What We Know About the U.S. Covid-19 Vaccine Race

In a letter dated August 27th, Robert Redfield, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, said U.S. states will receive permit applications in the near future from McKesson Corp., which has contracted with the CDC to distribute vaccines to places including state and local health departments and hospitals.

U.S President Donald Trump has also forecasted a U.S. vaccine approval by October. 

So, who is in the race of developing America’s Covid-19 vaccine? The three leading drug makers backed by the U.S. in late-staging testing now are Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

Moderna

Moderna CEO, Stephane Bancel, said that they should have enough data from its late-stage trial to know whether its vaccine works in November. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company also became the first to publish the blueprints of its study following public pressure for greater transparency. Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine enters the final stage trial this month.

As of September 19th, Moderna had recruited 25,296 volunteers. Among them, 10,025 had received their second dose, 28 days after the first. It’ll take a few more weeks to recruit the full quotient of 30,000 participants and for them to receive their second doses. Only Covid-19 infections recorded two weeks or more after the second dose are counted, to give the vaccine sufficient time to take effect.

Pfizer

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a sign outside Pfizer Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Pfizer CEO, Albert Boula said its vaccine could be distributed to Americans before the end of the year, citing that the company should have key data from its late-stage trail by the end of October, which is line with what U.S President Donald Trump’s wants. Currently at phase 3 trials, Pfizer also published the blueprints for its research, soon after Moderna’s move.

While Pfizer is a household name in pharmaceuticals, it’s also a collaborating with a lesser known Biopharmaceutical New Technologies. Pfizer and BioNTech are planning to expand the enrollment of their phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial from 30,000 to 44,000 participants.

AstraZeneca

FILE PHOTO: The company logo for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is displayed on a screen on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

AstraZeneca co-developed a vaccine with the University of Oxford, but the global trials for it were suspended last week after a study volunteer, a previously healthy 37-year-old woman “experienced confirmed transverse myelitis” after receiving her second dose of the vaccine.

AstraZeneca has since announced that it will pause the the trial worldwide. The trial resumed in the U.K. on Saturday but is yet to resume in the U.S. Communications about the patient’s condition has not been fully transparent too, citing a company spokesperson that they “cannot disclose medical information.”

Trump’s claims

Trump said a vaccine could be three or four weeks away, despite cautionary warnings by U.S public health officials about that accelerated timeline.

Trump, speaking at a town hall hosted by ABC News in Philadelphia, defended his handling of the coronavirus crisis, and said a vaccine could be ready for distribution before the US presidential election on Nov 3.

“We’re very close to having a vaccine,” he said.

“If you want to know the truth, the previous administration would have taken perhaps years to have a vaccine because of the FDA and all the approvals. And we’re within weeks of getting it … could be three weeks, four weeks.”

U.S Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden contradicted Trump, warning Americans that they cannot trust the president’s word. The president has since hit back at Biden, accusing him of spreading “anti-vaccine rhetoric”.

Stages of the race

Pre-clinical

The vaccines are usually tested on animals first to assess the safety and also its effects on the immune system. In order to pacen the process, researchers have tested both and animals and humans together.

Clinical Trials (Phase 1)

Vaccine is given to a group of people (usually between 10-50)

Clinical Trials (Phase 2)

Further tests are then administered on hundreds of people. 

Many coronavirus vaccines combine both phase 1 and 2 trials, which means that it is directly tested on hundreds of people instead in its supposing first phase.

Clinical Trials (Phase 3)

Thousands of people across different ages and locations are then given the vaccine; researchers later observe on how many contact the virus then. This shows how good it is at reducing new infections.

Implementation

The trial results are then reviewed by regulators who then determine whether it should be approved for licensing and large-scale manufacturing

Each step can typically take up to two years or more to complete, but the race has since forced some companies to combine or skip steps to accelerate the process. 

Operation Warp Speed

The U.S. government has stood by an “America First” approach to finding a vaccine. The Operation Warp Speed initiative is an effort largely similar in purpose with the mission to get a man on the moon. Launched in May this year, it aims of delivering 300 million “safe, effective’ doses by January 2021; eight of the most promising vaccine candidates has been selected and given a boost by the U.S. government. 

$10.8 billion has been dedicated for vaccine development and procurement while $1.5 billion has been pumped in for manufacturing and distribution.

