NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

A Yemeni mother feeds her malnourished child at Al-Sabeen Maternity and Child Hospital in the Houthi-rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. (File/AFP)
A Yemeni mother feeds her malnourished child at Al-Sabeen Maternity and Child Hospital in the Houthi-rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 April 2021

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry
Updated 07 May 2021

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

BEIJING: China said Friday the risk of damage on Earth from a rocket which fell out of orbit after separating from Beijing's space station was "extremely low", after the United States warned it could crash down onto an inhabited area.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said "most of the components will be destroyed by ablation during the re-entry" into the atmosphere and "the probability of causing harm to aviation activities or people... on the ground is extremely low".


Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
Updated 07 May 2021

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
  • Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals
  • The prime minister’s move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens

SYDNEY: Australia will not extend a controversial ban on citizens returning from COVID-hit India, the prime minister said Friday following widespread public outrage.
Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals would overwhelm Australia’s already strained quarantine facilities.
The move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens and threatened them with large fines and jail time if they tried to dodge the ban and return on non-direct flights.
The conservative prime minister on Friday said that the measures would remain in place until May 15 as planned, but then repatriation flights could resume.
“The determination was designed to be a temporary measure and the medical advice... is that it will be safe to allow it to expire as planned on 15 May,” he said.
Three flights are being planned to return the most vulnerable Australians still in India, bringing them to a remote Outback quarantine facility.
No decision has been taken yet on whether commercial flights will also resume.
Morrison’s ban caused widespread outrage, with even allies describing it as racist and an abandonment of vulnerable Australians overseas.
He had already walked back the threats to prosecute returning Australians, saying it was “highly unlikely” the punishment would ever be meted out.
The legality of the ban is being challenged in federal court, with a hearing set to take place on Monday.
Australia has no widespread community transmission of COVID-19, but has seen several outbreaks emerge from hotel quarantine facilities, causing disruptive city lockdowns.
Since March 2020, Australians have been barred from traveling overseas and a hard-to-get individual exemption is needed for foreign visitors to enter the country.


India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
Updated 07 May 2021

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
  • Lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns
  • On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours

NEW DELHI: With coronavirus cases still surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough.
Many medical experts, opposition leaders and some of the Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen. Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead.
On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours. Its tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 additional deaths, bringing the total to 234,083. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.
The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.
Over the past month, nearly a dozen out of India’s 28 federal states have announced less stringent restrictions than the nationwide lockdown imposed for two months in March last year.
Modi, who held consultations with top elected leaders and officials of the worst-hit states on Thursday, has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus to poorly equipped state governments.
Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said a complete, aggressive lockdown is needed in India just like last year, especially in areas where more than 10 percent of those tested have contracted COVID-19.
Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private consultancy, acknowledged that different states were experiencing different intensities of the epidemic, but said a “coordinated countrywide strategy” was still needed.
According to Reddy, decisions need to be based on local conditions but should be closely coordinated by the center. “Like an orchestra which plays the same sheet music but with different instruments,” he said.
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, also suggested that a complete shutdown in India may be needed two to four weeks to help ease the surge of infections.
“As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian television CNN News18 news channel on Thursday. He did not provide specifics of what a shutdown should entail.
He said it appears there are at least two types of virus variants circulating in India. He said B117, which is the UK variant, tends to be concentrated in New Delhi and that the 617 variant is concentrated in the worst-hit western Maharashtra state.
“Both of those have increasing capability of transmitting better and more efficiently than the original Wuhan strain a year ago,” Fauci said.
Modi imposed a two-month stringent lockdown last year on four hours’ notice. It stranded tens of millions of migrant workers who were left jobless and fled to villages with many dying along the way. Experts say the decision helped contain the virus and bought time for the government.
Modi’s policy of selected lockdowns is being supported by some experts, including Vineeta Bal, a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology. She said different states have different needs, and local particularities need to be taken into account for any policy to work.
In most instances, in places where health infrastructure and expertise are good, localized restrictions at the level of a state, or even a district, are a better way to curb the spread of infections, said Bal. “A centrally mandated lockdown will just be inappropriate,” she said.
Dr. Yogesh Jain Ganiyari of the Peoples Health Support Group, a low-cost public health program in the central state of Chhattisgarh, said that scientifically, lockdowns are the most effective way of curbing infections.
“But we don’t live in a lab. We need to take into account the humanitarian aspect,” said Ganiyari. “Those who look at lockdowns just as disease control mechanisms are heartless. You have to think about the people.”


4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff
Updated 07 May 2021

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff
  • Police officials initially said an unspecified number of hostages were being held by a male suspect.

