New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

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Buildings are seen shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, October 30, 2019. (Reuters)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 06 November 2019

New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

  • India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks
  • On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution

NEW DELHI: It is more than 15 days since Sunieta Ojha’s two children and husband began complaining of a persistent cough and congestion in the heart.
They have stopped going out and bought three air purifiers to protect themselves from the air pollution that has engulfed New Delhi and the National Capital Territory (NCR).
A lawyer by profession, Ojha has been facing the tough task of taking care of three sick people while ensuring her professional life remains unaffected.
“My kids, who are 10 and 5 years old, keep on coughing and feel uncomfortable the whole day. They cannot step out and play. Life has become very suffocating for us,” Ojha said.
“The NCR has turned into a gas chamber where people have no other option but to suffer,” she told Arab News.
India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks. The Air Quality Index (AQI) has exceeded the 500 mark regularly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the AQI should not exceed more than 60. This year has been the worst for the past three years.
The air quality in Delhi improved on Wednesday. However, it still remains in a hazardous zone.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution and asked the government to intervene to address the issue.
“I have never bothered about pollution in life. I have been busy in my professional life. But that was a mistake. I realize that something needs to be done to address the issue of air pollution because it affects everyone’s life and I tried mobilizing people through my social media posts,” said Shuchir Suri, one of the main organizers behind mobilizing citizens on the issue of pollution.
“It is a movement for clean air. This is happening globally, and this should happen in India also. Clean India starts with clean air. People want a change now in the way we look at environmental pollution,” Suri said.
Last week the Delhi government declared a public health emergency and ordered the shutting of schools until Nov. 6. It distributed four million masks in schools.
It has also introduced a car-rationing system in Delhi for ten days from Nov. 3-14, in which cars with odd and even number plates would use the roads on alternate days.
The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up central and the local government for not doing enough to address the issue of pollution. It ordered the cessation of all construction and demolition activities in Delhi. It also asked the neighboring states of Panjab and Haryana to stop the burning of farm stubbles, which environmentalists believe is one of the major causes of the toxic smog at the onset of winter in Delhi.
Dr. Loveleen Mangla, of Metro Hospital and Cancer Institute, said: “Bad air can damage your lungs, it causes bronchitis. If the air quality is bad then particulate matter or PM 2.5 can enter the heart through the lungs and also cause heart attacks.”
He said that in the past month there had been an huge increase in the number of patients visiting him with respiratory problems.
“In the prevailing situation, it would be difficult for patients to get back to normal life. The medication can subside the problem for the time being but it cannot cure,” Mangla told Arab News.
“Air purifiers and masks do not really address the issue. These are short-term measures. They are more for the psychological satisfaction of the people. Patients cannot remain confined to home all the time,” he said.
Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, who runs an NGO called Swechha that advocates a clean environment, said: “It’s the collective failure of the central and the state government and all the wings of the executive that a problem which affects the lives of so many people remains neglected year after year.”
“The public health emergency that India has needs to be looked at from the 360-degree angle, not just 60 degrees. It cannot be looked at as a November-December issue; the air quality has to be addressed keeping in mind the whole year,” Jha told Arab News.
“I am disappointed that so many years have passed and still the problem is lingering. There is no way out but to find out a solution.”
He said that Delhi and the NCR have 10 million vehicles and the Delhi master plan says that almost 80 percent of the people should be using public transport, but this is not the case. “Right now, only one fourth of the total population of 40 million is using public transport. So the region needs robust public transport and facilities to address last-mile connectivity.”


Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

Updated 03 March 2021

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

  • Ethnic minorities need support due to additional pressures, researcher tells Arab News
  • Number of Muslim intensive care patients above 50% despite making up 5% of Germany’s population

LONDON: More than 90 percent of severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany have a “migrant background,” a leading doctor has said, amid concerns that minority ethnic groups require more support in the fight against the virus.

Thomas Voshaar, a top doctor at a German lung hospital, said a survey of leading medics had found that many of the most gravely ill patients were what he described as “patients with communications barriers.”

