UK reactivates emergency COVID-19 hospitals, closes London primary schools

UK reactivates emergency COVID-19 hospitals, closes London primary schools
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Ambulances are parked outside Southend University Hospital in Essex, eastern England, on January 1, 2021. (AFP)
UK reactivates emergency COVID-19 hospitals, closes London primary schools
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An ambulance passes a portable digital screen warning people of high Covid rates in Southend-On-Sea in eastern England, on January 1, 2021. (AFP)
UK reactivates emergency COVID-19 hospitals, closes London primary schools
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People queue outside the Outpatients Department at the Basildon and Thurrock hospital in south west Essex, eastern England, on January 1, 2021. (AFP)
UK reactivates emergency COVID-19 hospitals, closes London primary schools
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Signage is seen outside Southend University Hospital in Essex, eastern England, on January 1, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 01 January 2021

UK reactivates emergency COVID-19 hospitals, closes London primary schools

UK reactivates emergency COVID-19 hospitals, closes London primary schools
  • The announcement comes just days after the Royal London Hospital told staff in an email it was now in "disaster medicine mode"
  • The government also decided to close all London primary schools

LONDON: Britain reactivated emergency hospitals built at the start of the pandemic and shut primary schools in London on Friday to counter the rapid spread of a much more infectious variant of the coronavirus.
With more than 50,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 for the last four days, the health service said it was preparing for an anticipated rush of patients and needed more beds.
The announcement comes just days after the Royal London Hospital told staff in an email it was now in "disaster medicine mode" and unable to provide high standard critical care.
With the capital one of the areas worst-hit by the new variant, which is up to 70% more infectious, the government also decided to close all London primary schools, reversing a decision made just two days ago.
"Children's education and wellbeing remains a national priority," Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said. "Moving further parts of London to remote education really is a last resort and a temporary solution."
Britain is battling a new wave of a virus that has already killed more than 74,000 people and crushed the economy. One of the worst hit countries in the world, it recorded 53,285 cases in the last 24 hours on Friday, and 613 new deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has been criticised for frequent reversals during the pandemic, including delaying lockdown during the first wave in March and abandoning a system to award school grades without exams.
The temporary 'Nightingale' hospitals at locations such as convention centres were one success, built by the military in a matter of days. They were barely used but have remained on standby.
A Sky News report said intensive care units of three London hospitals were full on New Year's Eve, forcing patients to be transferred to other hospitals for critical care.
"In anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection, the NHS London Region were asked to ensure the Nightingale was reactivated and ready to admit patients should it be needed," a spokeswoman for the National Health Service (NHS) said.
The Royal College of Nursing warned however that the country does not have enough nurses to staff the new sites, especially with many sick with the virus or forced to isolate.
On schooling, the government said it had to shut all primary schools in the capital following a review of the transmission rates. On Wednesday, Williamson had outlined a plan to delay the reopening of secondary schools but open most primaries, including across much of the capital, on time next week after Christmas break.
The opposition Labour Party said the last-minute reversal would cause chaos for parents. 


Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan
Updated 13 min 52 sec ago

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan
  • It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment
  • Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts
MULTAN, Pakistan: Eight cars of a Lahore bound train derailed in southern Pakistan early Sunday, killing at least one passenger and injuring 40 others, officials said.
The accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province and caused a temporary suspension of railway traffic in both directions, said Kamran Lashari, a railway official.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.
Lashari said eight cars of the 18-car train that departed from Karachi for the eastern city of Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch.
Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts. He said the body of the woman who died and 40 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in nearby towns. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers were on the train.
Railway Minister Azam Sawati told a local television station that the accident was being investigated and the government would provide financial compensation to the heirs of deceased woman and all the injured.

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
Updated 07 March 2021

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
  • Protests erupted last month after the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Security forces have already killed more than 50 people protesting to restore democracy, United Nations says

YANGON: Myanmar security forces fired gunshots as they carried out overnight raids in the main city Yangon after breaking up the latest protests against last month’s coup with teargas and stun grenades.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1. Daily demonstrations and strikes have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More protests were planned on Sunday after local media reported that police fired tear gas shells and stun grenades to break up a protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, on Saturday. There were no reports of casualties.
The General Strike Committee of Nationalities protest group said protests would be held in Yangon, the second city of Mandalay and Monywa, also centers for protests in which the United Nations says security forces have killed more than 50 people.
Into the early hours of Sunday, residents said soldiers and police moved into several districts of Yangon, firing shots. They arrested at least three in Kyauktada Township, residents there said. They did not know the reason for the arrests.
“They are asking to take out my father and brother. Is no one going to help us? Don’t you even touch my father and brother. Take us too if you want to take them,” one woman screamed as two of them, an actor and his son, were led off.
Soldiers also came looking for a lawyer who worked for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy but were unable to find him, a member of the now dissolved parliament, Sithu Maung, said in a Facebook post.
Reuters was unable to reach police for comment. A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.

