Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan

Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan
Pakistani police officers stand guard at a checkpoint of a restricted area to help contain the spread of new coronavirus, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 16 June 2020

Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan

Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan
  • Ruling PTI party is worst hit with two death and 36 testing positive for COVID-19

LAHORE: A total of 97 politicians, including 86 lawmakers from the country’s national and provincial assemblies, have tested positive for COVID-19 while six have died since the outbreak in Pakistan.

The members of the National Assembly (MNA) who have tested positive belong to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and several other political parties.

“Most of the MNAs who tested positive did not inform the secretariat,” Mehboob Gurmani, director-general media at the National Assembly (NA) Secretariat, told Arab News, explaining why the department did not have an official list of the infected legislators. “So we learned about them from the media.”

While some lawmakers were tested at a health facility in the parliament, others were tested privately, he said, adding that 40 staff members of the NA had also contracted the virus by June 12.

Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, who oversees the data for the coronavirus program, said that his department has yet to keep a count of politicians affected by the respiratory disease in the country.

Since February 26, when the first COVID-19 case was reported in Pakistan, the virus has become a significant threat to members of the ruling PTI party, with 36 leaders contracting the disease and two deaths reported, Information Secretary Omar Sarfaraz Cheema, said.

The second most-affected political faction is the PML-N with 23 lawmakers and office bearers affected, said Attaullah Tarar, general deputy secretary – who had tested positive for the disease and has since recovered.

The PML-N has also lost one of its lawmakers to the disease.

The PPP reported eight COVID-19 cases and has lost one parliamentarian, said Saeed Ghani, a senior party leader.

Ghani was the first lawmaker to announce he was going into self-quarantine after he posted a tweet on March 23.

Since then, several high-profile names have reportedly been infected, including Sheikh Rasheed, the federal minister for railways, Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition, Shehryar Khan Afridi, a state minister, Asad Qaiser, the NA speaker and two former prime ministers, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Sharif, who has served as Punjab chief minister many times in the past, wrote a series of tweets after contracting COVID-19, saying that he was being cautious, was staying at home and conducting meetings online.

He said that there had been “a couple of unavoidable outings recently like the appearance before NAB (National Accountability Bureau)” when the anti-corruption watchdog summoned him for questioning in a corruption case.

To date, the virus has claimed the lives of five provincial lawmakers: Syed Fazal Agha (Balochistan); Shaheena Raza (Punjab); Jamshed Uddin Kakakhel (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa); Shaukat Manzoor Cheema (Punjab); and Ghulam Murtaza Baloch (Sindh), as confirmed by the respective party leaders.

Munir Orakzai, an MNA from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, died on June 2. He was thought to have recovered from the disease after contracting the virus in early April and was brought parliament in a wheelchair. His family said he had later died of a cardiac arrest, with his death confirmed by an adviser of prime minister, Shahbaz Gill, on Twitter.

In addition to the above numbers, 30 lawmakers and politicians from other political parties have also tested positive.

These include the religious-politico party Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F), and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM), Awani National Party (ANP), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal (MMA), Awami Muslim League, Balochistan National Party (BNP), and independent legislators.

To stem the flow of new cases, the government has approved historical changes in the seating arrangements and voting processes in the lower and upper houses of parliament.

The new rules mandate that members follow social distancing and take other safety measures during sessions.

For the first time in the country’s history, the annual fiscal budget was presented on June 12 in a controlled environment with only 25 percent of lawmakers allowed to sit in the House.

Pakistan has a total of 1,195 members in its Senate, National Assembly and four provincial assemblies.

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Updated 11 April 2021

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
  • Europe Minister Clement Beaune says Turkey set 'trap' for Ursula von der Leyen
  • Erdogan's snub dubbed 'sofagate' has sparked a diplomatic storm between Turkey and Europe

PARIS: France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Sunday that Turkey had set a “trap” for European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen by forcing her to sit off to the side on a visit to Ankara, in a photo-op faux pas quickly dubbed ‘sofagate’.
The Turkish presidency’s failure to place a chair for von der Leyen alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and EU Council chief Charles Michel was “an insult from Turkey,” Beaune said on RTL television.

