How COVID-19 upends beliefs in one of most-vaccinated countries

Medical staff administer doses of CoronaVac or AstraZeneca vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus to residents of the Klong Toey community outside of an indoor football stadium in Bangkok on May 11, 2021. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

May 15, 2021: Seychelles thought it had vaccinated enough citizens, more than 61 per cent, to open up the tourism industry. But it’s not just the government that is lowering its guard. The people are lowering theirs, too.

The results? The number of cases has shot up in the Indian Ocean Archipelago. There were more than 2,700 cases just two days ago. That was a lot in a very small nation of some 98,000 people.

Reasons for the rise in infections are still being looked at. Some blamed complacency. Others pointed at the opening up of tourism that allowed a flood of foreign travellers. Scientists are warning that even if you have been vaccinated, you shall never let your guard down or assume that you are 100 % safe.

While what’s happening in Seychelles should never be considered a proof that vaccines are not working, it also puts a considerable question on the theory that countries can inoculate themselves out of the pandemic. Thailand, which also depends largely on the tourism industry, has to give Seychelles extra attention.

May 14, 2021: Fears of a vaccine rush among people in the Thai capital causing a COVID-19 backlash will likely delay the implementation in Bangkok of the “Walk In” vaccination measure, the government has said.

The newly-announced “Walk In” policy that should begin in weeks has created semblance of optimism among Thais increasingly fearful of the coronavirus. But, according to deputy government spokesperson Traisuree Taisanakul, Bangkok might have to wait until the authorities are certain there would not be clustered, hence risky, gatherings of people trying to get vaccines.

“There will be Walk In facilities for sure but different places require different measures and the people should closely monitor developments and government announcements,” she said. She mentioned that Bangkok was one of the hotspots where extra care is needed.

May 13, 2021: An “independent” panel set up by the World Health Organisation has blamed the WHO itself significantly for the coronavirus pandemic and warned that things could get worse because there are failures and mistakes “in every point in the chain.”

The high-powered panel said the end was not in sight, despite some positive developments in the West. It stressed that what had been painfully experienced globally could have been prevented or at least toned down remarkably had human complacency or indecisiveness not been all over the place. Many countries took a “wait and see” approach after the global emergency was declared, a bit later than it should have been, by the WHO, the report said.

Unless genuine mistakes are urgently and correctly addressed, another catastrophic pandemic is around the corner, the panel warned.

A WHO reform is also called.

One thing is rather certain: Beijing must be more disturbed than Washington by this report.

May 12, 2021: A race is reportedly and apparently on between China and Russia on one side and the United States on the other to vaccinate the developing world, whose political and diplomatic allegiance would significantly affect the global course in a post-COVID-19 era, if there is to be one.

According to CNN, Chinese companies have made agreements over the past month to manufacture more than 260 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V, meaning when the vaccine is unloaded in countries around the world, much of it would come with the label “Made in China.”

Sputnik V has been approved for use in more than 60 countries, showing considerable global faith in the vaccine whose name has not been heard much in western news for obvious diplomatic and commercial reasons.

The Russia-China vaccine allegiance is getting into gear against a backdrop of allegations that rich, western countries are hoarding popular western brands of vaccine while the vast majority of poor countries have barely got doses for half their citizens, including some of the worst-hit nations.

Some experts on international affairs were quoted as saying that both Moscow and Beijing, in forming the alliance, saw an “opportunity for geopolitical gains”. As pricing and availability being the key obstacles when western vaccines are concerned, the partnership might create some ripples benefiting non-elitist countries.

It remains to be seen how complicated politics can make humans win a race against a deadly virus whose simple aim is to spread.

May 11, 2021: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Public Health Ministry are virtually urging high-risk groups to register for COVID-19 vaccination, as Thailand grapples with a peculiar problem of insufficient vaccines for overall needs, at least for now, and slow registration of currently eligible people.

Prayut confirms that vaccination is a “national agenda” and he spent a lot of time today trying to explain how safe vaccines are for all recipients and how low chances are for serious side effects.

He insists Thailand is seeking to be a vaccination centre for the region but such hope could be dealt a heavy blow if local roll-outs did not go as planned. He expressed confidence in the government’s efforts to get a sufficient number of doses for the entire Thailand in the months to come.

