‘One more lockdown’: Delhi CM calls for new curbs after spike in COVID-19 cases

‘One more lockdown’: Delhi CM calls for new curbs after spike in COVID-19 cases
A medical worker collects a swab sample from a man for a RT-PCR test for the Covid-19 coronavirus along a street in New Delhi on November 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 November 2020

‘One more lockdown’: Delhi CM calls for new curbs after spike in COVID-19 cases

‘One more lockdown’: Delhi CM calls for new curbs after spike in COVID-19 cases
  • Experts highlight government’s ‘utter failure’ in handling outbreak; officials accuse public of defying restrictions during festive season

NEW DELHI: India’s capital could impose a new lockdown to contain a surge in coronavirus cases in New Delhi in the past couple of weeks, even as experts called out the government’s “utter failure” in handling the crisis.

“We are sending a general proposal to the central government so that, if required, the Delhi government can shut down those markets for a few days,” Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Delhi is a federally administered Union Territory with an elected legislature. However, unlike a full-fledged state, the chief minister of Delhi enjoys limited powers and for any major administrative decision has to get the permission of Lieutenant Governor, a central government’s nominee who enjoys wide-ranging powers.

On Monday, Delhi recorded 3,797 new infections and 99 deaths, taking the total tally to more than 490,000 infections and nearly 8,000 fatalities.

Kejriwal suggested capping the number of guests at weddings as a restrictive measure.

“In keeping with the central government’s guidelines, Delhi had allowed up to 200 people at weddings. But now we have decided to go back to the earlier limit of 50 people,” Kejriwal said.

The rise in cases follows the Durga Puja and Diwali celebrations in the past month, with many people thronging to the markets, defying all anti-virus measures for COVID-19.

The increased numbers have brought additional pressure on hospitals, with many in the capital reporting full intensive care units.

On Sunday, the federal government held an emergency meeting with Delhi and decided to add more ICU beds. Some media reports quoted Home Minister Amit Shah as saying that New Delhi would fly in medical professionals from outside the New Delhi region to deal with the rising cases.

“The situation is likely to worsen over the next few weeks,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after Sunday’s meeting.

Meanwhile, Kejriwal on Tuesday said that “the state and central government and all agencies are doubling their efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in Delhi.”

However, experts aren’t convinced, with several blaming the deteriorating air quality in the capital for adding to the problem.

“The festive season has been underway for the last few weeks, and the people have lowered their guard, not following the protocol of wearing masks. The sad thing is that winter is setting in and air pollution is going up, both of which pose a risk for respiratory illness,” public health expert and researcher Dr Anant Bhan told Arab News.

On Tuesday, India registered nearly 31,000 new cases, taking the national caseload to almost 9 million, with 131,000 deaths reported – out of a population of nearly 1.4 billion – making it the world’s second-worst affected nation after the US.

Some experts blamed the government’s inadequate response to the crisis for the uptick in numbers.

“Unless you do excessive testing, excessive isolation and boosting of health infrastructure, no substantial difference is going to be made in the fight against coronavirus,” said the president of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti.

He added that the government was taking “cosmetic” measures to tackle the crisis and blamed the ruling political parties – both in Delhi and the centre – for “deliberating violating protocols.”

“Kejriwal held a big celebration for Diwali festival, and the central government held a gala party to celebrate the success in the elections in Bihar,” Bhatti said, before questioning the “seriousness” of the anti-virus measures in place.

“The fact that the positivity rate in Delhi is 12.7 percent shows the utter failure of the regime. The positive rate should not be more than 2 percent to 3 percent,” he said.

India announced a nationwide lockdown on March 25 and continued for three months without a break, which many say was unprecedented. The lockdown, however, did not yield the desired results.

Bhan says the crisis could have been avoided with “better planning.”

“We could have effectively leveraged our human resources, making the health system strong enough, our testing capacity should have been enhanced,” he said, adding that authorities needed to be “more transparent.”

Bhatti agrees and said that the Indian government had been an “utter failure” in handling the outbreak.

“Right from the beginning, the government has not been sincere. They don’t have any understanding of the disease. I am worried about how they will handle the vaccine with this poor medical infrastructure. We don’t have the capacity to store vaccines under minus 80 degree,” he said.


Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest

Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest
Updated 36 sec ago

Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest

Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest
  • During eight hours of downtown protests, demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and flares at police
  • The tough curbs have triggered anti-lockdown rallies with police arresting hundreds
SYDNEY/MELBOURNE: Police in Melbourne fired pepper balls and rubber pellets on Tuesday to disperse about 2,000 protesters who defied stay-at- home orders to damage property, block a busy freeway and injure three officers, leading to more than 60 arrests.
It was the second day of demonstrations in the locked-down Australian city after authorities shut construction sites for two weeks, saying workers’ frequent movement was spreading the coronavirus.
During eight hours of downtown protests, demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and flares at police, as television and social media showed video of marchers chanting and attacking police cars, surrounded by mounted police and officers in riot gear.
“This was a very, very large and very, very angry group,” Shane Patton, police commissioner in the southeastern state of Victoria, told reporters, adding that the protest breached COVID-19 lockdown rules.
“And it was a challenging and confronting environment,” he added, urging people to stay away on Wednesday.
Protesters included not only construction workers but opponents of mandatory vaccinations and Victoria’s extended lockdown, who cursed the jab, state premier Dan Andrews and the workers’ union leader, who had backed vaccination for members.
“Acts of violence and disruption won’t result in one less case of COVID — in fact it only helps the virus to spread,” Andrews said in a statement.
The halt in building activities followed a protest against a vaccine mandate that turned violent on Monday. The state requires all construction workers to receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of this week.
“The public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button and continue to work with the sector over the next two weeks to improve compliance,” state Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters.
The forced closures of building sites will worsen Australia’s economic woes, with some economists forecasting the extended lockdowns could push the A$2 trillion ($1.45 trillion) economy into a second recession in as many years.
Australia has locked down its largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital, Canberra, to rein in an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
But the tough curbs have triggered anti-lockdown rallies with police arresting hundreds in both cities over the weekend.
Tuesday’s 603 new infections in Victoria were the highest daily figure this year, with one new death was recorded.
Authorities have begun to ease some strictures on outdoor gatherings and exercise in Sydney and Melbourne as vaccination rates rise, with more freedom promised once 70 percent to 80 percent of adults in the population have received both vaccine doses.
Until now, 53 percent have been fully vaccinated in the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, while in Victoria the coverage is 44 percent.
New South Wales reported 1,022 new infections, the majority in Sydney, its capital, up from Monday’s figure of 935, and 10 deaths.
Even with the Delta outbreaks, Australia’s COVID-19 infections are lower than many comparable nations, with 88,700 cases and 1,178 deaths.

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team
Updated 21 September 2021

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team
  • Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says that women might be added later

KABUL: The Taliban expanded their interim Cabinet by naming deputy ministers Tuesday, but failed to appoint any women, doubling down on a hard-line course despite the international outcry that followed their initial presentation of an all-male Cabinet lineup earlier this month.

The international community has warned that it will judge the Taliban by their actions, and that recognition of a Taliban-led government would be linked to the treatment of women and minorities. In their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban had barred girls and women from schools, work and public life.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid defended the latest additions to the Cabinet at a news conference Tuesday, saying it included members of ethnic minorities, such as the Hazaras, and that women might be added later.

Mujahid bristled at international conditions for recognition, saying there was no reason for withholding it. “It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize our government (and) for other countries, including European, Asian and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us,” he said.

He also said that the Taliban has funds to pay government salaries ‘but needs time.’

The Taliban have framed their current Cabinet as an interim government, suggesting that change was still possible, but they have not said if there would ever be elections.

Mujahid was also asked about the recent restrictions imposed on girls and women, including a decision not to allow girls in grades six to 12 to return to classrooms for the time being.

Mujahid suggested this was a temporary decision, and that “soon it will be announced when they can go to school.” He said plans were being made to allow for their return, but did not elaborate.

Boys in grades six to 12 resumed their studies over the weekend.


Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes

Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes
Updated 21 September 2021

Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes

Calls grow among experts in Singapore for a vaccine mandate as COVID-19 spikes
  • Singapore has been a model for coronavirus mitigation since the pandemic began with mandatory masks, effective contact tracing and a closed border
  • Singapore has not made vaccination compulsory because the Pfizer and Moderna shots only have emergency approval in the country