Saloni Dattani, a science writer and researcher at OurWorldInData, told Arab News: “The reasons that ethnic minorities are more likely to develop severe disease are well-understood. In the UK and the US, ethnic minorities are more likely to live in geographical areas that are hard hit, more likely to work in essential services where they come into contact with more people, more likely to live in dense areas, and more likely to live in multigenerational households.”

She added: “In sum, a greater proportion of severely ill patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds because a greater proportion of all COVID-19 patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

The head of Germany’s top diseases institute, Lothar Wieler, said the number of intensive care patients with a Muslim background was “clearly above 50 percent,” despite making up just 5 percent of Germany’s 83 million population.

Voshaar told a conference call of journalists that government warnings about the dangers of the virus are “simply not getting through” to migrant communities.

Jonathon Kitson, a fellow at the London-based Adam Smith Institute, told Arab News: “This shows the need for an acceleration in Germany’s vaccination program to reach all members of society.”

He added: “Although vaccine acceptance rates in the UK amongst BAME (black, Asian and ethnic minority) people have initially been lower than the rest of the population, thanks to outreach and personal testimony this is beginning to change.”

Wieler said doctors had compiled figures from intensive care wards toward the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, the peak months of the second wave.

“According to my analysis, more than 90 percent of the intubated, most seriously ill patients always had a migrant background,” he said.

“We agreed among ourselves that we should describe these people as ‘patients with communications barriers.’ We don’t seem to be getting through to them,” he added.

“There are parallel societies in our country. You can only put that right with proper outreach work in the mosques, but we’re not getting through. And that sucks.”

Minority groups have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 in many countries, including in the UK, where studies have shown a higher mortality rate among black and Asian people.

But Germany does not publish official figures on infection or death rates among different ethnic groups.

“Since it’s more difficult for ethnic minorities to self-isolate and protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19, it’s all the more important to vaccinate and provide support for ethnic minorities,” Dattani said.
 


Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure

Updated 03 March 2021

Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure

  • Macron met four of the grandchildren of Ali Boumendjel and admitted “in the name of France” that the lawyer had been detained, tortured and killed in Algiers on March 23, 1957
  • Boumendjel was a French-speaking nationalist lawyer and intellectual who served as a link between the moderate UDMA party and the National Liberation Front (FLN)

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron has admitted for the first time that French soldiers murdered a top Algerian independence figure then covered up his death in the latest acknowledgement by Paris of its colonial-era crimes.
Macron met four of the grandchildren of Ali Boumendjel and admitted “in the name of France” that the lawyer had been detained, tortured and killed in Algiers on March 23, 1957, his office said Tuesday.
French authorities had previously claimed that he had committed suicide while in detention, a lie that his widow and other family members had campaigned for years to see overturned.
“Looking our history in the face, acknowledging the truth, will not enable us to heal all of the still open wounds, but it will help to create a path for the future,” the statement from Macron’s office said.
As the first French president to be born in the post-colonial era, Macron has made several unprecedented steps to face up to France’s brutal fight to retain control of its north African colony, which won independence in 1962.
In 2018, he admitted that France had created a “system” that facilitated torture during the war and acknowledged that French mathematician Maurice Audin, a Communist pro-independence activist, was also murdered in Algiers.
In July last year, he tasked French historian Benjamin Stora with assessing how France has dealt with its colonial legacy.
Stora’s report in January made a series of recommendations, including acknowledging the murder of Boumendjel and creating a “memory and truth commission” that would hear testimony from people who suffered during the war.
It did not suggest a formal state apology, however, and Macron has said there would be “no repentance nor apologies” but rather “symbolic acts” aimed at promoting reconciliation.
Boumendjel was a French-speaking nationalist lawyer and intellectual who served as a link between the moderate UDMA party and the National Liberation Front (FLN), the underground resistance movement.
Macron praised his “humanism” and his “courage” in his statement, adding that Boumendjel had been influenced by French Enlightenment values in his fight against “the injustice of the colonial system.”
In 2001, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses published a book called “Special Services 1955-1957” in which he described how he and his “death squad” tortured and killed prisoners, including Boumendjel.
Aussaresses wrote that the government, notably the then justice minister Francois Mitterrand, who later became president, was informed about and tolerated the use of torture, executions and forced displacements.
Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle, which had never been officially corrected.
Macron also said on Tuesday that he would continue to open national archives and encouraged historians to continue researching Algeria’s independence war, which saw atrocities committed by all sides.
Paris ruled Algeria for more than a hundred years and the independence war from 1954-1962 left 1.5 million Algerians dead, leaving deep scars and a toxic debate about the legacy of colonization.
During his 2017 election campaign, Macron declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity” and called French actions “genuinely barbaric.”
But despite his outreach efforts, he has been criticized for ruling out a state apology, with the Algerian government calling the most recent report by Stora “not objective” and “below expectations.”
On France’s right and far-right, many politicians object to raking up the past, with French colonialism still defended as a “civilising” enterprise that helped develop occupied territories.
During his presidential run in 2017, Macron’s comments on Algeria were denounced by his defeated right-wing rival Francois Fillon as “this hatred of our history, this perpetual repentance.”