History of Sabah Elections in 1200 Words

Sabah, one of the two states we have across the waters from Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysians not familiar with the state think they can drive there from East Malaysia and even think that we are required to have passports to get there; it’s undeniable that some of us at the West don’t know as much as we should about “the land below the wind”.

The nation’s second largest state after Sarawak, Sabah is home to over 1.2 million people consisting of Chinese, Kadazandusuns, Bajaus, Bruneis and Muruts. The Sabah Chinese population is half Christian and half Buddhist while Kadazandusuns are a quarter Muslim and three quarters Christian, like the Muruts population.

With the dissolvement of the Sabah State Assembly on July 30th, the position of Chairman/Chief Minister, who has seen 15 changes since 1963, is again up for grabs. The tables for the 2020 Sabah state elections have shown three individuals, Shafie Apdal of Pakatan Harapan/WARISAN while Barisan Nasional/UMNO are still to decide between Musa Aman and Bung Moktar Radin.

To help prepare for the occasion, here’s a history of what we know about the Sabah elections:

Sabah was led to independence by three political parties, the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Organisation (UPKO) led by Tun Muhammad Fuad Donald Stephens, the United Sabah National Organisation (USNO) led by Datu Mustapha and the Sabah Chinese Association led by Tan Sri Peter Lo Su Yin and Tan Sri Khoo Siak Chew.

Muhammad Fuad Stephens, Sabah’s first ever Chief Minister (1963 – 1964) 

Stephens was Sabah’s first Chief Minister while Datu Mustapha was the first State Governor. Both however, shared different views on how self-governed Sabah should be; Stephens wanted a stronger degree of autonomy for Sabah while Mustapha opt for a watered-down autonomy. The Federal Government at that time, headed by the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) leaned towards Datu Mustapha but Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra maintain a strong relationship with both the Sabahan leaders.

Peter Lo picking up on turbulent times (1964 – 1967)

Stephens was eventually made a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Sabah and Peter Lo of the SCA took up the post of Sabah’s new Chief Minister. As the first Chinese to take the post, he was in charge during one the most turbulent times in Malaysian history as on top of ensuring harmony in a multi-racial state, he had to juggle conflict between the Federal, British and Sabah governments.

Datu Mustapha gets his turn, UPKO is troubled (1967 – 1975)

A few years after discovering oil in Sabah, Mustapha began to demand greater autonomy for Sabah, in which angered Tun Abdul Razak, the prime minister at that time. Stephens who dissolved UPKO to join USNO shortly before, was appointed as State Governor in 1973 and was unhappy with Mustapha for favoring the Bajaus over the majority Kadazandusuns in the political system of Sabah. Now with an agenda, Stephen left his post in 1975 to revived UPKO, but as a multi-racial party, the Sabah United People’s Party (Berjaya).

His list of notable supporters included:

  • Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan
  • Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan
  • Datuk Dr James Ongkili
  • Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili
  • Datuk Ayub Aman
  • Datuk Seri Musa Aman
  • Datuk Anifah Aman

Two prominent leaders also helped formed Berjaya:

  • Datuk Seri Harris Salleh
  • Datuk Ghapur Salleh

Mustapha steps down, Tun Said Keruak steps into the fire (1975 – 1976)

Keruak was the most known Bajau chieftain of Kota Belud and was USNO’s deputy chief. A year after taking the position, Berjaya routed USNO in the Sabah State election and received full support from Kuala Lumpur. Mustapha and Said later crossed over to the opposition, allowing Stephens a return to the hot seat with Harris and Pairin as his deputies. 

However, this was short lived, Stephens, who was just chief minister for a month, and a majority of his State Cabinet perished in an air crash while travelling from Labuan to Kota Kinabalu on June 6th 1976. Survivors included Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Pairin and Harris.

Datuk Seri Harris Salleh outsourcing labor (1976 – 1985)

Dubbed the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of Sabah, Harris single-handedly modernised the economy of Sabah; during his time, Sabah developed profoundly and was the second richest State in Malaysia in 1985. Harris was also influential in bringing in migrants from Phillipines and Indonesia as he saw them as a good and cheap source of labor.

Berjaya eventually joined a BN coalition while USNO did not, both remained component parties at Federal level. USNO failed to unseat Berjaya in the 1981 which resulted in the return of Mustapha as USNO chief when Said resigned and began supporting the Kitingans at Berjaya. 

