India uses some mosques as wards amid health crisis

India uses some mosques as wards amid health crisis
Overwhelmed hospitals and medical facilities have found an ally in Muslim groups and individuals helping critical patients with oxygen supply and crucial bed space. (AFP)
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Updated 28 April 2021

India uses some mosques as wards amid health crisis

India uses some mosques as wards amid health crisis
  • Individuals, groups step up to support overwhelmed health facilities

NEW DELHI: As India endured an alarming surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases last week, overwhelmed hospitals and medical facilities have found an ally in Muslim groups and individuals helping critical patients with oxygen supply and crucial bed space.

On Tuesday, India reported 323,144 new infections for a total of more than 17.6 million cases, behind only the US. India’s Health Ministry also reported another 2,771 deaths in the past 24 hours, with 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. Experts say those figures are likely an undercount.

The number of infections has doubled in the past 13 days as several states continue to suffer from an acute shortage of beds and medical oxygen supply at hospitals.

To deal with the uptick in numbers, Muslim groups have converted mosques into COVID-19 care facilities, like the Jahangirpura mosque in the western state of Gujarat’s Vadodara city. It was transformed into a 50-bed facility to treat patients suffering from the virus.

“The COVID-19 situation in the city is not good and people are not getting beds in hospitals, so we decided to open the facility to provide relief to the people,” Irfan Sheikh, trustee of the mosque, told Arab News.

“Within days of opening the facility, all 50 beds were occupied so you can imagine what kind of pressure the hospitals are under.”

Sheikh said the facility could add 50 more beds if the oxygen supply was dependable.

Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is one of the worst affected states in India. It reported close to 1,500 cases and more than 150 deaths on Tuesday.

Other major cities also witnessed chaotic scenes at hospitals while dozens of ambulances waited in queues for hours outside the facilities.

“We are facing difficulties in oxygen supply and the mosque has opened its space to serve the suffering humanity,” Sheikh said.

The Darool Uloom mosque in the same city also opened its doors to 142 beds fitted with oxygen as 20 nurses and three doctors are on site.

“We can make 1,000-bed COVID-19 facilities, but the oxygen supply is a constraint,” Ashfaq Malek Tandalja, a member of the mosque’s managing committee, told Arab News.

FASTFACT

To deal with the uptick in numbers, Muslim groups have converted mosques into COVID-19 care facilities, like the Jahangirpura mosque in the western state of Gujarat’s Vadodara city.

While these facilities are located in a predominantly Muslim area, patients from all faiths are admitted.

“Out of 50 at my center, around 15 are non-Muslims,” Sheikh said. “We serve humanity, not religion.”

The move is of particular significance in this city as it was one of the worst affected areas in 2002 when clashes broke out between Hindus and Muslims during religious riots. The unrest engulfed several cities in Gujarat while thousands — mostly Muslims — were killed in the attacks.

“Humanity knows no religion,” Sheikh said. “Common people understand each other and want to live in peace.”

Individuals such as Pyare Khan, of Nagpur, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, have come forward to help India emerge from the health crisis, too.

Khan, a billionaire transporter, reportedly spent close to SR506,271 ($135,000) to deliver 400 metric tons of medical liquid oxygen to government hospitals in and around the city when the crisis started. 

“My city was in trouble and I had resources, so I mobilized cryogenic tankers and oxygen from different parts of the country to support the city,” Khan told Arab News.

“Religion teaches us to be compassionate. I thought I must support people in this hour of crisis.” 

Khan also urged others to make use of their resources.

“A shroud does not have a pocket,” he said. “We leave everything behind when we die.”

Maharashtra is the worst affected state in India as it reported 65,000 cases and 500 deaths every day over the past week. Its capital of Mumbai, home to the globally famous Hindi Film Industry and Bollywood, is overwhelmed with critical cases.

To address the crisis, Shahnawaz Sheikh and his team of 20 volunteers have worked tirelessly to support the needy while establishing a “COVID-19 war room” where volunteers resolve issues on calls.

“We help people get hospital beds, oxygen supply if they need it and also support their family with our own resources,” he told Arab News.

Last year, Shahnawaz said he sold his personal SUV to raise money for oxygen cylinders in the city, which helped hundreds of people.

“This time, the intensity of the wave is very high and we are overwhelmed with calls. Every day we receive 500 distress calls and we try to address as many as possible,” the 32-year-old contractor said.

Shahnawaz said his team has faced a resource crunch because many of the people who donated last year have fallen ill or had families suffering.

“We will really appreciate any support,” he said.

On Monday, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat met with PM Modi and recalled medical personnel from the armed forces who had retired in the past two years to help facilitate health workers in the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would send help to India as well.

“The situation in India is beyond heart-breaking,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “WHO is doing everything it can. It is providing critical equipment and supplies, including thousands of oxygen concentrators, prefabricated mobile field hospitals and laboratory supplies.”


