England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
A sign reminding people about social distancing is seen on Westminster bridge, as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, Britain, June 19, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 May 2021

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
  • Data from the UK’s statistics office also revealed that atheists were the least likely to die, on average, from COVID-19
  • Ethnicity and faith are difficult to separate, and understanding the disparity in fatality rates is a complex problem, experts say

LONDON: Data on COVID-19 death rates in England has revealed that Muslims are by far the worst-affected religious group, with death rates twice as high as among Christians, and nearly three times higher than atheists.

Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that, up to the end of February this year, 4,191 Muslims had been killed by the virus.

Muslim men had a death rate of 966.9 per 100,000 people, while that of women was about 519.1 per 100,000.

Muslims were followed by Hindus — 605.2 among men and 346.5 for women — Sikhs — 573.6 and 345.7 — Jews — 512.9 and 295.4 — and Christians — 401.9 and 249.6.

Atheists, as a group, were the least affected, experiencing 336.6 deaths per 100,000 among men, and 218.2 among women.

The ONS report did not examine the cause of the disparity between religious groups.

However, after factoring in other risk indicators such as age, wealth and location, it said: “After adjustments, the Hindu population and Muslim men were disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic.

“For other religious groups, the excess risk relative to the Christian group was only observed in the first wave (Jewish and Buddhist men) or second wave (Sikh men and women and Muslim women).”

Experts have suggested that ethnic minorities are more likely to be on low incomes and working in public-facing jobs that increase their exposure to the virus. 

When the ONS stripped out the effects of people’s health and lifestyles, the death risk supposedly linked to faith dropped significantly. 

Previous research has shown that South Asians are the worst affected ethnic group.

“For some religious groups, there is considerable overlap with ethnic background. This means that it is difficult to separate the observed association between COVID-19 mortality risk and religion from the risk associated with ethnic background,” said the ONS report.

A separate study by Queen Mary University in London, published in January, found that black, Asian and ethnic minority people were up to 50 percent more likely than white people to die of COVID-19 in hospital. It also found that the likelihood of needing significant medical intervention through a ventilator was 54 percent higher among Asian patients — many of whom are Muslim — than for their white compatriots.


Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
Updated 53 min 22 sec ago

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
  • Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18

LONDON:  The families of Afghans studying in the UK are being threatened by the Taliban, a British politician has claimed.

Five students evacuated from Afghanistan when the group recently regained control the country, and who are due to start at the University of Sussex on Chevening scholarships, had not been allowed to bring their families with them to the UK, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said.

Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18, the Guardian reported.

The students told Lucas that they had received WhatsApp messages from the Taliban threatening the lives of their elderly dependents and dependent siblings still in Afghanistan.

Lucas said: “(The five students) are absolutely desperate about their families’ safety with their anguish heightened by the knowledge that their families are at risk precisely because of their decision to take up their Chevening placements – placements which mark them out as collaborators with the UK.”

She added that the fathers of two of the students had been murdered by the Taliban two years ago, and one claimed to have heard reports that the group had put pressure on a relative of school age.

The former Green Party leader said she had raised the issue with the Foreign Office, Home Office, and the Chevening secretariat but had received only “a deafening silence” in response.

She has accused the British government of failing to offer any clear assurances to people attempting to leave Afghanistan, after it pledged to take 5,000 refugees in the first 12 months and up to 20,000 over a five-year period. The scheme is yet to start.

In a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Lucas said the government had told Parliament that individuals needed to wait for the scheme to open but had given no indication of when that would be.

And she pointed out that given the number of British nationals from Afghanistan living in her constituency who were seeking help, the scheme would be oversubscribed.

Her letter added: “My estimate based on my caseload is that there could be more than 33,000 family members alone that meet the scheme’s criteria, let alone those in the specified at-risk groups, so even 20,000 places over five years falls shamefully short.

“The government does not appear to know how many of the 5,000 places on the scheme will need to be allocated in the first instance to eligible Afghans already in the UK, such as 500 who were evacuated on Operation Pitting (UK military initiative to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover) flights but did not qualify for Arap (the Afghan relocations and assistance policy), or to those that have crossed the border and are in refugee camps.

“The government is also directing people toward a visa process that, by its own admission, is impossible to fulfil and, when it does get up and running, will incur all the usual charges and minimum income criteria,” she said.

Lucas also highlighted the difficulty for Afghans to provide the required biometrics for a visa, which are not available in Afghanistan, and demanded a waiver of visa requirements for family members of British nationals still stuck in the country.

The British Home Office said: “There will be many more people seeking to come to the UK under the scheme than there are places.” It added that it was taking a “considered approach, working with international partners and non-governmental organizations to identify those most eligible.”


Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
Updated 27 September 2021

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
  • Jordan Peterson was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019

LONDON: Jordan Peterson, a controversial academic who has been accused of Islamophobia, has said he will attend a series of seminars at the University of Cambridge in November, The Times reported on Monday.

The Canadian psychology professor was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019.

His proposed visiting fellowship offer was canceled by administrators after he was photographed with a man wearing an Islamophobic T-shirt.

When the photographs went viral, Prof. Stephen Toope, the university’s vice chancellor, said Peterson’s “casual endorsement” through association was “antithetical” to the efforts of the divinity faculty.

Peterson has faced opposition for his writing and talks on gender, politics, religion in general and Islam in particular.

His latest invitation to Cambridge was sent out by Dr. James Orr, also from the divinity faculty, who said Peterson will be spending between 10 days and two weeks at the university, where he will attend seminars, talks and other engagements.


South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
Updated 27 September 2021

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
  • South Korea scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose

SEOUL: South Korea said on Monday it would begin inoculations next month for children aged 12 to 17 and offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to those 75 years and above as the country starts to transition to normalcy by the end of October.
South Korea, which has been battling a fourth wave of infections since early July, scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in cases. Infections topped 3,000 for the first time fueled by last week’s public holidays.
The vaccination advisory committee of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has ruled that the benefits outweigh the risks in vaccinating children. However, parents who have healthy children, such as those who do not have underlying conditions, are advised to weigh the relative benefits in making their decision, KDCA Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a news conference on Monday.
While approving vaccinations for 12 to 17 year-olds, who will be given Pfizer shots, the panel and the government had not mandated that all children should take the shot.
The United States had by August vaccinated 50 percent of 12-17 year-olds and some European and Asian countries, including Germany and the Philippines have also been recommending vaccines for the age group.
Jeong said the initial booster doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna will go to those with weakened immune systems or deemed to be at high risk — the elderly, nursing home patients and staff.
The country aims to boost vaccination and fully immunize 90 percent of those aged 60 and older, and 80 percent of 18 to 59 years-old by the end of October.
Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose, and vaccinations are under way for those 18 and above, 86.3 percent of whom have already had the first shot.
South Korea has reported 2,383 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, bringing total infections to 303,553, with 2,456 deaths.
Despite the high daily case numbers, the country has kept its mortality rate and severe COVID-19 cases relatively low and steady at 0.81 percent and 319, respectively, as of Sunday.
Some 74.2 percent of its 52 million population have had at least one dose of a vaccine through Sunday, and more than 45 percent are fully vaccinated.


India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike
Updated 27 September 2021

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike
  • The drawn-out demonstrations have posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • Police said some 500 protesters had been taken into custody, but added that the shutdown remained peaceful

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indian farmers blocked traffic on major roads and railway tracks outside of the nation’s capital on Monday, marking one year of demonstrations against government-backed laws that they say will shatter their livelihoods.
The farmers have renewed their protests with calls for a nationwide strike on the anniversary of the legislation’s passage. The drawn-out demonstrations have posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept the polls for the second time in 2019.
Waving colorful flags and distributing free food, hundreds of farmers gathered at one of the protest sites on the edges of the capital, New Delhi. The mood on Monday was charged with determination to keep the protests going — some even brought mattresses with them, camping out as the day went on.
Along New Delhi’s southwest and eastern fringes, protesting farmers crowded highways, choking traffic and cutting off access from the capital to neighboring states. Police were deployed to three main protest sites on the outskirts of the city to maintain law and order.
A coalition of farmers’ unions — known as the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front — has called on shops, offices, factories and other institutions to shut their doors in solidarity for the 10-hour strike. All emergency services, including hospitals, pharmacies and relief work, will continue, they said.
The government has defended the legislation, saying it is necessary to modernize agriculture and that the laws will boost production through private investment. But the farmers say the new legislation will devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and force them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.
In neighboring Punjab and Haryana states — which are the country’s the two biggest agricultural producers — thousands of demonstrators also blocked highways, bringing traffic to a halt in some areas.
In the eastern state of Bihar, trains were halted as farmers squatted on railway tracks. Protesters also took to the streets, raising slogans against the Modi government, burning tires and blocking roads across the region. Police said some 500 protesters had been taken into custody, but added that the shutdown remained peaceful.
In the southern city of Bengaluru on Monday, hundreds of people marched in support of the protest against the government. In the southern state of Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front called for a total shutdown, reported local media.
Opposition parties in India, including the Congress Party, have supported the farmers. Senior leader Rahul Gandhi called the government “exploitative” and said he stood with farmers on Monday.
A number of talks between the government and farmers have failed to resolve the issue.
In November, the farmers escalated their movement by hunkering down on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they have camped out for nearly a year, pushing through a harsh winter as well as a coronavirus surge that devastated India earlier this year.
While the farmers’ protest movement has been largely peaceful, demonstrators in January broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort in the capital’s center. Clashes with police left one protester dead and hundreds injured.


Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her
Updated 27 September 2021

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her
  • The hard-liners have increasingly excluded women from public life since sweeping to power in mid-August
  • More than 1,000 women pick the brightly colored crocuses across the company’s 25 hectares of land

HERAT, Afghanistan: An Afghan business leader who employs hundreds of women on her saffron fields has vowed to speak up for the rights of her workers, and “not remain silent” under Taliban rule.
The hard-liners have increasingly excluded women from public life since sweeping to power in mid-August, pushing many female entrepreneurs to flee the country or go into hiding.
Many fear a return to their brutally oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001 when women were effectively banned from going to school or work, and only allowed to leave the house with a male relative.
“We will raise our voice so that it reaches their ears,” said Shafiqeh Attai, who started her saffron company in the western city of Herat in 2007.
“No matter what happens we won’t just sit at home, because we have worked very hard.”
Attai’s business, the Pashton Zarghon Saffron Women’s Company, produces, processes, packages and exports the world’s most expensive spice with an almost exclusively female workforce.
More than 1,000 women pick the brightly colored crocuses across the company’s 25 hectares (60 acres) of land in the Pashton Zarghon district of Herat Province, which borders Iran.
Another 55 hectares are independently owned and operate under the collective that Attai set up for women saffron pickers, who are represented by union leaders.
Employing women allows them to be breadwinners for their families, Attai said, enabling them to send their children to school, and to buy them clothing and other essentials.
“I worked hard to establish my business,” the 40-year-old said. “We don’t want to sit quietly and be ignored. Even if they ignore us, we will not remain silent.”
The ousted, Western-backed government encouraged farmers to grow the spice — used in dishes from biryani to paella — in a bid to wean them away from Afghanistan’s huge and problematic poppy industry.
Still, the country remains by far the world’s biggest producer of opium and heroin, supplying between 80 and 90 percent of global output.
During their previous stint in power, the Taliban — who used the sale of opium to fund their insurgency — destroyed much of the crop ostensibly to eradicate it, though critics said it was to drive up the value of their huge stockpiles.
The cultivation of poppies has again surged in recent years, as poverty and instability increased. Afghanistan’s production area is now roughly four times larger now than in 2002, according to the United Nations.
Herat Province produces the vast majority of Afghanistan’s saffron.
At more than $5,000 per kilogram, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and Attai’s company produces between 200 and 500 kilos each year.
The pistil of the flower has for centuries been used around the world in cooking, perfumes, medicines, tea and even as an aphrodisiac — and because of its high price has been dubbed “red gold” by those who rely on its cultivation.
Best grown in the baking hot sun, the bright purple saffron flowers are harvested in October and November by armies of workers, many of them women in their fifties and sixties, who start picking at dawn before the plants wilt later in the day.
Laborers then prise apart the delicate lilac leaves, vivid red stigmas and pale yellow stamens — painstaking work that demands concentration and skill.
Attai is concerned not just about the future of her business, but also for women across Afghanistan who are living in limbo, uncertain about jobs, education and representation in government.
“Now that the government of the Islamic Emirate is here we are very worried that they will block our work,” she said.
“They haven’t given girls the permission to go back to school and university, and they haven’t given any women posts in the government — I am worried about what will happen,” she added.
“I’m not just thinking about myself, I’m thinking about all those that this business supports to run their homes,” she said, noting that some of her employees are the sole breadwinners in their families.
“I am worried that 20 years of hard work by these women will go to waste.”
In the 20 years between the US-led ouster of the Taliban in 2001 and the Islamists’ return, many women became business leaders, particularly in cities like Herat.
Long a key commercial hub near Iran and Turkmenistan’s borders, the city has in recent months suffered from the flight of many businesswomen.
Younes Qazizadeh, head of the city’s chamber of commerce, said that he hoped the Taliban would make an official announcement to indicate that “women could come back and do business under this government as well.”
For now, the fate of businesses like Attai’s hangs on a thread.
“It is our hope to start women’s businesses again in our country,” Qazizadeh added.
Attai said that for now, she is staying in her homeland because she has “some hope” that her business can survive.
Ahead of the US pullout, a mammoth airlift saw 124,000 people evacuated from Kabul airport.
“I could have left as well. But I didn’t leave because all the hard work and effort that we put in should not be ignored,” Attai said.
“I don’t think they will block our work,” she added, referring to the Taliban.
“We are a company which is completely run by women and employs women — not a single man is brave enough to stop that. A woman who has shoveled her fields day and night cannot be ignored.”