India resumes train services despite coronavirus case surge

Security personnel are seen at the platform of the central railway station in Mumbai on May 12, 2020, before the train departure to New Delhi. India's enormous railway network was grinding back to life on May 12 as a gradual lifting of the world's biggest coronavirus lockdown gathered pace even as new cases surged. (AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

India resumes train services despite coronavirus case surge

  • Chief ministers want slower lifting of lockdown

NEW DELH: India resumed train services on Tuesday, as the country begins easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions despite a surge in cases.

India’s lockdown started on March 24 and ends on May 17.

“I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the second phase and, similarly, the measures needed in the third phase are not needed in the fourth,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement during a meeting with the chief ministers of all 29 states on Monday.

There was a high-level meeting on Tuesday to decide on whether or not to resume flights as well, with reports suggesting that domestic airlines could be allowed to operate as early as next week.

“Air services can even begin before May 18,” an Aviation Ministry official told the media. “Operating protocols are in place. But a political decision on this has to be taken after keeping the views of the chief ministers in mind.”

Several chief ministers want the central government to go slow on lifting the lockdown.

The chief minister of eastern Bihar state, Nitish Kumar, asked Modi to extend the lockdown to manage the migrants coming back.

More than 2 million migrant labourers are expected to return to Bihar from different parts of the country, after New Delhi agreed to run special trains to mitigate the suffering of daily-wage workers who were left jobless in the wake of the lockdown.

“It will help in detecting possibly infected persons and containing the spread of coronavirus,” Kumar said.

Kumar was joined by chief ministers from other major states such as Maharashtra, Telangana, Punjab, and Bengal in seeking an extension to the lockdown.

Western Maharashtra state accounts for more than 23,000 COVID-19 cases out of India’s total tally of 73,000. It also tops the death toll, with close to 900 fatalities out of the national count of 2,300.

“The COVID-19 cases might peak in June,” chief minister of Maharashtra, Udhav Thackeray, told Modi on Tuesday. “Hence, a decision on the lockdown must be taken carefully.”


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Some experts said the “unplanned” lockdown had not achieved the desired results and it was better, therefore, to ease the restrictions.

“With each phase of the lockdown, the cases have been doubling in India,” Dr. T. Jacob John, from the Vellore-based Christian Medical College, told Arab News. “When India started the lockdown on March 24 the number of the cases at that time was about 550. Now, after three phases of the lockdown, the figure is 73,000, so it suggests that the lockdown has not been effective.”

He suggested that the lockdown be lifted as it was not making any difference in containing the proliferation of cases. “Wearing masks should be made mandatory. We are going to see an avalanche as far as the spread of the cases is concerned,” the virologist warned.

Prof. Arun Kumar, from Jawaharlal University, said that focussing on the economy was not a wise decision at this stage either.

“When the cases are increasing at an alarming rate, and it is feared that at least 500 million people will get infected, I don’t think it’s wise to relax the lockdown,” the economist told Arab News. “When people are scared and living in fear, how is it possible to run the economy normally? It’s better to address the fear effectively before resuming normal activities.”


Shared experiences: Philippines, Libya eye stronger defense cooperation over Daesh

Updated 29 September 2020

Shared experiences: Philippines, Libya eye stronger defense cooperation over Daesh

  • Follows meeting between senior officials to discuss bilateral ties between two countries

MANILA: The Philippines and Libya are looking to explore opportunities for defense cooperation based on their “shared experiences” in fighting Daesh, the Philippines’ charge d’affaires and embassy head of mission in Tripoli, Elmer Cato, told Arab News.

“The Philippines and Libya could cooperate in such areas as counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing. We shared our experience fighting Daesh in Marawi and Sirte,” Cato said following his meeting with Libya’s Defense Minister Salahuddin Al-Nimroush on Sept. 21, referring in part to a five-month siege which pitted Filipino forces against Daesh-inspired militants, and the eight months of fighting to liberate Sirte from the group.

“In Sirte, a number of nurses were taken hostage by ISIS (Daesh) but later managed to escape. In Derna, four Filipino oil workers were taken and later executed, but their bodies have not yet been recovered. We continue to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in recovering the remains of our four countrymen,” he said.

He added, however, that the meeting — which included discussions on language training and military-to-military exchanges — was only “exploratory” and intended to see how the Philippines could expand ties “with one of our closest friends” in Africa.

“Cyberdefense was (also) brought up because the minister (Al-Nimroush) was an IT expert,” Cato said, before thanking him for giving the Philippine navy vessel BRP Gabriela Silang permission to enter Libyan waters and evacuate Filipinos “at the height of the fighting” in Tripoli earlier this year.

“We took the opportunity to express our appreciation to Libya for approving our request for the BRP Gabriela Silang to enter Libyan waters and dock in Tripoli, in case we needed to evacuate Filipinos,” he said.

Al-Nimroush expressed his appreciation for the Philippine’s continued presence in Tripoli through its embassy as “one of several countries that chose to keep their diplomatic missions open” and praised Filipino nurses and workers in the oil sector for their “important role” in Libya.

“The minister thanked us ... for being true friends of Libya. He said he and the Libyan people appreciated the fact that we kept our embassy in Tripoli open and allowed our people to continue caring for their sick and in helping them pump their oil. We told him that’s what friends are for,” Cato said.

He added that while Al-Nimroush “had been around Southeast Asia,” he never had the chance to visit the Philippines. 

“He told me ‘when I do get the chance to visit, I will go scuba diving in Palawano,’” Cato said.

The Philippines recently won the Best Overseas Diving Award 2020 during the 28th Marine Diving Fair held at the Sunshine City Convention Center in Tokyo, Japan. 

Cebu, Bohol, Moalboal, and Busuanga, all of which are teeming with whale sharks, snappers, dugong, and other exotic species, are some of the most popular diving sites in the Philippines.

Cato’s meeting with Al-Nimroush followed talks with Libyan Foreign Minister Faraj Abdelrahman Abumtary earlier this month, where the two discussed the state of Philippine-Libya relations and steps to strengthen bilateral ties. 

This was in addition to discussing the measures taken by Libyan authorities to ensure the well-being of more than 2,300 Filipinos residing in the country.