Tunisian doctor plays violin to boost virus patients’ morale

Tunisian doctor plays violin  to boost virus patients’ morale
Dr. Mohamed Salah Siala plays the violin for patients in Sfax, Tunisia. (AP)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Tunisian doctor plays violin to boost virus patients’ morale

Tunisian doctor plays violin  to boost virus patients’ morale
  • Currently, 1,264 Tunisians are hospitalized — including 287 in intensive care and 111 on ventilators

SFAX, Tunisia: When Dr. Mohamed Salah Siala began working on the COVID-19 front line in January in a Tunisian hospital he never imagined harnessing his music skills in the fight against the virus.

Yet when the 25-year-old decided to get out his violin one day at Hedi Chaker Hospital in the city of Sfax and play, it won praise for boosting the morale of virus sufferers who remained isolated and needed a smile.
The reaction of the patients was immediate — smiling, clapping and some with their fists up — celebrating the impromptu “concert.” Some were surprised to discover that it was the doctor on the fiddle.
“Playing the music here contributes to the patient’s feeling of joy and to forget the pain,” said patient Rachid Arous, who is recovering from COVID-19. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
In his down time away from medical duties, Siala plays the violin enthusiastically and is also a member of a group called the “Pepper Band.”
“My goal is to use music to help treat corona(virus) patients that are in a bad psychological condition, suffering loneliness — which is their first enemy,” Siala said.
Siala now plays regularly in the hospital, when he has time.
Walking through the corridors with his violin, Siala’s music helps not just the patients but also health workers. They have been under pressure in the last few months because of the increased number of virus-linked hospitalizations that spiked at the beginning of the year.
However, there is more than the violin to bring hope to the North African country. Tunisia is showing signs that the virus is in decline. In recent days, it recorded one of the lowest rates of new infections in several weeks. According to the Ministry of Health, 725 new positive cases were detected Thursday in the population of almost 12 million against a peak of more than 4,100 new cases in mid-January. Likewise, the death toll fell to 35, from a daily average of 70 — and the peak of 103 deaths one month ago.
With the exception of the intensive care beds, which are still filled up, the oxygen beds are no longer as crowded as before, because many patients are being cared for at home. Currently, 1,264 Tunisians are hospitalized — including 287 in intensive care and 111 on ventilators.
The country is also expected to get its first deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines this month. Those are part of a broader arrangement with the COVAX global vaccine program for developing countries and the African CDC that Tunisia hopes will bring in as many as 7 million vaccine doses in the coming months.
In the meantime, patients can rely on Siala to bring hope and resilience with the strokes of his bow.
“He plays to entertain us a little bit almost every day. I pray to God to protect him, and I wish you all that God protect you from this disease,” said Brika Sdiri, clapping and smiling while listening to the music. “I hope to get out of this place in good health, that’s what I wish.”


Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media
Updated 9 min 56 sec ago

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday submitted documents to run for a third term in an election scheduled for May 26, parliament’s speaker said on state media.
Parliament announced the election on Sunday. Washington and the Syrian opposition have denounced it as a farce designed to cement Assad’s authoritarian rule.
Assad’s family and his Baath party have ruled Syria for five decades with the help of the security forces and the army, where his Alawite minority dominate.
This year is the 10th anniversary of a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which triggered a civil war that has left much of Syria in ruins.
The multi-sided conflict has sucked in world powers, killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, but is now nearing its end with Assad, supported by Russian and Iranian allies, back in control of most of the country.
Candidates must have lived in Syria for the last 10 years, which prevents opposition figures in exile from standing.


Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 19 min 40 sec ago

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
  • The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program
  • 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination

BAB AL-HAWA: A first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses was expected to arrive Wednesday in war-torn northwestern Syria, where millions of people live in dire humanitarian conditions, a UN official said.

The 53,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were dispatched to the rebel-dominated region as part of the Covax facility, which ensures the world’s poorest economies get access to jabs for free.

“Once the vaccines arrive, we are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners,” said Mahmoud Daher, a senior official with the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program, which has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 different territories worldwide.

The vaccine doses are intended for the extended northwestern Syrian region, which includes the jihadist-dominated Idlib enclave.

The first categories of people to be vaccinated in the coming days in the Idlib region will be medical personnel involved in the battle against the pandemic and first aid responders.

