Nepal eyes railway deal with China during Xi visit

The Chinese Presidentand Xi Jinping, right, met with Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, left, in Beijing in 2016. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 October 2019

Nepal eyes railway deal with China during Xi visit

  • Xi will be the first Chinese president to visit Nepal in 22 years
  • The rail link will be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

KATMANDU, Nepal: Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in Nepal on Saturday for talks with Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and is expected to sign a deal expanding a railway link between the Himalayan nation and Tibet, officials said.
Xi will be the first Chinese president to visit Nepal in 22 years and will arrive from India, where he held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Landlocked Nepal, a natural buffer between India and China, has been trying to lessen its dependence on New Delhi.
The Chinese leader will meet Oli on Sunday and the two leaders are expected to sign a slew of deals, including the planned extension of the rail link from remote, mountainous Tibet to Nepal’s capital, Katmandu, officials said.
The link will be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s signature project that Nepal joined in 2017.
Rajan Bhattarai, one of Oli’s top aides, said a feasibility study of the plan had been conducted by Chinese experts.
“An agreement for the preparation of a detailed project report for the railway link is expected to be signed after the prime minister’s meeting with President Xi on Sunday,” Bhattarai told Reuters.
The report will contain cost estimates, with financing and construction models to be decided, officials said.
Nepal sees the rail link with China as an alternatve to its dependence on India. New Delhi accounts for nearly two-thirds of Nepal’s trade and is the sole source of its fuel supply.
A prolonged blockade of its border crossings with India in 2015 and 2016 left Nepal short of fuel and medicine for months.
Asian giants India and China have both sought to woo Nepal and have poured in aid and infrastructure investment.
Beijing has helped build or upgrade highways, airports and power plants in Nepal under the Belt and Road infrastructure drive — a string of ports, railways, roads, bridges and other investments tying China to Europe via central and southern Asia.


UK PM Boris Johnson locks down England as COVID-19 cases pass 1 million

Updated 31 October 2020

UK PM Boris Johnson locks down England as COVID-19 cases pass 1 million

  • Lockdown starts just after midnight on Thursday morning
  • United Kingdom has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered England back into a national lockdown after the United Kingdom passed the milestone of one million COVID-19 cases and a second wave of infections threatened to overwhelm the health service.
The United Kingdom, which has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day and scientists have warned the “worst case” scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.
Johnson, at a hastily convened news conference in Downing Street after news of a lockdown leaked to local media, said that the one-month lockdown across England would kick in at a minute past midnight on Thursday morning and last until Dec. 2.
In some of the most onerous restrictions in Britain’s peacetime history, people will only be allowed to leave home for specific reasons such as education, work, exercise, shopping for essentials and medicines or caring for the vulnerable.
“Now is the time to take action because there is no alternative,” Johnson said, flanked by his chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and his chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.
The government will revive its emergency coronavirus wage subsidy scheme to ensure workers who are temporarily laid off during a new England-wide lockdown receive 80% of their pay.
Essential shops, schools, and universities will remain open, Johnson said. Pubs and restaurants will be shut apart from for takeaways. All non-essential retail will close.
Johnson’s imposition of stricter curbs came after scientists warned the outbreak was going in the wrong direction and that action was needed to halt the spread of the virus if families were to have any hope of gathering at Christmas.
Johnson was criticized by political opponents for moving too slowly into the first national lockdown, which stretched from March 23 to July 4. He fell ill with COVID in late March and was hospitalized in early April.
The measures bring England into alignment with France and Germany by imposing nationwide restrictions almost as severe as the ones that drove the global economy this year into its deepest recession in generations.
So far the United Kingdom has reported 46,555 COVID-19 deaths — defined as those dying within 28 days of a positive test. A broader death measure of those with COVID-19 on their death certificates gives the toll as 58,925.
The United Kingdom has the world’s fifth largest official death toll, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.