powers.
Artillery, rockets and even small arms fire have been regularly exchanged between troops on opposite sides of the border, killing hundreds since the original ceasefire was signed.
This time the two militaries themselves are making vocal commitments, with senior generals reaching an understanding over a hotline on Wednesday, a joint statement said.
“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing” along the frontier which separates Kashmir between Pakistan and India, it said. "Existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilized to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding
The two South Asian neighbors have a long history of bitter relations and Pakistani authorities say Indian has made more than 13,000 violations of the ceasefire accord in the past 18 years. India also alleges large-scale ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army
Since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, they have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed by both in its entirety. Both sides often exchange fire in Kashmir and civilians are caught in the crossfire whenever such violence erupts. Dozens of people are killed every year in the violence.
But relations were further strained between them in 2019, when Pakistan shot down an Indian warplane in Kashmir and captured a pilot in response to an airstrike by Indian aircraft targeting militants inside Pakistan.
India at the time said the strikes targeted Pakistan-based militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.
Pakistan said there was no militant camp and the Indian planes dropped bombs in a forest.
Since then, a peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi has been on hold. But military experts from both countries were optimistic about the new agreement.
In India, Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, who was head of the Indian military’s Northern Command from 2014 to 2016, welcomed the move, calling it “a significant, positive development given there has been steep escalation in the border skirmishes in last few years."
In Pakistan, retired army general Talat Masood said he believed Washington and other world leaders had helped in reducing tension between Pakistan and India, adding that peace was in the best interest of both countries.
It was unclear what promoted two two militaries to initiate contact over the hotline, but Pakistan has been urging the international community to urge India for resuming dialogue with it to ensure peace in the region.
However, Pakistan wants India to reverse a 2019 move under which New Delhi divided the Indian-administered part of the Muslim-majority Kashmir into two federally governed territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — touching off anger on both sides of the frontier.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side. Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.
Rebels in Indian-administered Kashmir have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
India on Thursday rolled out new regulations for social media companies and digital streaming websites to make them more accountable for the online content shared on their platforms, giving the government more power to police it.
The Information Technology Ministry said the new regulations would require social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to swiftly erase content authorities deem unlawful. The regulations include a strict oversight mechanism that would allow the government to ban content affecting “the sovereignty and integrity of India.”
The regulations would also require social media companies to assist investigations by India’s law enforcement agencies. They were announced as debate swirls over free speech and the suspension by Twitter of some Indian accounts linked to farmers’ protests after regulators ordered them to be blocked.
Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the new regulations were a “soft touch progressive institutional mechanism” required for the “security and sovereignty of India, public order, and rape or any other sexually explicit material.”
They will require social media companies to remove illegal content as quickly as possible, but within no more than 36 hours after they receive a government or legal order.
The new rules also require social media platforms to appoint what the government calls chief compliance and grievance officers to handle complaints from law enforcement agencies. These officers should be Indian citizens and must send monthly compliance reports to the government.
“The government welcomes criticism of the government and the right to dissent, but it is very important that the users must be given a forum to raise their grievances against the abuse and misuse of social media,” Prasad said during a televised news conference.
Social media messaging sites must also disclose to the government the original source of any “mischievous information.” It was not immediately clear if this would mean messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Signal and others would have to break end-to-end encryption in India in order to comply.
Apar Gupta, executive director of India Freedom Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group, said the government asking social media platforms to give details about originators of information “undermines user rights and can lead to self-censorship if users fear that their conversations are no longer private.”
The new regulations are to take effect within three months. They also will apply to digital streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which will have to set a “classification rating” to describe the content on their platforms.
Also read: Modi likely to visit Tungipara on Mar 26
Twitter found itself in a standoff with the government earlier this month when it refused to fully comply with a government order to remove some accounts, including those of news organizations, journalists, activists and politicians, citing its “principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression.”
The government said the accounts — unspecified in number — were using provocative hashtags to spread misinformation about massive farmer protests that have rattled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Twitter’s actions appeared to irk Modi’s government, which over the years has sought to tighten its grip over social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook. It served Twitter a non-compliance notice and threatened its officials with a fine and imprisonment of up to seven years for violating the order.