SINGAPORE: Some health experts in Singapore are calling for mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus with a growing toll of severe COVID-19 among unvaccinated people as infections surge and with vaccine take-up plateauing at 82 percent of the population.
The government has linked reopening to vaccination targets but it paused the easing of restrictions this month to watch for signs that severe infections could overwhelm the health system.
“I would love to see vaccine mandates in over 60s, they are the group most likely to die,” said Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert at the National University Hospital in Singapore.
“It’s the same reason that age group was selected early for vaccines, the same reason that age group has been selected for booster jabs.”
Singapore has been a model for coronavirus mitigation since the pandemic began with mandatory masks, effective contact tracing and a closed border.
In all, 62 of its 5.7 million people have died and new daily infections were for months no more than a handful.
But, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Delta variant has in recent months been spreading and new daily cases have risen to about 1,000.
Several countries including the United States, France and Italy have announced mandatory vaccination programs, concerned the Delta variant and a slowdown in vaccinations will thwart plans to get back to normal.
Of vaccinated people in Singapore who caught the virus from May 1 to Sept. 16, only 0.09 percent of them had to go into intensive care or died. The rate for the unvaccinated was 1.7 percent.
Data for the elderly is particularly striking.
Of infected unvaccinated people aged 80 or older, 15 percent of them had to be treated in intensive care or died. Only 1.79 percent of the vaccinated in that age group needed intensive care or died.
Singapore has not made vaccination compulsory because the Pfizer and Moderna shots only have emergency approval in the country although it has limited activities such as eating out for the unvaccinated.
Neither company responded to a query on whether it had applied for full approval in Singapore.
With about 87,000 seniors still unvaccinated, some experts say full approval could pave the way for a mandate.
“Vaccination is much more protective than the other measures we have in place, and less economically and socially damaging,” said Alex Cook, an infectious disease modelling expert at the National University of Singapore.
“If we are not to enforce vaccination, it seems odd to enforce weaker and more costly measures.”
The number of patients requiring oxygen support or intensive care jumped more than five-fold this month to 146, including 18 in ICU.
The government is worried the numbers in ICU could grow quickly on an exponentially rising base of infected people, especially if they are elderly and unvaccinated.
Singapore has about 100 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, and it can increase that to nearly 300 at short notice.
A vaccine mandate could take the form of curtailing activities for unvaccinated people related to their work, leisure and use of public transport, said infectious diseases doctor Leong Hoe Nam.
“You cannot go to the malls or take public transport or eat out unless vaccinated,” he said, giving examples of possible restrictions.
Only vaccinations against diphtheria and measles are mandated by law in Singapore.
The government has been offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for free and it has also approved payouts to 144 people who suffered serious side effects, media reported.
Singapore has a long record of imposing rules, including a famous 1992 ban on the sale of chewing gum to prevent littering, but nevertheless compulsory vaccines would be a significant step.
“It will take political courage, there’s no doubt about that, but the science would say you will save hundreds of lives if you vaccinate the last 100,000 seniors,” said Fisher.


Pakistan says no rush to recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban government

Pakistan says no rush to recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban government
Updated 21 September 2021

Pakistan says no rush to recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban government

Pakistan says no rush to recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban government
  • Pakistan’s main envoy expresses hope the Taliban live up to their promise ‘that girls and women would be allowed to go to school, college and university’

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan’s foreign minister says Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers should understand that if they want recognition and assistance in rebuilding the war-battered country “they have to be more sensitive and more receptive to international opinion and norms.”
Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Monday evening that countries are watching to see how things evolve in Afghanistan before considering recognition. He says, “I don’t think anyone is in a rush to recognize at this stage.”
The Pakistani minister says his country’s objective is peace and stability in Afghanistan and to achieve that “we would suggest to Afghans that they should have an inclusive government.” He says their initial statements indicate they aren’t averse to the idea, so “let’s see.”
Qureshi expresses hope the Taliban live up to their promise “that girls and women would be allowed to go to school, college and university.”
Qureshi strongly urges the United States and other countries that have frozen money from the former Afghan government to release it because “that’s Afghan money that should be spent on Afghan people.”


US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’

US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’
Updated 21 September 2021

US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’

US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’
  • The long-brewing dispute escalated this week when Farmajo suspended Roble's executive powers

WASHINGTON: The United States called Monday on the president and prime minister of Somalia to resolve their "dispute," so as not to further delay the country's electoral process, with the African nation's presidential election scheduled for October 10.
"Cooperation among Somalia's leaders — particularly President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Roble — is essential to ensure that the country quickly completes its ongoing electoral process," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
"The dispute between President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Roble risks complicating this process and needs to be resolved immediately and peacefully."
The rivalry between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has raised concerns for the country's stability.
The long-brewing dispute escalated this week when Farmajo suspended Roble's executive powers, a move the premier rejected as unlawful.
Somalia is due to vote for a president on October 10, but the leaders' spat threatens to imperil the repeatedly delayed poll and distract from efforts to confront a long-running Islamist insurgency.
The months-long delay has "concerned" Washington, Price said, stressing that any further postponement "increases the potential for violence and plays into the hands of al-Shabaab and other extremist groups seeking to destabilize the country."
The radical Islamist group Al-Shabaab, whose insurgency was unleashed on Somalia in 2007, control large rural areas and regularly carry out attacks in the capital.