Exodus from Indian cities prompts fears of major rural coronavirus outbreak

Exodus from Indian cities prompts fears of major rural coronavirus outbreak
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Health workers collect swab samples to test for COVID-19 in New Delhi, India, Friday, April 16, 2021. (AP Photo)
Exodus from Indian cities prompts fears of major rural coronavirus outbreak
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People stand outside a vaccination center after hearing news of a shortage of coronavirus vaccine supplies in Mumbai, India, April 9, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 April 2021

Exodus from Indian cities prompts fears of major rural coronavirus outbreak

Exodus from Indian cities prompts fears of major rural coronavirus outbreak
  • India enforced a national lockdown to stop the virus last year, costing millions of jobs
  • Health authorities: Remote areas where migrant workers head will be unprepared to treat sick

NEW DELHI: A rapid surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections has prompted a new exodus from Indian cities, as thousands of workers head home over a fear of lockdowns, raising concerns that their return may result in major outbreaks in rural areas.

New daily infections have doubled since last week, surging to a daily record of more than 200,000 on Thursday and forcing authorities to tighten restrictions. Nearly 14.3 million Indians have contracted the virus since the beginning of the outbreak last year, and over 174,000 have died.

As New Delhi imposed a weekend lockdown after its caseload soared from 1,000 to 17,000 in two weeks, migrant workers in the capital city flocked to bus and train stations on Friday to return to their homes, mainly in the eastern part of India.

In states like Jharkhand, one of the poorest in the country, health authorities are worried that the remote areas the workers are headed to will be unprepared to test those arriving, or treat the sick.

“Beds are (scarce) in Jharkhand, and if the migrant laborers come back, there is a high probability that many more would be infected and the patient load would burden the system,” said Dr. Dilip Kumar Jha of Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences in the eastern state’s capital, Ranchi.

 

“The situation is already overstretched, and the new variants of COVID-19 are infecting more people — that’s why over 200,000 cases are being reported every day now in India,” he told Arab News.

Pulmonologist Dr. Loveleen Mangla, from Noida, which borders New Delhi, is also worried about the emerging scenario as workers return to their villages.

“Already in a city like Noida, where hospitals are short of beds, it is becoming difficult to manage the current load of patients. If the villages get infected then the situation will become unmanageable,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the government has not learnt any lessons from last year’s experience, and the situation this year is grimmer than before.”

Last year, when India enforced one of the world’s toughest national lockdowns to stop the virus spread, millions of people lost their jobs within days, fueling the biggest migration across the Indian subcontinent since the partition with Pakistan in 1947. Some walked hundreds of kilometers to their hometowns.

“The situation is not as bad as last year but the issue facing the migrant laborers … remains the same,” Nirmal Gorana, president of the Delhi-based Bonded Labor Liberation Front, an NGO which helps workers, told Arab News.

“Laborers have started going back home either by buses or trains, but the government does not have any plan to support them financially, a demand we made last year,” Gorana said.

“Many face an existential crisis, as even in their villages they don’t get any work to sustain themselves.”

Yogendra Yadav, a Bihar native who works as a plumber in west Delhi, told Arab News: “It’s a panic situation for me. The cases are rising and now the limited lockdown has started, the uncertainty of last year’s returns again. I am leaving for Bihar.”

When the nationwide lockdown started on March 25 last year, Yadav got stuck in New Delhi with his wife and small child. He lost all his savings and had to depend on others for survival for two months before he managed to return home.

“It was a horrible experience. I returned to Delhi in January this year with the hope of starting anew, but the situation is worse than last year. The virus is spreading fast now,” he said.

Sarat Zagade of Ajivika Foundation, an NGO which works for workers’ welfare, said that many were also leaving industrial towns.

In one such town, Surat, in the western state of Gujarat where virus figures are seeing an unprecedented jump, many have already left.

“Surat’s population is 60 percent migrant laborers,” Zagade said. “I have seen at least 10 percent of people leaving the city out of fear.”