Punched and kicked"
Well over 1,700 people had been detained under the junta by Saturday, according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group. It did not give a figure for overnight detentions.
“Detainees were punched and kicked with military boots, beaten with police batons, and then dragged into police vehicles,” AAPP said in a statement. “Security forces entered residential areas and tried to arrest further protesters, and shot at the homes, destroying many.”
Myanmar authorities said on Saturday they had exhumed the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin, who has become an icon of the protest movement after she was shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK.”
State-run MRTV said a surgical investigation showed she could not have been killed by police because the wrong sort of projectile was found in her head and she had been shot from behind, whereas police were in front.
Photographs on the day showed her head turned away from security forces moments before she was killed. Opponents of the coup accused authorities of an attempted cover-up.
The killings have drawn anger in the West and have been condemned by most democracies in Asia. The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta. China, meanwhile, has said the priority should be stability and that other countries should not interfere.
Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election — which her party won in landslide but which the army rejected. The army has said it will hold democratic elections at an unspecified date.
Israeli-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe, hired by Myanmar’s junta, told Reuters the generals are keen to leave politics and seek to improve relations with the United States and distance themselves from China.
He said Suu Kyi had grown too close to China for the generals’ liking.
Ben-Menashe said he also had been tasked with seeking Arab support for a plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom were driven from Myanmar in 2017 in an army crackdown after rebel attacks.
Junta leader and army chief Min Aung Hlaing had been under Western sanctions even before the coup for his role in the operation, which UN investigators said had been carried out with “genocidal intent.”


Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests
Updated 07 March 2021

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests

Rioters ransack police stations and buildings as Senegal opposition steps up protests
  • At least five people have died in protests sparked by Wednesday’s arrest of Ousmane Sonko
  • The most prominent opposition leader was arrested on rape charges, which he said was a fabrication

DAKAR: A 17-year-old boy was killed by gunfire in southern Senegal on Saturday, a government official said, and several police stations were ransacked as opponents of President Macky Sall called for more protests next week.
The boy was killed during clashes in the southern town of Diaobe, said the official, who asked not to be named. Protesters also burned down a military police station and ransacked several government buildings, the official said.
At least five people have died in protests sparked by Wednesday’s arrest of Ousmane Sonko, Senegal’s most prominent opposition leader. It is the worst political unrest in years for a country widely seen as one of West Africa’s most stable.
A spokesman for Senegal’s military police confirmed one person had died during clashes in Diaobe but did not say under what circumstances. He said protesters ransacked six police stations across the country on Saturday.
Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, was arrested after an employee of a beauty salon accused him of raping her. Sonko denies the allegation and says it is an attempt by Sall to kneecap a political rival.
The government denies this.
The mostly young protesters cited a range of other grievances too, including high unemployment and strict measures to control the coronavirus that have inflicted economic pain, especially on informal workers.
Many are especially dubious about the accusation against Sonko because two other top rivals of Sall were previously targeted by criminal charges that prevented them from running for president in 2019.
In a statement, the opposition Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D) coalition called for three days of nationwide protests beginning on Monday.
“M2D ... calls on the Senegalese people to pursue its mobilization and peaceful struggle by using all of its constitutional rights to reject the dictatorship of Macky Sall,” it said.


UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh
Updated 06 March 2021

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh

UAE to develop $500 million tourism resort in Indonesia’s Aceh
  • Series of business agreements were signed during a Jakarta visit of UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui
  • They are part of a $22.9 billion investment deal inked during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Abu Dhabi visit in January last year

JAKARTA: The UAE is to develop several major infrastructure projects in Indonesia, including a multimillion-dollar tourism resort in its westernmost Aceh province, top Emirati and Indonesian ministers have confirmed.

A series of business agreements were signed by the two nations during a Jakarta visit of UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui on Friday. The agreements are a part of a $22.9 billion deal signed during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Abu Dhabi visit in January last year. The investment deal, also covering energy, infrastructure and mining, is seen as the biggest in Indonesia’s history.

