UK health minister Sajid Javid tests positive for COVID-19

UK health minister Sajid Javid tests positive for COVID-19
Britain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid walks on Downing Street in London, Britain. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 17 July 2021

UK health minister Sajid Javid tests positive for COVID-19

UK health minister Sajid Javid tests positive for COVID-19
  • Javid has backed Johnson's plan to scrap all remaining legal coronavirus restrictions from Monday
  • Vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, but fully-vaccinated people are less likely to get seriously ill with COVID-19

LONDON: British health minister Sajid Javid on Saturday said he had tested positive for COVID-19, but added that his symptoms were mild and he was thankful to have had had two doses of vaccine against the disease.
Javid, who has been health secretary for three weeks, has backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to scrap all remaining legal coronavirus restrictions from Monday, despite a fresh surge of cases fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
"This morning I tested positive for COVID," Javid said in a tweet, adding he had taken a rapid lateral flow test, and was awaiting confirmation from a PCR test, which needs processing in a laboratory.
"I'm waiting for my PCR result, but thankfully I have had my jabs and symptoms are mild."
Javid tweeted on March 17 that he had received a first shot of Oxford/AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, posting a picture of him getting a second dose on May 16.
Vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, but fully-vaccinated people are less likely to get seriously ill with COVID-19 even if they can test positive.
Real-world analysis published by Public Health England has found that two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are 60% effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant and 92% effective against hospitalisation.
Britain is facing a new wave of cases of COVID-19, but Johnson and Javid claim the vaccine programme has largely broken the link between COVID-19 cases and mortality, although Johnson has said that the country should reconcile itself to the prospect of more deaths from COVID.
Britain has the seventh highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, and has fully vaccinated two-thirds of adults, although it is not vaccinating children.
Some scientists have warned that the government's reopening plans for England are dangerous given the significant number of people who remain unvaccinated and the fact that vaccines are not 100% effective.


Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island
Updated 25 sec ago

Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island
EL PASO, Canary Islands: As a new volcanic vent blew open and unstoppable rivers of molten rock flowed toward the sea, authorities on a Spanish island warned Tuesday.
Also more dangers lie ahead for residents, including earthquakes, lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.
Several small earthquakes shook the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday, keeping nerves on edge after a volcanic eruption on Sunday. The island, with a population of 85,000, is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, a key tourist destination for Europeans.
Authorities said the new fissure demonstrated that the area was unstable and unsafe, and kept people at least 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) away.
The rivers of lava, up to six meters (nearly 20 feet) high, rolled down hillsides, burning and crushing everything in their path, as they gradually closed in on the island’s more densely populated coast. One was bearing down on Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live, and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.
So far, the eruption has destroyed around 190 houses and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people.
“The truth is that it’s a tragedy to see people losing their properties,” said municipal worker Fernando Díaz in the town of El Paso.
The lava’s advance has slowed to about 120 meters (400 feet) an hour, according to the head of the Canary Island Volcanic Emergency Plan, Miguel Ángel Morcuende, and wasn’t expected to reach the Atlantic Ocean before Wednesday.
Canary Islands government chief Ángel Víctor Torres said “when (the lava) reaches the sea, it will be a critical moment.”
The meeting of the lava, whose temperature exceeds 1,000 degrees Celsius (more than 1,800 F), with a body of water could cause explosions and produce clouds of toxic gas. Torres asked locals to remember the island’s last eruption in 1971, when one person died after inhaling the gas emitted as lava met the water.
A change in the wind direction blew the ashes from the volcano across a vast area on the western side of the island, with the black particles blanketing everything. Volcanic ash is an irritant for the eyes and lungs.
The volcano has also been spewing out between 8,000 and 10,500 tons of sulfur dioxide — which also affects the lungs — every day, the Volcanology Institute said.
Adding to the dangers, the emergence of new cracks in the earth spewing lava cannot be ruled out, said Nemesio Pérez, head of the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, who noted there is “important superficial seismic activity in the area.”
The new fissure that appeared Monday night is 900 meters (3,000 feet) north of the Cumbre Vieja ridge, where the volcano first erupted Sunday after a week of thousands of small earthquakes. That earthquake swarm warned authorities that an eruption was likely and allowed many people to be evacuated, avoiding casualties.
The new fissure opened after what the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said was a 3.8-magnitude quake.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.
Torres described the lava-hit region as a “catastrophe zone” and said he would request money to rebuild roads, water pipes and create temporary accommodations for families who have lost their homes as well as their farmland.
Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are to visit the area on Thursday.

UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign

UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign
Updated 21 September 2021

UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign

UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign
  • #EvacuateHer appeal says women in hiding could face Taliban revenge attacks
  • Ex-judge: ‘Afghanistan is burning and all the women are on fire’

LONDON: A new appeal to provide support to female Afghan judges, lawyers and human rights activists has been launched by UK House of Lords member Helena Kennedy QC.

The #EvacuateHer campaign demands that the UK government provide urgent sanctuary to those groups and their families.

The UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy no longer includes judges in eligibility measures. 

The lobbying group includes several high-profile Afghan women who fled their country and are now based in the UK.

Over the past two decades, about 270 women have sat as judges in Afghanistan, and in their positions have presided over cases that human rights groups warn place them in immediate danger of Taliban “revenge” efforts.

Female Afghan judges have played a key role in changing legal norms in the war-torn country by freeing women from forced or abusive marriages, and protecting the right of girls and women to pursue education and jobs. 

Some have also been involved in the prosecution and imprisonment of Taliban and Daesh members. 

“It was not easy to become a female judge in Afghanistan. But now the Taliban have taken everything from us – our job, our family and our security,” one anonymous judge told The Guardian newspaper.

“I cannot sleep because I am not sure if I will be alive tomorrow. The Taliban can enter my house and kill me at any time.

“They believe it is against Islam for a woman to be a judge. I want the UK government to help us today. Tomorrow may be too late for us.”

Judge Anisa Dhanji, representing the International Association of Women Judges, said: “Our efforts are focused … on the judges who remain in Afghanistan and in trying to help to evacuate them, especially those who, because of their ethnicity, type of work or their individual profiles, are at exceptional risk.

“A group from the IAWJ board and other members have been working in shifts on these efforts for more than a month now. It has been extremely difficult, and often heartbreaking, when after days of intense efforts, hopes are dashed at the last minute, because of one obstacle or another.

“As women judges, they are at particular risk because they have had the temerity to sit in judgments on men. Judges have sent us specific details of the threats they have received, some to the effect that ‘now you have no power, and we will find you’.”

One woman taking part in the lobbying effort, 42-year-old Runna Alizoy, fled Afghanistan to the UK 19 years ago, but her older sister is a senior judge in Afghanistan and is now in hiding.

“It’s hard to put into words my grief for my sister,” she said. “The lives of female judges have been stolen. They say that the Taliban have changed — they have changed. Twenty years ago they whipped women in the street and sent them home. Now they shoot them and send them to their graves.”

Another member of the appeal, UK-based Marzia Babakarkhail — a former judge in Afghanistan who was threatened twice by the Taliban — said: “Afghanistan is burning and all the women are on fire.”


After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror

After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror
Updated 21 September 2021

After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror

After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror
  • Much remains unclear about what happened in that tragic takeoff on Aug. 16, a day after the Taliban swept into Kabul
  • One victim on Aug. 16 was 17-year-old Zaki Anwari, a rising star on Afghanistan’s national soccer team