In Mumbai, the country’s financial hub and the capital of the western state of Maharashtra, the worst-affected state in India, thousands of migrant workers have been queuing up at the Lokmanya Tilak station to catch trains to return to their home states.

Maharashtra earlier this week imposed a lockdown till the end of the month.  

Alok Singh, a tuk-tuk driver from Uttar Pradesh who has been living in Mumbai for 10 years, said that with restrictions in place, earning a normal livelihood is impossible.

“It’s the third day I am making an attempt to board a train, and I have a confirmed ticket to go back to my village in Gorakhpur,” he said.

Santosh Pandit, a construction worker from Bihar’s Gaya district, said he is leaving Mumbai because there is no work.

“If I stay here, if not infection, then hunger will kill me,” he said. “At least in my village I will not die of hunger.”


Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa

Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa
Updated 22 min 59 sec ago

Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa

Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa
  • About 400 migrants of various nationalities got off one of the boats, a drifting fishing vessel
  • Another boat carrying 325 people was intercepted eight miles off Lampedusa

MILAN: Seven boats packed with hundreds of migrants arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday, and officials said more people were expected as the weather improved.
More than 1,000 people got off the vessels at Lampedusa, one of the main landing points for people trying to get across the Mediterranean into Europe, ANSA news agency said.
“Migrants arrivals are resuming alongside good weather,” Lampedusa’s mayor Toto Martello told state broadcaster RAI. “We need to restart discussions about the immigration issue.”
Numbers in recent years have been down from 2015-2017, when Europe took in hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict across Africa and the Middle East.
But the issue still sharply divides European governments and has fueled anti-immigration sentiment and parties across the continent.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, called on Prime Minister Mario Draghi to tackle the issue.
“With millions of Italians facing difficulties, we cannot care for thousands of illegal migrants,” he wrote on Twitter.
Some of the boats were intercepted off the coast of the Mediterranean island by the Italian tax police, who deal with financial crime and smuggling, ANSA said.
About 400 migrants of various nationalities got off one of the boats, a drifting fishing vessel, the agency reported.
Another boat carrying 325 people was intercepted eight miles off Lampedusa, the agency added.


Afghanistan mourns 60 schoolgirls killed in deadliest attack in years

Afghanistan mourns 60 schoolgirls killed in deadliest attack in years
Updated 44 min 43 sec ago

Afghanistan mourns 60 schoolgirls killed in deadliest attack in years

Afghanistan mourns 60 schoolgirls killed in deadliest attack in years
  • Taliban deny involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year
  • Violence on rise in recent weeks after US postponed withdrawal of troops from country

KABUL: Sixty girls were buried during a mass funeral on Sunday, after a gruesome bomb attack on a school in a poor neighborhood of Kabul a day earlier.

The carnage outside the Sayed ul-Shuhada school in the Shia-dominated suburb of Dasht-e Barchi began when a car bomb detonated as students were leaving classes to break their Ramadan fast.

Witnesses said that as people rushed to take the wounded children to hospital, another explosion and mortar fire tore through the scene, killing some of the rescuers.

“Books and body parts were everywhere ... cries, wailing,” local resident Rahim Dad said.

Over 100 people were wounded in the attack, the deadliest assault in years, coming just a week after a bomb attack killed another 21 children in Logar province, south of Kabul.  

“We buried sixty of the victims, all girls and students of the same school,” Dr. Ali Sadaat, who organized the funeral, told Arab News.

“These students until a few days ago were complaining to school authorities about a shortage of textbooks,” Sadaat said. “They had an enormous desire to earn a bright future. May God never show such a thing to any country. There were some students who were beheaded, some whose faces were beyond recognition.”

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban, who denied the accusation, saying a Daesh network was behind the massacre. 

Last June, at least 24 people, including newborns, mothers and nurses, were killed by Daesh gunmen at a maternity ward, also in Dasht-e Barchi.

In November, Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul University, in which 32 people were killed.

