Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 

Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 
Sajid Javid said he was blocked from standing in safe Tory seat because constituents would not vote for Muslim. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 

Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 
  • Sajid Javid said he was blocked from standing in safe Tory seat because constituents would not vote for Muslim
  • Ex-chancellor: Party must act ‘without delay’ and ‘set example’ for others to follow

Former British Chancellor Sajid Javid has urged the governing Conservative Party to act tough on Islamophobia, as he revealed that he was blocked from standing in a safe Tory seat on the basis that its constituents would not vote for a Muslim MP.

Writing in The Times, he urged the party to implement the recommendations of an independent report that investigated internal incidents of Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. Javid said the party must act “without delay” and “set an example” for others to follow.

The inquiry, led by Prof. Swaran Singh, a former commissioner of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), found that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” in the party.

Javid, who called for the inquiry while running for the party leadership in the summer of 2019, said anti-Muslim sentiment is “unquestionably a problem,” and welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to fully adopt the report’s recommendations.

The review called for the party to produce a mandatory code of conduct within a year. Amanda Milling, the party’s co-chair, said all the recommendations would be enacted, and committed to publishing an action plan within the next six weeks.

While the inquiry found that there was widespread Islamophobic sentiment, it said there was no evidence of systematic or institutional bigotry because the party did not treat complaints about Islamophobia differently from other forms of discrimination.

The inquiry found that two-thirds of complaints sent to the party were Islamophobia-related, and that there was “anti-Muslim sentiment” at local levels and among the party grassroots.

“While the party leadership claims a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to all forms of discrimination, our findings show that discriminatory behaviours occur, especially in relation to people of Islamic faith,” the report concluded.

Lord Sheikh, founder and president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, welcomed the report. But former Cabinet Minister and Conservative Party Chairwoman Baroness Warsi — who has vocally campaigned against Islamophobia within the party — said there is an “obvious” racism issue among the Conservatives, and called for the EHRC to investigate. The EHRC said it will respond after evaluating the report’s conclusions.


Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border
Updated 11 sec ago

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Militants targeted a Pakistani military post in the northwestern tribal belt near the Afghan border, killing two soldiers in a firefight, the army said in a statement.
The Pakistani army’s media wing said late Saturday that militants attacked a post in the Datta Khel area of the district of North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The area is a former militant stronghold.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
During an intense exchange of gunfire two soldiers were killed, the military said, adding that a search of the area was being carried out to find the militants. It gave no indication of the identity of the attackers.
North Waziristan for years served as a safe haven for militants until the military carried out massive operations to try to clear the area. That forced the militants either to escape across the border into Afghanistan or hide in other mountainous areas near the border. Still, militants often strike against security forces.
Pakistan is holding talks with Islamic militants known as the Pakistani Taliban with the help of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. There is a temporary cease-fire in place.

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France
Updated 28 November 2021

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France
  • China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said

BEIJING: China could face more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies by lifting travel curbs, according to a study by Peking University mathematicians.
In the report published in China CDC Weekly by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the mathematicians said China could not afford to lift travel restrictions without more efficient vaccinations or specific treatments.
Using data for August from the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Israel, the mathematicians assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries.
China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said.
And daily cases would hit 275,793 if China took the same approach as Britain and 454,198 if it imitated France, it said.
“The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden on the medical system,” the report said.
“Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace ‘open-up’ strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain western countries.”
The mathematicians cautioned that their estimates were based on basic arithmetic calculations and that more sophisticated models were needed to study the evolution of the pandemic if travel restrictions were lifted.
China has maintained a zero-tolerance policy toward COVID-19, saying the importance of containing local cases when they are found outweighs the disruptions caused by efforts to trace, isolate and treat the infected. China reported 23 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Nov. 27, down from 25 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa with a large number of mutations as being “of concern,” prompting some countries to impose travel curbs.


World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant

World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant
Updated 28 November 2021

World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant

World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant
  • Scientists are still learning about the variant, first identified at the start of this week
  • Several countries, including in the Gulf, institute travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa

JEDDAH: Fears mounted on Saturday that a highly infectious new COVID-19 strain was pushing its way into Europe as the world brought the shutters down to contain the new omicron variant.

Britain confirmed its first two infections and suspected new cases emerged in Germany and the Czech Republic, while Dutch authorities quarantined 61 passengers from South Africa who tested positive for COVID-19.

South Africa complained it was being “punished” with air travel bans for first detecting the strain, which the World Health Organization has termed a “variant of concern.”

South Korea, Australia, and Thailand joined the US, Brazil, Canada, and a host of other countries around the world restricting travel from the region, fearing a major setback to global efforts against the pandemic.

Saudi Arabia was among countries in the Middle East and North Africa to ban travelers from several African nations.

The Saudi Interior Ministry and authorities in the UAE said visitors from seven African countries were barred from entry.

They listed the countries as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Eswatini.

The Saudi ban comprises flights to and from those countries. But foreign nationals from the seven countries could enter the Kingdom if they had spent the previous 14 days in another country and comply with Saudi health protocols.

