Dhaka extends COVID-19 lockdown for another week amid surge in cases

Dhaka extends COVID-19 lockdown for another week amid surge in cases
Army personnel are seen at a checkpoint during a countrywide lockdown, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 6, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 July 2021

Dhaka extends COVID-19 lockdown for another week amid surge in cases

Dhaka extends COVID-19 lockdown for another week amid surge in cases
  • Officials ramp up vaccinations, predict fall in infection rate if rules followed

DHAKA: Bangladesh on Tuesday extended a nationwide lockdown for another week in a bid to curb a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

The latest restrictions introduced to tackle the health crisis would now end on July 14, officials told Arab News.

Dr. Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Bangladeshi Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said: “We had to increase the lockdown period to contain the spread of the virus.

“If people don’t follow the restrictions and health and safety guidelines, it will be tough to manage thousands of new COVID-19 patients every day.”

On Monday, health authorities registered 164 deaths, the highest single day rise since the pandemic began, taking the total number of virus-related fatalities in the country to 15,500.

The south Asian nation also reported its highest number of new daily infections at 9,964, adding to the tally of 954,881 cases.

Hospitals are stretched to capacity with COVID-19 patients, particularly in areas bordering India where the Delta variant was first identified, promoting Dhaka to seal its border with New Delhi in April.

But despite the current positivity rate standing at around 30 percent, Sultana added: “We may expect a downward trend in the infections rate from the third week of July.

“As of today, the situation is still manageable, and there is no crisis of oxygen supply in any hospital of the country. If the situation deteriorates further, we may introduce a few more specialized COVID-19 hospitals in the capital.”

A surge in COVID-19 cases, caused mainly by the highly contagious and virulent Delta variant, prompted the government on Thursday to order a week of strict lockdown measures, with the army patrolling streets to ensure compliance with safety protocols.

Authorities are scaling up vaccinations too. Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive toward the end of June using China’s Sinopharm vaccine, nearly two months after halting the initiative due to a failed supply of 30 million doses from India.

Starting from January, New Delhi had vowed to deliver the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), to Dhaka, in a phased manner.

Bangladesh’s health authorities launched the anti-virus drive in early February after India sent 7 million doses of Covishield in two installments.

However, after a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the country, New Delhi held back its vaccine exports for domestic consumption, resulting in a stalled supply of the crucial jabs for Dhaka from April.

On Tuesday, the government said it was expanding its vaccination program to include citizens aged 35 and over. Earlier, the minimum age limit was 40.

Prof. Robed Amin, DGHS spokesperson, told Arab News: “We will reopen the registrations for all ... from next Thursday. People will receive Sinopharm vaccine at all government-run health facilities at the district and subdistrict level.”

Bangladesh recently received 2.5 million doses of US-made Moderna vaccines from the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, with another 2 million doses of Sinopharm purchased from China expected to arrive soon.

In June, Bangladesh inked a deal with China to purchase 15 million doses of Sinopharm to be delivered in phases over the next couple of months.

“At this moment, we have a lot of stock of vaccines in hand. We will administer Moderna vaccines in 12 city corporation areas since these are temperature sensitive and have to be kept under minus 20 degrees.

“Sinopharm will be administered at district and sub-district level since it can be stored at temperatures of between 2 degrees and minus 8,” Amin added.

As of Tuesday, around 4.3 million people had received both vaccine doses, while more than 5.8 million had been given their first jab.

Public health experts, however, urged the government to bolster health management facilities to include all patients infected with COVID-19.

Dr. Mushtuq Husain, adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, told Arab News: “We need to bring all the identified patients under proper quarantine and treatment facilities. At the same time, those who have come into contact with infected patients should be kept under quarantine too.”

He said failure to do so could result in “more fatalities in the next couple of days.”

Husain noted that Bangladesh had health outreach centers at village level and could administer up to 15 million vaccines per month.

“We can speed up the mass inoculation program more if the country receives much more vaccines from different sources. Without mass vaccination, we can’t control the surge of COVID-19 in the country,” he added.

