Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘third’ COVID-19 wave

Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘third’ COVID-19 wave
Senior citizens wait to get inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine in Karachi. (AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2021

Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘third’ COVID-19 wave

Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘third’ COVID-19 wave
  • Doctors call for mass vaccination rollout to ‘protect precious lives, fragile economy’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities on Tuesday urged people to strictly follow public health guidelines amid fears of a “third wave” of COVID-19 infections around the country.

“We are trying our best to take all necessary measures to control the infections, but it is almost impossible without public support,” Sajid Hussain Shah, a spokesperson for the Ministry of National Health Services and Regulations, told Arab News on Tuesday.

He said that the government had imposed lockdowns in virus hotspots, including the capital Islamabad and some areas of the populous Punjab province.

“We request the public to strictly follow health guidelines for their own benefit,” he said.

The South Asian nation of 220 million reported 2,511 new infections and 58 deaths in the past 24 hours, while 1,895 patients were in critical condition across the country.

The rate of people testing positive in June last year was as high as 23 percent, but dropped to 1.7 percent by September. It began to increase again, reaching 7.45 percent in January before dropping to 3 percent by mid-February and then climbing to 7.1 percent in March.

In recent weeks, senior Pakistani ministers have claimed that a third wave of the epidemic was gathering momentum, leading to an uptick in the number of infections and hospitalization rate.

Shah agreed that hospital admissions and deaths from coronavirus are on the rise, but said that the government has increased the number of medical facilities to handle the situation.

However, Dr. Qaisar Sajjad, secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association, warned that hospitals were fast running out of capacity due to a sharp increase in infections and admissions.

“It’s high time the government started mass vaccination across Pakistan to save precious lives and the fragile national economy,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan began the second phase of its coronavirus vaccination campaign last week, with people over 60 eligible to register for the first dose of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

Authorities have also started walk-in vaccinations at treatment centers for people over 70.

Previously, people had to receive a text from authorities informing them of the designated vaccination center and the time of their appointment.

Dr. Khalid Mahmood, a public health specialist at the Rawalpindi Institute of Urology, said the virus variant was “deadlier and more lethal” than the previous one and that the number of patients on ventilators was still increasing.

“We have run out of capacity and are working to increase the number of beds for coronavirus patients,” Mahmood told Arab News.

He said that his hospital had increased the number of coronavirus beds from 50 to 66 this week due to a surge in admissions.

“People should strictly follow social distancing, wash their hands and avoid gatherings,” he said.

Mahmood said that most of his colleagues had received the Sinopharm jab and none had developed any serious side effects.

“It’s a safe and effective vaccine, and people should get the jabs as early as possible to fight the virus,” he said.

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Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
Updated 28 October 2021

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
  • The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

TOKYO: Japan provided Iran with grant aid of ¥695 million (about $6.3 million) to strengthen health and medical capabilities to fight coronavirus in the country, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The HRW also called on Tehran to honestly and clearly communicate with the public about the situation. 

Iran’s official government statistics showed that the country experienced its fifth wave in August, with with at least 655 daily COVID-19 deaths.

Hirotaka Matsuo, Japan’s Charge d’Affaires and interim in Tehran exchanged the letter of agreement on this aid with the World Health Organization representative Dr. Husain Syed Jaffar.

The aid, in cooperation with the International Health Organization, will help in providing six MRIs to hospitals in five Iranian locations and obtaining equipment needed to diagnose COVID-19 complications.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans

Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans
Updated 28 October 2021

Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans

Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans
  • Japan underscored the necessity of confidence-building between Israel and Palestine and the efforts toward easing tensions and stabilizing the region

TOKYO: Japan on Thursday condemned Israel’s plans to build about 1,300 settlement housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“Israel’s settlement activities violate international law and undermine the viability of a ‘two-state solution.’ The Government of Japan deeply deplores the continued settlement activities by the government of Israel despite repeated calls for freezing such activities from Japan and the international community,” said an official statement by the foreign ministry in Tokyo.

In the statement, Japan underscored the necessity of confidence-building between Israel and Palestine and the efforts toward easing tensions and stabilizing the region. “Japan strongly urges the government of Israel to rescind the tenders mentioned above and approval of the construction plans, and to freeze its settlement activities.”

