Virus Outbreak Caribbean Tourism

Just another lonely day in Paradise

A tourist, wearing a protective face mask amid the new cornavirus pandemic, walks along the beach shore in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. The Caribbean is hunting for visitors to jump-start the stalled economy in one of the world’s most tourism-dependent regions (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Chinese vaccines cover the world, despite concerns

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The plane laden with vaccines had just rolled to a stop at Santiago’s airport in late January, and Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, was beaming. “Today,” he said, “is a day of joy, emotion and hope.”

The source of that hope: China – a country that Chile and dozens of other nations are depending on to help rescue them from the COVID-19 pandemic.

China’s vaccine diplomacy campaign has been a surprising success: It has pledged roughly half a billion doses of its vaccines to more than 45 countries, according to a country-by-country tally by The Associated Press. With just four of China’s many vaccine makers claiming they are able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses this year, a large part of the world’s population will end up inoculated not with the fancy Western vaccines boasting headline-grabbing efficacy rates, but with China’s humble, traditionally made shots.

Amid a dearth of public data on China’s vaccines, hesitations over their efficacy and safety are still pervasive in the countries depending on them, along with concerns about what China might want in return for deliveries. Nonetheless, inoculations with Chinese vaccines already have begun in more than 25 countries, and the Chinese shots have been delivered to another 11, according to the AP tally, based on independent reporting in those countries along with government and company announcements.

It’s a potential face-saving coup for China, which has been determined to transform itself from an object of mistrust over its initial mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak to a savior. Like India and Russia, China is trying to build goodwill, and has pledged roughly 10 times more vaccines abroad than it has distributed at home.

“We’re seeing certainly real-time vaccine diplomacy start to play out, with China in the lead in terms of being able to manufacture vaccines within China and make them available to others,” said Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University. “Some of them donated, some of them sold, and some of them sold with debt financing associated with it.”

China has said it is supplying “vaccine aid” to 53 countries and exports to 27, but it rejected a request by the AP for the list. Beijing has also denied vaccine diplomacy, and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said China considered the vaccine a “global public good.” Chinese experts reject any connection between the export of its vaccines and the revamping of its image.

Coronavirus rages in vaccine-needy West Bank after year

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israel’s spring of hope is unfolding alongside the Palestinians’ winter of despair.

More than half of Israel’s population of 9.3 million have been vaccinated and the lines for shots have dwindled. There’s enough of a surplus that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to send thousands of doses to friendly countries. Hotels and restaurants are set to reopen next week.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the COVID-19 wards are overstretched, testing centers are as busy as ever and new lockdown measures have been announced. The Palestinian Authority has acquired only a few thousand doses — not even enough for front-line health workers — and reported nearly 2,000 new cases on Tuesday alone.

It’s a stark illustration of the disparity at the heart of the Middle East conflict — one of the few aspects of life here that haven’t changed over the past year.

Israel cites past agreements that say the PA is responsible for health care in areas it administers. Human rights groups say Israel is shirking its obligations as an occupying power. The PA, perhaps out of concern for its own image, insists it has secured its own supplies.

In the meantime, West Bank hospitals are filling up. A woman who identified herself as Umm Bashar brought her mother to the main hospital in Ramallah two days ago after her oxygen levels dropped. She’s still waiting in the emergency unit for a bed in a newly expanded COVID-19 ward.

“They told us that because of the coronavirus, all the beds are full,” she said. “Everything has become very hard.”

An emergency room medic, who was not authorized to talk to reporters and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said 14 suspected COVID-19 patients arrived Tuesday morning, a day after 24 were transferred to a ward for treating the disease.

Myanmar police fire tear gas, rubber bullets at protesters

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Police in Myanmar repeatedly used tear gas and rubber bullets Tuesday against crowds protesting last month’s coup, but the demonstrators regrouped after each volley and tried to defend themselves with barricades as standoffs between protesters and security forces intensified.

Authorities have escalated their crackdown on the protests in recent days. The United Nations said it believed at least 18 people were killed on Sunday when security forces fired into crowds, while a rights group said more than 1,000 people were detained over the weekend, including an Associated Press journalist. A lawyer for the journalist said he has been charged with an offense that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.

Despite the increasingly brutal crackdown, demonstrators have continued to flood the streets — and are beginning to more rigorously resist attempts to disperse them. Hundreds, many wearing construction helmets and carrying makeshift shields, gathered in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon, where a day earlier police had fired repeated rounds of tear gas. They dragged bamboo poles and debris to form barricades, chanted slogans and sang songs at the police lines. They even threw banana skins onto the road in front of them in a bid to slow any police rush.

The mainly young demonstrators fled in panic each time tear gas canisters were fired but soon returned to their barricades. Videos posted on social media showed similar chaotic scenes in the Insein neighborhood of northern Yangon.

Protesters also took up their flags and banners to march through the streets of Dawei, a small city in southeastern Myanmar that has seen almost daily large demonstrations against the coup. One group of demonstrators was targeted by the security forces as it entered a narrow street on its way to pay respects at the house of a man killed in Sunday’s crackdown. Another was attacked on the main street in the city’s center.

Police also dispersed protests in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, on Tuesday.