2022 ushered in with sadness for the dead, fear of more infections and hope for end to pandemic

Revelers wait to welcome the new year in Vienna on Friday. (AFP)
Revelers wait to welcome the new year in Vienna on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 02 January 2022

2022 ushered in with sadness for the dead, fear of more infections and hope for end to pandemic

Revelers wait to welcome the new year in Vienna on Friday. (AFP)
  • France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022

PARIS: Sorrow for the dead and dying, fear of more infections to come and hopes for an end to the coronavirus pandemic were — again — the bittersweet cocktail with which the world said good riddance to 2021 and ushered in 2022.
New Year’s Eve, which used to be celebrated globally with a free-spirited wildness, felt instead like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant again filling hospitals.
“We just need enjoyment,” said Karen Page, 53, who was among the fed-up revelers venturing out in London. “We have just been in so long.”
The mostly muted New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world ushered in the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic. More than 285 million people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide since late 2019 and more than 5 million have died.
In Paris, officials canceled the fireworks amid surging infections and reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing outdoors, an obligation followed by the majority of people who milled about on the Champs-Elysées as the final hours of 2021 ticked away.
In Berlin, police urged people not to gather near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was staged without a live audience. In Madrid, authorities allowed only 7,000 people into the city’s Puerta del Sol downtown square, a venue traditionally hosting some 20,000 revelers.
In the United States, officials took a mixed approach to the year-end revelry: Nixing the audience at a countdown concert in Los Angeles, scaling it back in New York yet going full speed ahead in Las Vegas, where thousands turned up for performances and a planned fireworks show on the Strip that was threatened by gusty winds.

FASTFACT

France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.

President Joe Biden noted the losses and uncertainty caused by the pandemic but said: “We’re persevering. We’re recovering.”
“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “That’s how we made it through this year. And how we’ll embrace the next. Together.”
In New York, officials allowed just 15,000 people — vaccinated and masked — inside the perimeter around Times Square, a sliver of the 1 million that typically squeeze in to watch the famed ball drop. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, defending the event, said people need to see that New York is open for business.
Yet by Thursday, rapper LL Cool J had dropped out of the New York telecast after a positive COVID-19 test and restaurant owners battered by staffing shortages and omicron cancellations throughout the holiday season struggled to stay open.
“I’m really scared for our industry,” said New York restaurateur David Rabin, who watched reservations and party bookings disappear this month. “No one made any money in December. The fact they may have a good night tonight, it has no impact.”
Airlines also struggled as the year came to a close, canceling thousands of flights after the virus struck flight crews and other personnel and amid bad weather.
The pandemic game-changer of 2021 — vaccinations — continued apace. Pakistan said it had fully vaccinated 70 million of its 220 million people this year and
Britain said it met its goal of offering a vaccine booster shot to all adults by Friday.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin mourned the dead, praised Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “isn’t retreating yet.” Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 COVID-19 deaths but its state statistics agency says the death toll has been more than double that.
“I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who lost their dear ones,” Putin said in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
Elsewhere, the venue that many chose for New Year’s celebrations was the same place they became overly familiar with during lockdowns: Their homes.
Pope Francis also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-sized manger set up in St. Peter’s Square, again to avoid a crowd. In an unusual move for Francis, the 85-year-old pontiff donned a surgical mask for a Vespers service of prayer and hymns Friday evening as he sat in an armchair. But he also delivered a homily standing and unmasked.
“A sense of being lost has grown in the world during the pandemic,’’ Francis told the faithful in St. Peter’s Basilica.
France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.
In London, the normal fireworks display, which would have attracted tens of thousands of people to the city center and the banks of the Thames, was replaced by a light and drones show broadcast on television. Location details about the spectacle were kept secret in advance to avoid crowds gathering.
“The last two years have been so difficult for so many people, so many have suffered and there is a point when we need to start coming together finally,” said Mira Lluk, 22, a special needs teacher.
France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases Friday marked its third day running above the 200,000 mark. The UK was close behind, with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said as many as 1 in 15 people were infected with the virus in the week before Christmas. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the UK rose 68 percent in the last week, to the highest levels since February.
In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach welcomed a small crowd of a few thousand for 16 minutes of fireworks. Rio’s New Year’s bash usually brings more than 2 million people to Copacabana beach. In 2020 there was no celebration due to the pandemic. This year there was music on loudspeakers, but no live concerts like in previous editions.
Yet boisterous New Year’s Eve celebrations kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. One medical expert predicted that Serbia will see thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.
At Expo 2020, the sprawling world’s fair outside Dubai, 26-year-old tourist Lujain Orfi prepared to throw caution to the wind on New Year’s Eve.
“If you don’t celebrate, life will pass you by,” she said. “I’m healthy and took two (vaccine) doses. We just have to enjoy.”
Australia went ahead with its celebrations despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky over Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Opera House at midnight. Yet the crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years.


Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
  • Two Indian nationals were among three people killed in the attack near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday
  • Remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34 were repatriated to India on Friday

NEW DELHI: Mourners in India’s northern state of Punjab on Saturday attended the funerals of two compatriots killed in a recent attack by Houthi rebels on the UAE.

Two Indians and a Pakistani were killed when the drone and missile strikes hit fuel trucks near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday, causing multiple explosions. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the attacks.

The remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34, were repatriated to India on Friday.

Hardeep, who came from Baba Bakala village in Amritsar district, is survived by his wife and mother.

“We are still not able to fathom the tragedy that took place in the family,” his cousin Rajbir Singh told Arab News. “The wife came back from Canada yesterday, after she learnt about the incident. She is a student there and Hardeep had plans to shift to Canada.”

Hardeep was working in the UAE as a truck driver. He married last year and was his family's sole breadwinner. The other victim, Hardev, came from Bagha Purana village in Moga district. He spent 18 years in the UAE, working on construction sites in the oil and gas industry.

Hardev's brother Sukhdev, who also works in the UAE, said he could not believe his brother was gone until he saw the body.

“It's difficult to foresee an existence without him,” Sukhdev told Arab News. “He was a great support to me and because of Hardev I could go to UAE. He was the main earner and support to the elderly parents.”

Sukhdev thanked the UAE government for the support it had provided to the family so far. Indian authorities have condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday expressed “strong solidarity with UAE in face of such unacceptable acts” during a call with his Emirati counterpart.

T.S. Tirumurti, India's permanent representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that “such an attack on innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure is completely unacceptable.”

He said: “It is a blatant violation of international law. It is also against all civilized norms. It is important that the council stands united in sending a clear signal against such heinous acts of terror.”


Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
  • Hassan Al-Qahtani was killed by gunmen in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi in 2011
  • In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder

KARACHI: Pakistani police have asked for assistance from authorities in Tehran in apprehending the suspected killers of a Saudi diplomat who are believed to be hiding in Iran, a counterterrorism official has said.

Hassan Al-Qahtani, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi, was killed in 2011 when gunmen opened fire on his car in the city’s Defence Housing Authority neighborhood.

In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder after previous probes yielded no result. Counter Terrorism Department Deputy Inspector-General Omar Shahid Hamid told Arab News at the time that the team was working on “fruitful leads” from the country’s intelligence.

Investigation materials seen by Arab News include a November request to Iranian authorities for assistance in the case against three suspects in Al-Qahtani’s murder — Ali Mustehsan, Raza Imam, and Syed Waqar Ahmed — over their “involvement in target killing and terrorism activities in Pakistan.”

A policeman is reflected in a window of the Saudi consulate employee's car in Karachi shattered by bullets on May 16, 2011. (Reuters/File Photo)

“We have written for mutual legal assistance from Iran,” a Counter Terrorism Department official told Arab News on Friday evening on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We believe that all three accused are absconding in Iran, and we cannot arrest them without the assistance of their law enforcement.”

He said red notices for Mustehsan and Ahmed have already been issued, while police have called for the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate the process of issuing one for Imam as well.

Imam, alias Manzar, has a 1-million-rupee ($13,400) bounty on his head and has already been sentenced to death in two different cases, according to the Sindh police wanted list.

He is a member of the banned Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan militant organization.

Mustehsan, alias Syed Waseem Ahsan Naqvi, belongs to the same organization.


Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
Updated 22 January 2022

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
  • Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm
  • Around 9,000 people marched through streets of Stockholm chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom"

STOCKHOLM: Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Sweden's two biggest cities on Saturday against the use of vaccine passes, in marches that unfolded calmly after police had warned of possible clashes.
Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm.
Around 9,000 people marched through the streets of the capital Stockholm to the Sergels Torg square chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom", in a protest organised by a group calling itself the Freedom Movement.
One of the marchers, 30-year-old Julia Johansson, said vaccine passes "discriminate against a lot of people".
"We have to be able to decide ourselves what we want to do with our own bodies," she told AFP.
Aida Begovic, 35, agreed, saying they "force people to get medical procedures they don't want."
"No matter how much you say (vaccination) isn't a requirement, it is if you lose rights in society over it."
The Scandinavian country introduced vaccine passes on December 1.
They have been mandatory since January 12 for indoor events of more than 50 people, as the country battles an unprecedented surge of infections with around 40,000 cases reported per day in the past week.
More than 83 percent of Swedes over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated.
Some of the demonstrators wore the markings of violent extremist groups such as the neo-Nazi group NMR, and covered their faces to prevent identification.
Some also set off red flares that lit the sky a smoky red, but police said no clashes were reported.
A number of vaccination centres in the city had closed early on Saturday as a precaution.
In Sweden's second-biggest city Gothenburg, another demonstration gathered around 1,500 people.
Sweden made headlines in the early days of the pandemic when it, unlike most other countries, did not introduce any form of lockdown or school closures.
Instead, it adopted a softer approach, recommending social distancing, homeworking and only limited use of facemasks.
It did however ban visits to elderly care homes, limit public gatherings and restrict opening hours at bars and restaurants.
Sweden's death toll -- around 15,600 of the 10.3 million population -- is around the European average, but is significantly higher than in neighbouring Norway, Finland and Denmark.


UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea
Updated 22 January 2022

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea
  • Strategy aims to bypass international laws safeguarding asylum seekers
  •  Official: Ministers ‘absolutely convinced that tough deterrents are the way’

LONDON: Male migrants who try to cross the English Channel will be detained under a new UK government proposal, The Times reported on Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tasked Home Secretary Priti Patel with drawing up new plans in the latest effort to deter Channel migrant crossings.
Under the plan, male migrants would be housed in immigration detention centers after being intercepted at sea or discovered on UK territory.
Government officials believe that the plan will deter migrants from making the hazardous journey across the Channel. 

Last year, a record 28,381 people successfully made the trip, many in small dinghies. That figure could double this year, according to government statistics.
Patel and the French government have claimed that about 70 percent of all migrants who cross the Channel are single men aged under 40.
Due to international laws, migrants who are intercepted in the Channel cannot be lawfully detained, as opposed to those who reach Britain, who are often temporarily housed in hotels.
Most migrants who cross the Channel are doing so lawfully because they are intercepted before reaching the UK coast. Only a fraction land on beaches, which is illegal under British law.
But the new government plans look to enable UK authorities to detain and subsequently deport or imprison migrants intercepted at sea.

Individuals will face a maximum prison sentence of four years under the new law. A government source said: “We’re working through what powers of detention are needed.”
Another official said: “Ministers are convinced this is the way to create a deterrent. Their thinking is ‘you make it worse and worse, more draconian and it’ll stop people coming.’ They’re absolutely convinced that tough deterrents are the way to fix it.”
The plan is part of a wider strategy to use the Royal Navy, as well as a relocation policy to third countries, in order to combat Channel crossings.
However, MPs from Johnson’s Conservative Party have questioned the new proposal. Senior MP Tim Loughton said: “The fear is that it’s substituting the current accommodation bill of a Holiday Inn with the higher bill of a prison facility or a secure facility.”
There are also concerns that detained migrants could claim other rights under the Human Rights Act and the UN Refugee Convention, making it difficult for the government to execute its strategy.
But Patel’s plan aims to classify migrants who enter the UK illegally, or who arrive through a “safe” third country — including France — as “inadmissible.” 


Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says

Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says
Updated 22 January 2022

Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says

Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says
  • The conflict, which broke out in November 2020, has displaced millions and triggered widespread hunger

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military is planning to enter the Tigray regional capital of Mekelle and “eliminate” rebellious forces, a top military official said late on Friday amid diplomatic efforts to end conflict in the country’s north.
The Horn of Africa country has been gripped by war for more than a year, with the federal military and its allies battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that controls Tigray.
This week two top US diplomats flew into Addis Ababa to push for a cease-fire, building on tentative signs of a thaw in relations between warring parties, including the release of political prisoners.
In an interview with state-affiliated media outlet Fana broadcast late on Friday, Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) deputy army chief, General Abebaw Tadesse said the country would not be at peace until the TPLF was eliminated.
“Tigray is part of Ethiopia and no force will stop us from entering. We will enter and we will eliminate the enemy. There shouldn’t be any confusion about this,” he said.
“The people of Ethiopia shouldn’t think that it is over, it is not over. The main thing here is we have stopped because we have to prepare ourselves. This enemy is still there, and it has to be absolutely eliminated. We will not negotiate with them.”
The TPLF’s spokesman, Getachew Reda, could not be reached for a comment on the military official’s remarks.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The TPLF says Abiy wants to end the country’s ethnically-based federal government system while Abiy says the TPLF is hungry to seize the national power it once held.
For months there has been an uneasy stalemate between the two sides, punctuated by sporadic fighting. TPLF forces control most of Tigray but are surrounded by hostile forces from neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara which are allied with the federal military.
The conflict, which broke out in November 2020, has displaced millions and triggered widespread hunger.
In recent months there have been multiple diplomatic and political efforts to end it, including pressure from the United States pushing for rapprochement between the two sides.