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)
Short Url
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.

Related


Indian home minister begins first Kashmir visit since autonomy scrapped 

Indian home minister begins first Kashmir visit since autonomy scrapped 
Updated 16 sec ago

Indian home minister begins first Kashmir visit since autonomy scrapped 

Indian home minister begins first Kashmir visit since autonomy scrapped 
  • Indian Govt in 2019 scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the country’s constitution

NEW DELHI: Security has been tightened in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday as Home Minister Amit Shah began his first visit to the region since the abrogation of its autonomy in 2019.

On Aug. 5, 2019, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the country’s constitution that granted special autonomous status to the Jammu and Kashmir region, a move which divided the state into two federally administered units.

Shah, the most powerful government official after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been seen as the main architect of the 2019 developments.

His visit comes in the wake of increased violence in the region. In October alone, 11 non-Muslim civilians have been killed by suspected anti-India rebels. According to local media reports, an additional 50 companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed to Kashmir ahead of Shah’s trip. They will bolster the approximately 800,000 troops already stationed in the region.

“The Jammu and Kashmir Police are working diligently to realize the new J&K that Modi has envisioned,” Shah said in a tweet during the first day of his visit.

Upon arrival, the minister presided over a high-level security meeting in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city.

“The narrative ... is that Jammu and Kashmir is safe for everyone but these killings prove minorities and outsiders are not safe,” TV channel NDTV said, quoting Home Ministry officials. “This is a big concern for the government. So, a strategy to further reassure people was discussed.”

Kashmir’s former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urged the Indian government to initiate confidence-building measures in the region. After Shah’s arrival, she tweeted that Modi’s government should be “lifting the siege that J&K has been put under since 2019.”

Political experts in Kashmir believe the minister’s visit could inspire a reconsideration in New Delhi’s strategy towards the region.

“They should rethink the strategy in Jammu and Kashmir like they have done in Afghanistan. Previously, New Delhi was opposed to engaging with the Taliban, now they are talking to them,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Srinagar-based law expert at the Central University of Kashmir, told Arab News. 

“The same kind of rethinking is needed in the case of Kashmir instead of ignoring the reality and trying to create an illusion of normalcy.”


In Islamabad, a cafe serves up qahwah, the ‘language of love’ for Arabs

In Islamabad, a cafe serves up qahwah, the ‘language of love’ for Arabs
Updated 6 min 53 sec ago

In Islamabad, a cafe serves up qahwah, the ‘language of love’ for Arabs

In Islamabad, a cafe serves up qahwah, the ‘language of love’ for Arabs
  • The idea for KAF was born when the brothers met Fahim Hassan Khan at a local coffee shop

ISLAMABAD: Abdul Malik Abdullah, Wail Wasil and Fahim Hassan Khan had three things in common when they met for the first time in Islamabad earlier this year: They were all born and raised in Gulf countries, they all were stranded in Pakistan because of coronavirus travel restrictions and they all loved Arabic coffee.

Now there is one more thing that has brought the three young men together. They are co-owners of a small cafe called KAF that opened in the capital last week to serve up what they describe as a taste of home — authentic Arabic coffee.

In the outdoor seating area of the coffee shop, customers are greeted with a mural showing a beverage being poured from a curvaceous pot into a heart next to the calligraphed words: “For the Arabs, the law of love is coffee.”

“We’ve missed home, we’ve had this bad homesickness for a while,“ Abdullah, a fourth-generation Pakistani living in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News at KAF, which is located on the ground floor of Islamabad’s Roomy hotel.

“Arabic coffee is like our daily routine. To us it is like roti,” he added, referring to a type of bread that is a staple of Pakistani diets.

The golden, cardamom-infused Arabic coffee, or qahwah, is the most popular kind brewed in the Middle East. Abdullah and Wasil said that they use varieties imported from Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Ethiopia, and serve them up at KAF as they would at home — in ceramic shot glasses with a side of Saudi dates.

“It’s authentic Arabic coffee,“ said Wasil, who like Abdullah came to Pakistan in 2019 to pursue higher education but became stranded in Islamabad due to the pandemic. “We drink it day and night, it’s a part of us.”

“We are sharing it with our customers, and we are making sure it is how we like it also,” he said. “The dates I serve here, I eat at home.”

The idea for KAF was born when the brothers met Fahim Hassan Khan at a local coffee shop and the three decided to go into business together. At the time, Khan, whose parents moved to the UAE at least four decades ago, was on a visit to Pakistan that was indefinitely extended due to coronavirus travel bans.