The next group will be people above the age of 60, followed by people from younger age groups with chronic diseases, said Daher, who is based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Much of the Idlib enclave is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a jihadist organization that includes ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.

Other regions of Syria will also receive vaccine doses through Covax, under which 92 countries are eligible.

Imad Zahran, a media officer for the Idlib region’s health department, told AFP that the vaccination campaign was expected to begin early next month and would last approximately three weeks.

According to the WHO, a separate 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination in regime controlled and semi-autonomous Kurdish areas.

The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by year’s end.

Vaccination for health workers has started in government-controlled areas but not with doses received as part of the Covax program.

The official COVID-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.

Syria’s war has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.


Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan

Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan
Updated 21 April 2021

Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan

Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan
  • Ramadan brings out a zeal among Muslims everywhere for particular memory-laden foods

SANAA: At the thought of breaking his Ramadan fast with a snack of sambusa, a deep-fried savoury pastry triangle popular in Yemen, Issa Al-Shabi’s face lights up with joy.

On a street in the capital Sanaa, bustling with shoppers stocking up on tasty treats for iftar, the meal observant Muslims have after sunset during the Islamic month of fasting, Shabi grins and his eyes shine in anticipation.

“The sambusa is a beautiful food, and tastes delicious,” he says, jabbing the air with his hand for emphasis. “Especially so during this blessed month.”

Ramadan brings out a zeal among Muslims everywhere for particular memory-laden foods.

Sambusa stuffed with vegetables or meat are found across the Middle East and are a cousin of the South Asian samosa. In Yemen, they are a much-loved tradition and a business opportunity for those who know how to make the best ones.

“People compete to get the best sambusa,” Shabi says, adding that shops known for their cleanliness, the skill of their staff and the quality of their ingredients fill with jostling customers.

Yemen has endured six years of war that has left millions hungry and some parts of the country facing famine-like conditions. The country does have food supplies, but a deep economic crisis has sent prices skyrocketing out of the reach of many.

For Yemenis able to spend, the joy of a crispy sambusa, spongy rawani or syrupy baklava is at the heart of the Ramadan experience.

These traditional treats, enjoyed at iftar, keep people going through the night until they resume their fast at dawn, refraining from eating or drinking throughout the day.

“You can consider them as one of the main meals. People crave them after fasting, after the fatigue, exhaustion and thirst,” says Fuad Al-Kebsi, a popular singer, sitting down with family and friends to share sweets for iftar.

For those with a sweet tooth, Ali Abd whisks a bowl of eggs into a cloud before adding flour and vanilla. Tins of his yellow rawani cake are baked in a wood-fired furnace before being cut and drenched in aromatic syrup.

The draw of sweets from one particular shop he rates highly brought Muhammad Al-Bina from his house on the edge of town into central Sanaa.

“The sweets are awesome. Trust me!” he says, beaming.


UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
  • Both sides discussed mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism
  • The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout

RIYADH: The UAE received Zvi Heifetz, Israel’s special envoy to the GCC states, in Abu Dhabi as both countries reviewed the progress of their bilateral relations since signing a peace agreement last September.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, welcomed the Israeli official to explore further UAE-Israeli relations and mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and during the meeting underlined the importance of accelerating efforts to ensure recovery from the crisis.

Last month, the UAE established a $10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel that include energy, manufacturing and healthcare.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, both countries have established reciprocal diplomatic missions, launched direct flights and held several trade visits – with the UAE attracting over 50,000 Israeli tourists.


UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
  • The UAE reports 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities
  • Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

DUBAI: The UAE is considering imposing movement restrictions on individuals who remain hesitant to have themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life … Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society and puts all groups, especially those most vulnerable to infection, at risk,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said in reports from local media.

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures, such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” he added, as he urged residents aged 16 and above to get vaccinated.

The UAE reported 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities related to the highly transmissible disease overnight, amid the government’s continued inoculation program for citizens and residents.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload now stands at 500,860 while total fatality count is at 1,559, a report from state news agency WAM said.

Health officials said that 113,621 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of jabs given provided to 9,788,826 for a distribution rate of 98.97 doses per 100 people.

Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second COVID-19 shot to be made available in the emirate after beginning a mass campaign using the Sinopharm vaccine that was trialed in the country.

Pfizer obtained emergency approval in the UAE in December and Dubai rolled out the vaccine during that month.