UN rights boss sees Syria echoes in Myanmar conflict

UN rights boss sees Syria echoes in Myanmar conflict
This photo taken and received courtesy of an anonymous source on April 13, 2021 shows protesters carrying fireworks while taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay during the Myanmar New Year festival of Thingyan. (AFP)
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Updated 13 April 2021

UN rights boss sees Syria echoes in Myanmar conflict

UN rights boss sees Syria echoes in Myanmar conflict

GENEVA: The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday it fears that the military clampdown on protests in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup risks escalating into a civil conflict like that seen in Syria and appealed for a halt to the “slaughter.”
UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement 3,080 had been detained and there are reports that 23 people have been sentenced to death following secret trials.
“I fear the situation in Myanmar is heading toward a full-blown conflict. States must not allow the deadly mistakes of the past in Syria and elsewhere to be repeated,” Bachelet said.


Philippine president lauds Saudi efforts on welfare, labor rights of Filipino workers

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 22 min 38 sec ago

Philippine president lauds Saudi efforts on welfare, labor rights of Filipino workers

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • The Philippines and Saudi Arabia recently organized a virtual forum on labor mobility and human rights

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has thanked Saudi Arabia for looking after the welfare and labor rights of Filipinos living in the Kingdom.

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte also expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination drive, the Philippine leader’s office said on Thursday.

In a statement, the presidential palace, Malacanang, added: “President Duterte recognized Saudi Arabia’s efforts to ensure that the rights, welfare, and well-being of Filipinos in the Kingdom are protected and upheld, including recent efforts aimed at labor reform.”

It said that during Wednesday’s phone call, the crown prince assured Duterte that all Filipinos in the Kingdom would be inoculated, and they also agreed to ramp up joint efforts to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.

“President Duterte has, in several public pronouncements, underscored the need for universal access to vaccines to effectively combat the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that nations must work together toward equitable access to life-saving vaccines, particularly for developing and least-developed nations,” the presidential office added.

“King Salman also called on the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies (the G20) to work toward affordable and equitable access to vaccines,” the Malacanang statement said.

During a virtual press conference, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president and Crown Prince Mohammed also used their phone chat to discuss ways “to further improve the protection of Filipino workers in the Kingdom.”

He added that Saudi Arabia was among a number of countries supporting calls for changes to the kafala sponsorship system (for the monitoring of migrant laborers).

New measures under the Kingdom’s labor law reforms, effective since March, ensure that migrant workers in Saudi Arabia’s private sector have improved job mobility and can switch jobs or leave the country without employer consent. The rules also allow foreign workers to apply directly for government services, with all employment contracts documented online.

Duterte had previously described the old kafala system as “unjust” and “exploitative,” claiming it made OFWs in the Middle East, particularly household workers, vulnerable to abuse.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia recently organized a virtual forum on labor mobility and human rights to discuss the sponsorship system and what Middle Eastern countries were doing to reform it. During the meeting, Duterte called for the abolition of the kafala system.


At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
Updated 06 May 2021

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
  • Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants
  • At the week's end more than 2,200 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million

