Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide

Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide
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Flight crew from Korean Airlines, wear face masks to protect against the spread of the COVID-19, coronavirus, as they arrive at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California on February 29, 2020. (AFP)
Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide
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Pedestrians wearing face masks cross a square in western Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP)
Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide
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South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear move to spray disinfectant as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at Dongdaegu railway station in Daegu on February 29, 2020. (AFP)
Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide
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Kathy Lofy (L), Seattle Health Officer, Washington State Department of Health, David Knoepfler (C), Chief Medical Officer Overlake Medical Center and Ettore Palazzo of Evergreen Health listen to speakers following the death of a a King County, Washington resident due to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) during a press conference in Seattle, Washington on February 29, 2020. (AFP)
Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide
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A woman disinfects to prevent new coronavirus infections at a department store in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken on February 28, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Medical members wearing protective gear take samples from a driver with suspected symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a "drive-through" virus test facility in Goyang, north of Seoul, on February 29, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 01 March 2020

Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide

Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide
  • The majority of infections in other Gulf countries have been linked to visits to Iran or involve people who have come into contact with people who had been there

WASHINGTON: Leaders in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas rolled out bans on big gatherings, and stricter travel restrictions as cases of the new coronavirus spread around the world.
The United States on Saturday reported its first death from the disease, a Washington state man in his 50s. Two of the state’s three cases have links to a nursing home, state officials said, where dozens of residents have symptoms of the disease.
US President Donald Trump and top officials said in a White House press briefing that travelers from South Korea and Italy would be subject to additional screening, and warned Americans against traveling to coronavirus-affected regions in both countries.
US Vice President Mike Pence said a ban on travelers from Iran entering the country would be expanded to include any foreign nationals who have visited Iran in the last 14 days. The United States may also restrict travel on its southern border with Mexico, officials said.
However they encouraged Americans to travel around the country, including to states where some of the country’s more than 60 cases of the disease have been recorded.
The outbreak is disrupting demand for flights and many airlines have suspended or modified services in response. After Saturday’s press conference, the White House held a call with airlines to discuss new travel restrictions.

NEW CASES

 

Armenia reported its first coronavirus infection on Sunday, in a citizen returning from neighbouring Iran, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a post on Facebook.


The 29-year-old, who arrived in the former Soviet nation on Friday, went to a doctor because he was not feeling well, the prime minister added.
“He is now in good condition,” Pashinyan said, adding that authorities planned to isolate those had been in contact with him.
Armenia closed its border with Iran for two weeks and suspended air traffic a week ago.
Ecuador on Saturday reported its first case, in a woman who had traveled from Madrid, while Mexico reported four cases, all in people who had visited Italy.
Brazilian officials confirmed that country’s second case, a patient in São Paulo who recently visited Italy.
As governments worldwide stepped up efforts to halt the spread of the virus, France announced a temporary ban on public gatherings with more than 5,000 people in confined spaces. It reported 16 new cases for a total of 73, and canceled a half-marathon of 40,000 runners scheduled for Sunday.
Switzerland said it is banning events expected to draw more than 1,000 people.
More than 700 tourists remain quarantined at a hotel in the Canary Islands, after several Italian guests there tested positive for coronavirus.
Schools and universities in Italy, which is experiencing Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease, will stay closed for a second consecutive week in three northern regions. The country has reported some 900 cases and 21 deaths.
Analysts have warned that the outbreak looks set to shunt Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years, with many businesses in the wealthy north close to a standstill and hotels reporting a wave of cancelations.

FOCUS ON IRAN
Iraq reported five new cases of the disease, bringing its total to 13, and Qatar reported its first Saturday, leaving Saudi Arabia as the only Gulf state not to have signaled any coronavirus cases.
The majority of infections in other Gulf countries have been linked to visits to Iran or involve people who have come into contact with people who had been there.
Tehran has ordered schools shut until Tuesday and extended the closure of universities and a ban on concerts and sports events for a week. Authorities have also banned visits to hospitals and nursing homes as the country’s case load hit nearly 600.
One Iranian lawmaker, elected in Feb. 21 polls, has died from the disease along with more than 40 other Iranians, and several high-ranking officials have tested positive for the virus.
Azerbaijan said on Saturday it had closed its border with Iran for two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Two Azerbaijanis who traveled to Iran have tested positive for the disease and quarantined.
Mainland China reported 573 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Feb. 29, up from 427 on the previous day, the country’s health authority said. The number of deaths stood at 35, down from 47 on the previous day, and bringing the total death toll in mainland China to 2,870.
The epidemic, which began in China, has killed almost 3,000 people worldwide, the ministry said.
 