Prayut’s remark echoed that of the Public Health Ministry, which said a lower-than-expected number of high-risk people prioritised for getting vaccinated first have registered through government channels. The ministry said main reasons could be fears of side effects or online or digital illiteracy of some old people.

May 10, 2021: Some tough mask-wearing measures may be relaxed soon as the United States looks set to cautiously mark what a senior Washington official described as the “turning of the corner” in the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

Jeffrey Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, based his optimism on sufficient supply of vaccines in his country that is seeing a daily infection numbers down to the neighbourhood of 30,000, saying America was “on the path” to becoming “safer and safer and closer and closer to normal.” But the guard must remains high, he added.

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of America’s most familiar faces when COVID-19 is concerned, has acknowledged that federal guidance of wearing face coverings indoors may change soon. Asked about the possibility of relaxing mask rules, he said: “I think so, and I think you’re going to probably be seeing that as we go along, and as more people get vaccinated.”

The positivities have somewhat overshadowed a shocker of studies which was announced just a few days ago. The research, conducted by some American experts at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, looked into excess mortality from March 2020 through May 3, 2021, compared it with what would be expected in a typical non-pandemic year, adjusted some figures and came up with an explosive claim that the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in America is more than 900,000, some 57% higher than official figures.

Worldwide, the study’s authors say, the death count is probably nearing 7 million, more than double the reported number of 3.24 million at the time of the research. Dramatic undercounts might have taken place in countries like India, Mexico and Russia, they state.

Despite his perceived cautious optimism, Fauci has acknowledged the possibility that the researchers could be right.

May 9, 2021: In damning Super Poll findings, current independent agencies involved in delivering justice, free and fair election and crackdowns on corruption have not won public trust.

The Election Commission suffers the lowest score, with about 41% of 1,293 Thais surveyed earlier this month still having faith in the agency. The National Anti-Corruption Commission did not do much better, winning trust of just over 42%. The Constitution Court scored 43.37% while the Human Rights Commission got 48.62%.

Only the Office of the State Audit Commission and the Ombudsman do not flunk, but barely just. They scored 54% and 55.6% respectively.

“It is obvious that most independent bodies have to tackle a crisis of confidence, which was rooted long before this, when executives of those agencies faced legal action themselves,” said Super Poll director Noppadon Kannika.

The survey followed a series of investigation, preliminary rulings and final verdicts. Several of those have been controversial with critics alleging that a lot of things came into play like who was in the government at the particular time and who was not.

May 8, 2021: A possible positive provided by COVID-19 is that it has sparked debate on the present structure and global practices governing intellectual properties.

This week, the United States moved to back waiver of drug patent related to coronavirus vaccines following pressure from health experts and some countries, notably South Africa and India.

Pharmaceutical companies have, for obvious reasons, been advocating patent, citing necessary incentives for related personnel and high prices of researches, innovations, manpower and so on. But real emergencies caused by COVID-19 around the world have been gradually weighing on the US government, morally and diplomatically.

This week’s change of Washington heart is a signal that something in the old system of drug patent, if not the entire intellectual property rights structure, was wrong, analysts said.

Rumbling of calls for change has started and may have been inspired by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, who wrote in his Making Globalization Work book that careless enforcement of intellectual property rules could be tantamount to a “death warrant for (people) in developing countries who would be deprived of life-saving drugs.”

As political activists around the world focus on issues that they say affect equality and justice, drug patent has largely escaped attention. Other technologies that have further enriched the rich have gone completely under the radar of pro-equality activism.

May 7, 2021: For decades, the United States has been using Hollywood movies to push political and diplomatic agendas, but there are signs things are about to change.

Movie goers in China are clenching their jaws for less accessibility to films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy (remastered and re-released) because the Chinese government has ordered theatres to show old, nationalistic movies to celebrate the Communist Party. There has been a social media uproar and the American media are also not having it.

But this development is just the tip of the iceberg. Film buffs have been noticing that “save-the-world” plots are no longer exclusive in American movies, with Asian filmmakers, spearheaded by China and buoyed by constantly-improving CGI (Computer-generated imagery), making heroes out of people in their continent. This competition against Hollywood is becoming more and more accessible to the global viewing public thanks to the online technology.