TORONTO: Intensive care nurse Farial says the health care system in Canada’s Ontario province is nearing the breaking point as it fights a fast-moving new wave of Covid-19 infections.
The caregiver at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital is looking after two patients in their 60s who are on ventilators.
“We’re overwhelmed,” she told AFP, conveying the feelings of her peers who often say they feel powerless against a tidal wave of new cases, and angry at times — especially with the Ontario government’s arguably slow response and with Ontarians who are not following public health orders to contain the coronavirus.
“We’re stretched thin. We’re tired and exhausted. Just exhausted.”
Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants. The latest surge in the number of cases was so big that authorities this week dispatched the military and the Red Cross to help care for critical patients.
“It’s the worst wave I’ve ever seen,” says head nurse Kimisha Marshall. “We have younger patients coming in, sicker and lots more patients coming in.”
“We’re short of nurses. We had some nurses that left, but also we have nurses that are getting sick, too,” she adds.
At the week’s end, there were more than 2,200 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million. Nearly 900 patients were listed in critical condition.
Medical staff have been redeployed from other wards to the ICU to lend a hand, and transferring patients to facilities in less affected areas has alleviated some of the pressure on this Toronto hospital.
But more than a year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, “the team is tired,” comments Raman Rai, head of the intensive care unit where a few children’s drawings thanking caregivers hang on the walls, bringing a glimmer of cheer.
At times overcome by a deep sadness, Rai says: “You see people who have not only lost a loved one, but who have lost several members of their family. It is very hard.”
More than 60 percent of patients in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit on Wednesday were being treated for Covid-19. In one of the rooms, relatives and a priest gathered around a patient’s bed, praying.
Every day, several more patients must be placed on ventilators. On Wednesday, a 52-year-old man with low blood oxygen levels was intubated by a team of four caregivers fully dressed in protective gowns, gloves, masks and visors.
“He was so scared, he could barely breathe,” recounts Melody Baril, who performed the intubation.
“You try and give them a little bit of hope,” she says, “but the death rate is so high, once you get to this point.”
More than 8,000 people in Ontario have died from Covid-19, representing one-third of the nationwide pandemic death toll. The number of cases in the province has risen to over 450,000, or almost 40 percent of the total in Canada.
After peaking in mid-April, the number of new daily infections has fallen slightly over the past 10 days and a vaccine rollout is accelerating. But the number of patients in intensive care continues to rise.
Fearing the crisis will persist, some caregivers say they are angry with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government — which has faced a storm of criticisms over its pandemic response of late — but also against a segment of the population that has stubbornly resisted following public health restrictions.
“I feel frustrated,” says nurse Sarah Banani. “I think perhaps things could have been shut down harder and faster as we saw the variants take hold within the population.”
“I think we all feel we have been let down a little bit by society,” comments physician Jamie Spiegelman, adding that many health care providers “feel powerless to change things.”
“When I go outside and see traffic, people in a shopping center not taking the necessary precautions, that’s a letdown,” he says.
“We’re sick of patients with Covid-19 dying.”


Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
Updated 06 May 2021

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
  • Sweden now has among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, said health official
  • With 1,002,121 covid19 cases recorded since the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.
“In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a press conference.
Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.
With 1,002,121 cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the start of the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data compiled by AFP.
The Public Health Agency published a series of projections, with the most likely scenario showing the virus spread starting to subside in mid-May before reaching “very low levels” in July and August.
The Scandinavian country has famously never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 p.m. and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut their doors by 8:30 pm.
Despite being in the midst of a third wave of cases, the rise in deaths has been much slower in recent weeks, with 156 deaths in the last seven days, which authorities say is the result of the rollout of vaccines among vulnerable groups.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,158 on Thursday, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Denmark,
European mortality statistics however also show that Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.


Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.


Ramadan business picks up for London’s Arab eateries as coronavirus restrictions ease

Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
Updated 06 May 2021

Ramadan business picks up for London’s Arab eateries as coronavirus restrictions ease

Pistachio and Honey have managed to weather the storm and opened their second, larger branch a few months ago. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)