The Kitingans eventually left to form their own Sabah United Party (PBS) with Pairin serving as the president. PBS went on to trounce Berjaya in the 1985 state election.

Pairin Kitingan and the defectors (1985 – 1994)

Harris and Mustapha decided to merge and form the Sabah Chapter of UMNO, the country’s main political party, to unseat Pairin. UMNO Sabah was materialised in 1990.

In 1990, Koding and Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, quit PBS to from the People’s Justice Movement (AKAR) which later also became part of UMNO Sabah. More top leaders from PBS quit the party in 1994 to create their very own parties, which in the end became BN members. 

This among other defectors such as Datuk Yong Teck Lee, Tan Sri Bernard Tompok and Tan Sri Joseph Kurup formed Sabah People’s united Party (PBRS) and led to the eventual downfall of PBS. Pairin vacated his post in 1994 after serving the longest term as Sabah Chief Minister

Tun Sakaran Dandai slides into the hot seat, courtesy of familiar faces (1994)

Datu Mustapha’s long time assistant, Sakaran was a Murut-Bajau chieftain from Semporna. It was later revealed that Datu Mustapha, the Keruaks, the Amans, Harris and Sakaran co-engineered the defections and downfall of PBS.

Harries joined UMNO Labuan instead but still remained an important advisor for UMNO Sabah. Sakaran spent a mere few months as Chief Minister before stepping down to pick up the position of state governor, the following chief minister’s past role. 

Sakaran spent just a few months in the role of chief minister before his son took over in the same year.

Salleh Keruak, the first of many in a new system (1994)

At this time, BN had introduced a new rotation system for the Chief Minister’s post. An indigenous Muslim [either Kadazandusun, Bajau, Brunei or Murut] would be Chief Minister for two years, followed by a Chinese Sabahan and finally, an indigenous Non- Muslim [either Kadazandusun or Murut].

Salleh became the first of many rotations that was followed by members of PBRS, Yong Dompok, Datuk Seri Osu Sukam, Tan Sri Datuk Chong Kah Kiat and eventually Musa Aman in 2003.

A new beginning with Musa Aman (2004 – 2018)

With Musa at the post, BN decided to scrap the rotation system as they realised it did not give the Chief Minister enough time to carry out his projects. PBS went on to rejoin BN in 2001; Jeffrey quit PBRS in 2004 and went on to be the chief of the Sabah Chapter of the People’s Justice Party (PKR). The Sabah chapter of Gerakan was formed by PBS opposers led by Datuk Kong Hong Ming.

The Impact of 9/11 on Malaysia

Kent Kobersteen, former Director of Photography of National Geographic
“The pictures are by Robert Clark, and were shot from the window of his studio in Brooklyn. Others shot the second plane hitting the tower, but I think there are elements in Clark’s photographs that make them special. To me the wider shots not only give context to the tragedy, but also portray the normalcy of the day in every respect except at the Towers. I generally prefer tighter shots, but in this case I think the overall context of Manhattan makes a stronger image. And, the fact that Clark shot the pictures from his studio indicates how the events of 9/11 literally hit home. I find these images very compelling and in fact, whenever I see them they force me to study them in great detail.”

When the September 11 attacks (usually referred to as 9/11) happened 19 years ago on this day, not only the United States, but the whole world was in shock of what they were witnessing near and far across the globe.

Four coordinated terrorist attacks by the terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States resulted in 2,977 deaths and over 25,000 injuries, not to mention the substantial long-term health consequences that stuck with several other victims as well.

On top of that, with property damage of up to $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage, it is the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history and single deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States.

Ever since the attack, September the 9th has been tailored into all of those who witnessed it on that day; many in the U.S. mourn for those that perished while many others still find it hard to believe that such acts of terror is in fact possible.

As the attacks began to be taken personally by countries near and far, it soon became clear that the attacks also shaken even those here in Malaysia who were 14,000 kilometres away.

Here’s how the 9/11 attacks affected Malaysia back then.

Malaysia Responds

Malaysia who has a majority Muslim population, responded by condemning the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, while pledging full support for the US-led effort to combat terrorism.

Both Malaysia and Singapore at that time cooperated with the U.S. through exchange of intelligence information and coordinating security measures against possible terrorist attacks.

Through their powers under the Internal Security Act, scores of Muslims involved in plots to carry out attacks against government and western targets in their regions were arrested; which included 50 people from militant Muslim groups such as the Kumpulan Militant Malaysia which were link to the JI and AQ networks. 

