Vice President Leni Robredo questioned on Sunday (February 21) the National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) basis for proposing that the entire country be placed under the least stringent quarantine classification, the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), despite the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Bakuna muna atupagin! Robredo questions basis for NEDA’s proposal for nationwide MGCQ

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Vice President Leni Robredo questioned on Sunday (February 21) the National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) basis for proposing that the entire country be placed under the least stringent quarantine classification, the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), despite the rise in COVID-19 cases.

On her radio show, “Biserbisyong Leni,” Robredo said public health should be given the same importance as the economy in deciding whether or not to further ease quarantine restrictions.

“Ang tanong ko lang: ano iyong basis, ‘di ba? Ano iyong basis ng MGCQ?” she asked.

“Wala namang problema mag-MGCQ kung may basehan tayo roon. Pero kapag tiningnan kasi natin iyong numero, ang taas ng transmission. Wala pa iyong bakuna,” Robredo said.

The Vice President said the public confidence in economic activities will continue to be low as long as the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 hasn’t kicked off.

“Dapat sana lahat na energies natin nandoon sa pag-control ng transmission at saka pag-provide ng bakuna, hindi na sa kung ano-ano pa. Dapat i-sentro na lahat doon kasi iyon iyong pinakamahalaga ngayon,” she said.

NEDA Director General Karl Chua recommended further easing the quarantine classification across the country starting March 1 to address hunger among Filipinos. He said the country lost P1.04 trillion in income last year or P2.8 billion per day due to the quarantine restrictions since March 2020.

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to decide on NEDA’s recommendation this week.

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Palace believes PH vaccine supply won’t be interrupted: ‘Tuluy-tuloy na ‘to’

By Prince Golez

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman expressed confidence that there will be no supply interruption to the government’s Covid-19 vaccination program.

On Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the country is set to receive more vaccine doses from the COVAX Facility and China’s Sinovac Biotech over the next months.

“Tuluy-tuloy na po iyan dahil may inaasahan po tayong isang milyon galing po sa Sinovac, ito na po iyong bibilhin natin. Ang ginagamit natin ay iyong donated lamang ‘no. Pero kung matatandaan ninyo, February, talagang magdi-deliver sila ng 50,000 at pagdating po ng Marso magdi-deliver sila ng 950,” Roque said in an interview on Dobol B sa News TV.

The secretary also said another 500,000 vaccine doses shipped by the COVAX Facility would arrive in the country this month.

“Iyong COVAX Facility ay inaasahan po natin na mayroon pa tayong 500,000 plus so sigurado po iyan darating ng Marso. So sa tingin ko po hindi na maaantala ito at pagdating po ng Abril eh diyan naman po sisipa iyong marami rin nating nabili rin ‘no,” according to him.

“Kaya nga po kampante po ang gobyerno na tuluy-tuloy na po ito at sa lalong mabilis na panahon sana matapos po natin ang mga health workers, 3.4 million po iyan. Pagkatapos po sana ay mayroon na tayong makuha para sa mga seniors dahil iyon na po ang ating susunod na target ng ating vaccination,” he added.

The Philippines launched its Covid-19 vaccination campaign on Monday with doses of Sinovac vaccines donated by Chinese government.

Dr. Seuss pulls six books over racist imagery

by Peter HUTCHISON

They are beloved by generations of early readers for their wacky rhyming tales and mischievous plotlines, but six Dr. Seuss books are being pulled because of imagery now considered racist.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises — the publisher of the bestselling children’s books — announced Tuesday that it is taking the six titles, which include “If I Ran the Zoo” and “The Cat’s Quizzer,” out of print.

The move comes as criticism grows in the United States over the way minority communities have been portrayed in many of the author’s books.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it had made the decision after carrying out a review of its collection last year with the help of experts, including teachers.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the company said in a statement.

The other titles being consigned to history are “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!” and “Scrambled Eggs Super!”

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” the statement added.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises made the announcement on what would have been the birthday of the famous children’s book author.

Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel in Massachusetts in 1904, published more than 60 books during his lifetime, including some of the most popular children’s books of all time.

His most famous works include “The Cat in the Hat,” “Green Eggs and Ham” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” He died in 1991.

