Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections
Migrants and workers return to the capital city after the Bangladeshi government decided to reopen export industries amid lockdown. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 04 August 2021

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections

Delta variant blamed for Bangladeshi surge in COVID-19 infections
  • Ramped-up vaccination drive crucial to curbing the outbreak, officials say

DHAKA: More than 50 percent of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections and nearly 44 percent of virus-related deaths across Bangladesh have been traced to the highly transmissible delta variant of the disease, health authorities confirmed on Tuesday.

The government’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on Monday said over 15,000 infections and 246 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 1,280,317 and death toll to 21,500 since the pandemic began in March last year.

“Some of our organisations, including the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), conducted genome sequencing on small-sized samples. It shows that more than 50 percent of recent infections are caused by the delta (variant),” Dr. Mushtuq Hussain, an adviser to the IEDCR, told Arab News, adding: “Of the recent deaths, around 44 percent were infected with the delta variant.”

The worrying trend comes amid several warnings by health experts that the outbreak might worsen after authorities relaxed the COVID-19 curbs ahead of the Eid Al-Adha festival in late July.

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis traveled from various cities, including the capital Dhaka, to their home villages before lockdown was reimposed for two more weeks until Aug. 5.

Speaking to reporters at the time, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the crisis was “most difficult,” citing a nearly 90 percent occupancy rate at hospitals, before calling upon the public to follow health restrictions to curb the outbreak.

“We failed to follow the health safety protocols and the lockdown initiative also failed miserably since factories and banks were in operation during those days,” Prof. Robed Amin, a DGHS spokesperson, told Arab News.

“Most people were reluctant to comply with health safety measures, especially wearing masks while going outside. We should have engaged people more in building awareness in this regard,” he said, adding that a strict lockdown was necessary to “reap good results.”

Bangladesh, which shares a long border with India, began experiencing an upward trend in delta variant cases in mid-May, which peaked two months later as the country started recording more than 200 daily deaths in the first week of July.

Dr. Hussain said that while the variant has impacted eight bordering districts, Dhaka remains the “worst affected.”

“If the current trend continues, it may take a couple of weeks to reduce the infection rate,” he said.

However, despite a surge in delta variant cases rattling several parts of the country, Hussain said Bangladesh was “still doing better than other regional countries” grappling with the pandemic.

“Compared to neighboring India, Nepal, and some other regional countries, Bangladesh is not lagging in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. In India, it took three months to contain the surge caused by delta,” he said.

In April, the South Asian nation of nearly 170 million was forced to suspend its nationwide inoculation drive after a halt in exports of the AstraZeneca jabs from India. Bangladesh resumed the vaccination campaign with China’s Sinopharm and the Pfizer vaccine supplied by the Covax facility, a global vaccine sharing initiative.

However, less than 3 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 1.

Prof. Amin said it was imperative to achieve herd immunity against the deadly virus with a “massive vaccination drive.”

“If we can inoculate around 10 million people per month according to the plan which will begin from next Saturday, the infection rate will reduce soon,” he said.

“In the next two months, we will be able to inoculate around 20 million people with the vaccines sourced from the Covax initiative and purchased by the Bangladesh government.”


Blinken, Egypt’s FM hold talks in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
Updated 34 sec ago

Blinken, Egypt’s FM hold talks in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
  • According to the US State Department, they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of common interest. 

The meeting took place in New York, where Shoukry is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

His spokesman Ahmed Hafez said the meeting with Blinken covered the most prominent political, security and economic aspects of bilateral relations, as well as ways to strengthen cooperation in various important fields. Both sides agreed on the need to overcome any obstacles that might hinder bilateral relations.

According to the US State Department, they also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic efforts on Libya and the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, an organization set up by various Middle Eastern and European countries. 


US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes

US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes
Updated 23 September 2021

US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes

US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes
  • "This is an issue that several committees are going to look at, and we've already started to do that," Representative Adam Schiff told reporters
  • The US military apologized on Friday for the Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that killed as many as 10 civilians

WASHINGTON: A senior US Democrat said on Thursday that multiple congressional committees will investigate a drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians last month, to determine what went wrong and answer questions about future counterterrorism strategy.
“This is an issue that several committees are going to look at, and we’ve already started to do that,” Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters.
The US military apologized on Friday for the Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that killed as many as 10 civilians, including seven children, calling it a “tragic mistake.”
The Pentagon had said the strike targeted a Daesh suicide bomber who posed an imminent threat to US-led troops as they completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The intelligence failure raised hard questions about future risks, particularly whether the United States can keep track of threats from Afghanistan without a presence in the country.
“Particularly as we are going to be moving to an over-the-horizon strategy, we need to understand exactly what went wrong and what that means in terms of the limits of what we are able to do,” Schiff told a meeting with journalists sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
“Over-the-horizon” refers to counterterrorism efforts from outside Afghanistan, such as drone strikes from bases located 1,000 miles from their targets.
The confirmation of civilian deaths provided further fuel to critics of the chaotic US withdrawal, which generated the biggest foreign policy crisis yet for President Joe Biden’s administration.
Many of Biden’s fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans, have criticized the conduct of the withdrawal. Congressional committees have scheduled hearings with top administration officials.
Schiff said he backed the withdrawal. “We can’t occupy everywhere,” he said. “Today there is a greater risk in other parts of the world than there is in Afghanistan.”


