Iftar and suhur banned in Saudi mosques during Ramadan due to COVID-19

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs said Tuesday iftar and suhur meals won’t be allowed in mosques during Ramadan. (SPA/File)
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs said Tuesday iftar and suhur meals won’t be allowed in mosques during Ramadan. (SPA/File)
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Updated 07 April 2021

Iftar and suhur banned in Saudi mosques during Ramadan due to COVID-19

Iftar and suhur banned in Saudi mosques during Ramadan due to COVID-19
  • Move is part of measures to reduce spread of COVID-19 during the holy month
  • I’tikaaf, staying in a mosque for few days, to be suspended

RIYADH: Iftar and suhur meals will not be allowed to take place inside mosques in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan, the Minister of Islamic Affairs said on Tuesday.

The move is part of measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the holy month, which starts next week.

Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh said the practice of i’tikaaf, which consists of staying in a mosque for a number of days, will also be suspended.

He said that matters related to holding tarawih and qiyam prayers in mosques would be announced later.

Meanwhile, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques said the daily capacity of the Grand Mosque in Makkah would be raised to 50,000 pilgrims and 100,000 worshippers.

The decision follows an announcement on Monday that the authority would issue Umrah permits to those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, from the start of Ramadan.

Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, said the inoculation is a requirement for entering the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.


UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 48 min 13 sec ago

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.


Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools
This Aug. 13, 2020 photo shows a logo for Netflix on a remote control in Portland, Ore. (AP)
Updated 21 April 2021

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools
  • Netflix executives had cautioned in past quarters that the pandemic fueled a surge in subscriptions, with people who would have eventually signed up jumping on board sooner than they might have

SAN FRANCISCO: Netflix shares plunged Tuesday after the leading streaming service reported cooling growth in paid subscriptions that had caught fire during the pandemic.
While revenue jumped 24 percent in the first quarter of this year when compared to the same period in 2020, paid memberships grew less than expected to 208 million, Netflix said in its quarterly earnings release.
New subscriber additions were some two million below Netflix's forecast.
"We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays," executives said in the release.
Netflix reported profit was up to a stunning $1.7 billion on revenue of $7.2 billion, as subscribers weathered price increases.
The Silicon Valley-based company said it expected subscriber growth to accelerate anew later this year as it releases sequels to hit shows.
"We had those ten years where we were growing smooth as silk," Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings said on a streamed earnings call.
"It is just a little wobbly right now."
Netflix executives had cautioned in past quarters that the pandemic fueled a surge in subscriptions, with people who would have eventually signed up jumping on board sooner than they might have.
"We continue to anticipate a strong second half with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film lineup," Netflix said in an earnings letter.
A shift from traditional television to streamed services such as Netflix remains a clear trend, according to the company.
However, competition is also ramping up from Disney, Amazon and other titans.
"More and more new streaming services are launching, reinforcing our vision that linear TV will slowly give way to streaming entertainment," Netflix said.
"We're working as hard as ever to continually improve our service so that we are the best entertainment option available."
But the sharp deceleration suggested slower growth ahead from Netflix, sending shares down some 11 percent in after-hours trade.
Hastings said that competition in the streaming television market has been consistently fierce, with Amazon Prime and Hulu as rivals for more than a decade.
The cooling is a "sign that the world is coming back to more normal at the expense of Netflix," tweeted Gene Munster of the investment firm Loup Ventures. "We think the long-term growth is flattish."

Productions delays caused by the pandemic have resulted in the release of many original Netflix shows being delayed until the second half of this year, according to the company.
"While the roll out of vaccines is very uneven across the world, we are back up and producing safely in every major market, with the exception of Brazil and India," Netflix said.
The streaming television service expected to spend more than $17 billion on a wide range of content, much of it original.
New seasons of hit shows set for release later this year included Sex Education, The Witcher, La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), and You.
Original films slated to arrive included the finale to The Kissing Booth trilogy; Red Notice starring Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, and Don't Look Up which has a cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, and Meryl Streep.
Netflix is also investing in shows made by talent outside the US, finding "locally authentic stories" from around the world resonate with viewers.
"We're increasingly seeing that these local titles find significant audiences around the world, which supports our thesis that great stories are universal," Netflix said.,
Examples of recent local language hits included Lupin, a series based on French novels telling tales of a daring gentleman burglar, according to Netflix.
A second season of Lupin is due out later this year.


