Russia's new coronavirus cases hit new record high of 15,982

Russia's new coronavirus cases hit new record high of 15,982
People wearing face masks to protect themselves against the Covid-19 disease walk out of an underground passage in Moscow on October 16, 2020, amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2020

Russia's new coronavirus cases hit new record high of 15,982

Russia's new coronavirus cases hit new record high of 15,982
  • Authorities reported 179 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 24,366

MOSCOW: Russia's daily tally of coronavirus cases surged to a new record high of 15,982 on Monday, including 5,376 in the capital Moscow, pushing the national case total to 1,415,316 since the pandemic began.
Authorities reported 179 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 24,366.


London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer
Updated 16 min 18 sec ago

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer
  • Usman Khan killed two people in 2019, less than a year after his release from jail on terror charges
  • An inquest into the deaths aims to determine whether the attack could have been predicted

LONDON: A senior officer from MI5 on Thursday denied that the British security agency could have prevented a deadly terror attack in London, despite receiving warnings that the terrorist wanted to “die and go to paradise.”

Usman Khan, 28, killed two people and wounded three with a knife near London Bridge in November 2019 before being shot dead by police. The attack happened less than a year after his early release from a prison sentence for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

An inquest into the deaths of Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at a prisoner-reform event in Fishmonger’s Hall, next to London Bridge, has heard that Khan was allowed to attend the event despite concerns from some officials that he posed a security threat.

But the senior MI5 officer, referred to as Witness A for legal reasons, said the attack could not have been prevented. She said the intelligence services had been aware of Khan since 2008, when he was a member of British terror group Al-Muhajiroun, and knew he had been involved in violent incidents while in prison.

Asked by the counsel for the coroner whether there was also evidence that Khan “wanted to die and go to paradise,” Witness A said: “There was information to that effect.”

The court also heard that while in jail Khan had remained in contact with his co-defendants from the failed Stock Exchange bomb plot, and other terrorists outside of prison.

But in 2015, MI5 decided to close its investigation into him. Witness A said she felt the decision was the right one.

“We had carried out quite a significant period of investigation while he was in prison, we received a steady stream of intelligence while in prison, and we saw no activities of national security concern, therefore it was the right time to close the investigation,” she said, adding: “We cannot investigate people forever.”

She also told the court that MI5’s review of the case after the attack concluded that it “could not have taken any actions or materially changed the outcomes of this case. The investigative and operational decisions taken by MI5 in this case were sound.”

Since the attack, Britain has introduced stricter counterterrorism measures for dealing with known extremists and offenders. New laws have removed the possibility of early release for convicted terrorists, and stepped up the level of monitoring of after they are released from prison.

The inquest continues.


From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’
Updated 19 min 18 sec ago

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’
  • Aziz Ullah Shahwani and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini are physics students at the University of Balochistan
  • Self-funded robot took them six months to make from scratch with ‘zero support’

QUETTA: It’s an unlikely trio in an unlikely place — two smart young Baloch students stand proudly outside their university in Quetta with an all-white, 5-foot, 4-inch humanoid robot between them.

Aziz Ullah Shahwani, 24, and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini, 25, are physics students at the University of Balochistan, and the robot they created, named Bolani, is their final project.

“I didn’t take any interest in technology-related experiments until I graduated school due to the absence of a physics teacher in my native district Kalat, but when I came to Balochistan for my master’s degree in physics I decided to invent something new, something no other student in the history of the university has done,” Shahwani told Arab News.

Coming from the remote Kalat and Sorab districts in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Balochistan province, Shahwani and Rodini are largely self-taught, and said that they received close to no financial support during their endeavor from their university or the government of Balochistan.

The two boys from distant Pakistani towns worked for six months to conquer the impossible, working on advanced 3D software, and even welding and painting the body of their robot themselves.

“While making Bolani, I learned the use of new software and 3D printing,” Shahwani said.

“Because I have designed Bolani by myself on solid work software, it was an unforgettable experience,” he continued.

