Mumbai shuts down as India cases rise

A general view shows deserted roads with minimal traffic near the sea front in Mumbai on March 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Mumbai shuts down as India cases rise

  • Alarmed by an increasing number of infections in the state, Thackeray said if people did not stop flocking to local trains, the government would, in a “last resort” measure, suspend public transportation

NEW DELHI: The western Indian state of Maharashtra imposed a partial lockdown on its main cities on Friday, including the country’s financial hub Mumbai, as the region recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases.
All offices, shops and markets in Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and Nagpur will remain closed until March 31, with the exception of those providing essential goods and services, the chief minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, announced.
He appealed to private employers not to stop paying their employees’ salaries.
“Crises will come and go, but don’t stop your humanity,” Thackeray said. He did not specify whether the state would offer any financial support to suspended businesses.
Alarmed by an increasing number of infections in the state, Thackeray said if people did not stop flocking to local trains, the government would, in a “last resort” measure, suspend public transportation.
Earlier this week, Maharashtra took the drastic step of stamping the hands of people flying into state airports with waterproof ink.
“If such people go out, others can identify them as home quarantine patients. This is being done so that patients strictly observe home quarantine,” Rajesh Tope, health minister of Maharashtra, told reporters.
The decision came after 11 people in the state, who were in isolation awaiting their coronavirus test results, escaped from a Mumbai hospital.
At least 52 people have tested positive in Maharashtra — a quarter of all cases reported in India.
The Mumbai shutdown decision comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Thursday night that a nationwide one-day curfew would be in effect on Sunday.
“This curfew will be for the people and by the people of India, and will be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday,” Modi said in a televised address to the nation.
During the curfew, all means of public transportation will be shut down.
Political analysts see the one-day shutdown as a way to prepare Indians for longer lockdowns in the coming future.
“Considering the experience of some of the worst-affected countries, if India wants the virus not to spread, then it will have to shut down cities and towns for a couple of weeks. The public curfew is just a step in that direction,” the Gaya-based editor of the Hindu daily Prabhat Khabar newspaper, Pawan Pratyay, told Arab News.
In his Thursday address, Modi also announced the establishment of the COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force to assess the impact of the global pandemic on the Indian economy, and advise steps to reduce its burden on the country’s financial sector.
Also on Thursday, the Indian government imposed a week-long ban on all incoming international flights, starting on Sunday.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.