Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise
On Sunday, Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 May 2021

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise
  • All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday

SINGAPORE: Singapore will shut most schools from Wednesday after the city-state reported the highest number of local COVID-19 infections in months, including several that were unlinked, according to authorities on Sunday.
All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28.
“Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
On Sunday, Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September, of which 18 are currently unlinked.
Singapore has reported more than 61,000 virus cases, with the bulk linked to outbreaks last year in foreign worker dormitories, and 31 deaths. Sunday’s new cases were the highest number of local infections outside of the dormitories in a year.
“The sharp rise in the number of community cases today requires us to significantly reduce our movements and interactions in the coming days,” Chan added.
The Asian trade and financial hub of 5.7 million people had until recently been reporting almost zero or single-digit daily infections locally for months.
Though Singapore’s daily cases are still only a fraction of the numbers being reported among its Southeast Asian neighbors, infections have been increasing in recent weeks. From Sunday, the government implemented its strictest curbs on gatherings and public activities since a lockdown last year.
Over a fifth of the country’s population has completed the two-dose vaccination regimen with vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Authorities will invite people under 45 years of age to receive shots from the second half of May.
The speed of Singapore’s inoculation program is being limited by the pace of vaccine supply arrivals. Experts are studying whether to give one dose of the vaccine and extend the interval between shots, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
The government is also working on plans to vaccinate children below 16 years once regulatory approval is granted.


Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack

Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack
Updated 56 min 33 sec ago

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 COVID-19 vaccine rollout with 100m target

Pakistan steps up COVID-19 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 COVID-19 vaccine rollout with 100m target

Pakistan steps up COVID-19 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 55 min 51 sec ago

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.