Smog causes closure of schools in eastern Pakistan

Smog causes closure of schools in eastern Pakistan
Pakistani students stand outside their school which is closed due to poor air quality in Lahore, Pakistan. (AP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Smog causes closure of schools in eastern Pakistan

Smog causes closure of schools in eastern Pakistan
  • Indian farmers who are burning residues of produce in cultivated areas blamed

LAHORE: Pakistan’s provincial administration of Punjab was forced to close all schools in Lahore on Thursday, as the city was engulfed by smog.

“Lahore is among the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, according to Air Visual,” Nazifa Butt, climate manager at World Wildlife Fund Pakistan, told Arab News. “The ideal range for good air quality is between zero and 100. Lahore’s air quality went beyond 600 on Nov. 6, causing significant concern.”

Air Visual is an organization that was set up in 2015 to monitor air pollution. The hazardous levels compelled the province’s chief minister, Usman Buzdar, to announce the closure of schools on Thursday in a Twitter post. “Due to the sudden increase in smog, all schools in Lahore will remain closed tomorrow (Thursday),” he tweeted on Wednesday night.

The Punjab Environment Department blamed Indian farmers for the situation, citing the city’s location on the country’s eastern border.

“The smog increased in Lahore due to the burning of residues of produce in Indian cultivated areas and the changing direction of the wind,” said an official handout issued by the chief minister’s secretariat on Thursday.

Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore is no stranger to thick layers of smog that hang all over the city in winter. 

The country’s second largest metropolis suffers due to smoke emissions from dozens of brick kilns and mills located in and around its neighborhoods.

The authorities burn all garbage produced in the city, and many farmers set rice stubbles on fire before ploughing their fields. Lahore has also lost a significant number of trees as it has expanded.

Experts believe the poor air quality mostly affects the health of children and elderly people.

“There are 4.32 million students in Lahore who are only enrolled in private schools,” said Kashif Mirza, president of the Private Schools Association. 

“Last night (Wednesday), the smog situation became extremely bad and there was a concern it could pose a threat to children’s health. However, the situation improved due to short intervals of rain that brought down the level of pollution somewhat.”

“Be that as it may, people are suffering from diseases related to the chest and throat,” Dr. Saleem Shahzad Cheema told Arab News. 

“Children are the most vulnerable residents of the city. In the last three hours, we have treated more than 50 people, 35 of them children. We are hoping that the situation will get better, though, in the next few days since a few rain spells may minimize the smog level.”


‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN
Updated 23 min 48 sec ago

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN
  • In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Afghan forces battled the Taliban for control of a key provincial capital Tuesday, as the United Nations warned “indiscriminate” gunfire and air strikes were hurting civilians the most.
Officials said insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah — capital of Helmand province and the scene of days of fierce fighting — leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.
In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault.
The hard-line Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in early May, but are meeting resistance as they try to take provincial capitals.
That urban fighting, however, is taking its toll on civilians.
“Taliban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted Tuesday, referring to the Afghan national army.
“Deep concerns about indiscriminate shooting & damage to/occupation of health facilities & civilian homes.”
“Fighting was intense this morning,” said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Helmand’s capital, whose station was captured by the Taliban.
“We stopped broadcasting two days ago because the Taliban captured the building of our station.”
Afghan officials said Tuesday that 11 radio and four television stations in the city had been seized by the Taliban.
“Terrorists do not want the media to publish the facts and expose their injustices,” the Ministry of Information and Culture said.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
In Herat, Afghan officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several areas of the city — including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.
“Afghan security forces plus resistance forces launched a big operation in west of the city,” Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat’s governor, said.


COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
Updated 03 August 2021

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
  • A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations

BEIJING: Authorities in China’s Wuhan said Tuesday they would test the city’s entire population for COVID-19, as the virus returned to the place where it first emerged and the highly contagious Delta variant drove tightening lockdowns worldwide.
A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations even in places which had long touted their successes in overcoming the worst of the pandemic.
China brought domestic cases down to virtually zero after the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, allowing the economy to rebound and life to return largely to normal.
But a fresh outbreak has thrown that record into jeopardy, as the fast-spreading Delta variant reaches dozens of cities after infections among airport cleaners in Nanjing sparked a chain of cases that have been reported across the country.
In Wuhan — where the virus first emerged in December 2019 and which faced a grueling lockdown in the early months of the pandemic — authorities said they were launching a mass-testing program for all 11 million residents.
And across China, authorities have confined the residents of entire cities to their homes, cut domestic transport links and rolled out mass testing in recent days as the country battles its largest coronavirus outbreak in months.
Millions are also still under movement restrictions in Australia, where troops Monday hit the streets of the country’s largest city of Sydney and surrounding areas, which are entering the sixth week of a lockdown set to run until the end of August.
Authorities have been struggling to stop the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in the city — and to ensure that residents follow containment rules — with more than 3,600 cases recorded since mid-June.
With about 15 percent of Australia’s 25 million people fully vaccinated, authorities are still relying on lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus.


Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
Updated 03 August 2021

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
  • Patarasa was brother-in-law of slain terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon

MANILA: Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar ordered an “intensified cleansing” of police ranks on Monday after a civilian personnel member was identified as a key member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

In a statement, Eleazar said that police intelligence operatives arrested Masckur Adoh Patarasa, also known as “Makong” and “Omair Sali Taib,” on Friday in Jolo, Sulu.

According to the PNP chief, Patasar is the brother-in-law of the slain Daesh leader in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, and an alleged finance and logistics officer of the ASG, considered the most violent militant group in the southern Philippines.

“Patarasa is an active non-uniformed personnel (NUP) of the PNP presently assigned at the Banguingui municipal police station, Sulu PPO, but was also a finance and logistics liaison officer of Dawlah Islamiyah and ASG and was included in the martial law arrest order no. 1 during the Marawi siege in 2017,” Eleazar said.

“Patarasa was arrested in Barangay Asturias, Jolo, Sulu at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 30, during an intelligence-driven police operation ... He is the subject of arrest warrants ... as an accused in seven separate cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention,” he added.

Intelligence information on the suspect showed that “in May 2017, Patarasa, together with an unidentified individual linked with the ASG, planned to transact the sending of funds to Abu Sayyaf members fighting in Marawi City through his brother-in-law Isnilon Hapilon.”

Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah Al-Filipini, and named on the US’ most wanted list, was killed during the Marawi siege.

At that time, he was reported to be the Daesh emir or commander in the Philippines.

Eleazar said that Patarasa joined the ASG in 2001 under Khadaffy Janjalani in Basilan and later worked for ASG senior leader Radullan Sahiron in Sulu.

He was also reported to have direct contact with Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco, alias “Abu Jihad,” who was among those touted to have replaced Hapilon as the Daesh leader in the region.

“Deeper background investigation also disclosed that Patarasa received funds from Almaida Salvin, a designated terrorist included in the US Treasury’s sanctions list ... through (one) Merhama Sawari,” the PNP chief said without providing more details.

Salvin was arrested in Zamboanga City in April 2019 for the illegal possession of explosives, while Sawari was among four militants killed in a shootout with police in Paranaque City on June 20 last year.

Eleazar said that they were not discounting the possibility that Patarasa may have leaked information to the ASG, resulting in the failure of some police operations in Sulu.

“I am glad that our personnel were able to arrest the subject person; this still forms part of the intensified cleanliness policy that we are implementing. Cleanliness of the ranks should be maintained to regain the trust and confidence of the people in our organization,” Eleazar said.

He also ordered the PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) to fast-track dismissal proceedings against the suspect.

Further investigations are also being conducted to determine if other PNP personnel have links to the ASG or are involved in criminal or terroristic activities.

“We would also like to find out how Patarasa managed to enter the PNP despite having a string of cases and warrants of arrest under his name in connection with his being a member of the ASG,” Eleazar said, noting that intelligence information showed the suspect continued to carry out his role in the ASG while employed with the PNP.

Citing Patarasa’s case, Eleazar stressed the importance of cleansing the police ranks at the start or during the recruitment process. “This is one of the reasons why we thoroughly have to screen those who want to join the PNP, whether as a policeman or as a civilian employee.”

Eleazar commended police officers involved in Patarasa’s arrest, saying, “Your action is a reflection of our campaign to keep the organization free from persons with ill motives.”

He also urged all PNP members “to join hands in keeping the police organization respectable and true to its mandate to serve and protect the people.”


