Bangladesh lifts coronavirus lockdown to celebrate, exasperating experts

Bangladesh lifts coronavirus lockdown to celebrate, exasperating experts
Around 30 million to 40 million people will gather for prayers in mosques or open fields across Bangladesh for the Eid Al-Adha festival on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 19 July 2021

Bangladesh lifts coronavirus lockdown to celebrate, exasperating experts

Bangladesh lifts coronavirus lockdown to celebrate, exasperating experts
  • Suspension panned by health experts who warn it could exacerbate an ongoing surge fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant

DHAKA: Waiting among hundreds of fellow travelers to catch a ferry out of Bangladesh’s capital, unemployed construction worker Mohammed Nijam knew he was risking catching the coronavirus, but he felt it was even riskier to stay in Dhaka with another lockdown looming.
“I have to pay rent every month even though I have no work,” he said, adding that his landlord had been bothering him for money even as he was struggling just to feed himself. “I’d rather go to my village home and lead life as God lets me.”
Nijam is among the tens of millions of Bangladeshis shopping and traveling this week during a controversial eight-day pause in the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown that the government is allowing for the Islamic festival Eid-Al Adha. The suspension has been panned by health experts who warn it could exacerbate an ongoing surge fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, which was first detected in neighboring India.
“Already there is a scarcity of beds, ICUs, while our health care providers are exhausted,” said said Be-Nazir Ahmed, a public health expert and former chief of the government’s Health Directorate. “So if the situation worsens and more patients come to hospitals, it will be near impossible to deal with the crisis.”
With the spread of the virus rampant, most everything in Bangladesh was ordered shut on July 1, from markets to mass transportation. Soldiers and border guards patrolled the streets and thousands were arrested and sent to jail for violating the lockdown.
Yet even with the new restrictions, virus deaths still hovered around 200 each day and daily infections were still around 11,000, both thought to be undercounts. On Sunday, 225 deaths and 11,758 infections were reported.
Despite the warnings from experts — and with just over 4 million of the country’s 160 million people fully vaccinated — the government announced that from July 15-23, all restrictions would be lifted and everything would be reopened so people could celebrate the festival, which is normally a boon to the economy.
“But, in all situations people must stay alert, use face masks and strictly follow health instructions,” a government policy statement said.
Government officials have not responded to criticism of the move. An official with the Ministry of Public Administration, which issued the order pausing the lockdown, referred The Associated Press to the policy statement when asked for comment. Calls and emails to a spokesperson with the Health Ministry were not returned.
A junior minister from the Ministry of Public Administration, Farhad Hossain, told local media on Saturday that the lockdown needed to be eased as a lot of business revolves around the festival.
The result in the capital has been crowds of people jamming into malls and markets to do their holiday shopping and others thronging ports and bus stations as they try to make their way to their rural hometowns.
During the last major Islamic festival in May, an estimated 10 million of Dhaka’s 20 million residents left to celebrate with their families. A similar number could travel this week, especially since many like Nijam, the construction worker, may be looking to wait out the next lockdown in their villages.
Among the huge crowd of people shopping at Dhaka’s New Market, was Shah Alam, a dental technician.
“As the government has relaxed the situation for a few days, we are coming to markets to buy necessary goods,” Alam said. “We are trying to follow the health safety guidelines.”
Ahmed, the health expert, said he sees the main risks of suspending the lockdown as people from the city spreading the virus to their villages and people spreading the virus while they pack into markets for their shopping, especially cattle markets where millions of people will buy animals to sacrifice for Eid-al Adha.
“Maybe hundreds of thousands of cattle markets will be arranged throughout the country starting from remote village up to city, and the cattle sellers and others engaged in the business are mainly coming from rural areas, and possibly they will bring virus with them,” he said.
According to his estimates, 30 million to 40 million people will gather for prayers in mosques or open fields across the country for the festival on Wednesday.
“The Eid congregations are going to be a superspreading event,” he said.
He said the month after the festival will be a critical time for a country that has already tallied nearly 1.1 million infections and nearly 18,000 deaths from the pandemic.
“We may not actually avoid a catastrophic situation,” he said.


Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

Updated 13 sec ago

Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland
WARSAW: Four people were killed and 18 injured in a storm that battered Poland with hurricane-force winds on Thursday night, authorities said, damaging properties and felling trees across western and central areas of the country.
Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged, private broadcaster TVN24 reported, with the western region of Lubuskie and the central Lodzkie region hardest hit.
“The storm was terrible, it broke the sheet metal and took it from one part of the roof to the other side of the house,” Krzysztof Kolczynski, whose house in the village of Maszkowice in central Poland was damaged in the storm, told TVN24.
“It’s good that there were chimneys, otherwise it would have torn off the entire roof.”
In the south-western city of Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car.
“Wroclaw police received a report about a tree that fell on a moving vehicle,” said police officer Pawel Noga. “Unfortunately, it was confirmed on the spot that two people in the car were killed in the incident.”
The Polish meteorological office issued fresh storm warnings for Friday evening, with the north of the country expected to face the strongest winds.

