Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – Catholic-majority Timor-Leste has launched a Covid-19 vaccination drive targeting students and lecturers to speed up efforts to reopen universities.
It began on June 14 at the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL), the country's largest, and will see the giving out of doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine.
Higher Education, Science and Culture Minister Longuinhos dos Santos said the aim is to inoculate at least 67,000 students, lecturers and staff from public and private universities in Dili.
"Face-to-face activities at basic education and higher education institutions, especially in Dili, have been suspended for several months. For this reason, the vaccination program, which started today, represents a move towards happiness and hope," he said.
"We all want to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and normalize the lives of our citizens. In the specific case of higher education institutions, we intend to resume face-to-face activities as soon as possible."
He said that when everyone is vaccinated, he would coordinate with the Ministry of Health to reopen campuses.
The lecturer told me that if we were all vaccinated, then lectures would be conducted in class again
Similar efforts will be made to vaccinate students in other parts of the country as soon as possible, he added.
China's ambassador to Timor-Leste, Xiao Jianguo, said he was pleased that the Sinovac vaccine was being used in the recovery effort and urged students to register to be vaccinated.
Hirondina Ribeiro Goncalves, a UNTL law student, said that although she was still concerned about reported side-effects of vaccines, she would be vaccinated as she was frustrated with online lectures.
"They are very difficult for us because of the poor quality of the internet connection," she told UCA News. "The lecturer told me that if we were all vaccinated, then lectures would be conducted in class again."
Timor-Leste's Covid-19 vaccination efforts have contributed to a significant reduction in daily cases, especially in capital Dili, the worst-hit area.
On June 14, 56 new infections were recorded, down from two weeks ago when the number of positive cases were more than 200 per day. The country has 1,489 active cases from a total of 8,341, with 19 deaths.
At least 12 percent of the population over 18 years old have received their first shot of the vaccine.
Catholic Church leaders, including Salesian Archbishop Virgilio Do Carmo da Silva of Dili, have been actively involved in encouraging people to be vaccinated.
He was one of the first public figures to receive a vaccine along with Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and other government officials when the rollout began on April 7.