’Be cautious’: Johnson goes ahead with lifting England’s COVID curbs

’Be cautious’: Johnson goes ahead with lifting England’s COVID curbs
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on relaxing restrictions imposed on the country during COVID-19 pandemic at a news conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room in London on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 July 2021

’Be cautious’: Johnson goes ahead with lifting England’s COVID curbs

’Be cautious’: Johnson goes ahead with lifting England’s COVID curbs
  • An increase in cases underlined that the pandemic was by no means over
  • Government says Britain's vaccination drive has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people on Monday to show caution when nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in England next week.
He said an increase in cases underlined that the pandemic was by no means over.
England will from July 19 be the first nation in Britain to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to socially distance. The government says Britain’s vaccination drive — one of the world’s fastest — has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.
But what was once billed as “freedom day” is now being treated with wariness by ministers after a new surge in cases and fears that there could be as many as 100,000 new infections a day over the summer.
Johnson set a somber tone, defending his decision to lift most of the remaining restrictions by saying the four conditions the government set itself had been met, but also warning the country that more people would die from the coronavirus.
“We think now is the right moment to proceed...But it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough — this pandemic is not over,” he told a press conference.
“To take these steps we must be cautious and must be vaccinated,” he said, adding that England would see “more hospitalizations and more deaths from COVID.”
Johnson added: “I generally urge everyone to keep thinking of others and to consider the risks.”
Earlier, health minister Sajid Javid told parliament that people should still wear masks in crowded areas like on public transport and should only gradually move back to the workplace, and that the government would encourage businesses holding mass events to use health certification as a way to open up.
Business welcomed the move, but also called on the government to offer clearer guidance. Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies still did not have the full picture they needed.
“Business leaders aren’t public health experts and cannot be expected to know how best to operate when confusing and sometimes contradictory advice is coming from official sources,” she said.
After 18 months of pandemic, governments around the world have been wrestling with how and when to reopen their economies.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte conceded on Monday that coronavirus restrictions had been lifted in the Netherlands too soon and he apologized as infections surged to their highest levels of the year.
Britain has implemented one of the world’s swiftest vaccination programs, with more than 87 percent of adults having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 66 percent having received two.
The Conservative government argues that the fact that deaths and hospital admissions remain far lower than before, even though cases have risen sharply, is proof that the vaccines are saving lives and it is now safer to open up.
But the surge in infections to rates unseen since the winter has raised concern, with some epidemiologists saying the Euro soccer championships might have helped fuel the rise.
Britain, which ranks 20th in the world for per-capita reported deaths https://ourworldindata.org/explorers/coronavirus-data-explorer?tab=table... from COVID-19, on Monday reported a further 34,471 COVID-19 cases, up 26 percent in a week, and six additional deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
London’s Wembley Stadium hosted the Euro 2020 final on Sunday between England and Italy. Large crowds gathered in London, including around the stadium, and there were reports that some had gained entry to the match without tickets to join the more than 60,000 who had them — much to the dismay of the World Health Organization.
“Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?” WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted in the late stages of the match.
“The #COVID19 pandemic is not taking a break tonight ... #SARSCoV2 #DeltaVariant will take advantage of unvaccinated people, in crowded settings, unmasked, screaming/shouting/singing. Devastating.”


India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name
Updated 57 min 16 sec ago

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name
  • Modi called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan
  • He made no mention of India’s death toll but reaffirmed announcement that it would restart exporting vaccines

NEW YORK: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t directly mention Pakistan or China in his Saturday speech to the United Nations General Assembly, but the targets of his address were clear.
He called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan and said that it was imperative the country not be used as a base from which to spread terror.
“We also need to be alert and ensure that no country tries to take advantage of the delicate situation there, and use it as a tool for its own selfish interests,” he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan, wedged in between Afghanistan and India.
Modi also highlighted what he called the need to protect oceans from “the race for expansion and exclusion.” India and China have long competed for influence in the Indian Ocean.
On the heels of waves of coronavirus surges that have ravaged India, Modi made no mention of his own country’s death toll. But he reaffirmed last week’s announcement that India would restart exporting vaccines next month.
“Deeply conscious of its responsibility toward mankind, India has resumed the process of providing vaccines to those who need it in the world,” Modi said, also inviting vaccine manufacturers to come to India.
Modi said it was incumbent on the United Nations itself to strengthen its own effectiveness and boost its credibility.
“Today, all kinds of questions have been raised about the UN,” he said. “We have seen such questions being raised related to the climate crisis. And we also saw that during COVID, the proxy war going on in many parts of the world, terrorism, and the recent Afghan crisis have further highlighted the seriousness of these questions.”


Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city

Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city
Updated 25 September 2021

Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city

Taliban hang up bodies of alleged kidnappers in Afghan city
  • "Their bodies were brought to the main square and hung up in the city as a lesson for other kidnappers": Official
  • Footage of the bloodstained corpse, swinging on the crane was widely shared on social media

KABUL: Taliban authorities in the western Afghan city of Herat killed four alleged kidnappers and hung their bodies up in public to deter others, a local government official said on Saturday.
Sher Ahmad Ammar, deputy governor of Herat, said the men had kidnapped a local businessman and his son and intended to take them out of the city, when they were seen by patrols that had set up checkpoints around the city.
An exchange of gunfire ensued in which all four were killed, while one Taliban soldier was wounded.
"Their bodies were brought to the main square and hung up in the city as a lesson for other kidnappers," he said.
The two kidnapping victims were released unharmed, he said.
Herat resident Mohammad Nazir said he had been shopping for food near the city's Mostofiat Square when he heard a loudspeaker announcement calling for people's attention.
"When I stepped forward, I saw they had brought a body in a pickup truck, then they hung it up on a crane," he said.
Footage of the bloodstained corpse, swinging on the crane was widely shared on social media, showing a note pinned to the man's chest saying "This is the punishment for kidnapping".
No other bodies were visible but social media posts said others were hung up in other parts of the city.
In an interview with the Associated Press published this week, senior Taliban figure Mullah Nooruddin Turabi said the group would restore punishments like amputations and executions to deter criminals.
Despite international condemnation, the Taliban have said they will continue to impose swift and severe punishments on lawbreakers to stop crimes like robbery, murder and kidnapping that had become widespread in Afghanistan.
Washington, which condemned Turabi's reported comments on punishments, has said any potential recognition of the Taliban-led government in Kabul, which replaced the Western-backed government that collapsed last month, would depend on respect for human rights.
According to the official Bakhtar news agency, eight kidnappers were also arrested in a separate incident in the southwestern province of Uruzgan.


Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy
Updated 25 September 2021

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy
  • US climate envoy: Turning tide against climate change is matter of will, not capacity
  • World dangerously close to missing Paris Agreement target of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming

NEW YORK: The UN has welcomed commitments by member states to transition toward renewable and clean energies but warned that more work is needed to address global energy poverty and to decarbonize the global energy system, in a historic summit on Friday.

A total of $400 billion in new finance and investment was committed by governments and the private sector during the UN’s High-level Dialogue on Energy, the first such meeting of its kind in more than 40 years.

More than 35 countries, including Arab and Gulf states, took part in the conference, and many announced funding and partnerships that will assist in domestic and global transitions toward a sustainable energy system.

According to the UN, nearly 760 million people worldwide lack access to electricity, and 2.6 billion people lack access to clean cooking solutions — the cost of closing this “energy access gap” is estimated at $35 billion a year for electricity and $25 billion for clean cooking.

And this transition, the UN said, must be accomplished without further contributing to global warming.

According to the UN, the world is dangerously close to missing its target, agreed as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming above pre-industrial temperature — spelling potential catastrophe for people and the planet.

Among the states committed to alleviating energy poverty without harming the environment is the UAE, whose Minister of Climate Change and Environment Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al-Nuaimi told the conference that his country was “honored” to be part of the global energy revolution.

“Today the United Arab Emirates is the home to three of the largest in capacity and lowest in cost solar plants in the universe. To date, we have invested over $40 billion in clean energy projects locally,” Al-Nuaimi said.

“Globally, we are proud to have provided over $1 billion in aid for renewable energy,” he said, adding that a major asset in the emirates’ energy transition has been the mobilization of the country’s burgeoning private sector.

