New lockdowns ordered as India coronavirus cases near one million

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)
New lockdowns ordered as India coronavirus cases near one million
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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)
New lockdowns ordered as India coronavirus cases near one million
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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

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.


World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 1 min 50 sec ago

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”