Bolani is named after the famed mountain pass Bolan, roughly 127 km from the capital Quetta, south of the Hindu Kush mountains.

For now, Bolani can move forward and backward, he can move his eyes, neck and jaw and can shake hands with human beings when Shahwani gives him the command through an app installed on his mobile phone.

Rodini, who assisted Shahwani in building Bolani, said they wanted to create something new instead of submitting research papers like everybody else.

“We took assistance and guidance from our professors because after thorough searching we could not find robotic circuits and motors in Quetta ... later we installed locally purchased motors in order to finalize Bolani,” said Rodini.

“Bolani cost us Rs50,000 ($326) and due to the lack of financial assistance, we used iron and steel to shape the humanoid robot,” Rodini said.

He added there had been “zero support” from the university’s higher authorities and provincial government.

Shahwani and Rodini are now planning to upgrade Bolani with additional features like voice and face recognition sensors that will allow the robot to talk.

Prof. Ajab Khan Kasi, head of the physics department at the University of Balochistan, supervised the students while they built Bolani and said their creation was a “milestone” in the history of the university.

“It took six months to complete the robot and during this period, Aziz and Mukhtiar have done all the processes with their own hands ... even the welding, coloring and mechanical work on Bolani,” Kasi told Arab News.

“The humanoid robot has been working in nine-degree freedom, which allows him to move his hands, neck and eyes,” he said.

Shahwani said he will continue with his studies and hunt for support from the government and his university to add the sensors.

But until that happens, he added, they would not feel disappointed.

“Because we are inspired by Pakistan’s Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdul Salam and the young Dr. Yar Jan Baloch who works as a space scientist in Cambridge University,” he added.

“We are following in their footsteps.”


England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
Updated 13 May 2021

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
  • Data from the UK’s statistics office also revealed that atheists were the least likely to die, on average, from COVID-19
  • Ethnicity and faith are difficult to separate, and understanding the disparity in fatality rates is a complex problem, experts say

LONDON: Data on COVID-19 death rates in England has revealed that Muslims are by far the worst-affected religious group, with death rates twice as high as among Christians, and nearly three times higher than atheists.

Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that, up to the end of February this year, 4,191 Muslims had been killed by the virus.

Muslim men had a death rate of 966.9 per 100,000 people, while that of women was about 519.1 per 100,000.

Muslims were followed by Hindus — 605.2 among men and 346.5 for women — Sikhs — 573.6 and 345.7 — Jews — 512.9 and 295.4 — and Christians — 401.9 and 249.6.

Atheists, as a group, were the least affected, experiencing 336.6 deaths per 100,000 among men, and 218.2 among women.

The ONS report did not examine the cause of the disparity between religious groups.

However, after factoring in other risk indicators such as age, wealth and location, it said: “After adjustments, the Hindu population and Muslim men were disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic.

“For other religious groups, the excess risk relative to the Christian group was only observed in the first wave (Jewish and Buddhist men) or second wave (Sikh men and women and Muslim women).”

Experts have suggested that ethnic minorities are more likely to be on low incomes and working in public-facing jobs that increase their exposure to the virus. 

When the ONS stripped out the effects of people’s health and lifestyles, the death risk supposedly linked to faith dropped significantly. 

Previous research has shown that South Asians are the worst affected ethnic group.

“For some religious groups, there is considerable overlap with ethnic background. This means that it is difficult to separate the observed association between COVID-19 mortality risk and religion from the risk associated with ethnic background,” said the ONS report.

A separate study by Queen Mary University in London, published in January, found that black, Asian and ethnic minority people were up to 50 percent more likely than white people to die of COVID-19 in hospital. It also found that the likelihood of needing significant medical intervention through a ventilator was 54 percent higher among Asian patients — many of whom are Muslim — than for their white compatriots.


Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK

Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK
Updated 13 May 2021

Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK

Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK
  • “It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it," Johnson said
  • Imperial College London said overall cases have fallen to their lowest level since August

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday he was “anxious” about a rise in the UK of the coronavirus variant first identified in India.
His worries surfaced after a closely-monitored study of infections in England found the variant is becoming more prevalent just ahead of the next big easing of lockdown restrictions.
“It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do. There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.”
In its latest assessment published Thursday, Imperial College London said overall cases have fallen to their lowest level since August following a strict lockdown and a successful rollout of vaccines. However, it warned that the Indian variant should be closely monitored.
The so-called REACT study found that the Indian variant, designated “of concern” because it could be more transmissible, was identified in 7.7 percent of the 127,000 cases tested between Apr.15 and May 3.
Professor Steven Riley from Imperial College said it’s unclear whether the Indian variant is more transmissible but warned that “this is a risk.”
Though the British government and scientists have said new cases may start to go up in coming weeks, it’s unclear whether that will lead to a big increase in hospitalizations and deaths given that most of those people deemed vulnerable have been vaccinated.
Over the past few weeks as India has suffered a catastrophic resurgence of the virus, concerns have grown around the world about potential new variants bypassing the protections offered by vaccines.
Across the UK, lockdown restrictions are being lifted. The next easing in England is set to take place on Monday when two households will be able to mix indoors and pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers inside, among other changes. The other nations of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have also laid out similar plans for the coming weeks.
The government hopes to lift most remaining restrictions on social contact in June.
“At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get,” Johnson said.
The government’s scientific advisory committee, known as SAGE, will be making recommendations about the pandemic’s path. It is due to meet later.
Currently there are few signs the previous easing has led to an increase in new infections, which are averaging around 2,300 a day across the UK, compared with nearly 70,000 recorded in January at the peak of the second wave.
The fall in infections has led to a sharp decline in daily coronavirus-related deaths, with 11 reported on Thursday. Still, the UK has recorded Europe’s highest virus-related death toll, at more than 127,600.
The successful rollout of vaccines has also helped keep a lid on infections alongside the lockdown. Around 54 percent of the British population has had at least one dose of vaccine with about a quarter having received two doses. The rollout is being expanded further, with vaccines now being made available to people aged 38 and 39.


Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations
Updated 13 May 2021

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations
  • Qari Asim urged Muslims to “not drop the ball before restrictions are eased”
  • British Muslims have now celebrated two Ramadans while adhering to social distancing measures

LONDON: One of Britain’s leading imams has urged British Muslims to exert caution and continue to observe coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on personal contact and indoor gatherings during Eid celebrations.

Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said it would be “excruciatingly painful” to celebrate Eid without gathering in numbers and embracing loved ones — but that everyone should “take that extra step” to keep people safe before restrictions are lifted.

Thursday marks the end of the second Ramadan Muslims in Britain have spent adhering to restrictions on personal contact and large gatherings — both of which are hallmarks of traditional Ramadan and Eid celebrations.

Asim said: “This Eid will be very different in the sense that we will not be able to greet each other in the traditional way of embracing each other, hugging and handshaking with each other.

“But I’m really hopeful that next Eid we will be able to be with each other and embrace each other and share a meal with our extended family and friends.”

He added: “It’s excruciatingly painful because the easing of restrictions is taking place next week when we will be able to hug each other and we will be able to embrace each other.

“We just have to take that one extra step to get us through this pandemic and make sure that we do not drop the ball before the restrictions are completely eased.”

On May 17, Britain will see a raft of pandemic-related restrictions to social life relaxed — including a cap on the number of worshippers allowed into mosques and other places of worship.

Asim said: “It’s been extremely challenging to follow the restrictions that have been in place but people have made incredible sacrifices and the Muslim community has strictly followed the guidelines given by the government.”

Instead of the traditional shared iftar meal, mosques in the UK have chosen to share food with vulnerable members of their local communities.

His own mosque, Asim said, has handed out more than 7,000 food parcels in the local area throughout Ramadan.