Too little sleep in middle age linked to raised dementia risk

Too little sleep in middle age linked to raised dementia risk
Updated 21 April 2021

Too little sleep in middle age linked to raised dementia risk

Too little sleep in middle age linked to raised dementia risk
  • Nearly ten million new cases of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are counted each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and disrupted sleep is a common symptom

PARIS: Sleeping six hours or less per night in your 50s and 60s is associated with an increased risk of dementia, according to a new study of nearly 8,000 British adults followed for more than 25 years.
Scientists said that while the research, which was based on data from a long-running survey, could not prove cause and effect, it did draw a link between sleep and dementia as people age.
The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, showed a higher risk of dementia in those sleeping six or fewer hours per night at the ages of 50 or 60, compared to those who have a “normal” seven hours in bed.
There was also a 30 percent increased dementia risk in those with consistently short sleeping patterns from the age of 50 to 70, irrespective of cardiometabolic or mental health issues, which are known risk factors for dementia.
The study authors from the French national health-research institute INSERM analyzed data from a long term study by University College London, which has followed the health of 7,959 British individuals since 1985.
Participants self-reported their sleep duration, while about 3,900 of them also wore watch devices overnight to confirm their estimates.
Nearly ten million new cases of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are counted each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and disrupted sleep is a common symptom.
But a growing body of research suggests sleep patterns before the onset of dementia could also contribute to the development of the disease.
Time spent sleeping is linked to dementia risk in older adults — 65 years and older — but it is unclear whether this association is also true for younger age groups, according to the authors.
They said future research may be able to determine whether improving sleep patterns can help prevent dementia.
“Many of us have experienced a bad night’s sleep and probably know that it can have an impact on our memory and thinking in the short term, but an intriguing question is whether long-term sleep patterns can affect our risk of dementia,” Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK told Science Media Center.
She said that while there is no magic bullet to prevent dementia, evidence suggests that not smoking, drinking in moderation, staying mentally and physically active and eating well are among the things that can “help to keep our brains healthy as we age.”


Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
Updated 21 April 2021

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
  • Arab League, African Union, EU and UN call for accelerated efforts to improve security and fully implement ceasefire
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres says urgent and immediate action is needed or window of opportunity might be lost

The international Libya Quartet on Tuesday urged authorities in the country to step up their efforts to improve the security situation and build confidence, to help bring peace to the country and fully implement the ceasefire agreement.
The members of the Quartet — the League of Arab States, the African Union (AU), the EU and the UN — said they are ready to help with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s plans for a “robust, credible and effective” ceasefire monitoring mechanism.
On Friday the UN Security Council unanimously voted to send up to 60 international monitors to Libya to oversee the ceasefire, which was agreed in October between the two rival factions in the East and West of the country. Operational and logistical preparations for the mission are under way.
Speaking at the sixth meeting of the Libya Quartet, which was convened on Tuesday by the League of Arab States, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the monitoring team will initially be a “nimble” presence in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but expand over time.
He also made it clear that after years of violence and suffering there is a window of opportunity for peace “but urgent and immediate actions are needed to make use of this narrow window.”
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the Quartet members called for the “immediate and unconditional” withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country as a prerequisite for fully restoring Libyan sovereignty and preserving national unity.
They also condemned continual violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and the threat posed by armed groups and militias. They called for “the sustained implementation of measures to fully identify and dismantle these groups, and ensure the subsequent reintegration of those individuals meeting the requirements into national institutions as outlined in the ceasefire agreement … without delay.”
The meeting also included discussion of the possible deployment of AU, EU and Arab League observer missions, “at the request of Libya’s authorities, and if the requisite conditions on the ground permit,” to assist the National Elections Commission in its preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December.
The importance of the elections taking place in “a favorable political and security environment, so that they are held in an inclusive, transparent and credible manner and where all Libyans commit to respect their results and integrity” was emphasized.
Participants also encouraged Libya’s new Government of National Unity, and other relevant institutions, to uphold their commitment to appoint women to at least 30 percent of senior executive positions, and to promote a national, rights-based reconciliation across the country.


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”