In other words, fights to promote western and eastern values and global heroism in the cinematic world look set to get fiercer and fiercer.

CNN has raised a question on the future of Hollywood, which has somewhat succeeded in promoting America as the world’s saviour and demonising the Viet Cong (The Deer Hunter is one of the most notable), Iran (Argo), Russia (Air Force One). To name just a few. The notion that war broke apart American families was countered by the like of Saving Private Ryan, and the concept that no American personnel shall be left alone featured in films such as Behind Enemy Lines and The Martian.

In short, movies are a tool that could better than newspaper editorials, church preaching and diplomatic statements combined.

“Is Hollywood going to lose out?” asked CNN in a headline. The question may as well extend to the entire entertainment industry, as the same trend is being spotted in TV series and programmes as well.

May 6, 2021: There are places on earth where people would kill for a COVID-19 vaccine, and there are places in America where free beer, free donuts and free ride are on offer to tempt prospective vaccine recipients who may have been doubtful, reluctant or simply lazy.

Accused of being one of the rich countries stockpiling coronavirus vaccines at the expense of low-income nations, the United States is going one step further in promoting vaccination among the ambivalent or hesitant section of its population. In some vaccine centres they offered free beer. In others free donuts are promised. People can get a free ride to get jabs, too.

Detroit is offering $50 to people who drive others to vaccination sites. In cities such as Chicago, mobile vaccination centres (specially-equipped buses) are being sent to neighbourhoods. Demands for vaccines have dropped significantly in America after the most vulnerable people received shots, and now what looks like large-scale corporate promotions _ ads, invitations, prevalent drive-through operations and etc _ are in full swing.

May 5, 2021: Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who critics say has been “unusually active” online lately, has expressed sympathy for people saying they were too unhappy to remain in Thailand.

He called it a phenomenon resulting from disgruntlement of the younger generation and the failure to listen of the powers-that-be. “People have to struggle for their future, and it’s crazy to label them unpatriotic,” Thaksin said. The statement has been virally circulated online among his supporters, who said he might have fought COVID-19 better.

As usual, fans hailed his “understanding” whereas critics bemoaned “an ability to take advantage at every opportunity.” “For someone who is corrupt and refuses to go to jail after being judged so by the court, voicing concern for Thailand is illegitimate,” said Thai Pakdee leader Warong Dechkitvigrom.

Warong added that Thaksin seemed to be popping up online unusually frequently in recent days.

The “Let’s move out of Thailand” has become a political buzzword, with social media hashtags prevalent.

May 4, 2021: A key political activist known for her anti-coup stance has condemned a certain section of anti-establishment protesters who she says are giving democracy a bad name, and insists that MPs capturing social media comments with wild abandon are not doing proper duties.

Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana made her probably strongest comment to date against protesters inciting or resorting to violence in her Facebook post following incidents on Sunday involving a REDEM protest.

“I’m not selective (in making criticism),” she said. “Social threats are social threats, which we all shall strive to guard against, not support.”

She said she does not support “any action that (promotes) violence, be it randomly or against (specific) individuals.” She added that she was against action that was “not straightforward and irresponsible.”

What is arguably the strongest part of her comment is: “Democracy is not like this. If they (certain protesters) want to be like this, it must be called something else.”

Nuttaa urged unnamed MPs who kept capturing social media comments to amplify them to stop doing it. “That’s what keyboard warriors do,” she said. The activist, it is believed, was aiming a dig at a particular female MP who is a familiar face among protesters.

May 3, 2021: Despite the existence of vaccines, the world is probably seeing the worst COVID-19 crisis yet, according to data and the World Health Organisation.

India is featuring in a sad story of how poor people are now bearing the brunt of the coronavirus after it has wreaked havoc in America and Western Europe. WHO’s message is this: Don’t let some positive signs in rich countries fool you. Overall, it’s worse than last year.

Other experts have joined WHO in cautioning against misinterpretation of some positive developments in certain parts of the world. The deadly virus, they say, is actually more devastating at the moment thanks to fast mutations and great imbalance of vaccination roll-outs between rich and poor countries.