Burkina Faso forces fire tear gas at anti-govt protests

Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
Updated 8 sec ago

Burkina Faso forces fire tear gas at anti-govt protests

Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
  • Nearly 12,000 people were displaced within two weeks in December, according to the UN

OUAGADOUGOU: Security forces fired tear gas at protesters barricading the streets and throwing rocks in Burkina Faso’s capital on Saturday, as anger grows at the government’s inability to stop terrorist attacks spreading across the country.
Several hundred people marched through downtown Ouagadougou chanting for President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to resign.
The extremists “are hitting (the country), people are dying, others are fleeing their homes … We want Roch and his government to resign because their handling of the country is not good. We will never support them,” said protester Amidou Tiemtore.
Some people were also protesting in solidarity with neighboring Mali, whose citizens are angry at the West African economic regional bloc, ECOWAS, which imposed sanctions on the country after the ruling junta delayed this year’s elections.
Burkina Faso’s protest comes amid an escalation in terror attacks linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh that has killed thousands and displaced 1.5 million people.
The violence shows no signs of abating.
Nearly 12,000 people were displaced within two weeks in December, according to the UN.
Four French soldiers were also wounded during a joint operation with Burkina Faso’s military, the first time French soldiers have been injured in the country since two were killed in 2019 during a hostage release operation, said Pascal Ianni spokesman for the chief of defense for the French armed forces.
France has some 5,000 troops in the region but until now has had minimal involvement in Burkina Faso compared with Niger or Mali.
This is the second government crackdown on protests since November and comes after the government shut down access to Facebook last week, citing security reasons, and after arresting 15 people for allegedly plotting a coup.
As tensions mount, the government is struggling to stem the violence.
Last month the president fired his prime minister and replaced most of the Cabinet.
The government’s national security arm is also said to be preparing to reopen negotiations with the extremists, according to a military official and a former soldier.
The last time the government negotiated secret cease-fire talks with the extremists was around the 2020 presidential elections when fighting subsided for several months.
But locals say it’s too late for talks and that the country is being overrun by radicals who control swaths of land, and plant their flag.
”They just come and are squeezing people (out of their homes) and there is no (government) strategy,” said Ousmane Amirou Dicko, the ruler of Liptako.
For the first time since the conflict he said he no longer feels comfortable driving from the capital to his home in the Sahel.
Conflict analysts say the protests are playing right into the extremists hands and that the country needs to remain unified if it wants to succeed.
“The protests are a consequence of the pressure from the jihadists and it’s exactly what they want,” said Mahamoudou Savadogo, founder of Granada Consulting, a local conflict analysis and research company.
“The concern is that when the government is pressured it makes big political and strategic mistakes, and the country needs to remain united.”


Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
Updated 23 January 2022

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
  • The 85-year-old media mogul insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted
  • Berlusconi said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility” to avoid further controversy

ROME: Billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew from the race for Italy's presidency on Saturday, two days before voting starts, but repeated his opposition to Prime Minister Mario Draghi taking the job.
The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous "Bunga Bunga" sex parties, insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted.
But in a statement issued to the media, he said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility", to avoid further controversy.
Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who has led Italy's coalition government for the past year, remains the favourite to be elected head of state next week.
The governing parties, which range from left to right, including Berlusconi's Forza Italia, have however yet to reach a deal -- and with voting secret, the result is notoriously hard to predict.
More than 1,000 MPs, senators and regional representatives will begin voting Monday, with several rounds -- each taking a day -- expected before a result.
Indicating he hopes to play the kingmaker, Berlusconi said he would work with his right-wing allies to agree a candidate that can summon a "broad consensus" -- but made clear it should not be Draghi.
He said the premier should stay to help implement structural reforms promised in return for almost 200 billion euros in European Union funds, on which Italy is relying for its post-virus recovery.
"I consider it necessary for the Draghi government to complete its work until the end of the legislature," in 2023, when the next general election is due, Berlusconi said.
Many analysts also worry Draghi's departure would spark a crisis in the government and that debt-laden Italy would slip behind on a tight schedule to implement reforms to the tax and justice systems and public administration.
However, others say Draghi would be better placed as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels -- particularly should the far-right win the next general election.
While a largely ceremonial role, the president wields considerable power in times of political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.
Berlusconi announced his decision at a virtual meeting with Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy.
He noted the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying: "Today, Italy needs unity.... I will continue to serve my country in other ways."
Salvini praised his "generous" decision which he said enabled them to propose candidates "without any more vetoes from the left".
Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the withdrawal had exposed a split in the right over Berlusconi's candidacy, adding: "Now we need a high-level agreement over a shared name and a legislative pact."
In the first three rounds, the winning candidate must secure two-thirds of the vote. From the fourth round, they only need an absolute majority.


Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
Updated 22 January 2022

Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
  • Two Indian nationals were among three people killed in the attack near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday
  • Remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34 were repatriated to India on Friday

NEW DELHI: Mourners in India’s northern state of Punjab on Saturday attended the funerals of two compatriots killed in a recent attack by Houthi rebels on the UAE.

