New lockdowns ordered as India coronavirus cases near one million

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People stand in queues to get tested for COVID-19 at an urban health centre in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, July 16, 2020. (AP)
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Migrant labourers and their families travelling from Kerala to Assam states wait, stranded, at a bus station after a new lockdown was imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Siliguri on July 16, 2020. (AFP)
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A health worker takes a nasal swab sample of a man at an urban health centre in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, July 16, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 16 July 2020

New lockdowns ordered as India coronavirus cases near one million

  • Bihar, a largely rural state with feeble health infrastructure, went into a 15-day lockdown at midnight
  • IT hub Bangalore — home to 13 million people — shut down for a week on Wednesday

PATNA: One of India’s most impoverished states went into lockdown Thursday, but near-normal traffic on Bihar’s streets showed the difficulty of corralling over 125 million people.
The lockdown in the northern state bordering Nepal started as India reported more than 600 deaths in the previous 24 hours, and the Red Cross warned the virus was spreading at “an alarming rate” across South Asia.
With India’s caseload fast approaching one million — and fatalities nearing 25,000 — local authorities across the country are reimposing restrictions that have only recently been lifted.
Bihar, a largely rural state with feeble health infrastructure, went into a 15-day lockdown at midnight, a day after IT hub Bangalore — home to 13 million people — shut down for a week.
All schools, clubs, temples and non-essential businesses were ordered to close in Bihar, but construction and agricultural activity are allowed to continue.
And while public transport was shut down, private vehicles are still permitted to operate, and the streets of the state capital Patna thronged with cars, lorries, bikes and auto-rickshaws.
“The lockdown is not being fully enforced,” businessman Ranjeet Singh said. Many people were still shopping for food with little regard for social distancing advice.
A lack of coronavirus discipline forced Goa, another Indian state, to announced a three-day shutdown from Thursday evening and a night curfew until August 10.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said too many people were “stepping out to meet people at parties” and that there was a low level of “awareness and sensitivity.”
“We have more than 40,000 people fined for not wearing masks, plus there are many who are detained for flouting rules, but they continue to loiter,” Sawant told local media.
“This only establishes that people only understand the language of the law.”
Bangalore’s lockdown was stricter and the streets were much quieter.
Many firms that handle the back-office operations of global corporations were little affected by the re-imposed restrictions with staff already working from home.
Still, the health minister of Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital, said Wednesday that “only God can save us” as the state’s caseload approached 50,000.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the entire region was fast becoming the next epicenter for the coronavirus.
“While the world’s attention has been focused on the unfolding crisis in the United States and South America, a concurrent human tragedy is fast emerging in South Asia,” the organization said.
“COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in South Asia, home to a quarter of humanity.”
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have between them recorded more than 1.4 million cases and almost 33,000 deaths.
Many experts say however that authorities are not testing nearly enough people and that the official figures underplay the seriousness of the situation.


Sri Lankan leader appoints Cabinet, state ministers

Updated 13 August 2020

Sri Lankan leader appoints Cabinet, state ministers

  • Spotlight on economy, security as 67 officials take oath in palace ceremony

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa administered the oath of office to 28 new Cabinet ministers and 39 state ministers on Wednesday during a swearing-in ceremony at the Kandy Royal Palace, a week after the Aug. 5 general elections.

“The Cabinet has been formed in a pragmatic and a realistic manner to implement the national program. Special attention was paid to national security, economic development, infrastructure, education, health and sports,” a Presidential Secretariat statement said.

While President Rajapaksa retained the defense portfolio, his brother, Namal Rajapaksa — the 34-year-old son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa — was named minister for youth and sports.

Several senior politicians, including former president Maithripala Sirisena, were left out of the new Cabinet.

The ninth parliament is set to meet on Aug. 20.

Only two members from minority communities, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and Justice Minister Ali Sabry, were appointed from the Tamil and Muslim communities, respectively.

“I’m delighted to get this portfolio in recognition of my services to the nation, particularly to the legal field,” Sabry said.

He is the second Muslim justice minister to assume office after Rauff Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, led by PM Rajapaksa, polled 6,853,690, or 59 percent of votes, and secured a total of 145 seats in parliament, including 17 of the National List seats.

Sabry said government efforts to limit the coronavirus pandemic had “impressed the nation enough to vote them into power.”

Lawyer Razik Zarook said: “It’s a great victory for the Muslim community. The era of mistrust and suspicion is over, and the foundation is laid to build the bridges of friendship and amity.”

However, international political lobbyist Muheed Jeeran told Arab News that though the Cabinet is promising, it is “full of confusion.”

“Sabry’s appointment has disappointed the nationalist group who want to implement one nation, one law,” he said.

“But it is a joyful moment for Muslims who supported the SLPP. However, it will be difficult for Sabry as justice minister. Will he become the wooden handle of the axe to chop the tree of traditional Muslim laws as per the nationalist agenda, or will he stand for Muslim rights?”