Dutch curfew upheld in court as South Africa donates jabs

The Dutch legal battle is symbolic of a wider disenchantment over curfews, lockdowns and travel restrictions that have crushed economic growth around the world
The Dutch legal battle is symbolic of a wider disenchantment over curfews, lockdowns and travel restrictions that have crushed economic growth around the world Robin UTRECHT ANP/AFP
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The Hague (AFP)

A coronavirus curfew in the Netherlands was upheld in the country's appeals court on Tuesday after a bitter legal tussle, as South Africa gave a boost to its neighbours by offering to donate hundreds of thousands of vaccine jabs.

The Dutch government's anti-virus measures were briefly thrown into disarray earlier when judges struck down a nationwide curfew in a case launched by Virus Truth, a group that has led protests against restrictions.

The judges said the government had breached people's rights to privacy and free movement.

But hours later, the appeals court suspended the decision, saying: "In this case, the State's interests weigh more than that of Virus Truth's."

The legal battle is symbolic of a wider disenchantment over curfews, lockdowns and travel restrictions that have crushed economic growth around the world.

Britain's new rules see travellers from 33 so-called red zone countries forced to quarantine in hotels for 10 days at their own expense, but some people are less than happy at the situation.

"It's such a big mess," said Mohammed Mostafa, who was forced to quarantine after changing planes in the UAE, a country on the red list.

As frustration mounts with the restrictions, vaccine rollouts are still providing a beacon of hope -- so much so that some countries are apparently willing to break the law to get their hands on the doses.

South Korean officials say hackers from the North have been trying to get into the systems at vaccine-maker Pfizer, despite the North's leader Kim Jong Un repeatedly insisting that his country has had no coronavirus cases.

North Korea has been in self-imposed isolation for more than a year, as much of the world shut down to protect against a virus that has now killed more than 2.4 million people worldwide.

- No 'fruitless expenditure' -

Frustration and rancour has not been limited to virus restrictions though, with poorer nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) repeatedly warning against hoarding of vaccines by richer countries.

Nearly 172 million vaccine doses have been given worldwide, with most being rolled out in wealthier regions.

Mexico intends to complain to the United Nations about Latin America's plight, but African countries were given a boost on Tuesday when South Africa said it would offer the AstraZeneca jabs it had already bought to its neighbours.

"There will be no wasteful and fruitless expenditure," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament, saying the doses had been offered to the African Union.

South Africa took delivery of one million AstraZeneca jabs before finding that the drug appears to be less effective than its rivals in tackling the most prominent local virus strain.

However, the AstraZeneca jab was approved by the WHO on Monday and the African Union, which has secured some 270 million vaccine doses already, has said it would not "walk away" from the AstraZeneca formula.

- Economic shock -

Despite the availability of such jabs in the European Union, Hungary on Tuesday became the first EU country to take a bulk delivery of China's Sinopharm vaccine, which is not yet approved for use in the bloc.

The European Medicines Agency has so far authorised three jabs -- those developed by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and US firm Moderna. Johnson & Johnson applied for approval for its drug on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Japan outlined a cautious coronavirus vaccine rollout -- but the minister overseeing the process admitted he had "no idea" how much of the population would be vaccinated by this summer's Olympics.

Japan has lagged behind other major economies as it is running domestic trials before approving vaccines.

Meanwhile, the economic devastation from the virus was again laid bare.

And in Singapore, which is suffering its worst-ever recession, the government unveiled a fresh multi-billion-dollar package to help pandemic-battered businesses.