The tourism resort development project, which according to Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan is valued at between $300 million and $500 million, is expected to start in Aceh Singkil district in May.

Aceh, a semi-autonomous province on the northwest tip of Sumatra Island, is the only region in Muslim-majority Indonesia that imposes Shariah.

“I think within two months’ time, we can see the progress of this project in the Singkil area,” Pandjaitan said during a joint conference with Al-Mazroui.

While authorities have not revealed more details, in response to a question by Arab News, Al-Mazroui said that some islands off the main coast of Aceh have been identified for the resort.

“Hopefully the team will finalize (it) and then we will be moving to the next stage of having some definitive agreements,” he said.

The project agreement was signed by Aceh Governor Nova Iriansyah and Amine Abide, executive director of Murban Energy, a UAE company whose investment portfolio includes the development of luxury resorts in the Maldives and Seychelles.

According to a statement by the Indonesian Ambassador to the UAE, Husin Bagis, one of the considerations for developing the project in Aceh is that it is only five hours away from the UAE by plane. He said that Abide had visited nine islands in the Aceh Singkil district that were shortlisted for the project.

Among the agreements inked in Jakarta, which Al-Mazroui said are follow-ups to those signed in Abu Dhabi last year, is a $1.2 billion deal between UAE’s logistics company Dubai Port (DP) World and Indonesia’s Maspion group to develop a port and an industrial zone in Gresik, East Java.

Other deals signed on Friday, Panjaitan said, included an agreement between Indonesia’s state-owned weapons manufacturer Pindad and UAE’s small-arms manufacturer Caracal to develop assault rifles, drones and defense system technologies.

LuLu Group International is also expected to enter the Southeast Asian country, as its president director also signed a property lease agreement on Friday to open a hypermarket on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Minister Al-Mazroui hinted that other deals may also follow in the wake of the newly forged economic ties between the UAE and Indonesia. 

“Some new deals have been considered, which was not discussed before, and this is the nature of the relationship,” he said.

Al-Mazroui is the first high-level government official from the UAE to visit Indonesia since the signing of a bilateral safe travel corridor agreement in July last year.

He and members of his delegation are in Indonesia to attend a series of events during Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week, held in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya on March 1-8.


Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband expresses uncertainty over her release

This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
Updated 06 March 2021

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband expresses uncertainty over her release

This file photo shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) posing for a photograph with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (L). (AFP/Free Nazanin campaign)
  • UK Foreign Office: ‘The (Iranian) regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals’

LONDON: The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national detained in Tehran, says he still does not know if she will be released following the end of her sentence on Sunday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced in 2016 to five years’ imprisonment over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime — charges she has consistently denied.

The 43-year-old charity worker was arrested while in Tehran on a regular visit with her young daughter.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told Sky News that he is still trying to find out whether she will be allowed to return to London and reunite with her daughter after the completion of her sentence.

“We’re obviously sitting very anxiously here, and she’s sitting anxiously waiting in Iran,” he said. “The judiciary has confirmed on the computer and shown that yes, indeed tomorrow is the last day and she should be released, but the arrangements haven’t been clarified.”

Ratcliffe said his wife’s lawyer in Iran had visited the prosecutor’s office to find further information regarding post-release protocol.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was transferred from prison to house arrest in her parents’ home last year as the coronavirus pandemic swept across Iran.

She has been forced to wear an electronic tag and is forbidden from traveling further than 300 meters from the residence.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the family that British officials are “trying really hard” to finalize a release, but warned that it was unlikely that Iranian authorities would follow a strict schedule, Ratcliffe said.

He added that if Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not released on Sunday, it will be a “watershed moment” that represents a serious failure on the part of the UK Foreign Office.

“We’ve had a calendar that our daughter has been counting down, because her mother did one in Iran, so she wanted to do one here,” Ratcliffe said.

“As we’ve got closer she’s picked up on the uncertainty, and obviously children do pick up on the mood. She started asking last night, ‘Is mummy really coming home?’ And I had to say ‘I really don’t know’.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said it is “in close contact” with Zaghari-Ratcliffe and will “continue to provide support.”

A statement said: “We do not accept Iran detaining dual British nationals as diplomatic leverage. The regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals.

“We continue to do everything we can to secure the release of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals so that they can be reunited with their loved ones.”