Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown

Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown
A medical team member wearing a protective suit and a face mask, works on blood samples to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a medical center in a hospital in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq February 15, 2021. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 15 February 2021

Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown

Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown
  • “Unfortunately, government labs showed genetic mutations in the Covid-19 strain," Iraq's health minister said

BAGHDAD: Iraq will re-impose partial lockdown measures until early March after detecting a new strain of the coronavirus, including among children, its health minister announced on Monday.
“Unfortunately, government labs showed genetic mutations in the Covid-19 strain, detecting the new fast-spreading strain in Iraq,” Hassan Al-Tamimi told reporters.
He referred to the strain as the one “which spread in the UK,” and said it had been detected in some Iraqi children, but did not give a total number of people who had been diagnosed with the new variant.
It emerged in southern England in December and is thought to be more contagious than earlier forms.
Iraq has been among the countries hardest-hit by coronavirus in the Middle East, with more than 640,000 reported cases and over 13,000 deaths.
After peaking in September at around 5,000 new cases per day, Iraq saw a remarkable drop with around 800 new cases a day in December but the numbers have been on the rise since then.
On Monday, Iraq announced more than 2,700 cases confirmed cases, a record since the start of the year.
The daily deaths have remained relatively low, with only six confirmed deaths on Monday — compared to a peak in September of around 70 deaths per day.
The rise in cases prompted authorities to re-impose a series of measures to tackle the virus until March 8.
Masks will be obligatory in public places, with a fine of 25,000 Iraqi dinar ($17) for any violators.
From Thursday an overnight curfew will be in place from 8:00 p.m. until 5:00 am while Iraqis will be subjected to full lockdowns on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The measures will still be in place during Pope Francis’ historic visit from March 5-8, which will include trips to Baghdad, the city of Mosul in the north and a meeting with the country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
Iraqi officials told AFP on Monday they were still proceeding with the visit as planned.


Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

 Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing
Updated 37 sec ago

Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

 Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing.

More to follow


Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
Updated 19 April 2021

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
  • News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Syrian refugees in Lebanon have expressed bitterness and disappointment ahead of elections that are expected to keep President Bashar Assad in office.

The Syrian Parliament has set May 26 as the date for the poll.

Assad won in 2014 with more than 88 percent of the Syrian vote. He has not officially announced his candidacy to run in next month’s election.

News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon, who also expressed their frustration with the international community.

Abu Ahmad Souaiba, speaking on behalf of the Voice of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, said the revolution was launched to “achieve freedom and dignity.”

“Our disappointment today is great because of the failure to implement (UN) Security Council resolutions, which call for power transition not the re-election of Bashar Assad one more time,” he told Arab News.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon, with the majority of those who took part in the revolution against Assad concentrated in the Arsal area.

“There are three segments of Syrians in Lebanon,” said Souaiba. “One segment includes families who have been living in Lebanon since before the revolution and those who are not affiliated with the opposition. The second includes the opposition, and these migrated to Lebanon in 2013 and 2014 because of the barrels of death (barrel bombs). The third includes those who are neither with the opposition nor with the regime, and those (people) came to Lebanon because of the economic crisis and are concerned about obtaining their livelihood and the sustenance of their families.”

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon decreased to 865,500 by the end of Dec. 2020.

Lebanon called on the UNHCR to suspend new registrations at the beginning of 2015. 

About 55,000 have returned to Syria in recent years as part of repatriation efforts by Lebanese General Security and as part of a reconciliation program sponsored by Hezbollah in some Syrian towns.

Rumors are circulating that Hezbollah has set up committees to fill out census forms with the number of Syrian refugees present in certain areas ahead of taking them to voting stations on polling day.

Talk of a Hezbollah census has coincided with information that the Ministry of Interior is waiting for UNHCR data in order to prepare a mechanism for calculating the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The ministry has been assigned this task in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanese General Security and the UNHCR.

Arab News contacted UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abu Khaled, but she refused to comment and only said there was “currently no refugee census.”

Souaiba believed there was no need to recount the refugees because, around six weeks ago, a census was carried out by NGOs under the supervision of Lebanese military intelligence for refugees in camps and settlements, specifically in the Arsal area which is open to the land connecting Lebanese and Syrian territories.

He also said there was news from inside Syria of hunger, even in Damascus, and painted a bleak picture of people’s desperation to escape.

“There is no fuel and no electricity,” he added. “A woman who fled to Lebanon with her children told me that her husband was arrested by Syrian authorities and his fate is still unknown. She is almost dying of starvation with her children. She preferred to flee to Lebanon with her children and borrowed $100 to pay the smuggler. She thought that in Lebanon she would receive some food, and this is better than hunger in Syria.”

A UNHCR study estimated that 89 percent of Syrian refugee families were living below the extreme poverty line in Lebanon in 2020, compared to 55 percent in 2019.


Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
Updated 19 April 2021

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
  • Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces could mean world powers would push for a resolution by June

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran on Monday started talks aimed at obtaining explanations from Tehran on the origin of uranium traces at found at undeclared locations in Iran, an issue which could affect efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
An agreement to hold the talks helped persuade European powers to hold off of seeking a resolution criticizing Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last month.
That avoided an escalation between Iran and the West that could have hurt efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces in the IAEA’s talks with Tehran could mean France, Britain and Germany would push for a resolution with US backing by the next IAEA board meeting in June.
“The IAEA and Iran began today to engage in a focused process aimed at clarifying outstanding safeguards issues,” the IAEA said in a statement, adding that the meeting was at the level of experts.
The Iran nuclear deal effectively drew a line under what the IAEA and US intelligence agencies believe was a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that Iran halted in 2003. Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
In the past two years, however, IAEA inspectors have found traces of processed uranium at three sites Iran never declared to the watchdog, suggesting that Tehran had nuclear material connected to old activities that remains unaccounted for.
The IAEA must track that material down to be sure Iran is not diverting any to make nuclear weapons.
The issue has been a complicating factor in the diplomatic effort to resurrect the 2015 deal, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 prompting Iran to violate some of its limits. President Joe Biden aims to resurrect the deal, but Washington and Tehran are at odds over how to do that.
A first IAEA-Iran meeting to discuss the uranium traces had been due to take place in Tehran in early April, but that was delayed just as talks to rescue the deal, involving its remaining parties and shuttle diplomacy with the United States, were being arranged in Vienna.
“Today’s meeting took place in Vienna, as participating Iranian experts are also involved in separate meetings on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at another location in the Austrian capital,” the IAEA said, using the deal’s full name.


El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt

El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (AFP)
Updated 19 April 2021

El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt

El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt
  • The president directed that the national capacity for the production of prosthetics should train technical cadres towards scientific, technical, and academic qualifications

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with a number of ministers and officials to advance plans to set up an integrated system for the production of prosthetics in Egypt.

The president was briefed on the efforts made to develop the prosthetic factory affiliated to the Rheumatology and Rehabilitation Military Center.

He was given details on the establishment of an industrial complex for prosthetics, devices, and movement aids, with the team taking advice from experts in the field.

The government is planning to acquire a new prosthetics production capability using high-quality raw materials. It is also aiming to develop qualification programs for training in the use of the products.

The president directed that the national capacity for the production of prosthetics should train technical cadres towards scientific, technical, and academic qualifications.

El-Sisi stressed the importance of retaining the manufacturing processes within Egypt to guarantee the provision of first-class prosthetics care to people in need.

The president also directed the preparation of a comprehensive database of the system, which should record medical cadres, technical workers, and requests for prosthetic limbs, with relevant authorities using resources from the Decent Life initiative.


Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels

Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels
A video footage circulated on social media shows dozens of people rushing to the scene of a vehicle loaded with free potatoes. (Social media)
Updated 34 min 9 sec ago

Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels

Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels
  • Virus pandemic, unemployment, soaring living costs contributing to country’s economic problems: Analysts, opposition leaders

ANKARA: Images showing desperate Turkish citizens scrambling to grab free handouts of potatoes have stoked an ongoing debate over chronic poverty in the country.

The government recently began distributing potatoes and onions to needy people in some of Turkey’s poorest provinces.

But despite strict measures on large gatherings, brought in to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), recent footage has shown crowds of people stampeding for the vegetables, some even picking up loose potatoes from the ground.

And members of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) claim the situation has only served to further highlight growing concerns over mass poverty, social injustice, and soaring food prices.

Under allocations, those requiring food aid were to receive 10 kg of onions and 20 kg of potatoes purchased by the government from farms.

“The image of crowds piled up for free potatoes and onions, as their only source of diet, has been the clearest picture of the Turkish economy right now,” Serkan Ozcan, an economist and founding member of the breakaway Future Party, told Arab News.

Turkey recently saw 250,000 people added to its jobless total, taking the figure for February to 4.23 million, an unemployment rate of 14.1 percent. In the same month, official statistics showed the annual inflation rate running at 15.61 percent.

“Since 2016, Turkey’s national income per capita decreased by one-quarter, and it is the worst record among its peers in emerging markets. When people are so desperate for potatoes and onions, it means that the government is not able to govern the country,” Ozcan said.

“Farmers are obliged to sell their excess products at cost, and people need to pile up in the streets because they cannot find jobs to feed their families.”

Food has become extremely extensive in Turkey, with annual consumer prices jumping to 15 percent, second only to Argentina among emerging market peers.

Separately, Turkish opposition parties have been pushing the government to account for money they claim has gone missing from Central Bank reserves.

In a tweet, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the CHP, said: “We are asking about the money of the poor, those in need, and orphans.”

Worries about paying bills and putting food on tables have become major priorities for Turks under the economic deterioration in the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent survey in Turkey by international market research firm Ipsos revealed that 40 percent of Turks were concerned about poverty and social inequality, while 47 percent had fears about unemployment.

“People are suffering not only because of the pandemic but also due to income loss and rising living costs,” said Seren Selvin Korkmaz, executive director of the Istanbul Political Research Institute.

“In addition to increasing food prices the costs of basic services such as rent, electricity, and water have contributed to poverty. As a result, the economic downturn is evident in the crowds gathered around the potato trucks.”

Despite the possibility of several short-term financial support measures, Korkmaz said that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had no expertise in health or economic crisis management.

“I think the current presidential system without independent institutions based on good governance and expertise cannot provide viable solutions for the economic problems of the country.

“Hence, the economic situation might hit the current government in the next election if the opposition can provide viable economic policy vision to the voters,” she added.

More than 100 musicians in Turkey have committed suicide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic after having lost their jobs and received no state support.

The government’s wage support program for employees of companies that have been hit by the pandemic also ended this month, leaving millions of people deprived of the scheme.

Korkmaz said: “Inequalities in the country are exacerbated by the AKP’s agricultural policy, education, and healthcare policies, as well as acute poverty during the pandemic. As a result, it can take years to recover from the effects in society.”