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Asia Today: Sri Lanka vaccinates 1st health workers, troops

January 29, 2021 GMT
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A health worker wearing protective gear talks during a rally at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon city, Philippines, Friday Jan. 29, 2021. Protesters said that it has been almost one year since the first reported case of the coronavirus in the country and they are still demanding the government for free mass testing, free vaccines and paid quarantine leave for workers. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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A health worker wearing protective gear talks during a rally at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon city, Philippines, Friday Jan. 29, 2021. Protesters said that it has been almost one year since the first reported case of the coronavirus in the country and they are still demanding the government for free mass testing, free vaccines and paid quarantine leave for workers. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka on Friday began inoculating front-line health workers, military troops and police officers against COVID-19 amid warnings about infections among medical workers.

Sri Lanka on Thursday received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine donated by India and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

The government says 150,000 health workers and 115,000 selected military and police will be the first recipients.

The Indian Ocean island nation’s regulatory body approved the vaccine last week as doctors were warning that front-line health workers should be quickly inoculated to prevent the medical system from collapsing due to infections among medical staff.

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The vaccination takes place at six state-run hospitals in the capital Colombo and suburbs and two hospitals run by the army for four days. The health ministry said it will expand to other parts of the country by next week. The ministry has planned up to 4,000 vaccination centers countrywide.

Most of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 cases and deaths have occurred since October when clusters centered on a garment factory and a fish market emerged in the capital Colombo and its suburbs. It’s had 61,585 cases with 297 fatalities since March and adds between 300 to 900 new cases every day.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Singapore will give financial payouts in the rare cases of vaccine injury to ease the minds of those taking COVID-19 vaccines. The health ministry said more than 113,000 people had received their first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and 432 of them reported side effects. Injection site pain and swelling, fever, head and body aches, and fatigue were among the side effects reported. The ministry said three people suffered severe allergic reactions but all recovered swiftly. Anaphylaxis is a known but rare side effect of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and the ministry said those with a history of anaphylaxis are precluded from receiving the dose. The ministry said it has drawn up a financial assistance package for rare cases of vaccine injury. This include a one-time payout of up to 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,515) for hospitalization due to life-threatening side effects, and 225,000 Singapore dollars ($169,000) for death or permanent severe disability. Vaccination is free and voluntary in the tiny island-state, which has recorded 59,391 coronavirus cases and 29 deaths.

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— Japan’s minister in charge of the coronavirus vaccine rollout warned the public against scams in which callers ask for bank payments to reserve inoculation slots. Taro Kono, minister for administrative affairs, stressed the vaccines, set to start next month, are free. “We want to make sure our message is getting relayed,” Kono told reporters Friday, acknowledging such attempts may grow. Local government offices have been deluged with inquiries about fraudulent vaccine-related telephone calls wanting cash or personal information, he said. Cajoling people to send money has been so common in Japan they’re called, “It’s me, it’s me scams,” because perpetrators pretend to be the victims’ children. Cases of COVID-19 infections have been growing recently, with 380,000 cases of infection and more than 5,000 deaths.