North Korea reports 15 more ‘fever’ deaths amid COVID-19 outbreak

North Korea reports 15 more ‘fever’ deaths amid COVID-19 outbreak
North Korea has previously turned down offers of COVID-19 vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme. (KCNA via Reuters)
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Updated 15 May 2022

North Korea reports 15 more ‘fever’ deaths amid COVID-19 outbreak

North Korea reports 15 more ‘fever’ deaths amid COVID-19 outbreak
  • North Korea has no COVID-19 vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs or mass-testing capacity

SEOUL: North Korea on Sunday reported 15 additional deaths from “fever,” days after officially confirming its first-ever COVID-19 cases and ordering nationwide lockdowns.
The outbreak, which leader Kim Jong Un has said is causing “great upheaval,” leaves a country with one of the world’s worst health care systems on the edge of potential disaster.
North Korea has no COVID-19 vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs or mass-testing capacity.
While it has maintained a rigid coronavirus blockade since the pandemic’s start, experts have said that massive omicron outbreaks in neighboring countries meant it was only a matter of time before COVID-19 snuck in.
Despite activating a “maximum emergency quarantine system” to slow the disease’s spread through its unvaccinated population, Pyongyang is now reporting large numbers of new cases daily.
Official state media KCNA on Sunday said 42 people had died since the outbreak’s beginning, with 820,620 cases and at least 324,550 receiving medical treatment.
The news agency reported that “all provinces, cities and counties of the country have been totally locked down and working units, production units and residential units closed from each other.”
North Korea first revealed the highly contagious omicron variant had been detected in the capital on Thursday, with Kim ordering nationwide lockdowns after an emergency meeting of the country’s Politburo.
“The spread of malignant disease comes to be a great upheaval in our country,” Kim said Saturday.
A large number of the deaths have been due to “a lack of knowledge and understanding of the stealth omicron variant virus infection,” KCNA said, adding “urgent” measures were being taken to educate the public.
Sunday’s KCNA report did not specify whether the new cases and deaths tested positive for COVID-19, but experts say the country will struggle to screen and diagnose on a massive scale.
North Korea’s health care system ranked 193 out of 195 countries in a 2021 Johns Hopkins University survey.
“With the current very backward and inaccurate testing method — which diagnoses Covid-19 based on whether a person has a fever or not — it’s impossible for North Korea to detect asymptomatic infections and contain the outbreak,” said Cheong Seong-jang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute.
“With the continued spike in the number of COVID-19 infections, the number of deaths from it is expected to rise further,” he added.
Kim has said the country will “actively learn” from China’s pandemic management strategy, according to KCNA.
China, the world’s only major economy still maintaining a zero-COVID-19 policy, is battling multiple omicron outbreaks — with lockdowns in some major cities, including financial hub Shanghai, sparking increasing public frustration.
North Korea has previously turned down offers of COVID-19 vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme, but both Beijing and Seoul have issued fresh offers of aid since the outbreak was announced.
Despite the public health crisis, new satellite imagery indicates North Korea has resumed construction at a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
The United States and South Korea have warned that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test — the regime’s seventh — and that it could come any day.
Analysts have warned Kim could speed up nuclear testing plans to distract North Korea’s population from the disastrous coronavirus outbreak.


UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister

UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister
Updated 58 min 58 sec ago

UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister

UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister
  • The 55-year-old co-founded the prominent polling company YouGo
  • Won widespread praise for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout.

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson late Tuesday named his Iraqi-born education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, as finance minister after the shock resignation of Rishi Sunak.
Downing Street said Queen Elizabeth II had approved the appointment of Zahawi, who came to Britain as a child with his Kurdish family not speaking any English, before forging a lucrative business career.
The 55-year-old co-founded the prominent polling company YouGov and was active in local Conservative politics in London, before becoming an MP in 2010.
He won widespread praise for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout.
But like Sunak, his private wealth has drawn adverse attention, including when he claimed parliamentary expenses for heating his horse stables in 2013.
Zahawi refused to comment to reporters as he left a meeting in 10 Downing Street, including on whether he will uphold Sunak’s pleas for fiscal discipline against Johnson’s free-spending instincts.
The prime minister named another loyalist, Michelle Donelan, to take Zahawi’s place at the education ministry.


Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%

Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%
Updated 05 July 2022

Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%

Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%
  • Government is working on debt-restructuring plan for IMF bailout

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will stop printing money completely to control a rapid increase in the prices of commodities, its prime minister said on Tuesday, with inflation expected to reach 60 percent this year.

The cash-strapped country of 22 million people is battling its worst economic crisis in decades and has been unable to pay for essential imports for months because of a severe dollar crunch caused by economic mismanagement and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic on its tourism-dependent economy.

Extreme shortages of petrol, food and medicines have led to the closure of many services, and triggered mass protests that have been ongoing since March. The island nation has been forced to shut schools and stop providing fuel to all but essential services.

Consumer prices rose 54.6 percent in June from a year earlier, with transport surging 128 percent from the previous month and food 80 percent.

“Our plan is to control inflation. By the end of this year, inflation will rise to 60 percent,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliamentarians.

“In 2023, we will have to print money with restrictions on several occasions. But by the end of 2024, it is our intention to stop printing money completely.”

Wickremesinghe announced the planned measures after last week’s complicated bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

The premier, who took office in May and is also the finance minister, said the plan was aimed at reducing the inflation rate to reach between 4 and 6 percent by 2025.

Sri Lanka is facing negotiations with the IMF as “a bankrupt country,” Wickremesinghe said, as he outlined a roadmap to get out of the crisis. The government is planning to submit its debt-restructuring plan for the IMF’s approval by the end of August.

Stopping the printing of money is in line with the fund’s expectations.

“The IMF will not like printing of money; if they have to abide by the IMF, (the) printing of new notes will have to be avoided,” Murtaza Jafferjee, economist and chairman of the Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute, told Arab News.

“Printing money means the central bank is funding the government; under the IMF agreement we will have to enact the new monetary law act which will restrict funding the government so it will automatically stop.”

The inflation rate, he said, could be even higher than projected.

“It can get worse if we have further supply chain blocks or fuel prices will increase further.”

One solution that could bring quicker relief than the IMF bailout loan — which may take months — could be tourism, a key source of Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves.

In 2019, the South Asian country welcomed over 1.9 million tourists. As COVID-19 restrictions upended the hospitality industry, the number dropped to less than 200,000 last year. But it is slowly picking up again, as 380,000 tourists have already arrived in the country in the first half of 2022, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

“We have to ensure that tourism makes a strong recovery in the second half of the year,” Jafferjee said.


Muhammad tops boys’ name rankings in UK

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 05 July 2022

Muhammad tops boys’ name rankings in UK

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Other Muslim names in top 100 lists for boys and girls include Ali, Yusuf, Fatima and Aisha

LONDON: Muhammad is the most popular baby name for boys in the UK this year, a list compiled by online media company BabyCentre has revealed.

Muslim names account for about 10 percent of all names in the top 100 rankings for both males and females, which were published in full by the Daily Mail.

In addition to Muhammad, the top boys’ names also include Ali in 31st position, Yusuf (53rd), Ayaan (61st), Ahmad (63rd), Omar (72nd), Abdullah (77th), Abdul (84th), Ibrahim (92nd) and Syed (94th).

Among the top girls’ names, Layla is the most popular Muslim name, in 24th place. It is followed by Fatima (27th), Nur (29th), Maryam (33rd), Aisha (37th), Aaliyah (60th), Raya (92nd), Nora (95th) and Anaya (98th).

Across the rest of the list, recent events appear to have strongly influenced the popularity of some common names in the UK. For example, the name Amber fell in the rankings following the recent high-profile court case between US film stars Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

Meanwhile a new name topped the girls’ list for the first time since 2015, with Lily overtaking Olivia.


2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government

2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government
Updated 05 July 2022

2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government

2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government
  • Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other
  • Sunak and Javid have been seen as possible leadership contenders within the Conservative Party if Johnson is forced out

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 05 July 2022

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.