JAKARTA — Indonesia launched one of the world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccination campaigns on Wednesday with President Joko Widodo getting the first shot of a Chinese vaccine as his country fights one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia.
The drive aims to inoculate 181.5 million people, with the first to be vaccinated receiving the CoronaVac vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech, which Indonesia authorised for emergency use on Monday.
Dressed in a white shirt and wearing a mask, the president, who is known as Jokowi, got his shot at the presidential palace.
“Vaccination is important to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission and give protection to us and safety to every Indonesian and help accelerate economic recovery,” Jokowi said after getting his injection.
Some other officials being vaccinated showed off their shot marks to waiting journalists and flexed their arms.
Minister of Health Budi Gunadi Sadikin has said nearly 1.5 million medical workers would be inoculated by February, followed by public servants and the general population within 15 months.
Unlike many countries, Indonesia intends to inoculate its working population first, rather than the elderly, partly because it does not have enough data from clinical trials on CoronaVac’s efficacy on older people.
Indonesia on Tuesday reported a daily record 302 coronavirus deaths, taking fatalities to 24,645. Its infections are at their peak, averaging more than 9,000 a day, with 846,765 total cases.
Indonesia’s stocks have risen in the last few days, helped by the launch of vaccinations, with the main index opening up around 0.7% on Wednesday.
“Vaccinations contributed a fairly positive market sentiment,” said Hans Kwee, director at investment manager Anugerah Mega Investama.
‘Not one bullet’
Southeast Asia’s largest economy suffered its first recession in more than two decades last year due to pandemic, with the government estimating a contraction of as much as 2.2%.
The government has said two-thirds of the 270 million population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, with the cost of the programme expected to be more than 74 trillion rupiah ($5.26 billion).
Olivia Herlinda, a researcher at the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives, said authorities had not taken into account the vaccine efficacy and virus reproduction rate to justify its herd immunity focus.
Epidemiologist Masdalina Pane said that vaccines had to be accompanied by increased testing and tracing.
“There’s not one bullet,” she said.
Budi said Indonesia’s testing and tracing needed improving, adding there was an imbalance in testing resources across the archipelago.
Indonesia has said its trials showed CoronaVac has an efficacy rate of 65.3%, but Brazilian researchers said on Tuesday the vaccine was only 50.4% effective.
Indonesia’s food and drugs authority BPOM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bambang Heriyanto, corporate secretary of Bio Farma, the Indonesian company involved in the trials, said the Brazilian data was still above the 50% benchmark set by the World Health Organization.
Turkish researchers said in December CoronaVac showed a 91.25% efficacy based on analysis.
Indonesia expects to get another 122.5 million doses of CoronaVac by January 2022, with about 30 million doses due by the end of the first quarter this year.
It has also secured nearly 330 million doses of other vaccines, including from AstraZeneca and Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.
($1 = 14,060.0000 rupiah)
Aftershock rocks Indonesia quake zone as search continues
JAKARTA — An aftershock hit Indonesia’s Sulawesi island on Saturday as rescue workers searched for people trapped under rubble after an earthquake killed at least 45 people, injured hundreds and sent thousands fleeing in terror.
Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said no damage or casualties were reported from the magnitude 5.0 aftershock in the West Sulawesi districts of Mamuju and Majene a day after the magnitude 6.2 earthquake.
Agency head Doni Monardo told Kompas TV the search continued for victims who could still be trapped under rubble.
More than 820 people were injured and about 15,000 people have been evacuated, the agency said.
Some have sought refuge in the mountains, while others went to cramped evacuation centres, witnesses said.
|Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin visit injured people following an earthquake in Mamuju, West Sulawesi province, Indonesia, January 16, 2021 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Photo: Reuters|
Friday’s quake and its aftershocks damaged more than 300 homes and two hotels, as well as flattening a hospital and the office of a regional governor, where authorities told Reuters several people had been trapped.