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“Turkey behaved badly,” he added, calling it “a Turkish problem done deliberately toward us... we shouldn’t be stirring up guilt among Europeans.”
Von der Leyen’s being shunted aside prompted recriminations from European capitals to Turkey, but also within Brussels.
For its part, Ankara insists the incident was down to tangled wires between the Council and Commission, separate EU institutions.
Michel’s staff claimed they had no access to the meeting room before the Tuesday event, but also highlighted that the Council chief comes before the Commission president under strict international protocol.
“It was a kind of trap... between the one who laid it and the one who walked into it, I’d rather place the blame on the one who laid it,” France’s Beaune said.
Echoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called Erdogan a “dictator” in response to the sofa incident, Beaune charged that there was “a real problem with lack of respect for democracy and an autocratic drift in Turkey” that should prompt Europeans to be “very firm with the Turks.”
Nevertheless, “in future, it would be good if there was one single presidency of the European executive,” Beaune acknowledged.
“We need stronger European institutions.”


India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

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Updated 11 April 2021

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge
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NEW DELHI: India said on Sunday it had banned the export of anti-viral drug Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients after a record spike in COVID-19 cases sent demand surging.
“In light of the above, Government of India has prohibited the exports of Injection Remdesivir and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) till the situation improves,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month.

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Updated 11 April 2021

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners

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  • Stephanie Szczotko was stabbed by Usman Khan at a rehabilitation event for prisoners
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LONDON: A criminology graduate who was injured during the 2019 Fishmonger’s Hall attack in London has said she will return to rehabilitating prisoners.

Stephanie Szczotko, 26, was stabbed in the arm by Usman Khan during his murderous spree at a rehabilitation event for prisoners on license. 

Khan, 28, killed two of his victims — Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23 — both of whom were workers from the Learning Together initiative, a rehabilitation scheme backed by Cambridge University.

The terrorist, who was shot dead on London Bridge by a firearm officer, was wearing a fake suicide vest.

Szczotko, from Bath in the west of England, visited prisons on behalf of the initiative during her criminology degree, and attended the Fishmonger’s Hall event as an alumni of the group.

She has remained an advocate of prisoner rehabilitation and restorative justice efforts, saying the attack “didn’t really change my opinion.”

She added that many of the ex-offenders at the event put themselves in harm’s way by challenging Khan as he started his rampage. 

“I’ve always enjoyed support work and helping people, so I want to carry on with that — maybe working with youth offenders,” Szczotko said.

The inquest into the deaths of Merritt and Jones starts on Monday. Witnesses will give evidence as the inquest seeks to establish what, if anything, the security services and the police knew ahead of the attack.


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Updated 11 April 2021

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BEIJING: In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to give them a boost.
Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses in other countries while also trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of Western vaccines.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.
The effectiveness rate of a coronavirus vaccine from Sinovac, a Chinese developer, at preventing symptomatic infections has been found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil. By comparison, the vaccine made by Pfizer has been found to be 97% effective.
Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China, where the coronavirus emerged in late 2019.
Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but mentioned mRNA, a previously experimental technique used by Western vaccine developers while China’s drug makers used traditional technology.
“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
Gao previously raised questions about the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.
Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, which uses mRNA.
As of April 2, some 34 million people have received both of the two doses required by Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness rates. Trials around the world are looking at mixing of vaccines or giving a booster shot after a longer time period. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.


Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

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Updated 11 April 2021

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
  • Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30
  • The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines capital and four adjacent provinces will be eased from April 12, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.
Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30, spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual briefing.
Roque gave the briefing from hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19. He gave no details on which restrictions will be eased but said details would be released on Monday.
The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health recorded 11,681 new COVID-19 cases and 201 more deaths, bringing the country’s tallies to 864,868 confirmed infections and 14,945 fatalities.
New cases have surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on April 2, most of those in the congested capital.
Last week, Duterte canceled a weekly televised address and a meeting with his coronavirus task force as some of his staff and security detail were found to be COVID-19 positive.
Roque and Duterte’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, also tested positive.
Roque said the government will work to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in health care facilities and free up more room in hospitals.
Under the current quarantine classification for Manila and surrounding areas, non-essential movement is banned, along with mass gatherings and dining in restaurants, with longer-than-usual curfews also in place since March 29.
The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record.