International Relations

The U.S. Administration and Congress appreciated Malaysia’s open support for the war against terrorism, in which help with the strained relations between the two ever since the 1998 sacking, detention, trial and jailing of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Both Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and President George Bush agreed about the need to address the roots causes of terrorism such as the suicide bombers in Palestine. Mahathir even went the extra mile to persuade the Islamic world to condemn suicide bombings, but was unsuccessful to getting an agreement from the Organisation of Islamic Conference on a common definition of terrorism that would include such tactics.

However, Mahathir’s condemnation for the Israeli military occupation and suppression of Palestine remained unchanged.

Political Impact

The arrests of four dozen militant Muslims was largely linked to the Opposition Islamic Party, PAS, which put the party on the defensive end while increasing popularity of UMNO as a party of moderate Muslims.

According to Mushahid Ali a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Western-educated Muslim intellectuals also began debating Islamic issues with ulemas to reform rules in regards to women, governing family, governing society and to resist the introduction of the hudud punishment and restrictive practices for Muslims.

Covid-19’s Impact on the Aviation Industry

Air travel is an essential method of travel across international borders without the wasting of too much time; however, as flawless as it is, air travel has unfortunately been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic like never before.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the aviation industry like a wrecking ball as flight cancellations, travel bans and restrictions has very literally put the industry to a steaming halt. On top of that, almost every country around have taken drastic measures such as full lockdowns, shutting down airports and completely sealing off borders to “flatten to curve” and contain the pandemic, making air travel limited to a few that are extremely essential.

Airlines have since grounded most flights, causing majority of their shares to plummet drastically, as to the decline seen during the SARS crisis in 2002/2003.

Flight cancellations

Government regulations in Europe and the U.S. require airlines to refund fares for cancelled flights. In many cases, airlines around the world have also opted to give out vouchers or travel credits that MUST be used by the end of the year (some airlines have extended this window to 2022).

By April, over 80% flight movements were restricted across all regions and research shows that the recovery of passenger demand is set to take at most 2.4 years. The Asia-Pacific region has the shortest estimated average recovery time of 2.2 years, followed by North America in 2.5 years, and Europe 2.7 years

Impact on air cargo

The cost of sending cargo across the Pacific Ocean tripled by late March. At the end of March, cargo capacity was down by 35% compared to the previous year: North America to Asia Pacific capacity fell by 17% (19% in the opposite direction) Asia-Pacific to Europe was down by 30% (reverse: -32%), inter-Asia was down by 35%. 

Lagging the capacity reductions, demand was down by 23% in March, resulting in higher freight rates: from China/Hong Kong, between March 2 and April 6, +158% to Europe and +90.5% to North America.

On top of that, international mail has also largely been stopped completely either due to suspension of domestic service or lack of transportation.

Impact on airlines

Due to sudden huge losses in revenue, airlines decided to hold out against refunding cancelled flights and tickets to conserve money, against government regulations. 

By mid-April, the inactive fleet went up to almost 14,400, leaving 7,635 in operation stood: predominantly in Europe, where less than 15% are operating, than in North America (45%) or Asia (49%); and affecting Narrow-body aircraft (37%) less than wide-body aircraft (27%).

By June 2020, the International Air Transit Association (IATA) projected a collective net loss of $84.3 billion yearly for airlines, worse than the $30 billion loss during the financial crisis of 2008-2009, and also projects that income will remain negative through 2021.

Impact on aircraft manufacturers

Manufacturers such as Airbus went through a reduction in wing production in factories in Broughton, Filton and Bremen, and also reduce working hours for its employees. Monthly production was cut to four A220s, forty A320s, two A330s and six A350; Airbus proceeded to deliver just 122 in the first quarter, 40 fewer than the previous year.

Boeing froze hiring and laid off employees due to a high amount of cancellations. On 21 April, Boeing announced a management structure overhaul. On 27 May, it announced plans to lay off 12,000 employees, while it reported zero new aircraft orders in April 2020.

Impact on airports

By the middle of April, the Airports Council International (ACI) observed a 95% fall in traffic in 18 airports in major aviation markets in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. It was also estimated by the Airports Council International (ACI) that passenger traffic worldwide would amount to less than half of what was previously projected for the year.