As part of the energy dialogue event, the UAE committed to providing 100 percent of its population with access to electricity by 2030, powered primarily by clean fuels. The emirates also committed to scaling up its solar energy sector.

But while the global transition to clean energy is of paramount importance in combating climate change and alleviating poverty, the International Energy Institute’s CEO Fatih Birol warned that “we shouldn’t forget that energy provides important economic and social development. Energy brings light, power, heat and cool for our homes and hospitals; to cook, to travel. These are legitimate desires for every person in the world.”

Birol said, however, that it was possible to achieve a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while also achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which outline a series of objectives acknowledged by the international community as essential to providing a sustainable and liveable world by 2030.

“This is a race against time. We should not forget — unless all the nations finish this race, nobody will win the race. As such, international collaborations are critical to reaching the SDGs,” Birol said.

In his speech, US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry embraced international collaboration to fight climate change, and said that Friday’s meeting “couldn’t come at a more important time.”

Kerry committed the US to deriving 80 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030, and said that the US International Development Finance Corporation, America’s development bank, would decarbonize its investment portfolio.

“Around the world, the United States is going to continue to promote clean energy infrastructure, in order to advance economic development,” said Kerry, who also announced that the US would provide 35 million new electrical connections in African homes and businesses across the continent.

“By working together, we will do what the scientists tell us we can do, which is win this battle,” he said. “We have the opportunity. It’s not a matter of a lack of capacity, it’s been a lack of willpower.”


Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back
Updated 25 September 2021

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back
  • Some local officials have encouraged civilians to return, according to media reports

PALMA, Mozambique: Rwandan forces will help secure and rebuild areas of northern Mozambique destroyed by an Islamist insurgency, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said on Friday, as Mozambican officials began encouraging civilians to return to the gas-rich region.
The United Nations has warned of a continuing militant threat in Cabo Delgado, where Rwandan forces are patrolling burnt-out streets once besieged by the militants.
Kagame told a joint news conference in Maputo with his Mozambican counterpart Filipe Nyusi that Rwandan troops would help secure and rebuild the areas destroyed by the insurgency.
“The mission of Rwandan troops in Mozambique continues,” he said. “The new action should be to guarantee security in the liberated areas until the reconstruction is finished.”
Kagame said the troops would stay as long as Mozambique requests.
Nyusi thanked Rwanda for helping fix what had been destroyed by “terrorists.”
Allied Rwandan-Mozambican troops moved in to recapture parts of northern Cabo Delgado — an area hosting $60 billion worth of gas projects that the militants have been attacking since 2017 — in July.
A day earlier, soldiers had laid out rifles and rocket launchers seized from the Islamist fighters, who Mozambique’s government has said are on the run.
Some local officials have encouraged civilians to return, according to media reports, and the Rwandan military’s spokesman said 25,000 people had been brought home. “It is very safe for them to go back,” Ronald Rwivanga told Reuters on Thursday.
But United Nations officials are not so sure.
A document compiled in September for UN agencies and other aid groups, seen by Reuters, said it was not clear whether militant capabilities had been much reduced. “Fighting continues in certain locations and civilian authorities have not been re-established,” it added.
Children played in the streets of the town of Palma on Thursday and vendors sold goods from kiosks, six months after the militants attacked the settlement, killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
But 60 km south in the port of Mocimboa da Praia — a hub needed for cargo deliveries for the gas projects — the streets were largely deserted, flanked by windowless, rubble-strewn buildings and overturned military vehicles.
Graffiti, using a local name for the militant group, read: “If you want to make Al-Shabab laugh, threaten them with death.”
Aside from the Rwandans, a contingent of forces from the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is also patrolling northern Cabo Delgado.
Rwivanga said the Rwandans had been moving civilians back into the area they control around a $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project run by oil major TotalEnergies , which was forced to a halt by the Palma attack.
Yet security analysts say the Mozambican military deficiencies that allowed the insurgency to take hold in the north — including soldiers that are ill equipped, undisciplined and poorly paid — will not be easily reversed.
Even with other forces there, they say, security is uncertain outside of small, heavily guarded areas.
Returnees, meanwhile, are more preoccupied with where the next meal is coming from. The World Food Programme said this week that the first shipment of aid had reached Palma since the March attack.
“Now the situation is calm, the war that remains is hunger and lack of jobs,” Ibrahimo Suleman, 60, a resident who works for a kitchen-fitting company said.
Many others remain too afraid or unwilling to return, with almost 750,000 people still displaced as of this month, according to the International Organization of Migration.


