Coronavirus pandemic to be ‘far more deadly’ this year, WHO warns

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 3, 2020. (REUTERS/File Photo)
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 3, 2020. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 15 May 2021

Coronavirus pandemic to be ‘far more deadly’ this year, WHO warns

Coronavirus pandemic to be ‘far more deadly’ this year, WHO warns
  • India starts deploying Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine amid upsurge in coronavirus cases
  • Confusion reigns in US as the vaccinated are allowed to take off their face masks

GENEVA, Switzerland: The World Health Organization issued a grim warning on Friday that the second year of Covid-19 was set to be “far more deadly,” as Japan extended a state of emergency amid growing calls for the Olympics to be scrapped.
“We’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The mood also darkened in Japan where the coronavirus state of emergency took in another three regions just 10 weeks before the Olympics, while campaigners submitted a petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Games to be canceled.
With Tokyo and other areas already under emergency orders until the end of May, Hiroshima, Okayama and northern Hokkaido, which will host the Olympic marathon, will now join them.
Japanese public opinion is firmly opposed to holding the Games this summer.
Swiss tennis great Roger Federer said Friday that “what the athletes need is a decision: is it happening or isn’t it?“
“I would love to play in the Olympics... But if that doesn’t happen due to the situation, I would be the first to understand,” he added.
The pandemic has killed at least 3,346,813 people worldwide since the virus first emerged in late 2019, according to an AFP tally of official data.

Sputnik V vaccines
India, meanwhile, started deploying Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the first foreign-made shot to be used in the country that has been reeling from an explosion in cases and deaths.
The first token batch of Sputnik vaccines — reportedly 150,000 doses — arrived on May 1 and a second delivery is expected in the next few days.
A number of leading India-based drugmakers have agreements for local production of Sputnik V with the aim to produce over 850 million doses of the jab per year.
India has been adding roughly as many new Covid cases daily as the rest of the world put together.
More than 260,000 Indians have died, according to official figures.
In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the arrival of the B1.617.2 variant, one of those believed to be driving the Indian surge, could delay reopening of society and the economy.
“This new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.
Britain’s health ministry has tracked the variant in northwest England and in London.
Germany has already added the UK back onto its list of “risk areas” requiring extra checks — but not necessarily quarantine — for incoming travelers.
Elsewhere around the continent, tourist hotspots are opening up.
Greece kickstarted its tourism season on Friday, hoping to reverse last year’s miserable summer.
“I hope to forget this damn Covid,” said Jil Wirries, a 28-year old student from Hanover, Germany, collecting luggage on the island of Crete.
“Everything is terrible in Germany... people are depressed... I’m so happy to be here.”
France and Spain launched tourism campaigns this week too.

Confusion over masks
But in the United States many were confused a day after the top health agency lifted all mask-wearing requirements for fully vaccinated people.
The move has raised questions about how to implement it — the foremost being, how do you tell if a person is fully vaccinated?
It has led to a patchwork of regulations around the country. Some states never had mask mandates in the first place. Others lifted them well before the new advice. Some were reviewing the idea, but others such as Maryland and Virginia rushed to implement it.
Major companies are also weighing their options. Retail giant Walmart was among those who said Friday it would lift its mask mandate for fully vaccinated staff and customers.
But United Food and Commercial Workers, a union which represents 1.3 million people, came out unequivocally against.
“Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?” it said.
“My initial reaction was supportive, but the more I think about it, I wish they had said, ‘Let’s do this on July 1. If you aren’t vaccinated yet, this is your chance to go do it,’” said airborne disease specialist Linsey Marr.
The WHO also said Friday that even the vaccinated should keep wearing masks in areas where the virus is spreading.
“Vaccination alone is not a guarantee against infection or against being able to transmit that infection to others,” WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.
More than 580,000 people have died in the US of Covid-19. But almost 60 percent of US adults have now received one or more doses, while cases are falling fast, and children are also now being vaccinated.
The WHO, however, urged wealthy countries to stop vaccinating children and instead donate doses to poorer nations.
“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to Covax,” said WHO chief Tedros, referring to the global vaccine-sharing scheme.
In sports, the Turkish Grand Prix, which was only drafted onto the Formula One calendar as a replacement for the canceled Canada GP two weeks ago, was itself axed on Friday.
Formula One chiefs announced they will instead return to the sport’s safe haven of Austria.


Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack

Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack
Updated 13 June 2021

Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack

Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack
  • Canadian PM Trudeau called the killings a “terrorist attack” and vowed to clamp down on far-right groups and online hate
  • The four victims were killed by Nathaniel Veltman while they were out for an evening walk near their home in London, Ontario

LONDON, Canada: Several hundred people gathered in London, Ontario on Saturday to pay homage to a Muslim family deliberately mowed down by the driver of a pick-up truck, in an attack that has shocked Canadians and which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced as “terrorist.”
Four members of the Afzaal family — a man and his wife, their teenage daughter and his mother — were out for a walk in their London neighborhood Sunday when a 20-year-old man in a black pickup truck drove into them on purpose, according to authorities.
A fifth family member, a nine-year-old boy, was seriously injured.
On Saturday, hundreds of people filled a large parking lot and a football field next to the London Islamic center, where a private ceremony was held, to join in a public remembrance around the family’s four caskets, each covered with a Canadian flag.
“The very fact that their coffins are draped in the beautiful Canadian flag is a testimony of the fact that the entire Canadian nation stands with them,” Pakistan’s ambassador to Canada, Raza Bashir Tarar, told the crowd.
The ceremony, with brief remarks and prayers, was broadcast live on major Canadian networks.
“We are not alone in our grief,” said Ali Islam, an uncle of Madiha Salman, one of the victims. He stressed that the outpouring of support “has been the first step toward finding a way to heal.”
“We realized that our extended family was much larger than we could have ever imagined.”
Another speaker at the event, Sajid Ali Mohamed, noted that the attack on the Muslim family has been described as terrorism, instead of being blamed on mental illness.
“If it’s not a turning point, at least it’s a nudge in the right direction,” he said.

Pallbearers arrange the caskets at a funeral service for the terror attack victims in London, Ontario, on June 12, 2021. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press via AP)

The funeral cortege then headed to a cemetery — as people lined the route in a show of solidarity — for the private burial of Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha, 44, their daughter Yumna, 15 and Salman’s mother Talat, 74.
Many people wore either green ribbons, in support of the Muslim community, or mauve ones, Yumna’s favorite color.The attack has badly shaken the Muslim community and other Canadians as well.
Numerous vigils and solemn commemorations have taken place across Canada in recent days.
On Friday, several thousand people joined in an ecumenical walk through the streets of London, which is home to some 30,000 Muslims.
Many bore posters reading “We are all human” or “Hate kills.”
People also paid homage Friday in Quebec City, where a January 2017 mosque shooting claimed six lives.
The latest attack has fueled debate about the prevalence of Islamophobia in Canada and, within the Muslim community heightened fears that outward signs of religious affiliation can make a person a target.
In an interview with the CBC network, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the attack had shocked people across Pakistan.
He called on the international community to take action against “hate websites which create hatred among human beings.”
“Some international leaders, or leaders in the Western countries, actually don’t understand this phenomenon,” he added in excerpts of the interview released ahead of its broadcast on Sunday.
Twenty-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, who has no criminal record and no known link to any extremist group, has been charged in the attack with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.
Police say the attack was planned and motivated by hatred, and have not ruled out adding terrorism-related charges.
Trudeau has promised to step up the fight against extremist groups.
Following the attack, Canadian deputies adopted a nonbinding resolution, introduced by the left-leaning New Democratic Party, calling for a national summit on Islamophobia this summer — as many Canadian Muslim organizations have demanded.


Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large

Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large
Updated 13 June 2021

Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large

Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large
  • Two of the injured were in hospital in critical condition and the other 12 were in stable condition

TEXAS: Fourteen people were wounded after two men opened fire at each other in a busy entertainment district in downtown Austin, Texas early on Saturday, police said, adding that one of the suspected shooters remained at large.
Gunfire erupted at about 1:30 a.m. in the Sixth Street area, a popular nightlife destination in the state capital, Austin Police Department Interim Chief Joseph Chacon said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.
"This does appear to be an isolated incident between two parties," he said. "Most of the victims were innocent bystanders."
Police officers who were nearby rushed to the scene where they applied tourniquets and performed CPR on victims, Chacon said.
Two of the injured were in hospital in critical condition and the other 12 were in stable condition. There were no deaths, Chacon said.
The Austin Police Department said on Saturday evening that one suspect had been arrested with the help of the US Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, and that officers were continuing to follow up on leads to apprehend the remaining suspect.


Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison
Agnes Chow rose to prominence as a student leader in the now defunct Scholarism and Demosisto political groups, alongside other outspoken activists. (AP)
Updated 13 June 2021

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison
  • Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, who has since been given asylum in Britain, came to prominence as teenage activists during the 2014 protests to demand universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow was released from prison on Saturday after serving nearly seven months for her role in an unauthorized assembly during anti-government protests in the city in 2019.
The 24-year-old activist had been convicted together with her long-time activist colleague, Joshua Wong, for their involvement in an illegal rally near police headquarters in the Chinese-ruled city.
Wong remains in prison and the reason for Chow’s early release after being sentenced to 10 months in jail was not clear.
Some of her supporters wore black T-shirts and yellow masks and one held a yellow umbrella, a symbol of protests in the former British colony dating back to 2014.
Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, who has since been given asylum in Britain, came to prominence as teenage activists during the 2014 protests to demand universal suffrage.

FASTFACTS

• Agnes Chow was also arrested last year on suspicion of ‘colluding with foreign forces’ under the security law but has not faced any charges related to that.

• Fluent in Japanese, Chow has a sizable following in Japan, particularly on social media and had traveled to the country frequently before her arrest.

The three founded the democracy group Demosisto in 2016, which dissolved hours after Beijing passed a contentious national security law for the city last year amid fears it could be targeted under the legislation.
The law has stifled the pro-democracy movement and raised concern about prospects for the autonomy Hong Kong was promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when it was handed over to China in 1997.
Chow was also arrested last year on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces” under the security law but has not faced any charges related to that.
Fluent in Japanese, Chow has a sizable following in Japan, particularly on social media and had traveled to the country frequently before her arrest. She often posted on Twitter in Japanese.


Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target

Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target
Government employees wait their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Peshawar. (AP)
Updated 13 June 2021

Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target

Pakistan steps up vaccine rollout with 100m target
  • Health authorities budget $1.1bn for Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca jabs

LAHORE: Pakistan has received 14.5 million coronavirus vaccine doses since it began its vaccination campaign in February, and plans to buy a further 90 million doses to inoculate the adult population in the second half of the year, the country’s health ministry has said.

Announcing its 2020-21 federal budget, Pakistani Minister of Finance Shaukat Tarin said that the government has allocated $1.1 billion to buy coronavirus vaccines and plans to vaccinate 100 million people out of the country’s 216 million population by July 2022.
It has also set aside 100 billion Pakistani rupees ($641 million) to combat coronavirus in the next fiscal year.
According to data shared with Arab News by health chief Dr. Faisal Sultan, as of June 9, the country had received 14.5 million vaccine doses, of which 11.06 million had been bought from pharmaceutical companies, 2.7 million donated by China and a consignment of 1.34 million contributed by Covax, the global dose-sharing platform for poorer countries.
Last November, Pakistan’s government allocated $150 million to buy COVID-19 vaccines from international manufacturers. The fund has been used to buy 11.06 million doses as well as pay transportation costs and buy the equipment needed to administer vaccines across the country, according to Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, director-general of health in Islamabad.

HIGHLIGHTS

• As of June 8, about 9.9 million doses of the 14.5 million total doses received had been administered, according to data provided by the health chief.

• According to a government portal, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 70 million adult population has been fully inoculated so far.

