US nears 500,000 COVID-19 deaths as vaccine drives gather momentum

US nears 500,000 COVID-19 deaths as vaccine drives gather momentum
President Joe Biden last month warned that ‘well over’ 600,000 people in the US could die from the coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2021

US nears 500,000 COVID-19 deaths as vaccine drives gather momentum

US nears 500,000 COVID-19 deaths as vaccine drives gather momentum
  • Catastrophic US toll comes as some signs of hope are emerging in the world’s hardest-hit country

WASHINGTON: The United States stood on the brink of 500,000 COVID-related deaths on Monday, while the vaccination rollout picked up pace globally including with the first shots in Australia.
The catastrophic US toll comes as some signs of hope are emerging in the world’s hardest-hit country, with millions of people now vaccinated and winter’s massive spike in infections dropping.
But deaths are still coming, and President Joe Biden last month warned that “well over” 600,000 people in the US could die from the virus.
“It’s terrible. It is historic. We haven’t seen anything even close to this for well over a hundred years, since the 1918 pandemic of influenza,” Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
“It’s something that is stunning when you look at the numbers, almost unbelievable, but it’s true,” Fauci added.
The US toll stood at 498,897 by Monday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. Globally, the figure was approaching 2.5 million.
After America’s first COVID-19 death was announced in February last year, it took about three months to pass the 100,000 mark, during a first wave that hit New York particularly hard.
But as the outbreak surged across the country, the pace of deaths increased, with the toll jumping from 400,000 in just over a month after a spike fueled in part by holiday gatherings.
Fauci noted the number of daily new infections was on a steep decline after peaking in January, but he added normal life may still be some way off.
“I think we’ll have a significant degree of normality... as we get into the fall and the winter, by the end of the year,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 61 million people have received at least one shot of vaccine in the United States, with some 18 million getting the full two doses.
Biden has made it a priority to get 100 million people vaccinated within the first 100 days of his administration.
In Australia, top officials Sunday were among a small group receiving the first vaccinations, a day before the program starts in earnest.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a medical center in Sydney, in what the government said was a bid to boost public confidence after some anti-vaccine protests.
And in Gaza on Sunday, some 20,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine doses arrived from the United Arab Emirates.
The jabs came via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, meaning they did not pass through Israel, which has maintained a tight blockade on Gaza since 2007.
Britain’s government has vowed to offer a first dose to every adult by the end of July. More than 17 million people have now received at least a first vaccine dose — one third of the adult UK population.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on Monday set to start unwinding England’s third lockdown as a quickening UK-wide inoculation drive relieves pressure on hard-hit hospitals.
Johnson is expected to confirm the reopening of all English schools on March 8 in the first big step toward restoring normal life, nearly a year after he imposed the first stay-at-home order.


Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison
Agnes Chow rose to prominence as a student leader in the now defunct Scholarism and Demosisto political groups, alongside other outspoken activists. (AP)
Updated 26 min 41 sec ago

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison
  • Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, who has since been given asylum in Britain, came to prominence as teenage activists during the 2014 protests to demand universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow was released from prison on Saturday after serving nearly seven months for her role in an unauthorized assembly during anti-government protests in the city in 2019.
The 24-year-old activist had been convicted together with her long-time activist colleague, Joshua Wong, for their involvement in an illegal rally near police headquarters in the Chinese-ruled city.
Wong remains in prison and the reason for Chow’s early release after being sentenced to 10 months in jail was not clear.
Some of her supporters wore black T-shirts and yellow masks and one held a yellow umbrella, a symbol of protests in the former British colony dating back to 2014.
Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, who has since been given asylum in Britain, came to prominence as teenage activists during the 2014 protests to demand universal suffrage.

FASTFACTS

• Agnes Chow was also arrested last year on suspicion of ‘colluding with foreign forces’ under the security law but has not faced any charges related to that.

• Fluent in Japanese, Chow has a sizable following in Japan, particularly on social media and had traveled to the country frequently before her arrest.

The three founded the democracy group Demosisto in 2016, which dissolved hours after Beijing passed a contentious national security law for the city last year amid fears it could be targeted under the legislation.
The law has stifled the pro-democracy movement and raised concern about prospects for the autonomy Hong Kong was promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when it was handed over to China in 1997.
Chow was also arrested last year on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces” under the security law but has not faced any charges related to that.
Fluent in Japanese, Chow has a sizable following in Japan, particularly on social media and had traveled to the country frequently before her arrest. She often posted on Twitter in Japanese.


Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target

Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target
Government employees wait their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Peshawar. (AP)
Updated 24 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target

Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target
  • Health authorities budget $1.1bn for Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca jabs

LAHORE: Pakistan has received 14.5 million coronavirus vaccine doses since it began its vaccination campaign in February, and plans to buy a further 90 million doses to inoculate the adult population in the second half of the year, the country’s health ministry has said.

Announcing its 2020-21 federal budget, Pakistani Minister of Finance Shaukat Tarin said that the government has allocated $1.1 billion to buy coronavirus vaccines and plans to vaccinate 100 million people out of the country’s 216 million population by July 2022.
It has also set aside 100 billion Pakistani rupees ($641 million) to combat coronavirus in the next fiscal year.
According to data shared with Arab News by health chief Dr. Faisal Sultan, as of June 9, the country had received 14.5 million vaccine doses, of which 11.06 million had been bought from pharmaceutical companies, 2.7 million donated by China and a consignment of 1.34 million contributed by Covax, the global dose-sharing platform for poorer countries.
Last November, Pakistan’s government allocated $150 million to buy COVID-19 vaccines from international manufacturers. The fund has been used to buy 11.06 million doses as well as pay transportation costs and buy the equipment needed to administer vaccines across the country, according to Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, director-general of health in Islamabad.

HIGHLIGHTS

• As of June 8, about 9.9 million doses of the 14.5 million total doses received had been administered, according to data provided by the health chief.

• According to a government portal, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 70 million adult population has been fully inoculated so far.

As of June 8, about 9.9 million doses of the 14.5 million total doses received had been administered, according to data provided by the health chief. According to a government portal, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 70 million adult population has been fully inoculated so far.
Of the doses administered, most people — 3,513,088 — have received a Sinovac jab, Sultan said, adding that 2,548,788 people have been given the Sinopharm vaccine.
There are 1,876 vaccination centers in the country, which the government aims to increase to 4,000.
Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, has vaccinated the highest number of eligible individuals — 320,000 — or 27 percent of the city’s adult population.
Most of those vaccinated in Pakistan have been men, data showed, with the ratio of men to women receiving vaccinations being 60:40.
The country has already placed orders for an additional 90 million doses of the vaccine, the health chief added.
He said that authorities expected to receive 34 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine later this year, including 4 million in June, and a further 5 million doses each month until December.
Pakistan is also securing 18 million doses of the China-produced CanSino vaccine, which includes delivery of 3 million doses of the drug every month from July to December.
The US Pfizer vaccine will be administered across the country as well, with 1 million arriving in July and 11 million between July and  December, totaling 12 million doses.
Separately, Pakistan will receive another 1.23 million dose delivery of the UK-produced AstraZeneca jab this month, donated through the Covax platform.
However, the government has voiced concern at people failing to show up to receive a second jab.
“About one in five people fail to have their second dose,” Sultan said.
But Safdar said that the missed appointments might be the result of a backlog in late May, and that “people are now turning up, including those who missed their dose.”


Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction
Updated 12 June 2021

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction
  • Groups say 8,000 attended protests, with 185,000 writing to MPs ahead of debate

LONDON: Pro Palestinian protesters gathered outside Downing Street in the British capital, London, on Saturday to call on the UK government to impose sanctions on Israel over its bombardment of the Gaza Strip last month.
The demonstration comes two days before Parliament is set to debate a petition to introduce sanctions against Israel, after it received more than 380,000 signatures, above the 100,000 threshold required for it to be considered.
The protest, which also comes on the eve of a G7 meeting of world leaders in Cornwall, is part of the “Resist G7 Day of Action for International Justice”organized by a coalition of groups calling on the G7 nations to “end all military-security cooperation with Israel, and employ targeted sanctions until Israel complies with international law,” the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said.
Organizers said over 8,000 people attended the protest, and 185,000 people directly contacted MPs to “pressure the UK government to hold Israel accountable for repeatedly violating International law, via the imposition of sanctions.”