Access to the neighbouring city of Makassar remains cut off, Arianto Ardi of the search and rescue agency in Mamuju told Reuters, adding that the search will focus on the hotels.
|Locals who fled to higher ground are seen at a temporary shelter following an earthquake in Mamuju, West Sulawesi province, Indonesia, January 16, 2021 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Photo: Reuters|
Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency, told Metro TV on Saturday that another quake was possible and could reach a magnitude of 7.0, urging residents to keep out of the water because of the tsunami risk.
The earthquake magnitude scale is logarithmic; a one-point increase means it is 10 times bigger.
|An aerial picture shows a hospital building collapsed following an earthquake in Mamuju, West Sulawesi, Indonesia, January 16, 2021 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Photo: Reuters|
The difference in energy released is even greater. Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes.
In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.
South African scientists discover new chemicals that kill malaria parasite
JOHANNESBURG — South African scientists have discovered chemical compounds that could potentially be used for a new line of drugs to treat malaria and even kill the parasite in its infectious stage, which most available drugs do not.
The research led by the University of Pretoria, published in the Nature Communications journal this week, found that chemical compounds undergoing trials for the treatment of tuberculosis and cancer — the JmjC inhibitor ML324 and the antitubercular clinical candidate SQ109 — can kill the disease-causing parasite at a stage when it normally infects others.
The World Health Organisation said in November that deaths from malaria due to disruption during the coronavirus pandemic to services designed to tackle the mosquito-borne disease will far exceed those killed by COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria killed more than 400,000 people across the world in 2019, according to the latest WHO figures, all but a few thousand of them in Africa.
There were 229 million cases across the world, 215 million of them on the continent.
“Our innovation was around finding compounds that are able to block the transmissible stages and we if we are able to do so then we stop the spread of malaria,” Research Chair in Sustainable Malaria Control and biochemistry professor Lyn-Marie Birkholtz, who was part of the team, told Reuters on Friday.
Most drugs kill malaria as it gets established in the liver or after it has infected red blood cells, but cannot tackle it once the parasite is released from the cells, which is when it is transmissible to other people via mosquito bites, she said.
The one drug that can have an effect during the transmissible phase, primaquine, is not widely used, owing to concerns about side effects.
“If we can develop these compounds … then we have an additional new tool that we can use to eliminate malaria,” said Birkholtz.
More tests would still need to be carried out before the compounds could be approved as a treatment for malaria but the breakthrough would also address concerns over drug resistance, she said.
Global COVID-19 death toll tops 2 million
The worldwide coronavirus death toll surpassed 2 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, as nations around the world are trying to procure multiple vaccines and detect new COVID-19 variants.
It took nine months for the world to record the first 1 million deaths from the novel coronavirus but only three months to go from 1 million to 2 million deaths, illustrating an accelerating rate of fatalities.
So far in 2021, deaths have averaged over 11,900 per day or one life lost every eight seconds, according to a Reuters tally.
“Our world has reached a heart-wrenching milestone,” United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said in a video statement.
“Behind this staggering number are names and faces: the smile now only a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” he said, calling for more global coordination and funding for the vaccination effort.
By April 1, the global death toll could approach 2.9 million, according to a forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Given how fast the virus is spreading due to more infectious variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the worst could be ahead.
“We are going into a second year of this. It could even be tougher given the transmission dynamics and some of the issues that we are seeing,” Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies official, said during a Wednesday event.
The United States has the highest total number of deaths at over 386,000 and accounts for one in every four deaths reported worldwide each day.
The next worst-affected countries are Brazil, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
Combined, the five countries contribute to almost 50 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the world but represent only 27 percent of the global population.
Europe, the worst-affected region in the world, has reported over 615,000 deaths so far and accounts for nearly 31 percent of all COVID-related deaths globally.
In India, which recently surpassed 151,000 deaths, vaccinations are set to begin on Saturday in an effort that authorities hope will see 300 million high-risk people inoculated over the next six to eight months.
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