India becomes first nation to donate COVID-19 jabs to Kabul

India becomes first nation to donate COVID-19 jabs to Kabul
Health workers, security force members, teachers and government employees would receive the COVID-19 vaccine first, said a Health Ministry spokesman. (AP)
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Updated 07 February 2021

India becomes first nation to donate COVID-19 jabs to Kabul

India becomes first nation to donate COVID-19 jabs to Kabul
  • Starting next week, Afghanistan will roll out 500,000 doses of Covishield provided by New Delhi

KABUL: India provided a vital boost to Afghanistan on Sunday by shipping 500,000 free doses of Covishield, a vaccine that protects from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection, to curb the spread of the virus in the war-torn country, local officials said.

“Fortunately, we are going to receive 500,000 doses of the vaccine today,” Dastargir Nazari, a Health Ministry spokesman, told Arab News.

Produced by Indian pharma company Bharat Biotech, Kabul will start rolling out the Covishield jab — the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the UK — from next week, after receiving certification from the World Health Organisation.

Masooma Jafari, another spokesman for the ministry, said that front-line healthcare workers would be prioritized for the vaccination drive, followed by school teachers, prisoners, security forces, and the elderly.

As of Saturday, Afghanistan’s national caseload stood at 55,335, with 2,410 deaths reported since the start of the pandemic last year.

“This is part of our joint efforts to tackle the pandemic …” Tahir Qadery, minister-counsellor for Afghanistan (Charge d’Affaires) in India, told Arab News.

“The vaccines will enable us to be well prepared to move towards normalcy. Our Indian counterparts have assured us of more vaccines in the future. This is a great gesture of humanity, and we are deeply grateful,” he added.

Nazari said the Chinese Embassy in Kabul had also pledged to offer 200,000 doses to Afghanistan and that more details were expected after “both sides discussed the matter further.”

Meanwhile, a government source who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that China has also promised to “give vaccines to Taliban insurgents for use in areas under their control.”

Kabul has been heavily reliant on foreign aid in the fight against the pandemic. There were several complaints of resources being embezzled during a distribution program last year and further concerns about the mismanagement of funds in the country grappling with poverty, poor health infrastructure and daily violence.

Experts said New Delhi’s gesture was part of its latest chapter of so-called “vaccine diplomacy.”

Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the former Afghani government, told Arab News: “New Delhi has used COVID-19 vaccines as part of its soft power diplomacy by shipping some to friendly countries such as the Maldives a month ago, and now to Kabul.”

He added: “It is much appreciated by the Afghans. China has promised vaccines to Taliban as well but India scores points with Kabul by being the first country to send vaccines to Afghanistan.”


Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer
Updated 19 October 2021

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer
  • He said his words could not have played a role since his content was removed from social media sites 
  • Choudary, who vocally supported Daesh, was featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series

LONDON: Anjem Choudary, a notorious British hate preacher who has been jailed for terrorism-related charges, has denied radicalizing the man who murdered an MP last week.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, fatally stabbed Conservative Party MP Sir David Amess on Friday, and his former friends later told The Sun that he became radicalized when he started watching Choudary’s online videos.

Speaking to The Sun, Ali’s friends claimed the videos turned him from a “popular pupil into an extremist.”

But Choudary, who has been featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, called those accusations “spurious, non-verifiable chats.”

It was “questionable,” he said, that he radicalized Ali since he was unable to produce content online from 2015 to 2021, after being found guilty of supporting Daesh.

Choudary told the Daily Mail: “Even before any official statement by the police, they have apparently already decided that he was radicalized by me based on some spurious, non-verifiable chats with old school friends of Ali Harbi Ali years ago and mysterious YouTube clips of me. 

“In recent years, I have personally been unable to access the internet or deliver any lectures, let alone produce content on YouTube, from July 2015 when I was charged with supporting ISIS (another term for terror group Daesh) and July 2021 when my internet access and public speaking restrictions were finally lifted after release from prison in October 2018.

“Although I have delivered many talks and lectures over the years, there is currently no significant material to be found anywhere online due to its removal by social media companies at the behest of the UK authorities and others.

“It is therefore questionable as to how Ali Harbi Ali could have been ‘radicalized’ by YouTube clips of me,” he added.