In a separate announcement on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said the Kingdom will allow direct entry to travelers from all countries who have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting next Saturday. The ministry added the travelers would need to quarantine for three days.

Scientists are racing to determine the threat posed by the heavily mutated strain, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant, and whether it can evade existing vaccines.

Anxious travelers thronged Johannesburg international airport, desperate to squeeze onto the last flights to countries that had imposed sudden travel bans. Many had cut holidays and rushed back from South African safaris and vineyards.

“It’s ridiculous, we will always be having new variants,” British tourist David Good said, passport in hand. “South Africa found it but it’s probably all over the world already.”

The WHO on Friday declared the recently discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19 to be a variant of concern, renaming it omicron.

Professor Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the omicron variant.

He said most of the mutations appear to be in similar regions as those in other variants.

South Africa is worried that the curbs will hurt tourism and other sectors of its economy, the Foreign Ministry said, adding the government is engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider.

Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, and some have re-introduced restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.


Philippines tourism reopening in doubt after omicron

Philippines tourism reopening in doubt after omicron
Updated 28 November 2021

Philippines tourism reopening in doubt after omicron

Philippines tourism reopening in doubt after omicron
  • Manila imposes new travel curbs over omicron variant fears

MANILA: The Philippines has imposed new restrictions and is considering expanding its travel ban to include new countries, officials said on Saturday, amid concerns over the emergence of the new omicron COVID-19 strain.
The new variant was reported to the World Heath Organization from South Africa earlier this week. It has already been detected in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. The organization on Friday declared the new variant, dubbed omicron, as being “of concern” — the most serious category the agency uses for tracking outbreaks.
The announcement came as the Philippines said that it would start accepting vaccinated foreign tourists from low-risk countries from Dec. 1, after more than 20 months of having its borders shut to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Soon after the update, Manila moved to ban inbound travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. On Saturday, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said in a statement the ban “shall take effect immediately and until Dec. 15.”
Dr. Beverly Ho, director at the health promotion and control bureau, told reporters the list of banned destinations may be expanded further.
“There is already an ongoing discussion, and expect that there will be developments,” she said in a press briefing.
“The decision will be based on the data that we will get,” she added, saying that the response to any infectious disease “always starts with strict border controls.”
As the omicron variant has been reported in Hong Kong, home to more than 232,000 Filipino expats, many of whom will be heading home for Christmas holidays, Ho said that restrictions on travel from the region are now under discussion.
Since the WHO’s preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of infection with the omicron strain, Philippines media have been quoting health experts as urging caution to keep the country’s caseload in check.
“If omicron has many mutations, we presume that the behavior of this virus is more transmissible compared to the delta variant,” Dr. Rontgene Solante from the Philippine College of Physicians said, as quoted by the local media.
The number of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines has been steadily falling since mid-September, when the country was recording more than 26,000 new cases per day due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant.
For the past few days, the country has been recording fewer than 1,000 new cases a day, with 899 reported on Saturday.


Indian PM orders review of COVID-19 response amid new variant fears

Indian PM orders review of COVID-19 response amid new variant fears
Updated 28 November 2021

Indian PM orders review of COVID-19 response amid new variant fears

Indian PM orders review of COVID-19 response amid new variant fears

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed local authorities on Saturday to increase their COVID-19 preparedness and review the country’s reopening for foreign arrivals, amid global concerns over the emergence of a new coronavirus strain.
The emergence of the omicron variant comes as India has managed to control the outbreak after facing a deadly COVID-19 wave which, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, killed over 450,000 people between March and May.
The South Asian nation announced on Friday it would reopen for international flights from Dec. 15, after more than 20 months of having its borders shut to stop the spread of COVID-19. On Saturday, Modi requested that the reopening plan be reviewed.
“PM asks officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence,” his office said in a statement.
Modi also requested that technical support be provided to regions reporting high numbers of new infections and ordered coordination to ensure the proper functioning of oxygen plants and ventilators.
As India has so far fully vaccinated some 35 percent of its 1.3 billion population, the prime minister’s office said he had told officials to accelerate second-dose coverage.
Authorities in Mumbai, the financial center and industrial hub of India, have already announced that inbound passengers from South Africa will be quarantined on arrival and those who test positive for COVID-19 will have their samples sent for genome sequencing.
“There are concerns in Mumbai about the new variant of coronavirus,” Mumbai mayor Kishori Pednekar told reporters on Saturday. “There is an increased risk of COVID-19 in other nations, so those coming from abroad will have to undergo genome test.”
Prof. Rama V. Baru, epidemiologist at the Center of Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said genomic sequencing may prove crucial in containing the spread and that a strategy to implement it should be introduced by the Indian Council of Medical Research — the country’s top medical research body.
“Testing can be done, but after testing you need to know what is the variant. For that you need genomic sequencing,” she told Arab News. “There has to be a design by which the ICMR comes up with a protocol because they have a network of institutions in different parts of the country. We need to be proactive and quick before the number of patients increases. Once the number increases, our capacity for genomic sequencing is very limited.”