Cases of new infections and deaths are continually rising in many parts around the globe, and many numbers are more worrisome than last year’s figures.

“To put in perspective, there were almost as many cases globally last week as in the first five months of the pandemic,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghevreyesus.

He described as a “shocking imbalance” the fact that almost one in four people in high-income nations has received a vaccine whereas in low-income countries, only one in more than 500 has been vaccinated.

Western countries have been criticised for vaccine stockpiling. Some, including the United States, Canada and United Kingdom have been accused of ordering far more vaccine doses than they currently need or more than their ability to administer.

May 2, 2021: Insisting it bases its accusations on court documents provided by the Progressive Movement itself, Thai Pakdee has alleged that last year’s charity campaign spearheaded by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Pannika Wanich was fishy on a grand scale.

A few days ago, Thai Pakdee’s Boonkua Pussatevo has submitted to the crime suppression police documents on “Mayday, Mayday: Please Help One Another” campaign of the Progressive Movement at the beginning of May last year. The documents were made accessible to Thai Pakdee after Pannika had sued Boonkua for libel, which the latter described as her biggest mistake ever.

Possible irregularities, according to Boonkua and Thai Pakdee leader Warong Dechgitvigrom, include the existence of a large number of “recipients” who were very far down the list of applicants. The “suspicious” recipients had accounts in the same bank and those accounts have been closed. And despite the Progressive Movement’s stated rules that all applicants must state their reasons for seeking the donations, some successful applicants did not do that.

Whether some recipients were not even on the court-acquired list of applicants is up to the investigators to find out. This is potentially the most explosive element in the Thai Pakdee-Progressive Movement showdown.

The “Mayday, Mayday” campaign took place last year. It was an online charity concert carried out purportedly to expose government giveaways as red-tape operations badly affecting first seekers of help. The Progressive Movement said it would give Bt3,000 to everyone making a request on a first-come-first-served basis, as long as applicants stated their names, bank account numbers and reasons for needing help. There would be no scrutiny of the reasons, the movement said. The applications were made through the movement’s online channel, and the stored details of applicants and recipients have been seen by Boonkua and Thai Pakdee thanks to court orders.

After Pannika sued Boonkua, he managed to request to see related documents of the Progressive Movement. He said what he found was that first applicants on the list followed those rules strictly but did not get the money, as opposed to those actually awarded the help, who applied late and some of them did not even state their reasons. A big number of recipients were not among the first 60,000 applicants. According to Warong, he could not find the names of some recipients on the list of applicants.

Boonkua said he would leave no stone unturned in finding out who the recipients were and whether they actually needed help.

“This is a case that the Thai public may have forgotten but we will never let go. In this age of social media, anyone accused can lie low for a couple of days when issues emerge against them. Then they will return when things die down on the social media and attack others like what they did themselves never happened,” he said.

Thai Pakdee leader Warong alleged that “Mayday , Mayday” was not just a scheme to discredit the government, but it also was a scam, which according to the Progressive Movement drew Bt7.28 million in donation money.

The Progressive Movement has yet to categorically respond to what look like bombshell allegations, which might deal Thanathorn another political blow after legal controversies had emerged against himself, his brother, and their mother.

May 1, 2021: Calls are growing for the United States to join an effort to force makers of vaccine to waive intellectual property rights to coronavirus vaccines and treatments so many more countries can start making them.

Hundreds of health experts said in a statement to the Biden administration: “We are public health faculty, administrators, students and practitioners moved to action by the urgent need for the United States to support the temporary waiver of some trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights rules proposed by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization during the COVID-19 emergency.”

The group noted Washington’s influential opposition to the proposed waiver.

Growing calls for America to soften its stance have come amid a major crisis in India, which has seen a daily infection number surpassing 400,000.

Waiver is not just humanitarian, but it’s also scientifically necessary, health experts say.

“Until vaccines, testing, and treatments are accessible to everyone everywhere we risk recurring new variants, drug resistance and greater loss of life and suffering at home and globally,” the statement to the US government said.

“Unless countries cooperate and share medical technology to speed production, there simply will not be sufficient supply of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for many countries _ particularly developing countries _ to manage COVID-19. Many countries may not have access to widespread vaccination until as late as 2034.”

 

 

 

 

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