World News (March 15, 2021)

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Joe Biden and fellow leaders of the Indo-Pacific group known as the Quad have announced a plan to expand coronavirus vaccine manufacturing capacity in India.

The effort to expand production and promote access to the vaccine in the region was unveiled Friday following a virtual meeting of the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States. It comes as the Biden administration is putting greater emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region in the face of growing economic competition from China.

Biden described the effort as “an ambitious new joint partnership that is going to boost vaccine manufacturing … to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific” region.

“We will combine our nations’ medical, scientific, financing, manufacturing and delivery, and development capabilities and establish a vaccine expert working group to implement our path-breaking commitment to safe and effective vaccine distribution,” the Quad leaders said in a joint statement.

The effort by the group to pump up India’s vaccine manufacturing also comes as the Biden administration and leaders of other wealthy nations have faced calls from France and some global health advocacy groups to donate a small percentage of vaccine produced in the U.S. and other industrialized nations to poor countries. Biden has also fielded requests from allies, including Canada and Mexico, to buy vaccines made in the United States.

But the Biden administration has remained steadfast that, at least for now, it is focused on making sure that all Americans are first vaccinated even as China and Russia have engaged in vaccine diplomacy, sending badly needed vaccines to other countries. Administration officials have noted the United States’ $4 billion commitment to COVAX, an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations.

OKYO (AP) — Japan will not take part in China’s offer — accepted by the International Olympic Committee — to provide vaccines for “participants” in the postponed Tokyo Games and next year’s Beijing Winter Games.

Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said Friday that Japan had not been consulted by the IOC about the Chinese vaccines, and that Japanese athletes would not take them. She said the vaccines have not been approved for use in Japan.

“We have been taking comprehensive anti-infectious disease measures for the Tokyo Games in order to allow participation without vaccinations,” Marukawa said. “There is no change to our principle of not making vaccinations a prerequisite.”

Announced by IOC President Thomas Bach, the surprise deal comes as China faces mounting international pressure over the internment of at least 1 million Muslim Uyghurs, which has been labeled a “genocide” by several governments and human rights bodies. The IOC has indicated it is a sports body and will not meddle in domestic issues in China.

The IOC initially said it would not require athletes to get vaccines, but only encourage it. The deal with China puts more emphasis on getting vaccines to young, healthy athletes and others.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A court in Myanmar extended the pretrial detention of an Associated Press journalist who was arrested while covering demonstrations against a coup. He is facing a charge that could send him to prison for three years.

Thein Zaw, 32, was one of nine media workers taken into custody during a protest on Feb. 27 in Yangon, the country’s largest city, has been held without bail. His next hearing at the Kamayut Township court will be on March 24.

Friday’s hearing, which Thein Zaw attended via videoconference, came at the end of his initial remand period.

Thein Zaw and at least six other members of the media have been charged with violating a public order law, according to his lawyer, Tin Zar Oo, the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Separate hearings were held Friday for the other detained journalists.

Tin Zar Oo and one of Thein Zaw’s brothers were allowed into the courtroom to take part in the 10-minute videoconference. Tin Zar Oo said she was able to submit documents giving her power of attorney for the case, but only at the next hearing might be allowed to submit a bail application.

A representative of the U.S. Embassy was also present, said Aryani Manring, a spokesperson for the mission.

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