Organizers say over 8,000 people attended the protest in central London calling on the the British government to introduce sanctions on Israel. (FOA)

Moreover, 10,000 people requested a meeting with their MPs on Wednesday to ask them to attend the parliamentary debate on Monday and speak in favor of sanctions on Israel, as part of a national lobby organized by UK-based NGO Friends of Al-Asqa (FOA).
“Over a space of 10 days, 185,000 people sent a letter that we were organizing through our website on the back of Shiekh Jarrah and what was happening at Al-Aqsa Mosque to ask for a call of sanctions,” FOA’s Shamiul Joarder told Arab News.
Israel’s 11-day campaign in Gaza followed heightened tensions in the West Bank, after Israeli security forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque several times during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and wounded hundreds of worshippers, while in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinians face evictions from their homes.
“Israel violates over 40 UN resolutions; the campaign to impose sanctions will continue until Israel is held to account for failing to abide by international law,” said Joarder.
He added that what they have found over the years is more people are becoming politically aware, astute and literate, and are more understanding of the political dynamics in the region.

“Social media has really helped to see what is happening on the ground, to help see on your phone the apartheid taking place in Palestine, and that has really allowed people to galvanize and understand that us giving money is not the solution here, we need to become politically active,” he said.
“Even though the bombs have stopped in Gaza, the occupation remains, and it is really welcoming and a blessing that so many people are still engaged, which is a slight difference to 2008 and 2014. I feel as though people really understand that just because there is a cease-fire, it does not mean the occupation has ceased, it does not mean the apartheid has finished, or the settlements have finished, or the colonial project has come to an end. People understand that the occupation remains and they need to continue to campaign.”
The FOA and PSC organized the protest along with Stop the War Coalition, Palestinian Forum in Britain, and the Muslim Association of Britain.


Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan

Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan
Photo/Quetta Assistant Commissioner
Updated 12 June 2021

Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan

Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan
  • Schools were teaching foreign curriculum in violation of Pakistani law, officials say
  • Management and faculty of the schools consisted of Iranian nationals

KARACHI: Pakistani authorities have closed six Iranian schools operating illegally in southwestern Balochistan province, officials said on Saturday.
All six schools shut on Friday were run by Iranian nationals in Quetta, the capital of the province bordering Iran.
“We have sealed six schools, which were being illegally run by Iranian nationals and where a foreign syllabus was being taught in violation of the country law,” Quetta Assistant Commissioner Muhammad Zuhaib-ul-Haq told Arab News.
Shabbir Ahmed, monitoring and evaluation director of the provincial government’s Balochistan Education Foundation, said that four more schools are being investigated for teaching a foreign curriculum.
“It’s likely that the remaining four schools will also be sealed since they don’t fulfil requirements,” Ahmed said. “Foreign-funded schools with foreign faculty and foreign syllabus are unacceptable.”
Both the management and faculty of the schools consisted of Iranian nationals, he added.
It remains unclear when the schools were established. All the schools had 1992 “no objection” certificates on display, Ahmed said, but this was not sufficient for them to operate as they had failed to register with the provincial home and education departments.
The schools attracted the attention of local authorities five months ago and were asked to register properly.
“A form was handed to them to get themselves registered, but registration was declined after they failed to fulfil requirements,” Ahmed said.
“If you are teaching in Pakistan, which is a sovereign state, you have to teach Pakistani syllabus,” he added. “It is not possible to teach a foreign curriculum in a sovereign state.”

 

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Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
Updated 12 June 2021

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
  • The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion killed one and wounded four
  • The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group

KABUL: Separate bombs hit two minivans in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in the Afghan capital Saturday, killing at least seven people and wounding six others, the Interior Ministry said.
The attacks targeted minivans on the same road about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) apart in a neighborhood in western Kabul, Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Ahmad Zia Zia, said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what type of bombs were used and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Daesh has carried out similar bombings in the area, including four attacks on four minivans earlier this month that killed at least 18 people.
The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion in front of Muhammad Ali Jinnah hospital, where a majority of COVID-19 patients are admitted, killed one and wounded four.
The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group who are mostly Shiite Muslims. Shiites are a minority in mostly Sunni Afghanistan, and the local Daesh affiliate has declared war against them.
Hundreds of Afghans are killed or injured every month in violence connected to the country’s constant war. But Hazaras, who make up around 9 percent of the population of 36 million people, stand alone in being intentionally targeted because of their ethnicity and their religion.
Violence and chaos continue to escalate in Afghanistan as the US and NATO continue their withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and 7,000 allied forces. The last of the troops will be gone by Sept. 11 at the latest.