– ‘Orientalism’ –
Seuss’s books have sold more than 650 million copies and have been translated into dozens of languages.

They are being reevaluated, however, over their portrayal of Black and Asian people.

A 2019 study published in the “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature” journal studied 50 of his books.

The report concluded that 43 of the 45 characters of color had “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism.”

The two Black characters in the books were identified as “African” and both “align with the theme of anti-Blackness,” the study said.

Stereotypical characters portrayed as “Arabian” appear in “If I Ran the Zoo,” “On Beyond Zebra!” and “Scrambled Eggs Super!”

“The Cat’s Quizzer” also features “Arabian” figures as well as a character portrayed as “a Japanese.”

“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” features a “Chinese man” with a rice bowl and chopsticks.

The study also said Seuss published anti-Black and anti-Semitic cartoons in a magazine in the 1920s as well as racist anti-Japanese propaganda during World War II.

However, his wartime cartoons for the liberal-leaning daily New York newspaper PM were also praised for railing against racism, anti-semitism and American isolationism.

– ‘Wise decision’ –
Seuss’s stepdaughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates told the New York Post “there wasn’t a racist bone” in Seuss’s body but described the withdrawal of the six books as “a wise decision.”

The announcement sparked a bidding frenzy for the scrapped books on eBay. The leading bid for a first edition of “On Beyond Zebra!” soared from $14.99 on Monday to $810 at 2:15 pm (1915 GMT) Tuesday.

On Saturday, a school district in Virginia suggested it was moving away from Dr. Seuss books while not banning them completely, saying recent research had “revealed strong racial undertones” in many of them.

In 2017, a school librarian in Cambridge Massachusetts said she would not accept a gift of ten Dr. Seuss books from then-first lady Melania Trump because many of his books were “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”

Agence France-Presse

Biden sees faster US vaccine timeline as pharma giants join forces

by John BIERS

President Joe Biden said Tuesday the United States would have enough vaccine for its entire adult population by the end of May, as he announced a deal for pharma giant Merck to produce the shot developed by rival Johnson & Johnson.

“This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II,” said Biden in announcing the pharmaceutical accord.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said the US leader — who previously targeted late July to amass sufficient doses to inoculate all Americans.

“That’s progress. Important progress. But it is not enough to have the vaccine supply,” Biden said, stressing that a “wartime effort” still lay ahead to administer the vaccines once acquired.

Merck will use two of its facilities to “produce drug substance, formulate and fill vials of J&J’s vaccine,” according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) statement.

Biden’s administration will leverage the Defense Production Act to provide an initial $105 million for Merck to convert and equip its facilities to safely manufacture the vaccine, the statement said.

The J&J vaccine is the third to receive US regulatory approval for emergency use, but the first that requires a single shot as opposed to two jabs.

Biden also said Johnson & Johnson’s own vaccine manufacturing facilities “will now begin to operate 24/7” — at the administration’s urging.

HHS said this would enable J&J to deliver close to 100 million doses to the United States by end May — instead of June as previously pledged.

J&J said in a statement it was “pleased” to work with Merck, which will “enhance our production capacity so that we can supply beyond our current commitments.”

– Boosting capacity –
Biden’s remarks came moments after Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted a state mask mandate and authorized business to open the state “100 percent.”

But “now is not the time to let up,” warned the president, calling on Americans to keep following social distancing protocols and wearing a mask even as new coronavirus cases fall and more are vaccinated.

“Great news, but stay vigilant,” Biden said. “It’s not over yet.”

The J&J shot appears slightly less protective than Pfizer and Moderna’s regimes, which have an efficacy of around 95 percent against all forms of Covid-19. But all three have been shown to fully protect against hospitalizations and death.

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday the federal government aims to distribute 3.9 million doses of the new vaccine this week — “the entire J&J inventory.”

A major vaccine producer in its own right, Merck had begun work on coronavirus vaccines, but abandoned those efforts in January, saying the immune responses that were “inferior” to successful Covid-19 vaccines.

The agreement between Merck and J&J follows on the heels of an accord between Pfizer/BioNTech and French pharma giant Sanofi, which plans to produce 125 million doses at a factory in Frankfurt, Germany after Sanofi’s own vaccine candidate fell short.

Agence France-Presse

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