“We are safe nowhere in Afghanistan,” Shamsuddin, an elderly resident of Kabul, told Arab News. “People are being targeted in classes, (at) university, wedding halls, mosques. How long this will last?”

Violence has been on the rise in Afghanistan in recent weeks after the US postponed the withdrawal of its troops from the country to September from a May 1 deadline Washington had negotiated with the Taliban last year.

Under the US-Taliban deal, the latter promised, among other things, not to allow its members and other militant groups to use the soil of Afghanistan for terrorist attacks.

In a statement issued on Sunday, which has been attributed to Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the elusive Taliban leader said that as the US had again failed to live up to its commitments, “the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all consequences.” 


India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount
Updated 09 May 2021

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount
  • India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours
  • Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections

MUMBAI: India’s COVID-19 deaths rose by more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday as calls for a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus mounted.
India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.
India has been hit hard by a second COVID-19 wave with cases and deaths hitting record highs every other day. With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher.
Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown similar to the one imposed during the first wave last year.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4,187 fatalities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see 1 million COVID-19 deaths by August.
Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for overwhelmed hospitals.


Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean
Updated 09 May 2021

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

BEIJING: A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-ton object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

But the US space agency NASA and some experts said China had behaved irresponsibly, as an uncontrolled re-entry of such a large object risked damage and casualties.

“After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere,” the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

It added that most of the segment disintegrated and was destroyed during descent.

The US military’s Space Command said the rocket “re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 p.m. EDT on May 8 (0215 GMT Sunday).”

“It is unknown if the debris impacted land or water.”

Monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said that the location in Saudi Arabia was where American systems last recorded it.

“Operators confirm that the rocket actually went into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives,” it tweeted.

The segment’s descent matched expert predictions that any debris would have splashed down into the ocean, given that 70 percent of the planet is covered by water.

Because it was an uncontrolled descent, there was widespread public interest and speculation about where the debris would land.

American and European space authorities were among those tracking the rocket and trying to predict its re-entry.

Objects generate immense amounts of heat and friction when they enter the atmosphere, which can cause them to burn up and disintegrate. But larger ones such as the Long March-5B may not be destroyed entirely.

Their wreckage can land on the surface of the planet and may cause damage and casualties, though that risk is low.

Last year, debris from another Chinese Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

That, and the one that came down Sunday, are tied for the fourth-biggest objects in history to undergo an uncontrolled re-entry, according to data from Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The uncertainty and risks of such a re-entry sparked accusations that Beijing had behaved irresponsibly.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested last week that China had been negligent, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed that after the re-entry on Sunday.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” Nelson said in a statement.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

To avoid such scenarios, some experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket – which is not equipped for a controlled descent.

“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely,” McDowell tweeted.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless.”

Chinese authorities had downplayed the risk, however.

“The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or (on people and activities) on the ground is extremely low,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into space exploration to boost its global stature and technological might.

The launch of the first module of its space station – by the Long March rocket that came down Sunday – was a milestone in its ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space.


Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID
Updated 09 May 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID
  • He said it was permitted due to coronavirus restrictions and lack of mosques

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti said it was permitted to repeat Eid prayers and sermons three times to accommodate three separate congregations in Muslim minority countries due to coronavirus restrictions and to prevent the spread of the virus.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh, also the head of the Council of Senior Scholars and the Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas, said the decision was also based on the lack of mosques and chapels outside major cities.
In response to a question on the permissibility of Muslim minority countries performing the Eid prayer and sermon three times due to the large number of worshipers in light of precautionary measures and the lack of mosques, Sheikh Abdulaziz said: “It is not permitted to repeat the Eid prayer in one prayer hall for one congregation after another without necessity or urgency,” but added that we are in unprecedented times.
The Grand Mufti said some scholars permitted it when necessary and according to our current situation with the coronavirus pandemic and the precautionary measures, the preservation of public health is one of the main objectives of Sharia law.