Choudary has long drawn the ire of British authorities and the public for his hateful speeches and support for various terrorist organizations. His speeches have been associated with a series of terrorist attacks and extremist individuals in Britain.


Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts
Updated 19 October 2021

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts
  • 7% more terror-related content reported in 2020 than preceding year
  • Most people referred to UK’s counter-extremism program have mixed, unclear or uncertain motivations

LONDON: Engagement with extremist content has proliferated over the last 18 months as people have been forced inside and online by COVID-19 lockdowns, experts have warned.

“What we’ve seen is evidence of spikes of online activity in a wide range of extremist issues during lockdown,” Jacob Davey, head of research and policy of far-right and hate movements at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told The Guardian.

“It is not just terrorist material but a broad cocktail of online harms, as people spent more time indoors.”

Last year, the UK’s Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit said over 7 percent more pieces of suspected terrorism content were reported to them during 2020 compared with the year before.

Paul Gill, a professor of security and crime science at University College London, said the nature of the terror threat was already evolving after the defeat of Daesh’s so-called caliphate in 2019. “That has meant there were already fewer directed plots and a rise in self-initiation,” he told The Guardian.

The on-off lockdowns of the past 18 months have only served to turbocharge this change, as associating in person became more difficult and social isolation from community and family created “a perfect storm of other risk factors for radicalization,” Gill said.

“If you have any grievance you can go online and find people who will validate your grievance, and make you feel like you are part of something,” he added.

An increasing number of terrorist attacks — or closely related cases — were “hard to define,” he said.

The UK is currently coming to terms with the murder of an MP at the hands of a suspected Islamist, but as Gill alluded to, the circumstances surrounding the murder are not immediately obvious.

Some have blamed Islamist extremism, while others cite a rising tide of online hatred against public officials.

According to MI5, Islamist extremism remains the greatest threat to British public safety, but other forms — such as right-wing extremism — remain a clear threat, as does the growing category of instances with a mixed, unclear or uncertain motive.

Of all referrals to Britain’s counter-radicalization program from 2019 to 2020, the latest period for which figures are available, 51 percent were in the MUU category, while the rest were split between Islamists and right-wing radicals, at 24 and 22 percent respectively.


15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India

15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India
Updated 19 October 2021

15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India

15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India
  • The Indian Meteorological Department extended and widened its weather alert on Tuesday
  • Television footage and social media videos showed residents wading through knee-deep water near Nainital lake

DEHRADUN: At least 15 people died and over a dozen were missing after landslides and flash floods triggered by several days of heavy rain hit northern India, officials said Tuesday.
Forecasters have also warned of more heavy rains in the coming days in the southern state of Kerala where floods have already killed at least 27 people since Friday.
Officials in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand said 10 people were killed in fresh landslides on Tuesday after five died in similar incidents on Monday.
Five of the deceased were killed after a cloudburst — an ultra-intense deluge of rain — triggered a landslide, completely burying a house along with its inhabitants in the town of Nainital early Tuesday.
“We have recovered five bodies from the disaster site and a further search is on,” local official Prateek Jain told AFP.
Another landslide in the northern Almora district left five people dead after huge rocks and a wall of mud demolished and engulfed their home.
The Indian Meteorological Department extended and widened its weather alert on Tuesday, predicting “heavy” to “very heavy” rainfall in the region for the next two days.
The weather office said several areas were drenched by more than 400 mm (16 inches) of rainfall on Monday, causing landslides and flooding.
Authorities ordered the closure of schools and banned all religious and tourist activities in the state.
Television footage and social media videos showed residents wading through knee-deep water near Nainital lake, a tourist hotspot, and the Ganges bursting its banks in Rishikesh.
More than 100 tourists were also stuck inside a resort in Ramgarh after the overflowing Kosi river deluged several localities.
Landslides are a regular danger in India’s Himalayan north, but experts say they are becoming more common as rains become increasingly erratic and glaciers melt.
Experts also blame construction work on hydroelectric dams and deforestation.
In February, a ferocious flash flood hurtled down a remote valley in Uttarakhand, killing around 200 people. At least 5,700 people perished there in 2013.
In the south, large parts of Kerala have been battered by floods and landslides since late last week, leaving at least 27 people dead.
Many dams in the state were nearing the danger mark and authorities were evacuating thousands to safer locations as major rivers overflowed.
India’s weather office said heavy rains will lash the state in the next two days after a brief reprieve on Tuesday.


Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target
Updated 19 October 2021

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week agreed to attend next month’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland

CANBERRA, Australia: A net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 would be a “great positive” for Australia if it can be achieved through technology and not a carbon price, the prime minister said on Tuesday as he pressures government colleagues to commit to more ambitious action ahead of a climate summit.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week agreed to attend next month’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, but his government colleagues have yet to approve the commitment he wants to net zero.
“If you have a credible plan ... with the proper transparencies Australia’s well known for, then it can be a great positive for Australia,” Morrison told Parliament, referring to the net zero target.
“If you have the right plan, ... if you have technology, not taxes,” Morrison added.
Morrison was a minister in the conservative coalition government that in 2014 repealed a carbon tax introduced by a center-left Labour Party government. The coalition continues to oppose any measures that would penalize polluters through a carbon price or tax.
The rural-based junior coalition partner, the Nationals party, are the major obstacle to Australia adopting net zero.
Nationals lawmakers have debated Cabinet’s draft climate policy for the past three days but remained bitterly divided by Tuesday.
They were shown government modeling on Tuesday that predicted the economic impacts of more ambitious climate targets.
Nationals Sen. Matt Canavan was among the lawmakers who did not believe the modeling.
“The party room here is being gaslighted and that’s kind of ironic given it’s being gaslighted by people who want to end the use of fossil fuels,” Canavan said.
The government rejected opposition calls to make the modeling public.
Morrison said the world’s responses would have “significant impacts on rural and regional Australia, but they also present significant opportunities.”
“The plans that the government are considering will ensure that we can deal with both the costs and the benefits, because we understand there are impacts, that this is not a road that is only ... where you’ll find opportunities,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he would make his government’s plans public before the next election, which is due by May.
Australia has not budged from its 2015 pledge at the Paris climate conference to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, despite many countries adopting far more ambitious targets.
Morrison is unlikely to persuade his colleagues to agree to a new 2030 target before he goes to Glasgow.
Reducing emissions is a politically fraught issue in Australia, which is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and liquified natural gas. The nation is also one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita because of its heavy reliance on coal-fired power.
The conservative government’s lack of ambition on climate change is regarded as a reason behind the government’s surprise reelection in 2019 and strong voter support in coal-rich Queensland state.
Morrison had argued that the Labor opposition’s pledge to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2050 would wreck the economy.


Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers
Updated 19 October 2021

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers
  • Air travel lanes now open to passengers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands

SINGAPORE: Singapore on Tuesday began quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated passengers from eight countries, part of a plan to ease restrictions as the business hub gears up to live with the coronavirus.
The latest easing expanded a program that began with vaccinated air travel lanes with Germany and Brunei last month, and is now open to passengers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
Singapore Airlines said flights from Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles and New York were scheduled to arrive Tuesday under the program.
“We have seen very strong demand for our Vaccinated Travel Lane flights,” the carrier said.
“This is across all cabin classes, as well as various travel segments including leisure, families, and business travel.”
Passengers arriving as part of this scheme — which will include South Korea from November 15 — will not have to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated and test negative for the virus before they depart and when they arrive.
To enable families to travel, Singapore has allowed entry to unvaccinated children aged 12 years and under if they are accompanied by someone flying under the scheme.
The city-state initially fought the COVID-19 pandemic by shutting borders, imposing lockdowns of varying intensity and aggressive contact tracing. But with more than 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated, authorities are keen to revive the economy.
“Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said October 9, when he announced a raft of measures under the “Living with Covid-19” strategy.
The city-state is home to the regional offices of thousands of multi-national corporations, which rely on Singapore’s status as a business and aviation hub for their operations.
Singapore’s vaccinated travel lanes may also provide a shot in the arm for the pandemic-hammered airline and tourism industries, analysts said.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about five percent of Singapore’s GDP, said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB Private Banking.
“We used to get 1.6 million tourists every month, our airport used to handle over a thousand flights a day pre-pandemic. Now it is just over 300 flights a day,” he said.
Statistics from the Singapore tourism board showed international visitor arrivals plunging to less than 2.8 million last year from a record 19.1 million in 2019.