Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge

Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge
Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours. Above, workers make protective face masks at a factory in Kabul, Afghanistan on June 3, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge

Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge
  • Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours

KABUL: Afghanistan is running out of hospital beds as suspected cases of coronavirus surge, officials said on Saturday, warning “there is a disaster coming” in the impoverished country.
Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed infections to 19,551.
“Our (hospital) beds are almost full, we won’t have any more capacity very soon,” Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani told reporters.
Officials said the number of cases were more than expected, including in the capital Kabul, the epicenter of the disease.
“There is a disaster coming,” said Kabul governor Mohammad Yakub Haidary at a joint press conference with the health minister.
He said in Kabul alone there could be a million people infected with the deadly virus.
So far there have been 327 confirmed deaths in the country.
“We have reports of increasing suspected deaths, people burying dead bodies at night,” Haidary said.
“We fill 10-15 ambulances of dead people every day.”
The virus’s spread has surged amid a nationwide lockdown that residents have largely ignored, with many daily wage earners taking their chances with the disease rather than lose a day’s work.
But the minister said that from Sunday the authorities will strictly impose measures like wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing for the next three months in order to curb the spread of the virus.
Experts say that Afghanistan is able to test only about 20 percent of its daily suspected coronavirus cases.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement Tuesday that “between 80 to 90 percent of potential cases are not being tested,” citing figures provided to them by the health ministry which said between 10,000 and 20,000 samples were being received per day.
The charity warned that Afghanistan was on the brink of a health crisis after confirmed cases spiked by 684 percent in May.
Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of tests coming back positive — about 40 percent — the IRC said, indicating high levels of undetected infections.
The spike in cases came after Afghanistan grappled with rising violence in recent months that diverted vital attention and resources away from the fight against the disease.
The country’s few hospitals focus mainly on basic care and trauma wounds and lack the expertise and equipment needed to deal with infectious diseases.


Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman
Updated 36 min 30 sec ago

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman
  • Police have not yet confirmed the incident

ABUJA: Kidnappers have abducted schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state, the state governor’s spokesman said on Friday, the second such kidnapping in little over a week.

It was not clear how many children had been seized.

Zailani Bappa, a spokesman for Zamfara’s state governor, said he saw reports of the attack on social media and checked with a police official who told him there had been abductions at a school in the state. He was unable to provide further details.

A police spokesman for the state did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.

A surge in armed militancy in the northwest has led to a breakdown of security in the north of Africa’s most populous country.

Last week, unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.

Hundreds of people have been killed in northern Nigeria by criminal gangs carrying out robberies and kidnappings. The country is also struggling to contain Islamist insurgencies in the northeast and communal violence over grazing rights in central states.

President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this month amid worsening violence, with the armed forces fighting to reclaim northeastern towns overrun by insurgents.


Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow
Updated 55 min 14 sec ago

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow
  • Incident came just days after Boeing confirmed that dozens of its 777 aircraft were grounded globally.

MOSCOW: A Boeing 777 airliner on Friday made an emergency landing in Moscow with engine problems, the operating airline said, days after another model rained down engine debris over the United States.
State-owned Rossiya airline said the crew had registered the “incorrect operation of the engine control sensor” on a cargo flight from Hong Kong to Madrid and that they “decided to make an emergency landing in Moscow.”
Online flight trackers confirmed the flight was carried out with a Boeing 777.
The airline said the unscheduled landing went ahead without incident and that no one was injured.
The aircraft will continue its onward journey to Madrid after a delay of several hours, it added.
The incident came just days after Boeing confirmed that dozens of its 777 aircraft were grounded globally resulting from the engine of a United Airlines plane catching fire and scattering debris over a suburb of Denver, Colorado.
It was not immediately clear whether the Boeing 777 that made the emergency landing in Moscow on Friday was equipped with the same engine that shed parts over Colorado last week.
The United Flight engine failure was a fresh blow for the beleaguered US aviation giant that was forced to ground another fleet of planes after a series of deadly crashes.


Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab
Updated 26 February 2021

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab
  • People age 60 and older and health care workers are among currently prioritized to receive vaccines
  • The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines

HONG KONG: Hong Kong began administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to the public Friday, kicking off its program that will eventually offer free vaccinations to all 7.5 million residents.
People age 60 and older and health care workers are among the some 2.4 million people currently prioritized to receive vaccines at community centers and outpatient clinics across Hong Kong. The government said registrations for the first two weeks of the program are full.
Participants so far will be receiving the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. A million doses arrived in the city last week, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other top government officials were vaccinated first in a bid to bolster confidence in the program.
A poll published in January by the University of Hong Kong found that a majority of respondents in the city concerned about the Chinese vaccine’s efficacy.
“I don’t think I’ll get the vaccine for the time being. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach,” said Ken Cheung, a Hong Kong resident.
“I would like to see if others experience any side-effects after the injection. I’ll only consider the vaccine only when I’m sure that it has a high efficacy rate and no side-effect.”
Billy Au, a resident in his 60s, had no such concerns and was inoculated on Friday
“I’m never hesitant to receive the vaccination because I believe that there are many people in China who have received Chinese vaccines. I don’t see why I shouldn’t take it,” he said.
A panel of Hong Kong experts said the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine after two doses, 21 days apart, was 62.3 percent. In contrast, a study in Israel found that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has 92 percent effectiveness.
Hong Kong has since struck deals to buy a total of 22.5 million doses of vaccines, with 7.5 million shots each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which will deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to the city.
The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The first million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been slated to arrive Thursday but was delayed by export procedures, the government said in a statement.
“The latest scheduled arrival date is tomorrow, so we hope that the vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong as scheduled,” Patrick Nip, Hong Kong’s civil service minister, said at a news briefing Friday.
He said such a short delay was unlikely to impact the vaccination rollout.
Another 200,000 vaccination slots will be open for booking Monday next week, Nip said.


Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters
Updated 26 February 2021

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters
  • Confrontation underscores rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and Myanmar’s generals
YANGON: Security forces in Myanmar’s largest city on Friday fired warning shots and beat truncheons against their shields while moving to disperse more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters.
The demonstrators had gathered in front of a popular shopping mall in Yangon, holding placards and chanting slogans denouncing the Feb. 1 coup even as the security presence increased and a water-cannon truck was brought to the area.
When around 50 riot police moved against the protesters, warning shots could be heard, and at least one demonstrator was held by officers. Security forces chased the protesters off the main road and continued to pursue them in the nearby lanes, as some ducked into houses to hide.
The confrontation underscored the rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and Myanmar’s generals who toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a takeover that shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.
On Thursday, supporters of Myanmar’s junta attacked people protesting the military government, using slingshots, iron rods and knives to injure several of them. Photos and videos posted on social media showed groups attacking people in downtown Yangon as police stood by without intervening.
The violence erupted as hundreds marched in support of the coup. They carried banners in English with the slogans “We Stand With Our Defense Services” and “We Stand With State Administration Council,” which is the official name of the junta.
Late Thursday, police turned out in force in Yangon’s Tarmwe neighborhood where they tried to clear the streets of residents protesting the military’s appointment of a new administrator for one ward. Several arrests were made as people scattered in front of riot police who used flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd.
No pro-military rally appeared to be scheduled for Friday.
In Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, anti-coup protesters also took to the streets Friday. They included a contingent of Buddhist nuns holding placards that read “We Immediately Need Action by Force from US Army.” Other demonstrators carried signs reading “Free our leader Aung San Suu Kyi,” “Pray for Myanmar,” and “Reject Military Coup.”
By midday, security forces had blocked the main road in downtown Mandalay to prevent the protesters from gathering.
Suu Kyi has not been seen since the coup. Around 50 of her supporters held a prayer Friday opposite her home in Yangon. The rambling mansion on University Avenue is where she spent many years under house arrest during previous military governments, and the residence has long had iconic status among her supporters.
“Because of the situation, on this day of the full moon we are sending love to, and reciting Buddha’s teachings for Mother Suu, President U Win Myint and all those unlawfully detained,” said Hmuu Sitt yan Naing, who joined the prayer group.
It is believed Suu Kyi is currently being detained in the capital Naypyitaw. She is due to face a court on Monday on charges brought against her by the military junta that are widely seen as politically motivated.
Several Western countries have imposed or threatened sanctions against Myanmar’s military. On Thursday, Britain announced further measures against members of the ruling junta for “overseeing human rights violations since the coup.”
Amid the international outrage, Facebook also announced Thursday it would ban all accounts linked to the military as well as ads from military-controlled companies.

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing
Updated 26 February 2021

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing
  • The United Nations refugee agency had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat

NEW DELHI/DHAKA: India’s coast guard found 81 survivors and eight dead on a boat crammed with Rohingya refugees adrift in the Andaman Sea, an Indian foreign ministry official said on Friday, adding the survivors would not be allowed to enter Indian territory.
Another refugee was missing, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday, giving news of the rescue.
The United Nations refugee agency had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat, which had set off on Feb. 11 from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where refugee camps have been established for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled neighboring Myanmar.
After four days at sea the boat’s engine failed, and those on board had run out of food and water, Srivastava said. Many were ill and suffering from extreme dehydration by the time they were rescued.
Two Indian coast guard ships were sent to help the refugees, 23 of whom were children, and the Indian government is in discussions with Bangladesh to ensure their safe return, he said.
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. It does not have a domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including some Rohingya from Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a deadly crackdown by security forces in Myanmar in 2017.
“Bangladesh is respectful of its international obligations under the UNCLOS (The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
On earlier occasions when other littoral countries of the region repeatedly denied access to the Rohingyas adrift on the sea, it was the Bangladesh that came to the rescue, the ministry added.
The statement said the boat had been traced approximately 1,700 km away from Bangladesh and 147 km from India.
“Other states, particularly those on whose territorial water the vessel has been found, bear the primary responsibility and they should fulfil their obligation under international law and burden-sharing principle,” the ministry said.