ST. CLOUD, Minnesota: A standoff between Minnesota police and an alleged hostage-taker continued into the evening Thursday despite the release of four bank employees.
Three women and a man were released from a Wells Fargo Bank branch in St. Cloud, according to authorities. The first woman ran from the bank toward members of a SWAT team with her hands up. After being searched, she was escorted to safety. Two women and a man later emerged from the bank and were led to safety.
It wasn’t immediately clear if other bank employees were being held against their will.
The incident began around 1:45 p.m. Thursday, with a report to police of a robbery in progress. Law enforcement officials initially said an unspecified number of hostages were being held by a male suspect. Police said negotiations were continuing with the suspect, and there were no reports of injuries.
St. Cloud resident Abdi Kadir told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he was in the bank drive-through when the teller hurriedly told him to leave. As he drove off, he saw people running out the bank’s front door, he said.
“We recognize this is a traumatic moment for the community and our colleagues,” Wells Fargo said in a statement. Company spokeswoman Staci Schiller confirmed “a hostage situation” at the bank’s south branch. She said bank officials are cooperating with local law enforcement and will do whatever they can to assist the authorities.
Two armored vehicles were stationed near the bank’s front door along with several armed officers. Police moved onlookers away from the bank, but a crowd gathered across the street to watch the drama unfold.


Man charged with stabbing two Asian women in San Francisco

Man charged with stabbing two Asian women in San Francisco
Updated 07 May 2021

Man charged with stabbing two Asian women in San Francisco

Man charged with stabbing two Asian women in San Francisco
  • Patrick Thompson, 54, was also was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse for Tuesday's attack
  • The victims, aged 65 and 85, were both seriously injured but were expected byt hospital authorities to survive

SAN FRANCISCO, US: A man who allegedly stabbed two elderly women without warning at a San Francisco bus stop was charged with attempted murder in an attack that follows a number of others against Asian Americans nationwide, authorities announced Thursday.
Patrick Thompson, 54, of San Francisco also was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse for Tuesday's attack, with sentencing enhancements for great bodily injury, great bodily injury on elders and personal use of a deadly weapon, the district attorney's office said in a statement.
Thompson, who has a history of mental illness, could face a potential life sentence if convicted. He was scheduled to be arraigned on the charges Friday. A message left for the San Francisco public defender's office seeking comment about the case wasn't immediately returned after hours Thursday.
A witness told KGO-TV that the man was carrying a large knife with knuckles on the handle and without warning attacked the women as they waited for a bus on Market Street.
“The knife punctured one victim’s lungs, requiring extensive surgery,” the district attorney’s office said. “A knife had to be removed from another victim at the hospital.”
Authorities initially said the women were 65 and 84 years old and didn't immediately identify them. But a family member said the elder victim was 85-year-old Chui Fong Eng.
Victoria Eng said her grandmother was stabbed in the right arm and the blade entered her chest. She underwent successful surgery.
“We were able to visit grandma today! It was so emotional walking in and seeing her," Eng posted Thursday on a GoFundMe page that had raised more than $98,000 to cover medical expenses. “The staff have been providing exceptional care to her and extremely supportive to our family. She wants to thank everyone for their generosity and well wishes!"
Some of the fundraiser money raised was offered to the family of the other victim, “but they politely declined," the post said.
Both women were expected to survive, authorities said.
Authorities haven't said whether the women were targeted because of their ethnicity. But the District Attorney's office said prosecutors were working with police to determine whether there was evidence to support hate crime allegations.
Police Chief William Scott initially said the attack appeared to be “totally random."
On Thursday, the FBI’s San Francisco office launched a publicity campaign to encourage the victims of hate crimes to come forward. The effort comes amid a wave of attacks against Asian Americans — many of them elderly — in San Francisco and across the country.
Thompson has a criminal background that includes assault with a deadly weapon likely to cause great bodily injury, according to KGO-TV.
He was arrested in 2017 and sent to a state mental hospital after being found incompetent to stand trial, the district attorney's office said.
In 2018, Thompson was sent into a state Mental Health Diversion program that provides “intensive, court-monitored treatment and services," the District Attorney's office said.
A judge allowed him to be released from the program after nearly two years. He wasn't charged with any new offenses. But he was arrested on warrants for missing court dates, including in April 2020, when he also was found to be in possession of a drug pipe, prosecutors said.
“What happened is a devastating tragedy, and we will use the full force of our office’s resources to prosecute this case. We also need to work hard to stop the next crime from happening, and that involves prevention and treatment," the District Attorney’s office statement said. “Mr. Thompson needed intensive supervision and services — which he received during Mental Health Diversion and which prevented new criminal behavior."
“We also must implement stronger responses to addressing the mental health crisis in our streets in order to keep our community safe," the statement said. “For over 40 years, we have failed to invest resources into treatment, supportive housing, and other necessary services for those who are mentally ill and their families. We are all less safe as a result of that legacy."