Dr. Benazir Ahmed, former director of the Center for Disease Control, told Arab News: “At least half of hospitalized patients are now coming from the villages across the country. We need to provide free treatment facilities for these rural people.

“Online registration processes should be facilitated for these people since many of them don’t have access to internet or smartphone facilities,” she added.


Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270
Updated 8 sec ago

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270
MELBOURNE: Australia’s police arrested 235 people in Melbourne and 32 in Sydney on Saturday at unsanctioned anti-lockdown rallies and several police officers were injured in clashes with protesters.
Victoria police said six officers required hospitalization. Several officers were knocked to the ground and trampled, the police said and television footage showed.
About 700 people managed to gather in parts of Melbourne, as 2,000 officers made the city center virtually a no-go zone, setting up checkpoints and barricades. Public transport and ride shares into the city were suspended.
In Sydney, riot squad officers, highway patrol, detectives and general duties police were also deployed to the streets, preventing large gatherings.
Australia has been grappling with an outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus since mid-June, with both Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, in strict lockdowns for weeks now. On Saturday, there were 1,882 new coronavirus cases reported, most of them in Sydney.
Most of the restrictions in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra are to remain until at least 70 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, which based on the current pace of inoculations could be in late October or early November.
A high rate of compliance with public health orders has helped Australia keep the number of infections relatively low, with just under 85,000 total cases and 1,145 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The vast majority of Australians support vaccinations and the public health measures, but there have been sporadic and sometimes violent protests against the management of the pandemic.
“It was extremely disappointing to see another example of a small minority of the community showing a complete disregard for the health and safety of not only police, but each and every other Victorian,” Victoria Police said in a statement.

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan
Updated 41 min 17 sec ago

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan
  • The United Nations said it was “deeply worried” for the future of girls’ schooling in Afghanistan

KABUL: Girls were excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan on Saturday, after the country’s new Taliban rulers ordered only boys and male teachers back to the classroom.
The hard-line Islamist group ousted the US-backed government last month, promising a softer brand of rule than their repressive reign in the 1990s, when women were mostly banned from education and work.
But the diktat from the education ministry was the latest move from the new government to threaten women’s rights.
“All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions,” a statement said ahead of classes resuming Saturday.
The statement, issued late Friday, made no mention of women teachers or girl pupils.
Secondary schools, with students typically between the ages of 13 and 18, are often segregated by sex in Afghanistan. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they have faced repeated closures and have been shut since the Taliban seized power.
Since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001, significant progress has been made in girls’ education, with the number of schools tripling and female literacy nearly doubling to 30 percent — however, the change was largely limited to the cities.
The United Nations said it was “deeply worried” for the future of girls’ schooling in Afghanistan.
“It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays. For that, we need female teachers to resume teaching,” the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF said.
Primary schools have already reopened, with boys and girls mostly attending separate classes and some women teachers returning to work.
The new regime has also permitted women to go to private universities, though with tough restrictions on their clothes and movement.
In a further sign that the Taliban’s approach to women and girls had not softened, they appeared to have shut down the government’s ministry of women’s affairs and replaced it with a department notorious for enforcing strict religious doctrine during their first rule.
In Kabul on Friday, workers were seen raising a sign for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice at the old Women’s Affairs building in the capital.
Videos posted to social media showed women workers from the ministry protesting outside after losing their jobs.
No official from the Taliban responded to requests for comment.
Although still marginalized, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots and police officers.
Hundreds of thousands have entered the workforce — a necessity in some cases as many women were widowed or now support invalid husbands as a result of decades of conflict.
The Taliban have shown little inclination to honor those rights — no women have been included in the government and many have been stopped from returning to work.
Meanwhile, a top United States general admitted it had made a “mistake” when it launched a drone strike against suspected Daesh militants in Kabul last month, instead killing 10 civilians, including children.
The strike during the final days of the US pullout was meant to target a suspected Daesh operation that US intelligence believed with “reasonable certainty” was planning to attack Kabul airport, said US Central Command commander General Kenneth McKenzie.
“The strike was a tragic mistake,” McKenzie told reporters after an investigation.
McKenzie said the government was looking into how payments for damages could be made to the families of those killed.
“I offer my deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
The UN Security Council voted Friday to extend the UN political mission in Afghanistan for six months, with a focus on development issues but not peacekeeping.