LONDON: During Ramadan last year, the pandemic took a heavy toll on the famed Arab restaurants and food stores in west London.
This year, however, a combination of shrewd business decisions and the gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions has contributed to a sharp increase in trade for many and brought hope that the worst of the pandemic might be over.
“People can’t practice Ramadan as usual but we tried to make it in a different and safer way...and this year, we are more prepared and organized,” Khaled Alghorani, the manager of Dimashqi, a Syrian supermarket in Shepherd’s Bush, told Arab News.
The store is extremely popular; it stocks standard food items alongside delicacies from the Middle East, making it a favored Syrian spot. Like other business owners in the area, however, Alghorani has had to adapt the services he provides in response to the realities of the pandemic.
“We have new special offers and we introduced an online service, so customers can place orders for groceries, halal meats and desserts and we can deliver anywhere in the UK in chilled packages so they receive the food as fresh as it is in the supermarket,” said Alghorani.
The holy month, which began on April 13, has been somewhat of a blessing, he added. Shelves are restocked daily after iftar so customers can shop with ease during the day while adhering to preventative measures. Popular items include soups, drinks, sweets, dates, apricot paste (Qamar Al-Din) and maarouk, a traditional brioche-like bread filled with dates that is only made during Ramadan.
“Because of the pandemic we had a shortage of some products and we had delays as well, but by the end we managed to get most of the stock for Ramadan,” said Alghorani.
The supermarket shares its space with Ayam Zaman, one of the top Syrian and Middle Eastern restaurants in the city. It has managed to remain open throughout the pandemic but has had to restrict its services and is not offering as wide a variety of special Ramadan dishes as it usually does.
“People prefer to dine in a restaurant than sitting at home, especially on Eid. But unfortunately because of the lockdown, which is going to end on May 17, we are going to continue with takeaway orders only, with new offers on desserts,” said Alghorani.
“Before COVID-19, Ramadan used to be the busiest time; we had better services, better sales and the restaurant wouldn’t have any reservations (available) — we were fully booked, because people like to sit and break their fast together.”
The restaurant also normally supplies iftar for office employees during Ramadan but because the majority of staff is still working from home, that service has taken a huge hit and the restaurant is instead relying on private functions.
The UK’s third national lockdown was partially lifted on April 12; non-essential shops were allowed to reopen, outdoor dining is permitted at restaurants and cafes, and up to 15 people from three households can meet and socialize outdoors.
“The lockdown (eased) and the weather was good, so people were happy and I think everybody’s in the mood to go outside, do shopping and even eat outside,” Moussa Mehri, general manager of the Naama restaurant and butcher’s shop in Shepherd’s Bush, told Arab News.
He said business is picking up and this year is much better than last. People appear calmer, less scared of the disease and are spending money but no longer panic buying, he added.
He said Naama is not focusing on iftar as it normally does during Ramadan because most people are eating at home, but that the restaurant is receiving a surprising amount of delivery orders. Like Ayam Zaman, Naama is still restricting its service to takeaways and deliveries, to protect the health of its staff.
The well-established restaurant, which opened in 2003, specializes in Lebanese cuisine. One of its specialties is a whole lamb on a bed of rice, garnished with toasted nuts.
“People are now gathering a lot. It’s not like last year,” said Mehri. “This year it’s different — people are holding iftars (and) I am receiving big orders for large amounts of money. I think they had enough from the last lockdown.
“It’s a blessed month and it’s to do with the environment and providing good service to people who are fasting. It’s good for business, don’t get me wrong, but the main concept is to help people and I think everybody is trying and helping in their own way.”
Bosses at cafe and bakery Pistachio and Honey also said that they are finding business easier this Ramadan compared with last year.
“People got to know more about the coronavirus, they got to know more about how to socialize and how to social distance,” director Anas Sheekh Aly told Arab News.
Aside from being scared to leave their houses last year, people were also scared to eat sugar, he said, due to the uncertainty about the disease and the limited information that was available.
A year on and many people have received a vaccine or caught the virus and recovered, Aly said, and the lockdown is also less strict. However the economic effects of the pandemic mean that a lot of people have less money to spend on non-essentials and are put off by high prices, he added, which has affected his business.
Sweets and desserts are a major part of the Ramadan table, and certain varieties are only made during the holy month, particularly qatayef, awama (luqaimat), namoura, madlouka, maghshousha and halawet el-jibn. The bakery makes all of these from scratch, along with its flagship product: qishta (a type of clotted cream). Aly has acquired the only license in the UK to make qishta from raw cow’s milk in the traditional, authentic way.
“It’s quite a hard process but this helps us get the real taste coming from our countries,” said Aly. “But our prices are very cost-effective, our sweets are healthy — we use less sugar, pure butter ghee and pure flour — and we are using all of the finest ingredients.”
The area around the cafe is always fragrant with the scent of fresh-baked kanafeh, which it makes from scratch using akawi, baladi and Nabulsi cheese to get the authentic taste, unlike some other bakeries that use mozzarella.
Originally from Syria, Aly opened the first branch of his business on March 25 last year, a day before the first lockdown was imposed. By the time the restrictions eased and he could reopen, most of his stock had expired. Although he suffered heavy losses as additional lockdowns were imposed, he managed to weather the storm and opened his second, larger branch: like the first, in Acton — a few months ago.
“Ramadan is a month of blessing and you don’t even know how livelihood will come to you,” said Aly. “For business it’s very good; even if you don’t do anything you will get business in Ramadan.” But he added that the true spirit of the month is felt in one’s heart and we should appreciate what we have.
“There are refugees all over the world that don’t have food or water to drink,” he said. “It gets you to feel more about them, it gets you to feel more about people who are starving and thirsty, and so you do more religion and you appreciate what you have more — and this is what we teach our kids as well when we get them to fast.”