WASHINGTON: The United States reported 1.35 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, the highest daily total for any country in the world as the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant showed no signs of slowing.
The previous record was 1.03 million cases on Jan. 3. A large number of cases are reported each Monday due to many states not reporting over the weekend. The seven-day average for new cases has tripled in two weeks to over 700,000 new infections a day.
The record in new cases came the same day as the nation saw the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also hit an all-time high, having doubled in three weeks, according to a Reuters tally.
There were more than 136,604 people hospitalized with COVID-19, surpassing the record of 132,051 set in January last year.
While the omicron variant is potentially less severe, health officials have warned that the sheer number of infections could strain hospital systems, some of which have already suspended elective procedures as they struggle to handle the increase in patients and staff shortages.
The surge in cases has disrupted schools, which are struggling with absences of staff, teachers and bus drivers.
Chicago canceled classes for a fourth day as the district and teachers failed to agree on how to deal with increased infections.
New York City suspended service on three subway lines as a large number of workers were out sick, according to its Twitter account. Companies’ plans for workers to return to office have also been derailed.
Deaths are averaging 1,700 per day, up from about 1,400 in recent days but within levels seen earlier this winter.
A redesigned COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the omicron variant is likely needed, Pfizer’s CEO said on Monday, adding his company could have one ready to launch by March.
The forgotten Arabs of Iran
A century ago, the autonomous sheikhdom of Arabistan was absorbed by force into the Persian state. Today the Arabs of Ahwaz are Iran's most persecuted minority
Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende
WEF president says violations by Iran and Israel are not comparable to those committed in Ukraine
Brende believes current war could end up as Moscow’s “Afghanistan or Vietnam”
Davos summit more timely than ever as ‘global challenges require global solutions’
Updated 12 sec ago
DAVOS, Switzerland: The president of the World Economic Forum has said the Geneva-based organization is sending a strong signal to Moscow by not inviting Russian officials and businesses to this year’s Davos summit while issuing an invitation to the Ukrainian leader to address the gathering.
“When it comes to Russia, we chose not to invite Russian business or Russian officials because there are limits,” Borge Brende told Katie Jensen, the host of Frankly Speaking, the Arab News talk show which features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders.
“Russia has broken basic humanitarian law and international law. They are not sticking to the UN Charter and we have seen so many atrocities.”
At the same time, Brende said, the WEF will not only have Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky “on video” but also several of his ministers.
“From Kyiv we will have two of his deputy prime ministers. We also have the foreign minister in Davos,” he said, adding that some chief executives will be coming together to form a group of CEOs for Ukraine to “secure the rebuilding of the country.”
Defending the WEF’s decision, he said: “The key for unlocking this is with (President Vladimir) Putin and the Kremlin. We need to see that they are taking steps to again rejoin compliance with international law before they will be reinvited to Davos. We have a strong moral obligation to also send this kind of signal in such a situation.”
Brende appeared on “Frankly Speaking” on the eve of the first in-person WEF annual meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time the event, which kicked off on Sunday, is being held in Davos in May.
He denied that for an organization that prides itself on its impartiality and reputation as a bridge builder, the decision not to invite one side amounts to a failure on the WEF’s part to encourage debate.
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Brende said it is true that for the last 50 years the WEF has always tried to bring leaders together, but “there are limits.”
“It’s an ongoing war in Ukraine, where we see that children are being killed in their schools every day. You see women being raped. We see war crimes taking place and there is no willingness for dialogue,” he said.
“Davos is about willingness to find common solutions, and if countries at least are willing to sit down and discuss the future, then it is something else. But today we see no kind of this willingness from Russia’s side. That’s why we’re very sad that we cannot have this dialogue. Hopefully in the future, but not today.”
Brende, a former foreign minister of Norway, dismissed comparisons between the charges of atrocities Israel is accused of committing against Palestinian civilians and those being leveled against Russia in Ukraine. He also denied that this is because Ukraine is seen as closer to home for many Europeans.
“It is unacceptable what is now happening in Ukraine and the war is ongoing,” he reiterated, explaining why inviting Russia to the annual meeting is not the same thing as, say, inviting Israel or Iran.