“We became brothers fast and all had a common goal to start something of our own. And, boom, there it was, the idea to bring authentic Arabic qahwah, culture and music to Islamabad,” Khan said.

His love for qahwah grew from time spent around the nomadic Bedouin people of the UAE. “On our weekends we would drink Arabic qahwah and listen to old folk music,” said Khan, who now plays traditional Arabic music at the cafe “to give it a feel of home.”

“Even till this day, when you visit an Arab residence they greet you with authentic Arabic coffee and dates,” he said. “They say: ‘The language of love in the Arab land is qahwah.’”


Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach

Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach
Updated 23 October 2021

Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach

Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach
  • A motive for the attack in Iran's Eastern Azerbaijan province remained unclear
  • Later Fars news agency said the man had been upset that his wife received a coronavirus vaccination from a male nurse, as opposed to a female nurse

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The new governor of a northwestern Iranian province found himself slapped in the face by an angry man during his inauguration Saturday.
It was an unusual breach of security in the Islamic Republic during a ceremony attended by the country’s interior minister.
A motive for the attack in Iran’s Eastern Azerbaijan province remained unclear, though it targeted a new provincial governor who once served in the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and reportedly had been kidnapped at one point by rebel forces in Syria. One report referred to it as a personal dispute.
The new governor, Brig. Gen. Abedin Khorram, had taken the podium in the provincial capital of Tabriz when the man strode out from offstage and immediately swung at the official. Video aired by state television recorded the gathered crowd gasping in shock, the sound of the slap echoing on the sound system. It took several seconds before plainclothes security forces reached him.
They dragged the man off through a side door, knocking down a curtain. Others rushed up, knocking into each other.
Later footage showed Khorram return to the stage and speak to the unsettled crowd, now all standing up.
“I do not know him of course but you should know that, although I did not want to say it, when I was in Syria I would get whipped by the enemy 10 times a day and would be beaten up,” he said. “More than 10 times, they would hold a loaded gun to my head. I consider him on a par with those enemies but forgive him.”
Another man on stage shouted: “Death to the hypocrites!” That’s a common chant used against exiled opposition groups and others who oppose the Islamic Republic. Others cried out that Khorram was a “pro-supreme leader governor.”
Though Khorram said he didn’t know the man, the state-run IRNA news agency later described the attacker as a member of the Guard’s Ashoura Corps, which Khorram had overseen. IRNA described the attack as coming due to “personal reasons,” without elaborating.
Later, the semiofficial Fars news agency said the man who slapped the governor had been upset that his wife received a coronavirus vaccination from a male nurse, as opposed to a female nurse.
Khorram had been recently nominated by Iran’s hard-line parliament to serve as the provincial governor under the government of President Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khorram had been among 48 Iranians held hostage in 2013 in Syria, later released for some 2,130 rebels, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that long has been critical of Iran. Iran had referred to those held as Shiite religious pilgrims. A State Department spokesperson at the time called it “just another example of how Iran continues to provide guidance, expertise, personnel (and) technical capabilities to the Syrian regime.”
The incident also comes amid anger in Iran over its precarious economic situation despite its support abroad for regional militias and others, including Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran’s economy has been hammered since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.


Arab Americans poised to win in November elections

Arab Americans poised to win in November elections
Updated 23 October 2021

Arab Americans poised to win in November elections

Arab Americans poised to win in November elections
  • Arab Americans increase political presence in Michigan, Virginia
  • Boston could elect the nation’s first-ever Tunisian American officeholder

CHICAGO: Arab Americans are among the thousands of candidates across the US who are seeking election to local municipal and regional offices on Nov. 2.

Key races include campaign battles for the mayoralty in Boston, Massachusetts and in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, Michigan. In Virginia, an Arab American woman is poised to become the state’s second most-powerful office holder.

Democrat Hala Ayala, who is part Lebanese, is leading in the Virginia race for lieutenant governor over Republican Winsome Sears.

The Virginia office is important because in addition to being next-in-line to become governor in the event of a vacancy, the post also serves as the president of the Virginia Senate who runs floor sessions, and casts a tie-breaking vote over controversial issues.

This will be the first time a woman will hold the state’s second-highest office.

Ayala, a member of the House of Delegates representing Prince William County, won the Democratic primary beating out fellow Virginian and House of Delegates member Sam Rasoul.

Rasoul, also a Democrat, is seeking to keep his legislative seat representing Southwest Virginia’s 11th District, which includes parts of Roanoke. First elected in 2014, Rasoul has raised an impressive $2.1 million in his campaign funds, with significant Arab American support. Rasoul’s Republican opponent Charlie Nave has raised only $40,000.

