Pakistan’s virus tally tops China’s as doctors warn of health crisis

Pakistan’s virus tally tops China’s as doctors warn of health crisis
A rush of people on Thursday outside an electronics market in Karachi, after Pakistan started easing the lockdown restrictions. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 June 2020

Pakistan’s virus tally tops China’s as doctors warn of health crisis

Pakistan’s virus tally tops China’s as doctors warn of health crisis
  • The spike in COVID-19 cases started immediately after the government eased the lockdown restrictions in mid-May

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s coronavirus infections have surpassed neighboring China — once the region’s hotbed — as the national tally on Thursday reached 86,913, with doctors warning the government of a health crisis in the coming days if appropriate measures are not taken to flatten the curve.

China, where the virus emerged last year, has recorded 84,160 cases and imposed strict lockdowns to curb the disease. But in Pakistan, with 1,770 reported deaths and the infection count nearing 87,000, has been easing lockdowns countrywide since mid-May.

“People should not get scared by the surge in cases. It’s a pandemic and we need to deal with it wisely and courageously,” Sajid Hussain Shah, spokesperson at the Ministry of National Health Services and Regulations, told Arab News on Thursday.

A total of 4,688 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours with 82 deaths, the highest single-day rise ever, landing the country at the 17th spot in terms of the coronavirus cases,.

The country has also enhanced its daily testing capacity to over 20,000 and has conducted 615,511 tests.

The spike in COVID-19 cases started immediately after the government eased the lockdown restrictions in mid-May, contrary to the recommendation of doctors and experts who advocated their extension to stem the spread of the virus.

Previously, the government had decided to shut down public places, the transport sector and markets on March 23. Now, the authorities are blaming the people for not adhering to social distancing regulations and other precautions, pointing out that negligence has led to the growing outbreak.

“We have witnessed a spike in the cases after people violated the government’s prescribed precautionary measures,” Dr. Zaeem Zia, district health officer in Islamabad, told Arab News.

The country’s federal capital has reported 3,544 positive coronavirus cases with 38 deaths and 5,680 tests so far.

“We are diligently working on contact tracing and surveillance in the high-risk population areas to contain the virus,” Zia said. “We are also ensuring a smart lockdown in the areas where COVID-19 cases are reported to prevent its further spread.”

The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has blamed the government for the surge in the cases due to its “noncoherent and confusing policy” to deal with the disease.

“The government has failed to adopt a uniform policy on dealing with the virus from day one, so the result is quite obvious,” Dr. Qaisar Sajjad, PMA secretary general, told Arab News.

He warned that the country’s health facilities had reached the brink of collapse with the sharp growth in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. “If the rising trend of the coronavirus cases is not contained or reversed, the health facilities may crumble in the coming days,” he said.

The PMA is also concerned by the increasing number of infections of doctors and paramedics. At least 30 health care practitioners — including 26 doctors and four nurses — have died due to the virus, while more than 2,100 have been infected so far, according to the PMA.

“Many private and public hospitals have already started refusing to admit coronavirus patients with ventilators and beds getting short in the medical facilities,” Sajjad said, urging the government to quell propaganda on social media that “coronavirus does not exist in Pakistan.”

There are 746 hospitals with COVID-19 facilities and 4,918 patients have been admitted across the country.

“We have been further extending our health facilities to deal with the pressure,” the Shah of the health ministry said. “Our hospitals are fully equipped and coping with the need.”


Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
Updated 2 min 53 sec ago

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
  • Priority for age groups and medical vulnerability waived in favour of permanent residents of nearly 100 islands
  • Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million

NAXOS, Greece: A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.
“This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism,” Mitsotakis said.
Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.
Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season will officially start Friday.


Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
Updated 11 May 2021

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
  • Sweden of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217
  • The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 13,812 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday.
The figure compared with 14,950 cases during the corresponding period last week.
The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217.
The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors’ but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.


At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
Updated 11 May 2021

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
  • RIA Novosti news agency reported that a teenager was detained
  • Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building

MOSCOW: A school shooting erupted Tuesday in the Russian city of Kazan, leaving eight students and one teacher dead, Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing local emergency services.
According to the Interfax news agency, two gunmen opened fire in the school, and one of them — a 17-year-old — has already been apprehended.

“According to preliminary information, the second attacker in the school in Kazan who remained in the building was killed,” the TASS state news agency reported, citing a law enforcement source.
Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building. Authorities said additional security measures have been put into place in all schools in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, roughly 700 kilometers (430 miles) east of Moscow.
While school shootings are relatively rare in Russia, there have been several violent attacks on schools in recent years, mostly carried out by students.