“When it comes to Israel and the situation in the Palestinian areas, it is at least some willingness to dialogue. We’ve seen it through the Abrahams Accords, but we also see in Davos that we are bringing together business leaders from both Israel and the Palestinian side in an initiative called ‘Breaking the Impasse.’ And they’re sitting there with global politicians, but also politicians from these areas to discuss if there is a way forward for establishing a two-state solution. At least there is a dialogue going on and we hope for future solutions.”
Asked if he thought the recently imposed sanctions on Russia were enough to end the conflict or whether an expanded NATO was the solution, Brende said: “I think Russia is incredibly surprised by the strength of the Ukrainian army. They were supposed to take Kyiv, the capital, in two, three days. Kharkiv, the second largest city, in two, three days. They have seen the resistance among the Ukrainians that, I am sure, has surprised them and that is why they’re pulling back too.”
In the months to come, Brende said, it is likely that Russia will continue with its attacks. “But Ukraine can easily turn into the Vietnam of Russia, or Afghanistan of Russia,” he said.
“When more than 40 million people are fighting back so strongly as the freedom-seeking Ukrainians, Russians will have a huge challenge. It shows that even a very modern and a very strong army cannot kill the freedom-fighting people around the world. I think this is a lesson for many countries to bring with them and reflect over.”
The WEF says its annual meeting in Davos provides “a unique collaborative environment” for public figures and global leaders to “reconnect, share insights, gain fresh perspectives and build problem-solving communities and initiatives.” However, critics say the event has become more of a show featuring politicians sticking to pre-prepared scripts.
Brende countered that this year’s summit would see progress made on many of the most important topics. “We will, for example, have new coalitions when it comes to fighting climate change,” he said.
“We will focus a lot on trade and investments. We know that there will be no real economic recovery without a trade recovery, so that’s why it’s so important that we also have trade ministers, 30 of them together with (World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), saying that no new tariffs, no more protectionism and no more bans on exporting food.”
“Many of the challenges that we are faced with cannot be sold without business. So, with the 1,400 CEOs and chairs in Davos, I am pretty sure we are going to make progress,” Brende said, adding that “25 percent of the participants are women — it should have been 50, but we are making progress.”
Brende disputed the claim that the WEF summit in Davos has a perception problem, made most recently by the Financial Times newspaper, which said this week that the organization does not project the right image.
“I think we definitely are able to bring together leaders from all walks of life. It’s easy to be critical, but I think the past has also shown that the World Economic Forum has a positive impact,” he said.
“It was in Davos, for example, where the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) was launched (in 2001). It was here where (the anti-apartheid icon) Nelson Mandela came to Europe for the first time and launched the economic plan for South Africa.
“This time around, it is really about how to make sure that the weak recovery does not end in a new recession. It is to make sure that we walk the talk from COP26 in Glasgow. Business leaders, 120 of them, will commit to going net zero by 2050. So, this is really the place where corporate and governmental leaders are coming together, making a difference.”
Watch the full Frankly Speaking episode below:
As 2,500 members of the global elite descend on Davos, Brende said this year’s meeting could not be more timely because “global challenges need global solutions.”
“Unfortunately, because of the polarized world, we don’t see as much collaboration to really solve wars, climate change and also a weakening recovery,” he said. “But we will try in Davos to get leaders together, and at least mobilize the private sector to support in these very critical areas.”
Brende also acknowledged the reality of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, saying that it is “very important to be preparing for the next one, because we will see new diseases and pandemics unfortunately in the coming decades too.
“We moved much closer to nature. In just the last 10 years, we have lost wilderness across the world the size of the country of Mexico, so animals and human beings are much closer. And then we will also see more diseases like this.
“And we should not forget that we’re not out of the woods yet. China, the second largest economy in the world, is partly locked down now in some of the biggest and largest cities in the country, and this will also have an impact on the global economy because China is growing slower and the demand from China will of course go down.”
Looking to the future, Brende said: “We have to learn from this pandemic, that we have to have medicine, we have to have medical equipment much closer than before. We can’t wait for weeks for this to arrive. We have to be able to step up vaccination fast. We know that we have paid a huge price: 15 million people have lost their lives so far in this pandemic.”
NEW DELHI: Hindus in Indian-administered Kashmir took to the streets for the tenth day in a row on Sunday, demanding relocation from the region and saying the government had failed to provide them security following the killing of a community member.
Scores of minority Hindus in India’s only Muslim-majority region, locally known as Pandits, have been staging protests after militants allegedly killed Rahul Bhat, a Hindu government employee, inside an office complex in Chadoora on May 12.
Police said two militants had entered Bhat’s office and fired at him. He was then taken to hospital, where he later died.
The protests began a day after the fatal incident, and mark the first time Pandits have organized simultaneous demonstrations in the disputed region. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the territory in full and ruling it in part.
“Our main demand is that the government should relocate us outside Kashmir,” Sanjay Tickoo, head of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, told Arab News.
Around 6,000 Kashmiri Pandits employed by the government need to be relocated, Tickoo added.
“The government has failed to secure the lives of the people in Kashmir. All these big talks by the Indian government have failed to bring any positive change in the valley.”
Hundreds of thousands of Pandits were forced out of Kashmir when a revolt erupted against Indian rule in 1989. Many lost homes and livelihoods, and later lived in camps across India.
Officials have worked on resettling Kashmiri Pandits, and thousands returned in 2010 under a government resettlement plan that provided jobs and housing.
In 2019, the government under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its semi-autonomy and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. As push for resettlement continues, some say the government is not doing enough.
“Be it Muslims or Hindus, no one is secure in the valley,” Satish Mahaldar, chairman of Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, told Arab News.
Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and leader of Peoples Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, said the Kashmiri Pandits “have all the reasons” to protest.
“The BJP had claimed that with the abrogation of special status the situation will become normal and Pandits could return safely. But the opposite has happened,” Mufti told Arab News, referring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
She said the government must “initiate steps for reconciliation” to improve the situation in Kashmir.
Srinagar-based Sandeep Koul, whose family lived for generations in Kashmir and stayed throughout the 1990s violence, said the feeling of insecurity has only deepened in his community.
“We feel more insecure in the valley now than in the 1990s,” Koul told Arab News. “This new Kashmir is not secure for us, it is not secure for anybody.”
Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, a Kashmiri-based BJP leader and a member of the Kashmiri Pandit community, told Arab News: “It is not possible to provide security to each person and every hour.”
But he said he is “with the Kashmiri Pandits at this time of distress.
“Many things have changed in Kashmir valley, but the situation of Kashmiri Pandits has not changed much.”
UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP
Humanitarian aid in 2021 stripped back by 51%, hammering countries including Yemen, Somalia
Charities call for change in policy as Ukraine war puts 1.7bn worldwide at risk of hunger
Updated 22 May 2022
LONDON: The UK’s humanitarian aid budget was slashed by 51 percent last year, disproportionately affecting some of the world’s neediest countries, including Yemen and Somalia, at the “worst moment in history,” according to a senior MP with the main opposition Labour Party.
The government had pledged to cut total overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent in November 2020.
Figures show that the cut saw the UK send £744 million ($929 million) overseas last year in humanitarian aid, down from £1.53 billion the previous year.
The total overseas aid spend was £11.5 billion, down 21 percent from the £14.48 billion in 2020.
War-torn Yemen suffered one of the deepest cuts, with its pool of aid falling 63 percent to £82 million, from £221 million in 2020.
The UN estimates that as many as 24 million people, including 13 million children, require aid of some kind across the country.
Somalia, also devastated by conflict, saw its humanitarian aid from the UK slashed by 41 percent to £71 million, from £120 million the previous year.
Both countries have been hit hard by acute food shortages, exacerbated in recent months by spiking prices as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The Eastern European neighbors represent almost a third of global wheat exports, and are vital producers of agricultural fertilizers.
The UK has dipped into its finances to find an additional £220 million in aid for Ukraine, but the UN says the war could put as many as 1.7 billion people worldwide at risk of poverty and starvation.
Yemen in particular faces famine, with the UN estimating that 17.4 million people are already food insecure. East Africa is also affected by drought, with 23 million people requiring food aid.
Sarah Champion, chair of the House of Commons international development committee, told The Observer: “It would be hard to consider a worse moment in history for the government to be cutting its foreign aid budget.
“We are the only member of the rich country G7 grouping to be doing so. It is having a damaging effect on our international standing — and the survival chances of some of the poorest people on the planet.”
Sam Nadel, head of government relations at charity Oxfam, told the paper: “The government is cutting aid at a time we have war in Ukraine, the Covid pandemic and millions of people in Africa on the brink of starvation.
“It’s the most horrific timing. It’s also shortsighted because aid helps tackle global challenges, which helps the UK in the long term.”
Another charity, Action Against Hunger, is calling for an additional package of £750 million in aid for African countries affected by war, drought and the coronavirus pandemic.
Kate Munro, the charity’s head of advocacy, told The Observer: “It saves money to act early in a crisis.”
Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced a new international development strategy to target British aid more directly at areas around the world that needed it.
The Foreign Office said in a statement: “Stepping up our life-saving humanitarian work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering around the world is one of the top priorities the foreign secretary laid out in the UK’s international development strategy this week.
“We will prioritize humanitarian funding levels at £3 billion over the next three years, to remain a global leader in crisis response, including in Africa.”
Rich Lebanese buy ‘island passports’ as crisis bites
Wealthy Lebanese, mostly living in Gulf or African nations, are now among those hunting for passports that offer easier travel and a safety net from the economic crisis at home
Commonwealth Caribbean nations are particularly attractive because of their long-standing schemes offering citizenship within months in exchange for a lump sum
Updated 22 May 2022
BEIRUT: Fearing visa hassles could cost him his job in Dubai while an economic collapse had dashed any homecoming options, Lebanese executive Jad splurged around $135,000 on a new citizenship for himself and his wife.
Within a month of making the payment last year, the 43-year-old businessman received a small package in his mailbox.
Inside were two navy blue passports from the Caribbean island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis — his ticket to visa-free access to more than 150 countries, including in Europe.
This was a major upgrade from the Lebanese passport, which is ranked among the worst in the world and has become nearly impossible to renew because the cash-strapped state is running out of stocks.
“Three years ago, I would not have imagined I would buy a passport,” said Jad, who had previously grappled with lengthy visa procedures for business trips.
“But now because of the situation in Lebanon — and because we can afford it — we finally did it,” he said, asking for his full name to be withheld for privacy reasons.
A Saint Kitts passport ranks 25th in the world while Lebanon languishes at 103rd on the Henley passport index for freedom of travel.
With a population of under 55,000, it started selling citizenships a year after gaining independence in 1983.
Citizenship by investment schemes have become a booming business internationally, attracting the well-to-do from volatile countries like Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
Some EU member states, including Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta, have also operated “golden passport” schemes, but they have run into opposition from the European Commission over the back door they offer to EU citizenship.
Wealthy Lebanese, mostly living in Gulf or African nations, are now among those hunting for passports that offer easier travel and a safety net from the economic crisis at home.
Commonwealth Caribbean nations are particularly attractive because of their long-standing schemes offering citizenship within months in exchange for a lump sum.
Applicants are not even required to visit.
When Jad first went to Paris as a Kittitian, officers at passport control told him: “You come from a nice country.”
“But actually I have never been there,” he said.
Jad’s Lebanese friends in the Gulf were also shopping for “island passports” or investing in real estate in Greece and Portugal to obtain residency as part of so-called “golden visa” schemes, he said.
“This is not just a trend. It’s a solution.”
A single passport usually costs around $150,000, a sum funnelled into a sustainable growth fund for the country, which only installed traffic lights in its capital Basseterre in 2018.
Other Caribbean islands including Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and Saint Lucia also sell passports.
Few people can afford such a purchase in Lebanon, a country in an economic crisis that has seen the currency nosedive, banks freeze deposits and most of the population fall into poverty.
Yet demand for foreign citizenship has spurred a boom in passport consultancy, with firms advertising on social media, billboards and even inside Beirut’s airport.
Among them is Global Pass, converted in 2020 from a real estate company after Lebanese started complaining of higher visa rejection rates.
“Our business has grown by at least 40 percent from 2020 to 2021,” said founder Ziad Karkaji.
Even international firms are raking in a profit.
Jose Charo, who heads the Beirut office of Swiss-based Passport Legacy, said Lebanese now account for one-quarter of the company’s clientele.
Their number has grown fivefold due to the economic crisis that was made worse by a devastating explosion at Beirut’s port in 2020, Charo said.
Having Grenadian citizenship makes applying for a US investor visa easier for business people, he said, while those looking to retire or settle abroad can invest around a quarter of a million dollars in Greece or Portugal to secure permanent residency.
“The industry will keep on growing,” Charo said.
“They are buying their freedom.”
Illinois speaker backs legislation recognizing Arabs as minority contractors
If passed, it would allow Arabs to compete for a share of state contracts reserved for businesses that are majority-owned by designated ethnic minorities
Updated 22 May 2022
CHICAGO: Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, announced on Friday during a visit to a mosque that he supports the adoption of a law that would grant Arab and Muslim contractors special “minority” status when they bid for a share of more than $46 billion in annual state contracts.
The state’s Minority Business Enterprises and Women’s Business Enterprises policies set aside up to 30 percent of state contracts for businesses that are majority-owned by individuals from designated ethnic minorities — Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic or Native American — and 5 percent for those majority-owned by women.
Welch said he supports legislation, introduced by Illinois State Representative Cyril Nichols, that would include Arabs as a “recognized minority group” so that they can receive “their fair share” of these state contracts.
“I know that there are some issues that are particularly important to your community and that Representative Nichols has been a leader on those issues,” said Welch, who is the first African American to serve as the Illinois speaker.
“Nichols filed a bill a couple weeks ago that will specifically address the issue of minority status. My office is going to lend him support to make sure we have the necessary hearings on that bill here over the summer.”
Speaking during a meeting at the Orland Park Mosque in suburban Chicago, arranged by American Arab Chamber of Commerce President Hassan Nijem, Welch pledged to push for the bill during the November veto session, when bills are normally reviewed and considered for adoption.
“I think the MBE program is enormously significant because we have been traditionally left out, as minorities, not just in the state of Illinois but in this country,” he said.
“Unfortunately that has been the history of our country and it has taken people like Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and all those who came before us, to fight for civil rights and inclusion. That fight continues today. That’s what the MBE program is all about.”
Welch said that the state legislature last month passed a budget worth $46.5 billion and that the “MBE makes sure that money gets into the pockets of people who look like the people of Illinois.”
He added: “Diversity is the strength of the state and everything we do should reflect that diversity, and how we spend that money is very much a part of that.
“Long before I was the speaker, people will tell you, I have fought for diversity on corporate boards, diversity in how we spend our money, diversity in our suppliers.
“And now that I am actually here at the head of the table, trust me, when I am done this community is going to see a big difference.”
Welch urged leaders of the Arab and Muslim communities to “inform and educate” other legislators in the state to help build support for the adoption of the minority classification.
“When Representative Nichols proposes hearings, you need to make sure that the community shows up (and) testifies,” he said. “People that can’t be there, submit written testimony. Let us know why this is such an important issue. How does this help the state? Advocacy really does matter.”
Nichols, who was also at the mosque meeting, said that he realized the real importance of his proposed law in April when he appeared on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” which is hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
“The speaker is right, you have to call your legislators because I have to get a whole bunch of people to agree with this,” Nichols added. “They need to hear from you. … We always say that if it is righteous, the Most High will make sure that we are covered. We can get a lot done together.”
Welch said: “Power comes from building coalitions and building allies. There is now a Black caucus, a Hispanic caucus and an Asian caucus.”
He added that he anticipates a day when there will be an “Arab Caucus” to help ensure that Arabs and Muslims actively engage at all levels of Illinois government.
“The only way to govern is through inclusive leadership,” Welch said. “I think it is extremely important that your community be a part of this coalition we are building. Nobody is getting left out. Everybody in, nobody left out.
“And that is what this is all about. We are being intentional, we are here for a reason, and we are figuring out ways to make that inclusion happen — and I want to be a part of that … with you.”
Nichols said that Muslims and Arabs in Detroit had raised the issue of minority status, and that he felt the same thing was needed in Illinois, particularly in the Chicago area which is home to more than 450,000 Christian and Muslim Arabs.
Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, the Imam of the Orland Park Mosque, said that the Arab community will communicate and work with legislators to help them understand why the bill is so important to their community.
“With … the potential to be part of future contracts and future business, being declared as a minority is one of the main objectives,” he said. “If it happens, our own community members will have a share of all these contracts, up to 20 or 25 percent … and this means our community will grow and will contribute back to the well-being of the state itself.
“We are happy that the speaker of the house is here, and the representative also, to talk about this issue and what it means and where he can help and support that perspective.”