US implores Iran to return to nuke talks without delay

US implores Iran to return to nuke talks without delay
Updated 23 September 2021

US implores Iran to return to nuke talks without delay

US implores Iran to return to nuke talks without delay
  • A senior administration official said Thursday that US patience is wearing thin
  • While Iran has said it is ready to rejoin the talks, it has not yet offered a date for a resumption

NEW YORK: The Biden administration is imploring Iran to quickly return to talks on its nuclear program after a three-month hiatus caused by its government transition, warning that the window for negotiations may soon close.
A senior administration official said Thursday that US patience is wearing thin and that further delays while Iran continues to expand its atomic capabilities could lead Washington and its partners to conclude a return to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal is no longer worthwhile.
The official, who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified by name, spoke as diplomats from the remaining parties to the agreement have been meeting Iran’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly to gauge Tehran’s willingness to return to the talks in Vienna.
While Iran has said it is ready to rejoin the talks, it has not yet offered a date for resumption, named a negotiating team or indicated that it is willing to pick up where the negotiations left off in June, according to the US official.
In discussions with representatives from the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union — the official said all of them had agreed on the importance of resuming the talks as soon as possible.
If the talks don’t resume, the official said the US would at some point determine that Iran was no longer interested in the benefits that the accord offered or that its recent technological advances could not be undone by the limits it imposed.
The UN’s atomic watchdog has said Iran is increasingly in violation of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, which former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from in 2018. The US has participated indirectly in the Vienna talks, which were aimed at bringing both Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the deal.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, met Tuesday with Iran’s new foreign minister, who reiterated Tehran’s “willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the EU said. Borrell met Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Borrell stressed “the need for full cooperation” from Iran and reiterated his concern about the overall trajectory of the Iranian nuclear program,” the EU statement said.
The last round of talks in Vienna ended in June, ahead of Iran’s elections that boosted the ranks of hard-liners. There had been speculation that the remaining parties to the deal would meet on the sidelines of this week’s UN General Assembly. But the US official said Iran had declined the opportunity to meet.


UK marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran

UK marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran
Updated 23 September 2021

UK marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran

UK marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was originally sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her supporters and rights groups deny the charge

LONDON: The UK is working “tirelessly” to secure the return of a British-Iranian mother held in Iran, the new foreign secretary said on Thursday.
Liz Truss said she “pressed” her Iranian counterpart on Wednesday regarding the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, “and will continue to press until she returns home.”
Truss and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly, which is taking place in New York.
“Today marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s cruel separation from her family,” Truss said. “She is going through an appalling ordeal.
“We are working tirelessly to secure her return home to her family.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a former Thomson Reuters Foundation employee, was detained in Tehran in April 2016 and sentenced a few months later to five years in prison on spying charges.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and daughter, Gabriella, set up a large, interactive snakes and ladders board in Parliament Square on Thursday to symbolize that they have been caught between both governments.
“She (Truss) has met with the Iranian foreign minister, she has been raising Nazanin’s case, there’s been acknowledgement, so it’s felt like, OK, we’re not forgotten and probably after 2,000 days there’s always ups and downs, and drift and things just passing by without anything moving,” Ratcliffe said.
He said he hoped that Nazanin will be home soon, but said in the meantime, both he and his daughter are “holding up.”
Earlier this week he said he had spoken with Truss about the case.
The campaign to free his wife has called on the British government to take tough measures, such as sanctioning individuals, to protect people from what they describe as state-sanctioned hostage taking.


Sri Lanka shaman dies of COVID-19 after touting ‘blessed’ water cure

Sri Lanka shaman dies of COVID-19 after touting ‘blessed’ water cure
Updated 23 September 2021

Sri Lanka shaman dies of COVID-19 after touting ‘blessed’ water cure

Sri Lanka shaman dies of COVID-19 after touting ‘blessed’ water cure
  • Eliyantha White treated sports stars and top politicians including the country’s prime minister
  • But mainstream doctors described White as a fraud and Ayurveda physicians rejected his claims

COLOMBO: A high-profile shaman who tried to end Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 outbreak with “blessed” water has died of the virus, his family said Thursday.
Eliyantha White, 48, who treated sports stars and top politicians including the country’s prime minister, claimed in November he could end the pandemic in Sri Lanka and neighboring India by pouring pots of his “blessed” water into rivers.
Health minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi endorsed the water treatment, but was infected two months later and ended up in a hospital intensive care unit.
She was later demoted, and lost her portfolio, but remains in the cabinet.
White attracted international attention in 2010 when legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar publicly thanked him for treating a knee injury, saying it helped him hit the first-ever one-day international double century against South Africa.
In a 2010 interview, White claimed he had “special powers” since the age of 12.
He has since treated other Indian cricket stars, including Gautam Gambhir and Ashish Nehra.
White’s family said he had refused the Covid-19 vaccine.
His body was cremated at Colombo’s main cemetery on Thursday in line with quarantine regulations.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was among politicians to have consulted White, said on Twitter: “His legacy will continue to live through all the lives, he touched and healed of various ailments.”
But mainstream doctors described White as a fraud and Ayurveda physicians rejected his claims — even though the shaman said he used methods from the 3,000-year-old Indian medical tradition.
Sri Lanka’s total coronavirus deaths exceeded 12,000 with more than half a million people infected so far.
Doctors say the real toll is at least twice as high and authorities have resorted to mass cremations to clear bodies piling up at hospitals and morgues.