In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
Updated 18 September 2021

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
  • The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region

KHABAROVSK, Russia: The handful of demonstrators gathering each evening in Khabarovsk are a shadow of the masses who took part in an unusually sustained wave of protests last year in the Russian Far Eastern city, but they are a chronic reminder of the political tensions that persist.
The demonstrators have been demanding the release of the region’s popular former governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested last year on charges of being involved in killings.
Now, his Kremlin-appointed replacement, Mikhail Degtyaryov, is on the ballot for governor in the three days of regional voting that concludes Sunday. The regional election is taking place at the same time that Russians are voting for members of the State Duma, the national parliament.
The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region, located seven time zones and 6,100 kilometers (3,800 miles) east of Moscow.
“The region really worries the Kremlin because they don’t want a repeat of those incidents (last years’ protests) of course. Khabarovsk is now under close supervision,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
Three other people are on the ballot for governor, but supporters of Furgal and others in the city of about 600,000 complain they are insignificant candidates who were allowed to run to give the appearance of a democratic and competitive race.
“Whoever posed even the smallest threat was barred from running, and they left only spoiler candidates,” said 64-year-old protester Zigmund Khudyakov.
Notably, United Russia — the country’s dominant political party and loyal backer of President Vladimir Putin — is not fielding a candidate for governor in Khabarovsk. Nor is Russia’s second-largest party, the Communists.
Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, is widely believed to be backed by the Kremlin with both advice and money.
The man who wanted to run on the Communist ticket was kept off the ballot because he was unable to get enough signatures from officials. That aspiring candidate, Pyotr Perevezentsev, told The Associated Press that municipal authorities in some districts had been told by their superiors whose nominating petitions to sign.
“People representing the presidential administration curated these elections,” he said.
Separately, Furgal’s son Anton says he was kept off the ballot for the national parliament. “There is an opinion that if my last name had been Ivanov, for example, I would likely be allowed to run,” he said.
Degtyaryov rejects such claims.
“As head of the Khabarovsk regional government, I am obligated to ensure transparent, legal, free and fair elections, and we are following all of these provisions,” he said on a recent televised question-and-answer session with residents.
The weeks of protests that arose after Sergei Furgal’s arrest in July 2020 appeared to catch authorities by surprise. Unlike in Moscow, where police usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned rallies, authorities didn’t interfere with the unauthorized demonstrations in Khabarovsk, apparently expecting them to fizzle out.
A Liberal Democratic Party member, Furgal won the 2018 regional gubernatorial election even though he had refrained from campaigning and publicly supported his Kremlin-backed rival.
His victory was a humiliating setback for United Russia, which also lost its control over the regional legislature.
While in office, Furgal earned a reputation as a “people’s governor,” cutting his own salary, ordering the sale of an expensive yacht bought by the previous administration, and offering new benefits to residents.
His arrest, which was shown on Russian TV stations, came after the Investigative Committee, the nation’s top criminal investigation agency, said he was accused of involvement in the murders of several businessmen in the region and nearby territories in 2004 and 2005. During interrogation in Moscow, Furgal denied the charges, according to the Tass news agency.
Ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a veteran politician with a reputation for outspoken comments and also a member of the Liberal Democrats, once called Furgal “the best governor the region ever had.”
Furgal’s arrest brought hundreds, and then thousands, of people into the streets of Khabarovsk in a regular Saturday protest. A year later, the rallies — albeit much smaller — continue.
Local activists say that’s because of sustained pressure from authorities interested in ensuring Degtyaryov wins the election.
Under new rules enforced by police who monitor and film the protests, the rallies are restricted to 10 people at most. Officers disperse anything larger.
The protesters say they are pressured at work and at university, with some adding that they lost their jobs after being seen at the demonstrations.
Many wear T-shirts with the face of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, while others carry signs depicting Furgal or denouncing the new governor.
“We constantly live in fear because any day we can be arrested,” said Denis Pedish, a 47-year-old education worker who says he now comes to protests with a packed bag of essentials in case he is detained.
“It’s difficult. But people have hope and faith and are actively fighting the lawlessness of the authorities and the lawlessness of the elections, which are a laughingstock for the world to see,” Pedish said.


