Bangladesh takes Eid break from Covid lockdown

Bangladesh takes Eid break from Covid lockdown
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Muslims offer prayers on the morning of Eid-ul-Adha at Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 21, 2021. Eid Al-Adha. (AP)
Bangladesh takes Eid break from Covid lockdown
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Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) members stand guard as people come to offer prayers to mark the start of the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha or the 'Festival of Sacrifice, in Dhaka on July 21, 2021. (AFP)
Bangladesh takes Eid break from Covid lockdown
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People offer prayers to mark the start of the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha or the 'Festival of Sacrifice, in Dhaka on July 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 21 July 2021

Bangladesh takes Eid break from Covid lockdown

Bangladesh takes Eid break from Covid lockdown
  • The government has lifted a strict lockdown for a week to allow millions to head back to their villages for Eid Al-Adha
  • On Wednesday, the streets of Dhaka took on a festive look, with people in traditional clothing hugging each other

DHAKA: Tens of millions of Bangladeshis defied a Covid-19 surge on Wednesday to join prayers in packed mosques and outdoor locations, as Muslims slaughtered record numbers of animals for the festival Eid Al-Adha.
The government has lifted a strict lockdown for a week to allow millions to head back to their villages for the second-largest religious festival in the Muslim-majority country.
The South Asian nation of 169 million people, where two-thirds live in villages, has been hit by a major surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in recent weeks that shows little sign of abating.
This is despite a tough lockdown in place since July 1 shutting down transport, offices and deploying the military to stop people leaving for their homes except for emergencies and essential supplies.
More than a million Bangladeshis have now been infected and over 18,000 have died — figures seen as a gross undercount. The surge has been blamed largely on the Delta variant first detected in neighboring India.
On Wednesday, the streets of Dhaka took on a festive look, with people in traditional clothing hugging each other and watching butchers as they slaughtered cows and goats for the three-day celebration.
Iftekhar Hossain, a spokesman for the livestock ministry, told AFP “a record 11.9 million cows, goats, buffaloes and lambs have been readied for sacrifice this Eid.”
He said authorities have launched an app to facilitate online animal sales as they want to cut crowds in the cattle markets to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“A record 387,000 cows and goats have been sold online,” he said.
The Eid Al-Adha animal sale is a $10 billion industry and is one of the key drivers of the economy in rural Bangladesh.
It is a key reason the government lifted the lockdown to allow cattle farmers to bring their animals to the cities.
Mohammad Ali, a farmer, said: “Last year we had to struggle due to the lockdown. This year again, if the lockdown wasn’t lifted, we along with our families would have to die starving.”
Ali came to Dhaka with 20 cows from the western border district of Kushtia.
On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of people thronged the Gabtoli cattle market, the largest in the capital, deep into the night for last-minute purchases of animals.
“This is a difficult time. But sacrificing an animal during Eid is mandatory. Being a follower of Islam, how can I deny that? That’s why I came to the market to buy a cow,” Yasir Arafat, 39, a banker and a buyer, told AFP.


COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney
Updated 51 min 19 sec ago

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney
  • Victoria’s 5 million residents will be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen
  • Highly infectious Delta variant took hold in the New South Wales capital of Sydney