In Dearborn, a city with a large Arab American population, the election is expected to give the city its first Arab American mayor.

“We’ve long had people of Arab descent in local public office. What’s so important in 2021 is that these young Arab Americans are proudly wearing their ethnicity on their sleeves. And each of them has a record of public service,” said Jim Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.

“The two I’m following most closely are the mayoral races in Boston and Dearborn. I’m following Boston because it is a major American city and Anissa is an amazing candidate who is running on a platform of service and realistic solutions to that community’s most pressing problems.”

Being a minority woman is also an issue in the Boston race. There, Annissa Essaibi George, who has a Tunisian father and Polish mother, is in a run-off with Michelle Wu to become Boston’s first woman mayor.

Boston has elected all males to the powerful city executive office since 1630, but this year saw a candidate surge of women and ethnic diversity in the special election. Former mayor, Marty Walsh, resigned last March after being appointed to serve as US Secretary of Labor by President Joe Biden, creating the Boston vacancy.

George and Wu beat out five other candidates to win the run-off spots in the Nov. 2 General Election. Polls shows George running behind Wu.

If George manages to win the race, however, she will set a new record as the first Tunisian American to hold an elected public office in any district in America.

Zogby said that the mayoral contest in Dearborn is also special, although Arabs have gained seats as members of the City Council.

“Thirty-six years ago, when the Arab American Institute was just starting, the candidate for mayor ran on a platform of ‘what to do about the Arab Problem’,” Zogby recalled.

“Today, after years of work, the majority of that community’s city council are Arab Americans, as is the police chief, its state representative, several judges, and soon, God willing, its mayor, Abdullah Hammoud.”

Pollster and political consultant Dennis Denno called the Dearborn contests “a critical test of Arab American voting power.”

He added: “If our community can elect an Arab American mayor in Dearborn, it will show both political parties that our community is organized and can unite behind a smart, energetic candidate.

“And if our community is divided or doesn’t bother to vote, it will show that the Arab American community is not to be taken seriously.”

Although in nearby Detroit, the leading candidate is not Arab, Denno noted incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan has been very responsive to Arab American concerns.

“The Detroit mayoral election, which will almost inevitably lead to a landslide victory for incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan, and will be a success for the Arab American community,” Denno said.

LMayor Duggan has been open to our community, has hired Arab-Americans, and doesn’t play the tired, big-city game of dividing one ethnic group against another.”

In neighboring Dearborn Heights, the mayor there, Daniel Paletko, passed away from the COVID-19 virus creating a vacancy. On Nov. 2, voters there will cast votes for two positions, someone to fill Paletko’s remaining term in office which ends Dec. 31, and to serve a full term beginning in January.

Lebanese immigrant and former US Marine Bill Bazzi, a Dearborn Heights City Council member since 2018, was elected by his colleagues as interim Mayor following Paletko’s death. He is facing off with City Council Chairwoman Denise Malinowski-Maxwell and candidate Anthony Camilleri.

In addition to Bazzi, three of the seven Dearborn Heights City Council members are Lebanese Americans and Muslim. Dearborn Heights is 32 percent Arab American, according to the Detroit News citing 2019 census data.


Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO
Updated 23 October 2021

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

ISTANBUL: NATO-member Turkey’s defense minister said the forming of alliances outside of NATO would harm the organization, according to comments released on Saturday, after Greece and France agreed a defense pact last month.
NATO allies Greece and France clinched a strategic military and defense cooperation pact in September, which includes an order for three French frigates worth about 3 billion euros.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said this month that the agreement will allow the two countries to come to each other’s aid in the event of an external threat.
“Given that we are inside NATO, everyone should know that the search for various alliances outside of it will both cause harm to NATO and our bilateral relations, and shake confidence,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters after a NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week.
The comments were released by the Turkish defense ministry.
Greece and Turkey are at odds over their continental shelves and their maritime boundaries. They re-launched exploratory contacts on their disputes earlier this year and Akar said he had a constructive meeting with his Greek counterpart.
“We had positive, constructive talks with the Greek defense minister. We expect to see positive results from these talks in the period ahead,” Akar said.
Separately, Akar said that “technical work has been launched” on obtaining Viper F16 jets from the United States as well as modernizing warplanes that Turkey already has.
The United States this week did not confirm President Tayyip Erdogan’s comment that Washington had made an offer to Ankara for the sale of F-16 fighter jets but added that it has not made Turkey a financing offer for the warplanes.
Erdogan said on Sunday that the United States had proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in return for its investment in the F-35 program, from which Ankara was removed after buying missile defense systems from Russia.