KABUL, Afghanistan: It’s a scene that has come to symbolize the chaotic end to America’s 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
A lumbering US Air Force cargo plane takes off from Kabul airport, chased by hundreds of desperate Afghan men scrambling to get on the aircraft.
As the C-17 transporter gains altitude, shaky mobile phone video captures two tiny dots dropping from the plane. Footage from another angle shows many in the crowd on the tarmac stopping in their tracks and pointing.
The full extent of the horror becomes apparent only later. The dots, it turns out, were desperate Afghans hidden in the wheel well. As the wheels folded into the body of the plane, the stowaways faced the choice of being crushed to death or letting go and plunging to the ground.
More than a month later, much remains unclear about what happened in that tragic takeoff on Aug. 16, a day after the Taliban swept into Kabul, prompting a flood of Afghans trying to escape the country.
Even how many were killed remains unknown. Videos show two dots falling from the airborne plane, several seconds apart. But two bodies landed on the same rooftop at the same time, suggesting they fell together, so the other figure seen falling in the videos could be at least one other person. Also, the US military has said it found human remains still in the wheel well of the C-17 when it landed in Qatar but did not specify how many people. At least one person, a young soccer player, died on the tarmac, crushed under the C-17’s wheels.
The US military says it has not completed its investigation into the day. It said the C-17 was bringing in supplies for the evacuation effort at the airport but was mobbed by Afghans on the tarmac as it landed. Fearing the plane would be overwhelmed, the crew decided to take off again without unloading the cargo. Videos taken by Afghans on the tarmac show hundreds running alongside it, and perhaps a dozen people sitting on top of the wheel well, though it is not known how many jumped off before the plane lifted off.
One of those tucked into the wheel well was Fida Mohammad, a 24-year-old dentist.
He had once been full of hope, his family said. He had married last year in an extravagant ceremony that cost his family $13,000. His dream of opening a dental clinic in Kabul had become a reality.
Then the Taliban seized Kabul, and all the possibilities for his future seemed to disappear, his father Painda Mohammed told The Associated Press.
The older man still struggles to understand what his son was thinking when he climbed into the wheel well. He’s wracked with guilt, fearing that Fida took such an enormous risk because he wanted to help repay the large loan his father took out for the wedding.
Burying his head in his hands, Painda says he spends hours imagining his son’s final minutes, the fear he must have felt as the earth below him began to disappear and the wheels swung in, knowing he had no choice but to let go.
On the ground, Abdullah Waiz was asleep in his home at the time and was awakened by a powerful noise. His first thought was an explosion. He rushed outside. His neighbors gestured toward his roof and told him of the bodies tumbling from the sky.
Two bodies hit in the same corner of his roof, Waiz said, pointing at the spot, where the concrete was still stained with blood. Waiz believes they were holding hands since they fell in the same location. He collected the remains on a cloth and carried it to a nearby mosque, he said.
“For 48 hours after that, I couldn’t sleep or eat,” he said.
They identified one body as Fida, as he had stuffed his father’s name and number in his pocket. Local media said the second body was identified as a young man named Safiullah Hotak.
For two weeks at the end of August as the United States and its allies wrapped up their presence in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans surged toward the Kabul airport, frantic to escape a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. A 2-year-old child died in the stampede. A Daesh group suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the crowd, killing 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel. Yet even after the explosion, thousands returned to the airport, hoping to make it inside.
The scenes were so traumatic that the US Air Force offered psychological counseling to the air force personnel who worked at Kabul airport, as well as the crew of the ill-fated C-17 flight after it landed at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Another victim on Aug. 16 was 17-year-old Zaki Anwari, a rising star on Afghanistan’s national soccer team. He would spend hours watching his hero Lionel Messi play. “He couldn’t get enough. It was all he talked about, all he did,” said his 20-year-old brother Zakir Anwari.
Zaki was too young to have known the Taliban’s harsh rule of the late 1990s. But as the militant force swept through the provinces, Zaki’s social media were flooded by rumors and horror stories purporting to tell of life under the Taliban.
Last time they ruled, the Taliban banned most sports, including soccer, and routinely rounded up young men at prayer times to force them to the mosque. Zaki was certain his dream of competing internationally on the Afghan team was over.
Zaki went to the airport with an elder brother and a cousin on Aug. 16. He was meant to just watch the car while the cousin, who had worked for an American company, tried to get into the airport. Instead, while they were gone, he climbed over the airport boundary wall.
A breathless Zaki then called his other brother Zakir. He said he was inside the airport and was soon getting onto a plane. Zakir said he pleaded with his brother to not go, reminding him he didn’t have his passport or even his ID card with him and asking him, “What will you do in America?’”
But his younger brother hung up, then called his mother. “Pray for me. I am going to America,” Zaki said. She begged him, “Come home.”
Zaki was no longer listening. He raced alongside the aircraft as it picked up speed until suddenly he was knocked from the side and fell under the wheel and died, witnesses told the family later.
Painda Mohammad, the young dentist’s father, watches over and over videos on his phone showing his son dancing at his wedding.
Through his tears, he said, “He was a gift from God and now God has taken him back.”