CANBERRA/SYDNEY: Australia’s Victoria state said on Tuesday it will end lockdown after curtailing the spread of COVID-19, but neighboring New South Wales faced a four-week extension of restrictions according to media reports after new cases hit a 16-month peak.
More than half of Australia’s near 26 million population has been in lockdown in recent weeks after an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant took hold in the New South Wales capital of Sydney and spread to three states.
New South Wales reported 172 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, up from 145 a day earlier, with at least 60 spending time in the community while infectious.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a decision whether to lift the five-week lockdown will be taken this week, and local media later reported the state would announce a four-week extension of the order on Wednesday. With less than 13 percent of the state’s population fully vaccinated, curbs are expected to stay.
“We know we’ve put in the hard yards for five weeks and we don’t want to waste all the good work that we’ve done by opening too early and then having the virus spread again,” Berejiklian told a media conference.
A spokesperson was not immediately available to confirm the media reports about the planned lockdown extension.
In contrast, Victoria state said most restrictions imposed on July 15 will be removed from Wednesday after recording just 10 infections of people already in quarantine.
“All in all, this is a good day,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Victoria’s 5 million residents will be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen, though households will not be permitted to have visitors.
South Australia said it will also lift a lockdown on Wednesday after it recorded zero COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours.
Lockdowns have raised the prospect of Australia recording its second recession in as many years, though Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday talk of this was premature.
Frydenberg said last week the country’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy is expected to shrink in the latest GDP figures, with lockdowns costing about A$300 million daily.
Easing lockdowns will soften the economic toll, but New South Wales is Australia’s biggest state economy and accounts for about a third of national output.
Swift contact tracing, tough social distancing rules and lockdowns have helped Australia to keep its COVID-19 numbers low, with just under 33,100 cases and 920 deaths since the pandemic first appeared in early 2020.
The outbreak in Sydney, however, has seen a wave of hospitalizations and 10 deaths in recent weeks.
New South Wales said 169 people are in hospital with the virus, of which 46 are in intensive care.
Amid heightened concerns about hospitalizations of younger people, Australia has urged people to take AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after struggling to secure enough supplies of Pfizer’s inoculations.
Authorities had previously recommended only over 60s should take the AstraZeneca shot after rare but serious blood clotting cases.


Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases
Updated 27 July 2021

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases
  • The rise in cases threatens to further erode support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
  • It also spells trouble for the Olympics, as many Japanese fear the influx of athletes and officials for the event could add to the surge
TOKYO: Tokyo’s 2,848 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday were the Olympic host city’s highest since the pandemic began, officials said, as media reported that authorities had asked hospitals to prepare more beds for patients as the Delta variant drives the surge.
The rise in cases threatens to further erode support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose ratings have slid to their lowest level since he took office last September, in large part because of his haphazard handling of the pandemic.
It also spells trouble for the Olympics, as many Japanese fear the influx of athletes and officials for the event could add to the surge. About 31 percent in a survey by the Nikkei daily on Monday said the Games should be canceled or postponed again.
“It’s the Delta variant,” said Kenji Shibuya, a former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, explaining the swift recent surge.
Shibuya added it was impossible to quantify to what extent the Olympics contributed to the surge but blamed the global sports showpiece as “one of the major driving forces.”
“The government has sent signals that people are supposed to stay home at the same time they celebrate the Games. It’s a totally inconsistent message,” said Shibuya, who is now running the vaccine roll-out in a town in northern Japan.
Japan has avoided the devastating outbreaks suffered by other nations such as India, Indonesia and the United States, but the fifth wave of the pandemic fueled by the Delta variant is piling pressure on Tokyo’s hospitals.
By Sunday, only 20.8 percent of the Japanese capital’s 12,635 COVID-19 patients had been able to obtain hospital treatment, government data showed. A government advisory panel says that if the ratio falls below the threshold of 25 percent, a state of emergency should be triggered.
In anticipation of the surge and considering the tough hospital situation, Tokyo has already declared a fourth state of emergency this month to run until after the Olympics.
In a last-minute change of heart, Japan also made the unprecedented decision to hold the Games, postponed from last year by the pandemic, without spectators to stem the spread of the virus.
As hospitals admit more patients, the city aims to boost the number of beds to 6,406 by early next month from 5,967 now, broadcaster TBS said.
Hospitals should look at pushing back planned surgery and scaling down other treatments, the broadcaster said, citing a notice to medical institutions from city authorities.
Health experts had warned that seasonal factors, increased mobility, and the spread of variants would lead to a rebound in COVID-19 cases this summer.
While vaccinations boost protection for the oldest citizens most likely to need emergency care, just 36 percent of the population has received at least one dose, a Reuters vaccination tracker shows.
The inoculation push has recently ebbed amid logistical snags after having picked up steam last month from a sluggish start.
Voter support for Suga slid nine points to 34 percent, its lowest since he took office last September, a July 23-25 Nikkei business daily survey showed on Monday.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said the country’s rollout of coronavirus vaccinations was not going well.
Suga’s term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president expires in September and his LDP-led coalition faces an election for parliament’s powerful lower house, which must be held by November.
About a third in the Nikkei survey wanted the Games postponed again or canceled, while more than half said Japan’s border steps for incoming Olympics athletes and officials were “inappropriate.”
Despite tight quarantine rules for the Games, 155 cases have emerged involving athletes and others.
A strict “playbook” of rules to avoid contagion requires frequent virus testing, restricted movement and masks worn in most situations.