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range

India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range
Updated 28 October 2021

India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range

India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range
  • The Agni-5 missile blasted off from Abdul Kalam Island off India’s east coast late Wednesday and splashed into the Bay of Bengal

NEW DELHI: India has tested a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead up to 5,000 kilometers, the defense ministry said, in what media called a “stern signal” to China as the two remain locked in a border spat.
The Agni-5 missile blasted off from Abdul Kalam Island off India’s east coast late Wednesday and splashed into the Bay of Bengal.
“The successful test ... is in line with India’s stated policy to have ‘credible minimum deterrence’ that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’ [of nuclear weapons],” a defense ministry statement said.
The 17-meter-tall missile has been tested several times before, but not at night, and local media said that the timing was aimed at sending a signal to Beijing.
Tensions with China have been running high since 20 Indian soldiers died in clashes on their disputed Himalayas border in June 2020.
The nuclear-armed neighbors have since reinforced the frontier with tens of thousands of extra troops.
India has deepened defense cooperation with Western countries in recent years, including in the Quad alliance with the United States, Japan and Australia.
New Delhi is also a major buyer of Russian military hardware, and ordered Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system despite the threat of US sanctions over the $5.4 billion deal.
The Financial Times reported this month that China had tested a hypersonic missile that circled the Earth at low orbit before descending toward, but missing, its target.
Beijing denied the report, insisting it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.
Hypersonics are the new frontier in missile technology, because they fly lower and are harder to detect than ballistic missiles, can reach targets more quickly, and are maneuverable.
The United States, Russia, China and North Korea have all tested hypersonic missiles and several others are developing the technology — including reportedly India.
According to the Times of India, New Delhi is working on enabling the Agni-5 to carry several nuclear warheads at once so they can split up and hit different targets.


Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister

Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister
Updated 28 October 2021

Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister

Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister
  • Tensions between Taiwan and China have risen to their highest level in decades
  • China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory although the island has been self-ruled

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s defense minister said Thursday that Taiwan must be prepared to defend itself and could not entirely depend on other countries to help if China were to launch an attack against the island, even as Taiwan’s president said she had faith the US would defend it.
“The country must rely on itself, and if any friends or other groups can help us, then it’s like I said before, we’re happy to have it, but we can not completely depend on it,” the minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, told reporters after being questioned in the legislature as part of a session on national defense.
Tensions between Taiwan and China have risen to their highest level in decades, with China sending record-breaking numbers of fighter jets toward international airspace close to the island, stepping up a campaign of military harassment. Taiwan’s defense ministry has said that China would have “comprehensive” capabilities to invade the island by 2025.
China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory although the island has been self-ruled since it split from the communist-ruled mainland in 1949 after a long civil war.
Chiu has called the rising tensions between China and Taiwan the most “severe” he has seen in 40 years.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN that aired Thursday that she had faith the US would defend Taiwan if China made a move against the island.
“I do have faith given the long term relationship we have with the US and also the support of the people of the US as well as Congress,” Tsai said.


Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record

Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record
Updated 28 October 2021

Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record

Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record
  • Last week, Singapore extended some social curbs for about a month, to rein in the spread of COVID-19

SINGAPORE: Singapore is looking into an “unusual surge” of 5,324 new infections of COVID-19, the city-state’s health ministry said, its highest such figure since the beginning of the pandemic, as beds in intensive care units fill up.
Ten new deaths on Wednesday carried the toll to 349, after 3,277 infections the previous day, while the ICU utilization rate is nearing 80 percent, despite a population that is 84 percent fully vaccinated, with 14 percent receiving booster doses.
“The infection numbers are unusually high today, mostly due to many COVID-positive cases detected by the testing laboratories within a few hours in the afternoon,” the health ministry said in a statement.
“The Ministry of Health is looking into this unusual surge in cases within a relatively short window, and closely monitoring the trends for the next few days,” it added in Wednesday’s statement.
While nearly 98.7 percent of the past month’s 90,203 cases had no symptoms, or only mild ones, about 0.2 percent of those had died, and 0.1 percent each were being monitored closely in intensive care units (ICU) or were critically ill and intubated there.
About 72 ICU beds were vacant by Wednesday, at an overall ICU use rate of 79.8 percent, with 142 coronavirus sufferers accounting for about half of occupied beds.
The ministry said it was adding more ICU beds. The Asian city-state, which has set aside 200 ICU beds to be used by COVID-19 patients, can add 100 more at short notice.
Last week, it extended some social curbs for about a month, to rein in the spread of COVID-19 and ease pressure on health care facilities.
Authorities reinstated curbs limiting social interactions and dining out to two people, so as to slow infections.