Dozens die in market blasts in southern Afghanistan

Afghans carry the body of a man who was killed during a deadly attack, in the southern Helmand province, Monday. (AP)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Dozens die in market blasts in southern Afghanistan

  • Afghan security forces and the Taliban blamed each other for the attack in Sangin district

KABUL: At least 23 civilians were killed on Monday when a series of explosions went off in a cattle market in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, in what was one of the bloodiest incidents against civilians in recent months.

Afghan security forces and the Taliban blamed each other for the attack in Sangin district, an area under the insurgents’ control.

While the Taliban accused government troops of firing mortars that killed civilians, the army blamed the Taliban for blowing up explosives at the site. Some residents confirmed the Taliban account, alleging the attack was carried out by the army.

Videos circulating on social media showed that the casualties included children.

A bearded man pointing toward two bodies said they were his brother and nephew, and neither of them were Taliban. He was heard saying that the attack was conducted by government forces.

Italian-run hospital Emergency reported receiving 19 bodies, three of them children who succumbed to their injuries while being rushed to the clinic.

In a statement issued by his office, President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and called on the Taliban to give up violence and begin negotiations.

Peace talks between the insurgents and the government were originally set for early March, but did not take place as Kabul initially refused to accept the Taliban’s condition of releasing the group’s imprisoned fighters.

Both sides have freed hundreds of each other’s prisoners in recent months amid hopes of starting the peace process in June. Officials now expect the negotiations will be held sometime in July, possibly in Qatar.

The talks should come amid a phased withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan. In accordance with an agreement the Taliban signed with the US in late February, all foreign soldiers should leave the country by next spring.

Following the US deal, the Taliban halted attacks on foreign troops but stepped up attacks on government forces.

Hundreds of Taliban and Afghan troops have died, as civilians continue to suffer from the ongoing war.


WHO acknowledges ‘evidence emerging’ of airborne spread of COVID-19

Updated 07 July 2020

WHO acknowledges ‘evidence emerging’ of airborne spread of COVID-19

  • WHO previously said the virus spreads through droplets expelled from the nose and mouth that quickly sink to the ground
  • New evidence shows floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Tuesday acknowledged “evidence emerging” of the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus, after a group of scientists urged the global body to update its guidance on how the respiratory disease passes between people.
“We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, told a news briefing.
The WHO has previously said the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease spreads primarily through small droplets expelled from the nose and mouth of an infected person that quickly sink to the ground.
But in an open letter to the Geneva-based agency, published on Monday in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, 239 scientists in 32 countries outlined evidence that they say shows floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in.
Because those smaller exhaled particles can linger in the air, the scientists are urging WHO to update its guidance.
Speaking at Tuesday’s briefing in Geneva, Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, said there was evidence emerging of airborne transmission of the coronavirus, but that it was not definitive.
.”..The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings — especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out,” she said.
“However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this.”
Any change in the WHO’s assessment of risk of transmission could affect its current advice on keeping 1-meter (3.3 feet) of physical distancing. Governments, which rely on the agency for guidance policy, may also have to adjust public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
Van Kerkhove said the WHO would publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission of the virus in the coming days.
“A comprehensive package of interventions is required to be able to stop transmission,” she said.
“This includes not only physical distancing, it includes the use of masks where appropriate in certain settings, specifically where you can’t do physical distancing and especially for health care workers.”