Two Indians and a Pakistani were killed when the drone and missile strikes hit fuel trucks near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday, causing multiple explosions. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the attacks.

The remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34, were repatriated to India on Friday.

Hardeep, who came from Baba Bakala village in Amritsar district, is survived by his wife and mother.

“We are still not able to fathom the tragedy that took place in the family,” his cousin Rajbir Singh told Arab News. “The wife came back from Canada yesterday, after she learnt about the incident. She is a student there and Hardeep had plans to shift to Canada.”

Hardeep was working in the UAE as a truck driver. He married last year and was his family's sole breadwinner. The other victim, Hardev, came from Bagha Purana village in Moga district. He spent 18 years in the UAE, working on construction sites in the oil and gas industry.

Hardev's brother Sukhdev, who also works in the UAE, said he could not believe his brother was gone until he saw the body.

“It's difficult to foresee an existence without him,” Sukhdev told Arab News. “He was a great support to me and because of Hardev I could go to UAE. He was the main earner and support to the elderly parents.”

Sukhdev thanked the UAE government for the support it had provided to the family so far. Indian authorities have condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday expressed “strong solidarity with UAE in face of such unacceptable acts” during a call with his Emirati counterpart.

T.S. Tirumurti, India's permanent representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that “such an attack on innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure is completely unacceptable.”

He said: “It is a blatant violation of international law. It is also against all civilized norms. It is important that the council stands united in sending a clear signal against such heinous acts of terror.”


Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
  • Hassan Al-Qahtani was killed by gunmen in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi in 2011
  • In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder

KARACHI: Pakistani police have asked for assistance from authorities in Tehran in apprehending the suspected killers of a Saudi diplomat who are believed to be hiding in Iran, a counterterrorism official has said.

Hassan Al-Qahtani, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi, was killed in 2011 when gunmen opened fire on his car in the city’s Defence Housing Authority neighborhood.

In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder after previous probes yielded no result. Counter Terrorism Department Deputy Inspector-General Omar Shahid Hamid told Arab News at the time that the team was working on “fruitful leads” from the country’s intelligence.

Investigation materials seen by Arab News include a November request to Iranian authorities for assistance in the case against three suspects in Al-Qahtani’s murder — Ali Mustehsan, Raza Imam, and Syed Waqar Ahmed — over their “involvement in target killing and terrorism activities in Pakistan.”

A policeman is reflected in a window of the Saudi consulate employee's car in Karachi shattered by bullets on May 16, 2011. (Reuters/File Photo)

“We have written for mutual legal assistance from Iran,” a Counter Terrorism Department official told Arab News on Friday evening on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We believe that all three accused are absconding in Iran, and we cannot arrest them without the assistance of their law enforcement.”

He said red notices for Mustehsan and Ahmed have already been issued, while police have called for the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate the process of issuing one for Imam as well.

Imam, alias Manzar, has a 1-million-rupee ($13,400) bounty on his head and has already been sentenced to death in two different cases, according to the Sindh police wanted list.

He is a member of the banned Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan militant organization.

Mustehsan, alias Syed Waseem Ahsan Naqvi, belongs to the same organization.


Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
Updated 22 January 2022

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
  • Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm
  • Around 9,000 people marched through streets of Stockholm chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom"

STOCKHOLM: Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Sweden's two biggest cities on Saturday against the use of vaccine passes, in marches that unfolded calmly after police had warned of possible clashes.
Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm.
Around 9,000 people marched through the streets of the capital Stockholm to the Sergels Torg square chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom", in a protest organised by a group calling itself the Freedom Movement.
One of the marchers, 30-year-old Julia Johansson, said vaccine passes "discriminate against a lot of people".
"We have to be able to decide ourselves what we want to do with our own bodies," she told AFP.
Aida Begovic, 35, agreed, saying they "force people to get medical procedures they don't want."
"No matter how much you say (vaccination) isn't a requirement, it is if you lose rights in society over it."
The Scandinavian country introduced vaccine passes on December 1.
They have been mandatory since January 12 for indoor events of more than 50 people, as the country battles an unprecedented surge of infections with around 40,000 cases reported per day in the past week.
More than 83 percent of Swedes over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated.
Some of the demonstrators wore the markings of violent extremist groups such as the neo-Nazi group NMR, and covered their faces to prevent identification.
Some also set off red flares that lit the sky a smoky red, but police said no clashes were reported.
A number of vaccination centres in the city had closed early on Saturday as a precaution.
In Sweden's second-biggest city Gothenburg, another demonstration gathered around 1,500 people.
Sweden made headlines in the early days of the pandemic when it, unlike most other countries, did not introduce any form of lockdown or school closures.
Instead, it adopted a softer approach, recommending social distancing, homeworking and only limited use of facemasks.
It did however ban visits to elderly care homes, limit public gatherings and restrict opening hours at bars and restaurants.
Sweden's death toll -- around 15,600 of the 10.3 million population -- is around the European average, but is significantly higher than in neighbouring Norway, Finland and Denmark.