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer
Updated 13 min 50 sec ago

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer
  • Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of ‘Rust,’ and Joel Souza, the film’s director
  • Baldwin was seen ‘distraught and in tears’ as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office in Santa Fe

Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun on a movie set in New Mexico on Thursday, authorities said.
Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of “Rust,” and Joel Souza, the film’s director, at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe, according to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department.
Hutchins was transported by helicopter to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Souza was taken by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical center to undergo treatment for his injuries. The severity of his injuries could not immediately be determined.
Actress Frances Fisher said on Twitter that “Souza texted me that he’s out of hospital.” Asked whether Souza had been discharged, medical center spokesperson Arturo Delgado said he was not allowed to release information about patients.
The Sheriff’s office said that no charges have been filed and they are investigating the shooting and interviewing witnesses.
“The investigation remains open and active,” the Sherrif’s office said in a statement.
Entertainment news site cited a source in the Sheriff’s office as saying that Baldwin was questioned by investigators and later released.
Baldwin went to the sheriff’s office willingly and provided a statement to investigators, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, citing spokesperson Juan Rios.
Deputies were still trying to determine whether what happened was an accident, the newspaper added. Rios did not immediately respond to requests for information from Reuters.
Baldwin’s representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Earlier on Thursday, news magazine People reported that a spokesperson for Baldwin had said there was an “accident” involving the “misfire of a prop gun with blanks.”
Baldwin was seen “distraught and in tears” as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office headquarters on Thursday, the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote.
Baldwin, 63, is a co-producer of “Rust,” a Western movie set in 1880s Kansas, and plays the eponymous character who is an outlaw grandfather of a 13-year-old boy convicted of an accidental killing.
Production of the film had been halted for an “undetermined period,” several news outlets quoted the film’s production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, as saying.
An email to an address for the film production, which was listed on a New Mexico government statement, went unanswered.
The shooting evoked memories of an on-set accident in 1993 when US actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died aged 28 after being fatally wounded by a prop gun filming “The Crow.”
“Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust’. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period,” said a tweet from Lee’s account, which is handled by his sister.
Earlier on Thursday, Baldwin posted a picture of himself on Instagram sporting a grey beard and dressed in Western cowboy-style attire in front of trailers. He appeared to have a fake blood stain on his shirt and jacket.
“Back to in person at the office. Blimey ... it’s exhausting,” he wrote. The post was deleted late on Thursday night.
Known for his impersonations of former US President Donald Trump on NBC’s comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live,” Baldwin has a long history in film and television, including roles in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “30 Rock.”
Baldwin was charged in 2018 after a fight over a New York parking spot. He pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment and agreed to participate in an anger management program.
In 2014, he was given a summons for disorderly conduct after an argument with police who stopped him from riding his bike down a one-way street in New York. And in 2011, he was thrown off a plane for refusing to stop playing the game “Words with Friends” before take-off.
Hutchins, 42, who was originally from Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, once worked as an investigative reporter in Europe, according to her website.
She graduated from the American Film Institute in 2015 and was selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019, according to her website biography.
She described herself as a “Restless Dreamer” and an “Adrenaline junkie” on her Instagram page.
Her last post, two days ago, shows her grinning under a wide-brimmed hat as she rides a horse. “One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off:)” she captioned the video.
April Wright, a writer, director and producer, paid tribute to her on Facebook.
“I’m in disbelief,” wrote Wright. “So young, vibrant, and talented. Such a wonderful soul. My heart goes out to her son and family.”
Representatives for Hutchins did not immediately respond to a request for information about her death.
Souza, 48, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children, according to the IMDB website. His LinkedIn page credits him as the “writer/director” of action film Crown Vic and comedy Christmas Trade.
“This is still an active investigation and we do not yet have all the facts,” said SAG-AFTRA, which describes itself as the world’s biggest labor union representing performers and broadcasters.
“We will continue to work with production, the other unions, and the authorities to investigate this incident and to understand how to prevent such a thing from happening again.”


MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess
Updated 49 min 31 sec ago

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess
  • Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is accused of murder and preparing acts of terrorism in a Daesh-inspired attack
  • The attack has prompted a re-think of security for British parliamentarians

LONDON: The man accused of murdering British parliamentarian Sir David Amess had also planned attacks on two other politicians, a court heard on Wednesday.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is alleged to have spent two years plotting an act of terrorism before he finally killed Sir David last Friday, in what prosecutors will argue was a Daesh-inspired attack.