COVID-19 vaccines being tested on low-immunity patients

Updated 03 March 2021

COVID-19 vaccines being tested on low-immunity patients

  • Trials have shown that the inoculations have a very high success rate for most adults, including the very elderly,
  • But there is little evidence on their efficacy in immunocompromised patients

LONDON: People with low immunity due to health conditions such as cancer are being recruited to a study to assess if COVID-19 vaccines will give them high protection.
Trials have shown that the inoculations have a very high success rate for most adults, including the very elderly, with antibody levels exceeding expectations. But there is little evidence on their efficacy in immunocompromised patients.
In a new study, up to 5,000 immunocompromised people from around Britain will be vaccinated, with blood tests before and after their inoculations to assess the change in protection against the virus. Some results are expected in a few months, with full conclusions delivered early next year.
“We urgently need to understand if patient populations with chronic conditions such as cancer, inflammatory arthritis and kidney and liver disease are likely to be well-protected by current COVID-19 vaccines,” said lead researcher Prof. Iain McInnes from the University of Glasgow.
“The study will give us invaluable new data to help us answer questions of this kind from our patients and their families.”
The British Society for Immunology said: “While COVID-19 vaccination might provide a lower level of protection in people who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised compared with the rest of the population, it is still very important that you get vaccinated, as it will offer you a certain amount of protection.”
It added: “It is important that you receive two doses of the vaccine to maximize the protection that vaccination offers you.”

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Husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says detention ‘blot on British diplomacy’ ahead of scheduled release

Updated 03 March 2021

Husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says detention ‘blot on British diplomacy’ ahead of scheduled release

  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran since March 2020
  • Her husband said he has spent the years during his wife’s detention “swinging between hope and despair”

LONDON: The five-year imprisonment of a British-Iranian woman in Iran is a “blot on British diplomacy,” her husband said ahead of her scheduled release.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Tehran since 2016 when she was jailed for five years over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. She denies the allegations.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband said he has spent the years during his wife’s detention “swinging between hope and despair,” UK media reported.
“It is shocking that what started off as a mum and a baby on holiday could be allowed to last for five years.
“There’s no ambiguity in that, that’s just staggering. It is a blot on British diplomacy and clearly Iranian hostage-taking is outrageous,” Richard Ratcliffe said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, has been held under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Her original sentence is due to end on Sunday.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told Ratcliffe in January that his efforts to publicize the March 7 date could jeopardize her release from prison.
He responded on Twitter by saying: “If anything happens to Nazanin or her family, or if she is not released to the UK on March 7 — there should be consequences.”
“We continue to believe that transparency is the best form of protection from abuse,” Ratcliffe added.
“We also made clear that the government’s role is to remind the Iranian authorities that Nazanin has the UK’s protection — not to act as a messenger for IRGC mafia tactics and suppression.”
Amnesty International joined Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family in a “countdown to reunion” as the end of the UK national’s five-year prison sentence approaches.
Ratcliffe launched the countdown to freedom last Friday alongside the human rights organization and its supporters who are joining in on social media.

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Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.