India coronavirus toll sees record jump of 2,000 dead

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Commuters wearing face masks move through a road in Amritsar on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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A medical staff uses a pulse oxymeter during a door-to-door medical screening inside a slum to fight against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Police personnel stand guard at a vegetable market complex as the area is contained after some residents allegedly tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Siliguri on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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A street vendor selling facemasks hung up on his bicycle waits for customers on the roadside in New Delhi on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2020

India coronavirus toll sees record jump of 2,000 dead

  • Authorities said the sharp increase in fatalities to 11,903 was mainly due to Mumbai and Delhi updating their figures
  • The epidemic has badly hit India’s densely populated major cities

NEW DELHI: India’s official coronavirus death toll leapt by more than 2,000 on Wednesday as the hard-hit country struggles to contain a ballooning health crisis that has overwhelmed hospitals.
The news came as Germany urged its nationals in India to consider leaving for their own safety, while France warned its citizens in New Delhi to stay home unless going to an airport to return to Europe.
Authorities said the sharp increase in fatalities to 11,903 was mainly due to Mumbai and Delhi updating their figures.
Death tolls in both cities have been increasing in recent days.
Mumbai blamed unspecified accounting “discrepancies” for the increase of 862 to 3,165 deaths.
Delhi added more than 430 fatalities, taking its total to over 1,800.
Officials said 93 of the Delhi deaths and 55 in Mumbai had been in the previous 24 hours.
The epidemic has badly hit India’s densely populated major cities and Chennai in the south has ordered a new lockdown from Friday because of a surge in cases.
Hospitals in Mumbai have been overwhelmed, while the government has sent specially-adapted railway carriages to Delhi and authorities have taken over hotels and banquet halls to accommodate coronavirus patients.
Late Wednesday, the office of the Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said he had tested positive for coronavirus after complaining of a high fever. He had attended a meeting with the national home and health ministers on Sunday.
Germany recommended its citizens in India to “seriously consider whether a temporary return to Germany or another country with an assured health care system makes sense.”
“Case numbers are still rising strongly. This increases considerably the risk of infection,” the foreign ministry said.
People with the coronavirus or other serious medical needs have “no or very little chance of being admitted to hospitals. This increases considerably the health risks of a stay in India,” it added.
The French embassy in Delhi also sent a warning to its nationals saying that hospitals in the city are “more and more saturated.”
It said people should stay home unless there is an emergency “or it is to reach an airport for a flight to Europe.”
Air France and German carrier Lufthansa have organized a number of special flights from Delhi to Europe this month for people trying to leave the country.
India is the fourth worst hit country in the world with more than 354,000 infections, official figures show.
Experts say the real number of cases is likely much higher and have called for greater testing.
The Delhi government alone has warned that it could have 550,000 cases by the end of July.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has declared a nationwide lockdown imposed in late March a success and has been steadily lifting restrictions.

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Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 52 min 43 sec ago

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants have stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan and released hundreds of prisoners, officials said.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.
The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.
The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.
Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.
They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.
Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.
According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.
The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.
“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.
The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.
In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”
After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.
The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.
The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.
Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.
“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”
“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”