As of June 8, about 9.9 million doses of the 14.5 million total doses received had been administered, according to data provided by the health chief. According to a government portal, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 70 million adult population has been fully inoculated so far.
Of the doses administered, most people — 3,513,088 — have received a Sinovac jab, Sultan said, adding that 2,548,788 people have been given the Sinopharm vaccine.
There are 1,876 vaccination centers in the country, which the government aims to increase to 4,000.
Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, has vaccinated the highest number of eligible individuals — 320,000 — or 27 percent of the city’s adult population.
Most of those vaccinated in Pakistan have been men, data showed, with the ratio of men to women receiving vaccinations being 60:40.
The country has already placed orders for an additional 90 million doses of the vaccine, the health chief added.
He said that authorities expected to receive 34 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine later this year, including 4 million in June, and a further 5 million doses each month until December.
Pakistan is also securing 18 million doses of the China-produced CanSino vaccine, which includes delivery of 3 million doses of the drug every month from July to December.
The US Pfizer vaccine will be administered across the country as well, with 1 million arriving in July and 11 million between July and  December, totaling 12 million doses.
Separately, Pakistan will receive another 1.23 million dose delivery of the UK-produced AstraZeneca jab this month, donated through the Covax platform.
However, the government has voiced concern at people failing to show up to receive a second jab.
“About one in five people fail to have their second dose,” Sultan said.
But Safdar said that the missed appointments might be the result of a backlog in late May, and that “people are now turning up, including those who missed their dose.”


Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction
Updated 12 June 2021

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction
  • Groups say 8,000 attended protests, with 185,000 writing to MPs ahead of debate

LONDON: Pro Palestinian protesters gathered outside Downing Street in the British capital, London, on Saturday to call on the UK government to impose sanctions on Israel over its bombardment of the Gaza Strip last month.
The demonstration comes two days before Parliament is set to debate a petition to introduce sanctions against Israel, after it received more than 380,000 signatures, above the 100,000 threshold required for it to be considered.
The protest, which also comes on the eve of a G7 meeting of world leaders in Cornwall, is part of the “Resist G7 Day of Action for International Justice”organized by a coalition of groups calling on the G7 nations to “end all military-security cooperation with Israel, and employ targeted sanctions until Israel complies with international law,” the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said.
Organizers said over 8,000 people attended the protest, and 185,000 people directly contacted MPs to “pressure the UK government to hold Israel accountable for repeatedly violating International law, via the imposition of sanctions.”

Organizers say over 8,000 people attended the protest in central London calling on the the British government to introduce sanctions on Israel. (FOA)

Moreover, 10,000 people requested a meeting with their MPs on Wednesday to ask them to attend the parliamentary debate on Monday and speak in favor of sanctions on Israel, as part of a national lobby organized by UK-based NGO Friends of Al-Asqa (FOA).
“Over a space of 10 days, 185,000 people sent a letter that we were organizing through our website on the back of Shiekh Jarrah and what was happening at Al-Aqsa Mosque to ask for a call of sanctions,” FOA’s Shamiul Joarder told Arab News.
Israel’s 11-day campaign in Gaza followed heightened tensions in the West Bank, after Israeli security forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque several times during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and wounded hundreds of worshippers, while in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinians face evictions from their homes.
“Israel violates over 40 UN resolutions; the campaign to impose sanctions will continue until Israel is held to account for failing to abide by international law,” said Joarder.
He added that what they have found over the years is more people are becoming politically aware, astute and literate, and are more understanding of the political dynamics in the region.

“Social media has really helped to see what is happening on the ground, to help see on your phone the apartheid taking place in Palestine, and that has really allowed people to galvanize and understand that us giving money is not the solution here, we need to become politically active,” he said.
“Even though the bombs have stopped in Gaza, the occupation remains, and it is really welcoming and a blessing that so many people are still engaged, which is a slight difference to 2008 and 2014. I feel as though people really understand that just because there is a cease-fire, it does not mean the occupation has ceased, it does not mean the apartheid has finished, or the settlements have finished, or the colonial project has come to an end. People understand that the occupation remains and they need to continue to campaign.”
The FOA and PSC organized the protest along with Stop the War Coalition, Palestinian Forum in Britain, and the Muslim Association of Britain.