India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain
Updated 11 May 2021

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain
  • The seven-day average of new cases is at a record high of 390,995

BENGALURU: India’s coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high and international heath authorities warning the country’s variant of the virus poses a global concern.
India’s daily coronavirus cases rose by 329,942, while deaths from the disease rose by 3,876, according to the health ministry. India’s total coronavirus infections are now at 22.99 million, while total fatalities rose to 249,992.
India leads the world in the daily average number of new deaths reported, accounting for one in every three deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters tally.
The seven-day average of new cases is at a record high of 390,995.
The World Health Organization said the coronavirus variant first identified in the country last year was being classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.
“We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing in Geneva on Monday. “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility.” Nations around the globe have sent oxygen cylinders and other medical gear to support India’s crisis, but many hospitals around the nation are struggling with a shortage of the life-saving equipment.
Eleven people died late on Monday in a government hospital in Tirupati, a city in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, due to a delay in the arrival of a tanker carrying oxygen, a government official said.
“There were issues with oxygen pressure due to low availability. It all happened within a span of five minutes,” said M Harinarayan, the district’s top bureaucrat said late on Monday, adding the SVR Ruia hospital now had sufficient oxygen.
Sixteen faculty members and a number of retired teachers and employees who had been living on the campus of Aligarh Muslim University, one of India’s most prestigious, had died of coronavirus, the university said.
Adding to the strain on medical facilities, the Indian government has told doctors to look out for signs of mucormycosis or “black fungus” in COVID-19 patients as hospitals report a rise in cases of the rare but potentially fatal infection.
The disease, which can lead to blackening or discoloration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood, is strongly linked to diabetes. And diabetes can in turn be exacerbated by steroids such as dexamethasone, used to treat severe COVID-19.
Doctors in the country had to warn against the practice of using cow dung in the belief it will ward off COVID-19, saying there is no scientific evidence for its effectiveness and that it risks spreading other diseases.
In the state of Gujarat in western India, some believers have been going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine in the hope it will boost their immunity against, or help them recover from, the coronavirus.
“There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine work to boost immunity against COVID-19, it is based entirely on belief,” said Dr. J.A. Jayalal, national president at the Indian Medical Association.
India’s second wave has increased calls for a nationwide lockdown and prompted a growing number of states to impose tougher restrictions, impacting businesses and the wider economy.
Production of the Apple iPhone 12 at a Foxconn factory in the southern state of Tamil Nadu has slumped by more than 50 percent because workers infected with COVID-19 have had to leave their posts, two sources told Reuters.
(Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee, Anuron Kumar Mitra, Kannaki Deka, Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Sudarshan Varadhan in Chennai; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)


Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai
Updated 11 May 2021

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

NEW DELHI: Experts said on Monday that a discovery of uranium was no cause for concern as it did not pose a security threat.
The comments came a day after India’s counterterrorism organization, the National Investigative Agency (NIA), took over the probe of a case involving the recovery of more than 7kg of natural uranium in Mumbai.
“I see a remote possibility of such uranium being misused to pose a threat to the nation,” Rajiv Nayan, a New Delhi-based expert on nonproliferation and arms control at the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) think tank, told Arab News.
“Theoretically, the possibility of misuse is there, but only details will tell when the persons reveal why they were carrying the natural uranium,” Nayan added.
On May 5, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the western Indian state of Maharashtra arrested two individuals for the possession of 7.1 kg of natural uranium worth $3 million in Mumbai.
The ATS lodged a case against Jigar Jayesh Pandya, 27, and Abu Tahir Afzal Choudhary, 31, before sending the samples to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai — India’s premier nuclear research facility — for testing.
On Thursday, the BARC confirmed that the substance was natural uranium.
According to officials, the duo was attempting to sell the uranium online when the ATS sent a fake customer and secured a substance sample. On Sunday, the NIA took control of the case and registered it under Section 24(1)(a) of the Atomic Energy Act (1962), which makes the possession of uranium without a license illegal and invites stringent punishment.
Both the ATS and the NIA were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Monday. However, according to media reports, Tahir’s father owns a scrapyard in the Mankhurd area of Mumbai and bought a truck full of factory waste two years ago. The uranium was reportedly among other forms of industrial waste found on the vehicle. This is not the first time authorities have recovered the radioactive material, with Ajay Sahni, a New Delhi-based security expert and director of the Institute for Conflict Management, saying that “such seizures of uranium have taken place.”
Sahni told Arab News: “In the late 1990s or early 2000s, a couple of scrap dealers had picked up quantities of uranium and arrested them. These are low-level people who have accidentally come across a certain amount of uranium and hope to make a little bit of money out of it.”
He added: “I don’t think it raises any basic question of critical security importance. It raises questions of how such material is handled and safeguarded in the country.”
However, he warned that “if it falls into the wrong hands it can be used for very dangerous ends.
“We don’t know the details. It could depend on the nature of individuals and possible connections with terrorists or whether this could have been acquired by terrorists.
“They are not interested in using it for any particular purpose, or they were trying to make money. It depends where something like this goes.”
Sahni termed the find as a “failure” of India’s security system to manage or guard the uranium flow.
“This is a failure of the security system, but it is not easy to say whether it represents a major security failure,” he added.