EU to aid Lithuania amid swelling migrant flows

Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
Updated 03 August 2021

EU to aid Lithuania amid swelling migrant flows

Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
  • Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing the border crossings

LONDON: EU officials have pledged millions of euros to Lithuania to help it tackle a migrant crisis that it blames on the government of neighboring Belarus and its President Alexander Lukashenko.
Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner of Home Affairs arrived in Lithuania on Sunday, a day on which a record 287 people walked into the EU territory from neighboring Belarus — more than three times as many as in the whole of last year.
“This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. We must show that there is no free access to EU territory,” Johansson said.
“Lithuania, the EU, the Schengen states must prevent illegal access to this area. That is why we, the whole EU, support Lithuania to defend our common external border with Belarus,” said Johansson.
So far this year, 3,832 migrants have been detained in Lithuania. That compares with 81 for the whole of 2020. More than two-thirds of the arrivals are Iraqi citizens.
Iraqi airlines have increased flights from Baghdad to Minsk from two to four a week from this month and are also starting flights from Basra, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah.
Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing the border crossings.
It says the influx is an act of retaliation by Lukashenko.

This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. We must show that there is no free access to EU territory.

Ylva Johansson

Since his election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the West denounced as rigged, he has cracked down on opposition protests in his country, and his main election challenger fled to Lithuania.
The Lithuanian state border guard service announced on Monday that its capacity to accommodate new immigrants has reached its limit and urged the government to relocate people to other facilities.
“We have managed this until now, but I must admit we have reached the limit of our possibilities” said director of the service Rustamas Liubajevas.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte expressed hope the European Commission will be able to handle the rapidly deteriorating situation.
“The first task is to reduce the potential of the flow itself. The biggest expectation here is for the EU to be able to use its negotiating position with the Iraqi government” said Simonyte.
Johansson promised Lithuania would not be left alone.
“I will send a delegation that will spend a few days here to discuss in detail the possibility of funding a good border protection system that includes monitoring and protection against illegal migrants,” she said, adding that €20-30 million will be allocated to this purpose by 2022.
The Lithuania government wants to build a physical barrier with Belarus, which it estimates will cost more than €100 million.
EU funding is not usually permitted to finance the building of border barriers or fences.
“We will eventually build it no matter how much aid is sent by the EU. The border must be protected” Simonyte said.

 


Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12
Updated 02 August 2021

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12
  • ‘Everybody who wants can get vaccinated in the summer — we have enough vaccines for all age groups’ said German Health Minister
  • Children and teenagers can decide to get vaccinated after a medical consultation

BERLIN: Germany will start offering coronavirus vaccinations for all children and teenagers aged 12 and older, top health officials said Monday.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said after a meeting with the 16 German state health ministers that “we keep our promise: everybody who wants can get vaccinated in the summer — we have enough vaccines for all age groups.”
“Therefore, children and teenagers ... can decide to get vaccinated after a medical consultation and thus protect themselves and others,” he added.
The government’s push to get Germany’s youth vaccinated comes two months after the European Medicines Agency recommended that the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech be expanded to children 12 to 15. Last week, the EU drug regulator also cleared the vaccine made by Moderna for the same age group.
So far, however, the country’s standing committee on vaccination, the Stiko, has been reluctant to give the go-ahead for all youngsters and only explicitly recommended the vaccination for the age group between 12 and 16 if they suffer from certain chronic illnesses. The committee says that not enough study results are yet available on possible long-term effects of the vaccine on the younger ones, but has also said it may update its recommendation as more data becomes available.
But as schools across the country are starting to open again after the summer vacations, and given the vulnerability of young unvaccinated people to the quickly spreading delta variant, pressure has been mounting to get more children 12 and older vaccinated. Politicians have been lobbying to get the younger ones immunized against COVID-19 quickly to prevent renewed school closures in the fall.
Therefore, the 16 state top health officials on Monday decided that healthy children and teenagers should now also be able get the jab at vaccination centers or their pediatricians’ practices. As for all age groups, the vaccinations remain voluntary.
So far, 20 percent of those between 12 and 17 have received at least one shot in Germany and nearly 10 percent are fully vaccinated.
The country’s family minister said the decision “is an important step so that children and teenagers can be protected from a coronavirus infection in the best possible way.”
“Many parents have been insecure about whether they should vaccinate their children because so far there was no clear recommendation,” Christine Lambrecht added. “The decision for a broad vaccination offer for those aged between 12 to 17 can now help them.”
There are large disparities in the access to vaccination for youths across Europe. While countries like Estonia, Denmark and France are actively encouraging families to vaccinate their children before the new school year begins, others such as Sweden and the United Kingdom have yet to begin mass vaccinations for those under 18.
Also Monday, state health ministers decided to start offering booster shots for especially vulnerable groups in September. They said all people who got vaccinated with the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson shots could get a refresher shot with an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna from September on.