UN concerned about detained migrants vanishing in Libya

UN concerned about detained migrants vanishing in Libya
Updated 18 September 2021

UN concerned about detained migrants vanishing in Libya

UN concerned about detained migrants vanishing in Libya
  • The number of migrants intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year is more than double the number for 2020

ON BOARD THE GEO BARENTS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA: A UN migration agency official expressed concerns Friday over the disappearance of thousands of Europe-bound migrants who were intercepted and returned to Libya as more and more desperate people risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
According to Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, the Libyan coast guard, which receives funds from the European Union, intercepted more than 24,000 Europe-bound migrants in the Mediterranean so far this year, including over 800 this week alone.
However, only 6,000 have been accounted for in official detention centers in the North African country, she said. The fate and whereabouts of thousands of other migrants remain unknown, she added.
“We fear that many are ending up in the hands of criminal groups and traffickers, while others are being extorted for release,” Msehli said.
A spokesman for Libya’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the detention centers, did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment.
Libya has for years been a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants fleeing war and poverty in their countries and hoping for a better life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. Thousands have drowned along the way. They have been implicated in widespread abuses of migrants, including torture and abduction for ransom.
The number of migrants intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year is more than double the number for 2020, when more than 11,890 were brought back to shore.
Those returned to shore have been taken to government-run detention centers, where they are often abused and extorted for ransom under the very nose of UN officials. They are often held in miserable conditions. Libya’s government receives millions in European aid money paid to slow the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
Guards have been accused of sexually assaulting female migrants in at least one government-run detention center. Many migrants also simply disappear from the detention centers, sold to traffickers or to other centers, The Associated Press reported in 2019.
More than 1,100 migrants were reported dead or presumed dead in numerous boat mishaps and shipwrecks off Libya so far this year, compared to at least 978 reported dead or presumed dead during all of last year, according to IOM.


China enters Taiwan air defense zone a day after military budget boost

China enters Taiwan air defense zone a day after military budget boost
Updated 18 September 2021

China enters Taiwan air defense zone a day after military budget boost

China enters Taiwan air defense zone a day after military budget boost
  • Speaking on Friday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said the government had to take the threat from China seriously

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s air force scrambled on Friday to warn away 10 Chinese aircraft that entered its air defense zone, Taiwan’s defense ministry said, the day after the island announced a $9 billion boost to military spending to counter the threat from China.
Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratically governed island, often in the southwestern part of its air defense zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
The latest Chinese mission involved 6 J-16 and 2 J-11 fighters plus one anti-submarine and one reconnaissance aircraft, the Taiwan ministry said.
Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said.
The Chinese fighters flew in an area close to the Pratas, while the anti-submarine and reconnaissance aircraft flew into the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, according to a map that the ministry issued.
Warships, early warning aircraft and bombers were deployed on Friday in patrols and drills aimed at improving the joint combat capabilities of China’s military in the area, a spokesman for China’s Eastern Theater Command said in a statement on Saturday.
The incident came a day after Taiwan proposed boosting military spending by $8.7 billion over the next five years, including on new missiles, warning of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a “severe threat” from China.
The Chinese patrols and drills also coincided a transit by a US destroyer in the Taiwan Strait on Friday, which the US Navy called a “routine” passage through international waters.
The Eastern Theater Command, which overseas Chinese military in eastern China, said on Saturday in a separate statement that the USS Barry was monitored on its entire course.
Speaking on Friday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said the government had to take the threat from China seriously.
“The Chinese Communists plot against us constantly,” he said.
Taiwan’s defense spending “is based on safeguarding national sovereignty, national security, and national security. We must not relax. We must have the best preparations so that no war will occur,” he added.
China’s government, for its part, criticized Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Friday for comments this week in which he said Taiwan was a “sea fortress” blocking China’s expansion into the Pacific.
Wu’s “aim is to deceive public opinion, to rope in and collude with anti-China foreign forces,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement.