Thailand announces more coronavirus curbs after jump in cases

Thailand announces more coronavirus curbs after jump in cases
Thailand reported 7,526 cases of the coronavirus on Friday, the highest number since early November and more than double the number on Jan. 1. (EPA)
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Updated 07 January 2022

Thailand announces more coronavirus curbs after jump in cases

Thailand announces more coronavirus curbs after jump in cases
  • New applications for Thailand’s ‘Test & Go’ quarantine waiver scheme will not be approved until further notice to stem the increase of coronavirus infections

BANGKOK: Thailand will extend the suspension of its quarantine waiver program and bring in new restrictions after a jump in new coronavirus cases linked to the omicron variant, the government’s COVID-19 taskforce said on Friday.
New applications for Thailand’s “Test & Go” quarantine waiver scheme will not be approved until further notice to stem the increase of coronavirus infections, said Taweesin Visanuyothin, the spokesman of the COVID-19 taskforce.
But existing applicants can still enter Thailand without quarantine until Jan. 15, he said.
“We can still make changes if the situation improves, but for now we have to learn more about omicron,” Taweesin said.
Due to concerns over omicron, Thailand had halted the waiver program since Dec. 22 and also most of its “sandbox” schemes, which requires visitors to remain in a specific location for seven days but allows them free movement during their stay, except for the resort of Phuket.
But from Jan. 11, Thailand will allow quarantine-free entry into the country via the previously suspended sandbox schemes of Samui Plus, Phang Nga, and Krabi, Taweesin said.
Thailand would also lift on Jan. 11 an entry ban on people traveling from eight African countries it had designated as high-risk.
To curb local virus transmissions, alcohol consumption in restaurants will be halted after 9 p.m. in eight provinces including the capital Bangkok from Sunday, and banned in the country’s other 69 provinces, Taweesin said.
“Social drinking is the cause of the virus spread. Measures to restrict this will help curb the spread,” he said.
Thailand reported 7,526 cases of the coronavirus on Friday, the highest number since early November and more than double the number on Jan. 1.
“If we just let it happen, cases could reach 30,000 a day by the end of the month,” said Taweesin.


2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government

2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government
Updated 16 sec ago

2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government

2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government
LONDON: Two of Britain’s most senior Cabinet ministers resigned on Tuesday, a move that could spell the end of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership after months of scandals.
Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other after a day in which the prime minister was forced to acknowledge he had to change his story on the way he handled allegations of sexual misconduct by a senior member of his government.
“It is with enormous regret that I must tell you that I can no longer, in good conscience, continue serving in this government,’’ Javid said in his resignation letter. “I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their government.’’
Sunak said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.”
“I recognize this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning,” he added.
Both Sunak and Javid have been seen as possible leadership contenders within the Conservative Party if Johnson is forced out. Their departures were a huge blow to the prime minister, because both were in charge of two of the biggest issues facing Britain right now — the cost of living crisis and the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest scandal saw Johnson hit by allegations he failed to come clean about a lawmaker who was appointed to a senior position despite claims of sexual misconduct.
Johnson has faced pressure to explain what he knew about previous misconduct allegations against lawmaker Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip Thursday amid complaints that he groped two men at a private club.
Minutes before the resignations of Javid and Sunak were announced, Johnson told reporters that Pincher should have been fired from the government after a previous 2019 incident.
Asked if it was an error to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson said “I think it was a mistake and I apologize for it. In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do.”
“I apologize to everybody who has been badly affected by it. I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power,” Johnson said.
The government’s explanation shifted repeatedly over the past five days. Ministers initially said Johnson wasn’t aware of any allegations when he promoted Pincher to the post in February.
On Monday, a spokesman said Johnson knew of sexual misconduct allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
That account didn’t sit well with Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said Tuesday that the prime minister’s office still wasn’t telling the truth.
McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he received complaints about Pincher’s behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the complaint, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.
McDonald disputed that Johnson was unaware of the allegations or that the complaints were dismissed because they had been resolved or not made formally.
“The original No. 10 line is not true, and the modification is still not accurate,” McDonald wrote, referring to the prime minister’s Downing Street office. “Mr. Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation.
Hours after McDonald’s comments came out, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying the prime minister forgot he was told that Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.
The latest revelations have fueled discontent within Johnson’s Cabinet after ministers were forced to publicly deliver the prime minister’s denials, only to have the explanation shift the next day.
The Times of London on Tuesday published an analysis of the situation under the headline “Claim of lying puts Boris Johnson in peril.”
Johnson’s authority had already been shaken by a vote of no confidence last month. He survived, but 41 percent of Conservatives voted to remove him from office.
The prime minister’s shifting responses to months of allegations about lockdown-breaking parties in government offices that ultimately resulted in 126 fines, including one levied against Johnson, fueled concerns about his leadership.
Two weeks later, Conservative candidates were badly beaten in two special elections to fill vacant seats in Parliament, adding to the discontent within Johnson’s party.
When Pincher resigned last week as deputy chief whip, a key position in enforcing party discipline, he told the prime minister that he “drank far too much” the previous night and had “embarrassed myself and other people.”
Johnson initially refused to suspend Pincher from the Conservative Party, but he relented after a formal complaint about the groping allegations was filed with parliamentary authorities.
Critics suggested Johnson was slow to react because he didn’t want to be in the position of forcing Pincher to resign his Parliament seat and setting up the Conservatives for another potential special election defeat.
Even before the Pincher scandal, suggestions were swirling that Johnson may soon face another no-confidence vote.
In the next few weeks, Conservative lawmakers will elect new members to the committee that sets parliamentary rules for the party. Several candidates have suggested they would support changing the rules to allow for another vote of no confidence. The existing rules require 12 months between such votes.
Senior Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, a long-standing critic of Johnson, said he would support a change of the rules of the Conservative 1922 Committee.
“Mr. Johnson has for three days now been sending ministers — in one case a Cabinet minister — out to defend the indefensible, effectively to lie on his behalf. That cannot be allowed to continue,” Gale told the BBC. “This prime minister has trashed the reputation of a proud and honorable party for honesty and decency, and that is not acceptable.”

UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children

UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children
Updated 25 min 2 sec ago

UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children

UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children
  • The UN presented a set of safe and humane alternatives to child detention

LONDON: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) urged European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The UN organizations presented a set of safe and humane alternatives to child detention, calling on 38 countries in the European region to implement them.

These alternatives include supported independent living, living with family hosts and other child-friendly models that offer cost-effective solutions.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, and the Special Coordinator for Refugee Response in Europe, stated that the detention of children is a violation of their human rights regardless of their country of origin and reasons for leaving.

Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for Europe, has called for increased national data collection and monitoring capabilities in Europe so that countries can better receive and protect migrant children.


Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse

Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse
Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse

Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse
  • At least seven people are known to have been killed in the avalanche on Sunday on the Marmolada
  • Toll could rise given that five people remain unaccounted for despite searches with helicopters and drones over the past two days

CANAZEI, Italy: Five Italian climbers were still missing more than 48 hours after the deadly collapse of part of a mountain glacier in the Alps, a tragedy that is being blamed on rising temperatures.
At least seven people are known to have been killed in the avalanche on Sunday on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters (10,830 feet) is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.
That toll could rise given that five people remain unaccounted for despite searches with helicopters and drones over the past two days.
“When we arrived we saw a disaster, we realized the dimensions of this enormous avalanche,” said Stefano Coter, head of the local alpine rescue team and one of the first people to reach the scene.
“We found injured people in need of help and other people who were dead,” he added.
Much of Italy has been baking in an early-summer heatwave and scientists said climate change was making previously stable glaciers more unpredictable.
Maurizio Fugatti, president of the Trento region, confirmed the death toll and the numbers missing at a news conference on Tuesday evening.
With the peak still unstable, rescuers have been using drones and helicopters to look for victims or try to locate them through their mobile phone signals. The teams found human remains or climbing gear at three or four sites on Tuesday.
Rescue coordinators said a layer of dust and debris was limiting the effectiveness of drone searches and they hoped to send a team of experts and search dogs to the lower part of the site on Thursday when the weather is forecast to be clearer.
The Marmolada will remain closed to tourists for the time being to allow rescue teams to operate, Giovanni Bernard, the mayor in the local town of Canazei, said earlier on Tuesday.
Hikers in the area said they were in any case frightened and would try to stick to safer routes.
“Right now after what happened I feel a bit scared because two days ago we were about to walk just near the glacier. It could have happened to us,” said Mikael Bouchard, a 29-year-old from Lyon.


Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy
Updated 05 July 2022

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy
  • Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week

WASHINGTON D.C.: Iran added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks and has made alarming progress on enriching uranium, the US envoy for talks on reinstating a nuclear deal said on Tuesday.
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without the hoped-for progress.
Malley said Iranian negotiators added new demands.
“They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
The demands included some that the United States and Europeans have said could not be part of negotiations.
“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself,” Malley said. “They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”
Under the nuclear pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
Then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.
Now, Tehran is much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, Malley said, though they do not appear to have resumed their weaponization program.
“But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field,” Malley said.
Iran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks, he said.
Malley said Americans were also working a parallel track to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran. Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and is the longest-held Iranian American prisoner, made a plea for help in a New York Times piece on Sunday headlined: “I’m an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?“
“We hope that regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks, we’ll be able to resolve this issue because it weighs in our minds every single day,” Malley said.


Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
Updated 05 July 2022

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
  • Malaysia is one of 5 countries included in scheme
  • More than 14,300 pilgrims from the country will perform Hajj this year

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysian pilgrims arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for the flight to Saudi Arabia, they are welcomed by Saudi officials who are helping tens of thousands of people depart for Hajj.
The welcome is a pre-departure glimpse into Saudi hospitality.
Malaysia is among five Muslim majority countries — including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Morocco — where Saudi Arabia opened its Makkah Route initiative.
The program, launched in 2019, is dedicated to Hajj pilgrims, allowing them to fulfill all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, saving long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter the Kingdom without waiting, having already gone through visa and customs processes back home.
Those departing from Kuala Lumpur airport are taken care of by dozens of Saudi immigration officials working round the clock to facilitate their journey.
“We are not even in Saudi yet, but I can already feel the warmth. This is very welcoming,” Ariff Abdullah, who departed on one of the last Hajj flights this week, told Arab News, as he and his wife were getting ready to board their Jeddah-bound flight.
“Today I was joking with the chap at the immigration counter,” Abdullah said. “He even knew a couple of Malay words!”
This year, 14,306 Malaysian pilgrims will take part in Hajj. The number is half the quota Malaysia received in 2019, the last Hajj season before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the total number of pilgrims who will arrive in the Kingdom this year has also been halved.
Hajj was restricted to just 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020, and limited to only 60,000 domestic participants in 2021.
As COVID-19 curbs have been lifted this year, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million foreign and domestic pilgrims, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.
Makkah Route officials are helping to streamline their arrival.


“The initiative aims to facilitate the pilgrims’ immigration process at their country of origin, including fingerprinting and finalizing the entry (to Saudi Arabia), and delivery of luggage to their chosen accommodations in a very short time,” Sgt. Maj. Anas Muhammad, who arrived from Jeddah to assist Malaysian pilgrims, told Arab News.
His colleague, Sgt. Kholoud Al-Ahmadi, is “honored to be part of the Makkah Route initiative in Malaysia.”
She said: “I am very glad to be part of this initiative, especially since it’s my first time in Malaysia.”
Combined with other procedures under the Makkah Route, the immigration process from both the Malaysian and Saudi sides takes an average of 10 minutes per pilgrim.
To those who require more assistance, including people with disabilities, the scheme is a welcome relief.
“When we reach Jeddah, we are all cleared and there is no need to wait and queue for immigration there,” said Zainab Binti Awang, a wheelchair user accompanied by her sister.
When they reach the Kingdom, pilgrims are received at the airport and taken to their hotels in Makkah and Madinah. They can focus on their spiritual journeys, as all practical aspects of the pilgrimage are taken care of.
“The Makkah Route is very convenient,” said Johar Yusof, another pilgrim departing from Kuala Lumpur. “There’s no need to go through hassle — I love it.”