He is said to have spied on two other members of parliament this year, scoping out their homes, constituency meetings and their movements at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Ali was charged with murder on Wednesday over the fatal stabbing of Sir David, as well as preparing acts of terrorism between May 2019 and September this year.

It is understood that prosecutors will allege that Ali, a British man of Somali descent, may have targeted his victim because of his record of voting on Syrian airstrikes, the Times reported.

Ali allegedly contacted Sir David asking for an appointment at in his constituency surgery, claiming he was moving to the area and needed advice. James Cable, for the prosecution, said Ali traveled by train from his home in London to Southend, where Sir David was the local MP.

British MPs run regular open, accessible meetings with members of the public called surgeries. The government has said it will now offer to provide security at those surgeries in future.

Nick Price, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”

Police have said the investigation into the killing continues and have called on the public to come forward if they have relevant information.

Matt Jukes, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, said: “A large team of detectives have been working around the clock to find out as much as we can about what happened and why. If there are members of the public who have further information that might help the investigation, I urge them to come forward.”


Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit
Updated 22 October 2021

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit
  • The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland
  • She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year

LONDON: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was back at Windsor Castle on Friday and in good spirits after revelations that she spent the night in a London hospital earlier this week.
Buckingham Palace said the 95-year-old British monarch went to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London on Wednesday for “preliminary investigations.” She returned to her Windsor Castle home at lunchtime on Thursday and was understood to be back at her desk by afternoon, undertaking light duties.
The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, and the palace said she had “reluctantly” accepted medical advice to rest for a few days. The matter was not related to COVID-19.
The palace does not normally offer a running account of the monarch’s health, citing her privacy. However, in this case it confirmed the queen’s hospital stay after The Sun newspaper reported the news.
On the whole, there is a rule of thumb is that if a senior member of the royal family undergoes a procedure or an operation, there is a medical bulletin, royal expert Robert Hardman told the BBC. But that doesn’t apply to tests.
The attention paid to the development merely reflects the great affection the global community has for the monarch, said Hardman, author of “Queen of the World,” which chronicles the monarch’s influence and stature around the globe.
“She hates people making a fuss of her in general but particularly to do with health,” he told the BBC. “And I think there’s a concern to sort of maintain the dignity of the office, and I know that one reason why nothing was said about yesterday’s trip to hospital was that they sort of didn’t suddenly want sort of huge banks of cameras and 24-hour news setting up outside the hospital.”
There has been some disquiet this week about Elizabeth’s health. Only days ago, she was seen using a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity. Though she had used a cane in 2003, it was after she underwent knee surgery.
Focus then turned to her hectic schedule, which has in recent days included audiences with diplomats, a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders, and attending the horse race at Ascot Racecourse.
In less than two weeks she is due to host world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland — a big engagement cited as one reason why she might want to rest up in advance.
Though Elizabeth has enjoyed robust health throughout her life, she is Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch. She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.
Elizabeth has ruled since 1952 and was widowed this year when Prince Philip died at age 99 in April. She has cut back on her workload in recent years but still keeps a busy schedule of royal duties.
She recently declined the honor of being named “Oldie of the Year” by The Oldie magazine. Her office said that “Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept.”


New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region

New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region
Updated 22 October 2021

New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region

New airstrikes hit capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region
NAIROBI: Ethiopia's government says it has again carried out airstrikes in the capital of the country's Tigray region. It's the fourth time this week as a nearly year-long war intensifies.
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu tells The Associated Press that Friday's strikes targeted a former military training center near Mekele that's now serving as a “battle network hub” for the rival Tigray forces.
Residents in Mekele confirmed the strikes. One said they occurred near Mekele University. There was no immediate information on any casualties.
Spokesmen for the Tigray forces have denied that sites targeted earlier this week were used in relation to the fighting. Health workers and other residents have said at least three children have been killed and more than a dozen people injured.
Thousands of people have been killed since November, when a political falling-out between the Tigray forces who long dominated the national government and the current administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed erupted in fighting.
Tigray's 6 million people are now under a government blockade, while Tigray forces in recent months have taken the fighting into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. The United Nations says more than 2 million people are now displaced.
On Thursday, Ethiopia's government claimed to a successful strike against another military base used by the Tigray forces near Mekele, but Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda asserted that air defenses prevented the plane from hitting targets in the city.
An airstrike on Wednesday hit an industrial compound the government said was used by the Tigray forces to repair weapons. A Tigray spokesman denied the site had military significance and said it was used to produce cars and tractors.
Two other airstrikes hit the city on Monday.
Tigray remains under a communications blackout, making it difficult to verify claims.
The strikes came amid reports of renewed heavy fighting in Amhara, despite repeated international calls for a cease-fire in the war. On Wednesday, spokesman Getachew claimed advances had put the government-held towns of Dessie and Kombolcha “within artillery range,” prompting alarm.
Dessie hosts a large number of displaced people who have fled fighting further north.