Germans shocked by killing of cashier after COVID mask row

Germans shocked by killing of cashier after COVID mask row
Updated 21 September 2021

Germans shocked by killing of cashier after COVID mask row

Germans shocked by killing of cashier after COVID mask row
  • Saturday evening’s killing in Idar-Oberstein hit national headlines as it’s one of the only such cases linked to COVID-19 restrictions
  • Prosecutors said the petrol station cashier had asked a 49-year old man who wanted to buy beer to comply with the rules and put on a mask

BERLIN: German politicians expressed shock on Tuesday over the killing of a 20-year old petrol station worker after an argument about a face mask.
They said that coronavirus deniers who are willing to use violence will not be tolerated.
The killing on Saturday evening in the western town of Idar-Oberstein has hit the national headlines as it is one of the only such cases linked to COVID-19 restrictions.
Prosecutors have said that the petrol station cashier had asked a 49-year old man who wanted to buy beer to comply with the rules and put on a mask.
The customer refused and left but returned later wearing a mask which he pulled down when he approached the cashier who again referred to the rules.
“Then the perpetrator pulled a revolver and shot the cashier in the head from the front. The victim fell to the floor and was immediately dead,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters.
The suspect later gave himself up at a police station, saying the coronavirus measures were causing him stress, said Furhmann. He is being detained.
The killing took place a week before a federal election in which the far-right AfD has tried to woo voters with an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine campaign. The party, on around 11 percent in polls, harbors many coronavirus deniers.
On Tuesday, politicians responded to messages circulating on social media from far-right groups and so-called ‘Querdenker’ (lateral thinkers) who deny the coronavirus which showed sympathy toward the killer.
“The hate and incitement coming from these people who can’t be taught divides our community and kills people. They have no place in our society,” tweeted Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who said Querdenker were celebrating the killing.
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said it was disgusting how the killing had been misused to fuel hatred.
“The state must counter the radicalization of coronavirus deniers who are willing to use violence with all possible means,” she said.


UK cannot accept every eligible Afghan refugee: Defense minister

UK cannot accept every eligible Afghan refugee: Defense minister
Updated 21 September 2021

UK cannot accept every eligible Afghan refugee: Defense minister

UK cannot accept every eligible Afghan refugee: Defense minister
  • James Heappey: ‘We have every confidence that we’ll be able to help those that need help’
  • Govt facing questions over Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy after Kabul evacuation

LONDON: The UK cannot accept all Afghans who helped British forces during the country’s two-decade-long war, Defense Minister James Heappey said as states across Europe accept a wave of refugees in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

In Parliament, he said it is “not possible” for everyone considered at risk to be granted assistance under Britain’s new Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy.

His comments were delivered in response to MP Clive Efford, who said he knows of people who have “assisted our operations in Afghanistan” and who are eligible for the scheme, but had been denied. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier this month amid Kabul evacuation efforts that the UK would help “Afghan friends of this country who guided, translated and served with our soldiers and officials, proving their courage and loyalty beyond doubt, sometimes in the heat of battle.”

But Heappey, on behalf of the government, said: “I know that’s a disappointment to many MPs who are working hard to support people who are in Afghanistan, and who they consider to be at risk. But it’s not possible for us to bring out everybody who has had a connection with the UK armed forces under the ARAP scheme. That’s why the terms were sent out as tightly as they were.”

He added that about 15,000 people, including UK service members and British and Afghan nationals, had been transported to the UK following the evacuation of Kabul. 

But hundreds of Afghans formally accepted under ARAP who were not airlifted out have been told they can travel to the UK through other means.

The British government said it will allow 20,000 Afghan refugees to “start a new life in safety” in the UK. That figure is in addition to the Afghans evacuated under ARAP.

Heappey said: “It’ll take some time for the dust to settle on exactly who’s out and who we’ve yet to bring out, but we’re still working very hard to do so. The security situation is dynamic, our partnerships in the region are being developed, but we have every confidence that we’ll be able to help those that need help.”