78-year-old is Australia's first coronavirus fatality

SYDNEY: A 78-year-old man evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan died at a Perth hospital Sunday, becoming Australia’s first fatality from the disease, officials said.
His 79-year-old wife was also infected with the disease during the cruise and remains in a Perth hospital, a spokeswoman for the Western Australian state health department told AFP.
The couple were among about 160 Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess last month and they tested positive for the coronavirus during their flight home.
They were immediately transferred to isolation units in the Perth hospital on February 21 while the rest of the evacuees were quarantined in a former miners’ camp near the northern city of Darwin.
Andrew Robertson, Western Australia’s chief medical officer, said the couple initially seemed to have only a mild version of the illness, but that the man’s condition subsequently deteriorated.
He insisted both had been isolated early and that their cases posed “no risk to the general community or (medical) staff.”
Earlier Sunday, health authorities in New South Wales state confirmed a 26th case of coronavirus in Australia after a man in his 40s who had traveled from Iran was diagnosed with the disease.
He was the second Australian infected in Iran. All other cases of the disease in Australia other than the Perth couple involved people who had come from China’s Hubei province, where the virus was first reported.
 

 


Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
Updated 8 min 12 sec ago

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
  • Gen. Nick Carter: Govt forces need to secure military stalemate with Taliban so as to enable talks
  • There is a ‘real risk’ that the West is ‘giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban’

LONDON: Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state unless government forces can prevent the Taliban’s advance, Britain’s most senior soldier warned on Wednesday.

Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of defense staff, said Afghan forces have to secure a military stalemate in order to start talks between the government and the Taliban. 

He also warned the international community against giving credence to the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying there is a risk of giving the group “legitimacy” that it does not deserve.

Carter said the country becoming a failed state “is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they’re trying to do.

“And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognize that they can’t … conquer Afghanistan.

“There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.”

Carter told the BBC that there is a “real risk” that the West is “giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”

He added: “There’s a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly and … what’s actually happening on the ground. 

“And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they’re threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.”

Carter said he has seen “grisly videos of war crimes,” and the international community “mustn’t let them get away with this — we’ve got to call them out.”

His comments come as Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, called for the West to “rethink its strategy.”

Ellwood, himself a former British Army officer, tweeted on Wednesday that there is “still time to prevent civil war” by sending “a 5,000-strong coalition force — enough to give legitimacy to the Afghan government & support to Afghan forces to contain and deter the Taliban.” He added: “Otherwise we face a failed state.”


Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
Updated 44 min 13 sec ago

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
  • Lithuania calls on the EU to take action to halt the growing number of people illegally crossing its border
  • Minister said more than 4,000 migrants have entered Lithuania illegally this year

LONDON: Lithuania accused Belarus on Wednesday of using migrants from the Middle East and Africa as a “political weapon” and urged the EU to intervene.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was allowing flights with what he claims are tourists from Iraq, Syria and African countries who then illegally cross the border into Lithuania in an attempt to seek asylum in the EU.

More than 4,000 migrants have already entered Lithuania in this way so far this year, compared with only about 80 in the whole of 2020, Landsbergis told the website Politico.

“This is not the 2015 migration crisis,” he said. “This is not people fleeing the war in Syria. This is actually a hybrid weapon, a political weapon one might say, that is (being) used to change the European policy.”

He warned that a recent decision by Belarus to increase the number flights from Iraq to Minsk could lead to more than 6,000 migrants crossing the border into Lithuania every week.

“There are currently 24 flights to Minsk from Istanbul and eight flights from Baghdad each week,” said Landsbergis. “If you consider that each of these flights can transport up to 170 people, and if you fill all the seats with asylum seekers, the capacity is up to 6,000 people a week — or even more because new flights from Erbil have been announced on Monday. So there is a possibility for Lukashenko to really up the ante.”

The foreign minister called for increased international pressure on Minsk through further sanctions and by lobbying the home countries of migrants to take action.

“The EU could tell countries such as Iraq that there’s a list of instruments — restrictions of visa programs, for example — that we will use if they don’t stop these flights to Minsk,” Landsbergis said.

“We know that these people are not tourists coming to visit Belarus.”

The number of migrants crossing into Lithuania from Belarus could exceed 10,000 by the end of the summer, he warned, and added that this number could dramatically increase as Lukashenko approaches African governments “to build up new routes.”

“So what we are seeing might be just the beginning,” he said.

The foreign minister said he has discussed the issue with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials who “understand the situation,” but he stressed that more must be done.

“I think we need to really step up our game,” Landsbergis said. “Because at this point the message that we are sending (is) not sufficient to change the way things are.”

Lithuania has asked for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers this month to agree assistance for the country, which is on the front line of a new migration crisis in Europe.

On Tuesday, Lithuanian authorities said they reserve the right to use force to prevent illegal immigration, and turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country. However, rights groups said all nations have an obligation to protect vulnerable people.

“Push backs of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and other human rights instruments” Egle Samuchovaite, program director for Lithuania's Red Cross, told the Associated Press.

She added that refusing to allow vulnerable people to cross the border leaves them in an unsafe environment, trapped between two countries.

Lithuania has no physical barriers along its almost 700-kilometer border with Belarus.

The row over the latest actions of Belarus’s authoritarian president comes after the EU imposed sanctions on his country over an incident in May that was denounced as “state piracy,” in which a Belarusian warplane was scrambled to intercept an aircraft so that a dissident journalist could be arrested.


Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
Updated 04 August 2021

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
  • Youngster stranded on Greek island has reportedly tried to hang himself twice
  • Alleging abuse including sexual assault, he wants to join his brothers in Britain

LONDON: An expert medical report has warned that a young asylum seeker who has been blocked from joining his brothers in Britain is at high risk of suicide.

Samir, whose name has been changed for his safety and security, is stranded in Greece away from his family.

He fled his home country in 2019 after reportedly enduring torture and detention, and has been living alone on the island of Samos.

He was assessed by the Greek authorities last year as being 20 years old but maintained that he was a child.

He is appealing the decision, but was refused access to Britain by the Home Office, which denied him access to the family reunion process to join his two brothers. His brothers are both refugees in Britain, arriving in February this year.

His application was rejected because the Greek authorities determined that he was an adult, but Samir argues that he is 17.

Immigration authorities in Greece also said there was “insufficient” evidence of a close relationship between Samir and his family. His lawyers in Britain are challenging the decision on both grounds.

Samir previously told The Independent newspaper about the horrendous conditions he was facing on the fringe of his refugee camp, saying he was being bullied and abused, and enduring sexual assault from an older man.

Lawyers said he has tried to hang himself twice, and has had no access to any mental health support.

A medical report written by Prof. David Bell, one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum and immigration, found that Samir is in a “complex chronic traumatized state.”

Bell assessed Samir via video link, writing that he suffers from a “severe depressive disorder.”

Bell concluded on July 29 that it is “clear” Samir will continue to suffer from his disorder “as long as he remains in this environment, regardless of any treatment he can receive.”

Bell added that Samir is within the worst 5 percent of the approximately 400 refugees he has assessed during his career.

He said in the report submitted to court in Britain that it is “absolutely essential” that Samir is “removed from this environment from a mental point of view as soon as possible” and “transferred to the UK to be with his brothers.”

Rebecca Chapman, Samir’s barrister, argued on Tuesday that the Home Office had failed to adequately consider his situation and vulnerabilities through its denial of his right to family life.

Representing the Home Office, lawyer Simon Murray disputed the accusations, saying the department’s decisions were made lawfully.

The asylum seeker’s UK-based solicitor, Rachel Harger of Bindmans Solicitors, said: “Samir is living out the reality of what it means to rely on so-called legal ‘safe’ pathways before entering the UK: Inordinate delays and relentlessly hostile litigation conduct from the Home Office.”

She added: “Notwithstanding the very real risk of physical harm Samir continues to face, there is likely to be a long term impact to his mental health as a consequence of living in a chronically traumatised state whilst in perpetual fear for over a year and a half. This cannot be considered a ‘safe’ route for Samir.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the government and in 2019, the UK received more asylum claims from unaccompanied children than any other European country, including Greece.

“As part of our New Plan for Immigration to fix the UK’s broken asylum system, we will continue to welcome people through safe and legal routes and prioritise those most in need.”


7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
Updated 04 August 2021

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
  • Aya Hachem was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ amid dispute between businesses
  • Family: ‘Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through’

LONDON: Seven men have been convicted of murdering a Lebanese law student in Britain after she was shot in a drive-by shooting amid a dispute between rival tyre firms.

Aya Hachem, 19, was shot dead from a car in Blackburn, northern England, on May 17 last year while walking to collect groceries. 

The court heard that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when Feroz Suleman, 40, was orchestrating an attempt to assassinate a rival businessman.

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Lancashire Police)

Suleman was captured on CCTV cameras loitering outside RI Tyres to watch the shooting of Pachah Khan, who headed the neighboring Quickshine Tyres business.

Anthony Ennis, 31, drove past Khan’s premises three times with 33-year-old gunman Zamir Raja.

Their Toyota passed Quickshine Tyres for a fourth time at 3 p.m. when Raja opened fire at Khan, missing his first shot — which struck the window behind him — before firing a second round that hit Hachem.

The jury at Preston Crown Court found Suleman guilty of her murder and of the attempted murder of Khan. 

Raja and Ennis were also convicted of murder and attempted murder, alongside their accomplices Kashif Manzoor, 26, Ayaz Hussain, 35, Abubakr Satia, 32, and his brother Uthman Satia, 29.

The jury found 26-year-old Judy Chapman, Uthman’s girlfriend, guilty of manslaughter, but not guilty of Khan’s attempted murder.

 

Hachem had recently finished her second-year law exams at the University of Salford when she was murdered. She had planned to train as a barrister after completing her studies.

Her father Ismail emigrated to Britain 10 years ago. Hachem was one of four children, and was described by her parents as “the most loyal, devoted daughter.”

Her older brother Ibrahim said her death felt like “a piece of your soul that got taken away” as he heard of the court’s decisions. 

“After nearly a year and a half, they’ve got what they deserve,” he said. “They can’t hurt anyone any more. But my sister isn’t coming back. Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through.”

A statement from the family welcoming the verdict said: “To our dear beautiful angel in heaven, we know you are in a better and more beautiful place.”

Hachem’s murderers will be sentenced on Thursday. Chapman is expected to be sentenced in October.


WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
  • WHO chief called on countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
  • More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally

GENEVA: The WHO on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros told a press conference.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations had a vital leadership role to play because those countries are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.