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site
Updated 27 July 2021

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site
  • Police in nearby Cologne said they did not have any information on the cause or size of the explosion

BERLIN:  Five people were missing and several injured after an explosion rocked an industrial park in the western German city of Leverkusen on Tuesday, sending up plumes of smoke and prompting police to ask nearby residents to remain in their homes.
The explosion happened at 9.40 a.m. local time (0740 GMT), causing a fire at a fuel depot at Chempark, an industrial park for chemicals companies including Bayer and Lanxess , Chempark operator Currenta said.
Several staff were hurt, with at least two seriously injured, and five people were missing, Currenta said, adding it was not yet clear what caused the explosion and the subsequent fire.
Sirens and emergency alerts on the German civil protection agency's mobile phone app warned citizens of "extreme danger".
Police asked nearby residents to remain indoors and keep doors and windows closed. Currenta said they should also turn off air conditioning systems while it measured the air around the site for possible toxic gas.
Several nearby motorways were closed, and police said drivers should take detours to avoid the area.
More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, including Covestro, Bayer, Lanxess and Arlanxeo, according to its website.
Bayer and Lanxess in 2019 sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets for an enterprise value of 3.5 billion euros ($4.12 billion).


US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China
Updated 27 July 2021

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China

US Defense Secretary says committed to stable, constructive relationship with China
  • A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States

SINGAPORE: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday he was committed to having a constructive relationship with China and working on common challenges as he laid out his vision for ties with Beijing, which have sunk to their lowest point in decades.
The United States has put countering China at the heart of its national security policy for years and President Joe Biden’s administration has called rivalry with Beijing “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century.
While Austin’s speech in Singapore will touch on the usual list of behavior Washington describes as destabilizing, from Taiwan to the South China Sea, his comments about seeking a stable relationship could provide an opening for the two countries to start to reduce tension.
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened. Yet we do not seek confrontation,” Austin said, according to excerpts of his speech.
“I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.”
Austin has been unable to speak with any senior Chinese official despite repeated attempts since starting as defense secretary in January.
Even with the tension and heated rhetoric, US military officials have long sought to keep open lines of communication with their Chinese counterparts, to be able to mitigate potential flare-ups or tackle any accidents.
A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States, accusing it of creating an “imaginary enemy” to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-ranked US diplomat, had arrived on Sunday for the face-to-face meetings in China’s northern city of Tianjin.
“Big powers need to model transparency and communication,” Austin said.
Austin’s speech, which was postponed by a month because of Singapore’s COVID-19 outbreak, is being closely watched by regional nations concerned about China’s increasingly assertive behavior but heavily reliant on access to its large markets.
He is set to visit Vietnam and the Philippines later this week to emphasize the importance of alliances.


NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
Updated 27 July 2021

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan

NATO chief urges ‘negotiated settlement’ in Afghanistan
  • Country faces a ‘deeply challenging’ security situation as foreign troops leave

BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday reiterated calls for a “negotiated settlement” with the Taliban in Afghanistan, admitting the country faced a “deeply challenging” security situation as foreign troops leave.
“The security situation in Afghanistan remains deeply challenging, and requires a negotiated settlement. NATO will continue to support Afghanistan, including with funding; civilian presence; and out-of-country training,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter after speaking to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.