Demand for aircraft storage increased to a point where runways and taxiways at airports such as Frankfurt Airport and Atlanta Airport were closed to make room for storage by Lufthansa, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines respectively.

Universiti Malaya Caught Up in Sexual Harassment Case

Universiti Malaya has recently come under fire for their handling of an alleged sexual harassment case towards one of its students.

Back in July, a 23-year-old, third year student lodged a police report after feeling unjustified with the response she had received from the Universiti Malaya Integrity Unit.

The student claimed she was sexually harassed by a senior lecturer in his office on June 3rd last year. The misconduct included physically touching of the hips while asking disturbing personal questions.

The student has since been told that the associate professor whom she accused and is already retired in June, will not face any criminal action as authorities won’t be pressing further charges.

Brickfields police chief Zairulnizam Mohd Zainuddin

“After studying the statements given in the case, the DPP decided there were no charges against the suspect, taking into account the fact that Universiti Malaya had taken internal action against the suspect,” Brickfields police chief Zairulnizam Mohd Zainuddin said.

He also added that it was the deputy public prosecutor’s (DPP) decision not to file any charges. It was also the Attorney-General’s Chambers decision to drop the case.

Universiti Malaya Vice Chancellor, Abdul Rahim Hashim

The university’s vice chancellor, Abdul Rahim Hashim, also released a statement stating that investigations were conducted as soon as the complaint was received. He said that the perpetrator had been punished under the rules of the integrity code.

A student group at the university, University of Malaya Association of New Youth (UMANY), has called for the resignation of said vice chancellor for allegedly being “weak, vain and incompetent”.

Such demands came after he said that while management has taken action against the disgraced lecturer, he cannot divulge information regarding the punishment.

The student group also claimed that despite allegations of the lecturer preying on several other students, management has only decided to demote the lecturer.

The university has also been accused of not being transparent in the case, hence, not living up to its code of conducts.

Lilian Kok of the All Women’s Action Society stated that under the university’s Code of practice on the Prevention and Handling of Sexual Harassment, results of the investigations should be disclosed to both parties.

“However, as we can see from this case, having a comprehensive process is not enough,” she told in an interview with FMT. 

“There should be accountability and transparency in order to institutionalise a holistic sexual harassment preventive measure.

“Universities should also be more aware of the unavoidable power dynamics in the environment and take decisive and transparent measures to safeguard the rights of the students.”

According to Kok, 28% of Malaysians experienced sexual harassment, a fifth of those occurred in educational institutes.

“Universities should also be more aware of the unavoidable power dynamics in the environment and take decisive and transparent measures to safeguard the rights of the students.” Kok said.

A change.org petition has also started circling around social media seeking to prosecute the lecturer, it has since gathered 5,500 signatures.

Audrey Hepburn Resurrected in Galaxy Chocolate Ad

It’s not every day that you get to see dead celebrities come back from the grave, that’s certainly not the case for the people at Framestore though, who famously brought famous actor, Audrey Hepburn back to life for a Galaxy commercial.

Hepburn represents everything elegant and classy, hence, it was ideal that Galaxy pick up on those qualities showcased by Hepburn and to implement their product as “silk, not cotton. Upon watching the advertisement for the first time, it was incomprehensible on how a globally recognized face was recreated even with original footage that are incompatible with today’s high standards.

Two body doubles were casted, one to represent her 20-inch waist and another to convey her distinctive bone structure. The shot and footage was then augmented with VFX.

Facial action coding system (FACS) was also used to scan the face of the double. This captured an abundance of hi-res skin textures and more than 60 different facial expressions for the animators to replicate for recreating the computer generated (CG) Hepburn.

The creators had to then perfectly lock the actor’s body to the CG head. Without this step and a perfect head joint, a “nodding-dog” effect would’ve ruined all the hard work. This step was fortunately recreated with a past CG work on a Sandra Bullock film.

The next big obstacle was to make the computer-generated skin look real. Using a renderer, Arnold, the perfect soft, translucent look of real skin was created, combined with a soft “peach fuzz” to break-up a robotic perfection.

Without geometrical data of Hepburn’s face, recreating her as a CG person was close to inaccurate science. Trial and error was the way to go, being persistent until they reached the perfect end-result.

Although aired in 2013, the ad is still enjoying international airtime today. Hollywood has since been quietly debating the consequences of photoreal CG actors and posthumous usage. There are also rumors of young celebrities are having their bodies scanned at various ages as a form of digital cryogenics.

Instagram has a Predator Problem

Schools closed, families stuck at home, and the internet is being used now more than ever amid pandemic restrictions going on in the outside world.

We’ve all experienced the consequences of the coronavirus firsthand, and with the younger generation adapting to technology at their hands, it is no wonder that platforms like Instagram have been a new hunting ground for sexual predators.

Men are leaving derogatory and inappropriate comments on accounts of way too many young women, and the report function is failing to fix the problem.

“We’re talking about modelling pages, dancing pages, gymnastics pages for girls. It’s like any girl is up for grabs, really,” Melinda Tankard Reist, a campaigner for Collective Shout told the Sydney Morning Herald in an interview.

As an image based medium, Instagram has transitioned from an image sharing platform to becoming a magnet for said men who are predators and fantasizers.

Although adults are under the same roof as their kids, they are busy and distracted with working from home, giving the kids that much more freedom to roam around social platforms unprioritized.

Luckily, there are a few ways to ensure that your child doesn’t get sucked into the mayhem.

1) Talk

Take a none judgmental stance and talk to your child. Let your child know that they can talk to you about anything and don’t act differently with the words. Shame is a dangerous factor and can lead kids to hide their risky online interactions from you. Explain that if an adult ever acted sexually towards them, it is now their fault and you should be one that is to hear it from them.

2) Teach

Educate them on behaviors that should be reported to an adult: strangers asking to keep secrets, requesting they move conversations to less monitored platforms and offering gifts of their liking. Guide on what to do if they every encounter such experiences.

3) Moderate

Instagram has comment moderation tools to allow only people you follow to comment on your posts, consider using such tools for your child’s accounts. The tools automatically block comments that contains certain words that you can set up as offensive. 

According to The Rakyat Post, Communications and Multimedia Deputy Minister Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin explained that Malaysia still lacked the technology as well as a budget to conceive a system to identify sexual offenders entering Malaysia.

Most countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and others have a Sex Offender Registry to provide details on convicted and suspected sex offenders. Malaysia own National Sex Offenders Registry catalogs at least 3,000 reported sexual offenders from just 2017 to 2019, but calls have been made for the government to expand and make the data more accessible to the public.

Its been reported that between 2015 and 2018 alone more than 400 child pornography websites were shut down through collaborations between Malaysian and international law enforcement.

Private entities are also just developing platforms for the public to report sexual crimes tat they encounter online.

Malaysia still has much more that they can do in terms of addressing the child predator and sexual offenses issue. It is clear that initiatives are being taken but there is still more to be done.

KLPAC During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Image via KLPac

With many theatrical performing art centres around the world closing their doors amid the Covid-19 mayhem, one couldn’t help but wonder about how the performing arts sector such as those in the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC).

Located in Sentul, KLPAC has been open for over 31 years and had faced its first closure in March. 

“Faridah and I, on behalf of KLPAC, TAS, and penangpac regret to announce the immediate cancellation of all activities until the end of this month” said owners, Joe Hasham and Datuk Faridah Merican.

“Our hearts go out to all the other theatre groups and freelance practitioners who, unfortunately, do not have the wherewithal to combat this present crisis.”

Since then, 43 shows have been cancelled with venue hirers also dropping their bookings up to October. Combined losses are said to exceed RM800,000.

In a bid to raise urgent fundings, the fundraising event, #SaveYourSeat was initiated where loyal patrons or art lovers would adopt a seat for a fee of RM50 onwards.

“While it has been off to a good start with a third of the seats adopted, we still have a long way more to go,” Hasham said in an interview with NST.

Besides that, they were also fortunate enough to be receiving donations as a non-profit like KLPAC can find it extremely challenging to operate with an expense of RM4.4 million, without government funding.

In recent events of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), KLPAC has since opened its doors again to the public under standard operating procedure (SOP) guidelines. 

“Yesterday Once More”, its first live show since March was a golden oldies concert and ran from July 22nd to 26th after two previous sold out editions. 

Concert director Ian Chow was conducting a rehearsal when news of MCO being enforced came out as the show was originally planned for March 18th.

“Now that we have re-opened with careful standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place, we need to pick up the pieces.” said Chow.

“Never has the arts been more essential. People are wary and anxious from months of uncertainty and we want to lift people’s spirits again.