What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda
Updated 25 September 2021

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda
  • While much remains opaque, here is what we know about their political program so far

KABUL: A month after seizing power following a lightning offensive in Afghanistan, the Taliban this week completed their interim government — but their political agenda is still unclear.
The lack of clarity is fueling concern among Afghans and the international community that the hard-line Islamists are heading toward imposing the same brutal policies against women and opponents seen in their previous rule between 1996 and 2001.
While much remains opaque, here is what we know about their political program so far.
This is one of the most eagerly awaited areas of Taliban policy.
How the all-male leadership treat women is expected to be critical to any resumption of suspended Western economic aid on which the country depends.
Since their return to power on August 15, the group have said they will respect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic sharia law, without elaborating. During their last rule, women were forced to wear all-covering burqas, and barred from work or study except in rare circumstances.
Most have been told not to return to work until the Taliban have ironed out “new systems,” while some are staying home out of fear of future reprisal attacks for being a working woman.
Girls are allowed to go to primary school but have been excluded from secondary school.
The Taliban says the measures are temporary, but many are distrustful of the group.
Afghan women studying at private universities can return to single-sex classrooms with strict conservative rules imposed on attire.
Upon taking power, the Taliban said journalists — including women — can continue to work.
“We will respect freedom of the press because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” a Taliban spokesman told Reporters Without Borders.
A month later, the tone has changed. According to RSF, the group have imposed 11 rules on Afghan journalists that they must now obey.
One of them is a ban on broadcasting “material contrary to Islam” or considered “insulting to public figures.”
The rules could be used for the persecution of journalists and open the door to censorship, RSF said.
Even before the announcement of these new guidelines in mid-September, many journalists had fled the country.
Those who were unable to leave remain in hiding at home for fear of reprisals.
Some Afghan journalists were briefly arrested or beaten on the sidelines of recent anti-Taliban protests.
During their first stint in power, the Taliban were infamous for their strict interpretation of sharia law, banning music, photography, television, and even children’s games such as kite-flying.
The group dynamited giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan months before they were ousted from power.
This time, the Taliban have yet to issue official decrees regarding entertainment and culture.
“Music is forbidden in Islam,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times last month.
Music schools have closed and some players have smashed their instruments.
Libraries, museums and galleries are also shuttered, with heritage experts deeply concerned about whether ancient artifacts will be protected and access to literature allowed.
This is one of the most pressing challenges the new regime will have to tackle.
Afghanistan is facing a financial crisis following the takeover, with much of the international aid that had propped up the economy frozen.
The Taliban’s economic program is still extremely vague.
“We are going to be working on our natural resources and our resources in order to revitalize our economy,” Mujahid said.
But it remains to be seen how the Taliban will find the funds to pay civil servants’ salaries — or to support critical infrastructure to keep the lights on, water running and telecommunications working.
In the midst of a liquidity crisis and at a time when the population was already struggling to make ends meet, the movement said it had turned the page on corruption, which tainted the previous government.
Many Afghans have reported an increased sense of security since the Taliban took over and fighting ended.
But it has moved to crush dissent, breaking up protests led mainly by women by firing shots into the air and later effectively banning all demonstrations.
The Taliban have also warned that “anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard,” a message to resistance forces in Panjshir, who were defeated earlier this month.
They have also said they would eradicate the local branch of jihadist group Daesh, which has claimed a number of bomb attacks over the past few weeks.
As for drugs, Taliban spokesperson Mujahid promised that the new government would not turn Afghanistan, the world’s leading producer of opium, into a real narco-state.
Certain sports were allowed under the Taliban’s first government, but they were strictly controlled and only men could play or attend matches.
The new sports chief of the Taliban government, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, said they would allow around 400 sports “permitted by the laws of Islam” — but declined to clarify if women could participate in any of them.
The statements of other Taliban members sowed confusion, leaving sportswomen and the country’s athletes fearing a step backwards.
Some of them have already fled and found refuge abroad.