Modi himself has an active Twitter account, @narendramodi, with more than 66 million followers.
A former member of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s secret police was convicted Wednesday by a German court of facilitating the torture of prisoners in a landmark ruling that human rights activists hope will set a precedent for other cases in the decade-long conflict.
Eyad Al-Gharib was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz state court to 4 1/2 years in prison.
It was the first time that a court outside Syria ruled in a case alleging Syrian government officials committed crimes against humanity. German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants who were in Germany.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the trial was a step against impunity in the conflict. His country has given refuge to hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing violence and hardship in their homeland, and backed international efforts to collect prosecutable evidence of crimes in Syria.
But Russia and China have used their vetoes to block attempts by the U.N. Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
“That’s why the cases outside Syria are big bright spots, but also a clear signal to the victims ... that they shall get justice,” Maas told The Associated Press.
Al-Gharib could have faced more than a decade behind bars, but judges took into account mitigating factors, including his testimony to German authorities investigating the allegations.
The 44-year-old was accused of being part of a unit that arrested people following anti-government protests in the Syrian city of Douma and took them to a detention center known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251, where they were tortured.
Al-Gharib went on trial last year with Anwar Raslan, a more senior Syrian ex-official who is accused of overseeing the abuse of detainees at the same jail near Damascus.
Raslan is accused of supervising the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people.
During his pretrial police interrogation, al-Gharib testified against Raslan, implicating him in more than 10 deaths of prisoners. A verdict in Raslan’s case is expected later this year.
The court also considered photographs of thousands of alleged victims of torture by the Syrian government. The images were smuggled out of Syria by a former police officer, who goes by the alias of Caesar.
“Today’s verdict is the first time a court has confirmed that the acts of the Syrian government and its collaborators are crimes against humanity,” said Patrick Kroker, a lawyer with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which represented multiple survivors at the trial.
“Testimony by torture survivors and intelligence officers, as well as the Caesar photos, prove the scale and systemic nature of enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence in Syria,” he said. “The relevance of this evidence extends far beyond the proceedings in Koblenz.”
Delivering the oral verdict, the presiding judge made it clear that al-Gharib’s crimes were part of the Syrian government’s systematic abuses against its own population. Syrian officials did not testify during the 60-day trial.
The court concluded that al-Gharib’s unit, which was under Raslan’s command, was involved in chasing down and detaining at least 30 people following a demonstration in Douma, and then bringing them to the detention center where they were tortured.
Al-Gharib, who had the rank of sergeant major until he defected, left Syria in 2013 and came to Germany in 2018. Both men were arrested a year later.
Some rights groups have raised questions about the trial, noting that government defectors like Al-Gharib may not realize that statements they make during asylum applications may be used against them.
Mohammad Al-Abdallah, director of the Washington-based Syria Justice and Accountability Center and a former prisoner in Syria, said Al-Gharib was a low-ranking officer with little value in the case against him.
He suggested that putting defectors like Raslan and Al-Gharib in prison would please the Assad government, “because this will deter anyone else from defecting or joining the opposition or supplying information to human rights groups.”
But Wassim Mukdad, a Syrian survivor and co-plaintiff in Raslan’s trial, said while al-Gharib was “just one small cog in the vast Syrian torture apparatus” the verdict against him was important.
“I hope it can shed light on all of the Assad regime’s crimes,” he said. “Only then will the trial really be a first step on this long road to justice for myself and other survivors.”
Al-Gharib’s lawyer, Hannes Linke, said the court’s verdict was “in large parts convincing” and that the sentence imposed on his client would “send a clear signal to war crimes perpetrators worldwide.” Linke said he would nevertheless appeal the verdict and ask Germany’s top court to review the lower tribunal’s decision to dismiss al-Gharib’s defense that he acted to avert harm from himself.
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which supports 29 survivors in the case against Raslan, of whom 14 are represented as co-plaintiffs in that case, is working to bring further cases against Syrian officials to trial in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Norway