“Nothing heals better than music and live music at that. It has been eight months since we started preparing for Yesterday Once More 3 and we are definitely ready.

“When we finally have the singers and musicians on stage with audiences in the house, it will be magical,”

KLPAC has also taken extreme measures to ensure the safety of its patrons according to the National Security Council’s SOP guidelines. Heath screening, physical distancing, sanitation and disinfections, staff were also trained to ensure a contactless experience.

Masks were mandatory as well and e-ticketing has since been adopted to avoid long queues at the box office.

For more details on their upcoming shows or other fundraising campaigns, visit www.klpac.com

Social Distancing at The Kaaba

More than two million Muslims visit the Kaaba annually at Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims around the world.

As many as 300,000 worshippers can fit in the mosque; however, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed those numbers as just only those within Saudi Arabia are allowed to visit the holy site to perform the annual pilgrimage now.

In a Twitter image by a user @aleeharissi that garnered four thousand retweets and nine thousand likes, pilgrims circled around the Kaaba in small groups of 50. Each of them were wearing a mask and performing the ritual at a safe distance away from each other.

As part of Covid-19 measures, 3,500 workers at the Kaaba have been spread around the Grand Mosque to carry out sanitisation duties.

On top of that, sanitisation is done using 54,000 litres of disinfectant and 1,050 litres of air fresheners. Further, instead of cleaning the floor thrice in a day it is now being cleaned 10 times in a day.

What We Know about Russia’s Covid-19 Vaccine

Image via GettyImages

Early this week, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that the country has approved a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes covid-19. 

According to Putin, the vaccine, received by his own daughter, is safe and effective and that mass vaccinations is planned for October.

Global leaders have since voiced their concerns while some have voiced the approval for it as well. Is the vaccine safe, let alone effective? Immunologists say that there is no certain way to be sure and it seems that Russia is being accused of cutting corners to speed up the processes.

Russia has since offered to help the U.S. with the Covid-19 vaccine, but officials told CNN that the “U.S. is not currently open” to the Russian medical advances.

“There is a general sense of mistrust of Russia on the American side and we believe that technologies — including vaccine, testing and treatments — are not being adopted in US because of that mistrust,” one senior Russian official told CNN.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the Philippines will launch clinical trials of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine as early as October. 

Duterte has also vowed that he himself would be the first to be injected with it. If successful, the vaccine would be registered for public use by April 2021.

So what do we know?

Sputnik 1

Named after the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, the vaccine is called Sputnik V and is a clear sign that the Russian government will see the vaccine as a matter of national pride. 

Developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, part of Russia’s Ministry of Health, the vaccine was made from a harmless cold virus carrying a coronavirus gene similar to what Johnson & Johnson use in their vaccines. 

Russian researchers have pre-registered phase 1 and phase 2 trials, and according to a website for the vaccine, those trials were completed in early August. No unfavourable effects were recorded and the vaccine produced the appropriate immune response.

Before mass vaccinating, phase 3 has to be carried out.

Phase 3 was planned to be conducted in different countries including India, but officials at the Union Health Ministry in India have reportedly denied Moscow’s claim stating that “no collaboration had been held”.

Kirill Dmitriyev

Volunteers were able to register for phase 3 trials on Tuesday onwards, and the studies will also be conducted in foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines, according to Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) head Kirill Dmitriyev.

Why is it being questioned?

According to The Moscow Times, the first phase involved 38 civilians and 38 military volunteers; the second phases included about 100 people, but no results regarding both phases have been published in scientific literature.

On top of that, candidates are yet to go through the final stage of tests which needs large numbers of volunteers to assess the vaccine’s safety and efficiency. With no proof from large scale clinical trials, experts are worried. 

What could go wrong?

“I think it’s really scary. It’s really risky,” said Daniel Salmon, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University.

By jumping ahead for the phase 3 trials, Russia is not able to determine if the vaccine works better than a placebo and doesn’t cause harm to people who get it. Vaccines are intended to be given to a mass amount of people around the world, they must in fact, clear a high number of standards, especially if hundreds of millions of people are getting it.

Even after clearing the standards and being licensed, it still has to be kept an eye on to make sure it is safe. Rare side effects may emerge over time especially those that weren’t immediately clear from the phase 3 trials. It can then be regulated and be made safer.

We are still trying to understand how the virus evades the immune system and make us sick and we aren’t all sure about what we know or don’t know yet.