India PM Modi holds first election rally since COVID-19 outbreak

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses his supporters during an election campaign meeting ahead of state assembly election in Dehri, eastern state of Bihar, India, October 23, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 October 2020

India PM Modi holds first election rally since COVID-19 outbreak

  • Thousands of supporters standing shoulder to shoulder and ignoring social distancing rules attended the rally
  • India has been among the worst hit by the coronavirus, with the second-highest amount of cases globally

MUMBAI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first election rally on Friday since the coronavirus took hold in the country in March, drawing thousands of cheering supporters standing shoulder to shoulder and ignoring social distancing rules.
Other politicians including Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi also attended big rallies in the eastern state of Bihar, where local elections start in phases from next week, with many unmasked participants trying to get a glimpse of the leaders.
India has been among the worst hit by the coronavirus, with the second-highest amount of cases globally, and experts worry big gatherings like the political rallies could trigger a fresh spike in cases.
“I want to congratulate the people of Bihar for fighting a disaster like corona so well... the situation in some of the richest countries in the world is not hidden from anyone,” Modi said at the first of the three rallies scheduled in the state.
The 70-year-old, who has himself highlighted the importance of social distancing, took off his mask before addressing a crowd from a high platform.
Bihar, India’s third-most populous state and one of its poorest, has recorded more than 200,000 coronavirus infections, fewer than richer states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
India reported 54,366 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 7.8 million. It has the highest number of reported infections after the United States but the rise in cases has slowed since reaching a peak on Sept. 17.
A government panel has warned, however, that if precautions like wearing masks and social distancing are not followed around India, cases could spike by up to 2.6 million in just a month.
“There is some evidence that large gatherings cause rapid spread,” the government-appointed panel of scientists, virologists and other experts said earlier this week.
As various states head to elections over the coming months, political groups including Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have started promising free COVID-19 vaccines.


Britain pledges $227 million annual civilian and food aid to Afghanistan

Updated 30 min 12 sec ago

Britain pledges $227 million annual civilian and food aid to Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan is at risk of receiving between 15 percent and 20 percent less funding than it received at the previous donor conference four years ago

GENEVA: Britain said it will pledge $227 million in annual civilian and food aid for Afghanistan at a conference on Tuesday in Geneva where officials from about 70 countries and humanitarian organizations will pledge billions of dollars for the war-torn nation.
Dependent on foreign aid, Afghanistan is at risk of receiving between 15 percent and 20 percent less funding than it received at the previous donor conference four years ago, diplomats say, as governments are under intense pressure to make savings as they ramp up spending to help their own economies recover from impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Withholding funds at this point, diplomats say, could at least provide foreign governments with some leverage to inject a greater sense of urgency into peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives that began in Qatar in September.
Britain, a country with a long and difficult history of involvement in Afghanistan, is the country’s third largest bilateral donor, and the amount being pledged in Geneva will be slightly higher than it pledged at the last donor conference in Brussels four years ago.
The statement issued by the UK Mission to the United Nations and World Trade Organization in Geneva said $207 million would be pledged to support peace and stability in Afghanistan and “improve access to education and vital infrastructure.”
Britain would “also announce an extra $20 million to the United Nations’ World Food Programme” for Afghanistan.
The latest monetary commitment is separate from the $93.32 million security pledge for Afghan forces for 2021, which Britain announced last month.
In Brussels in 2016, Britain had pledged a total of $1 billion for four years, which translated into 187.5 million pounds annually.
At the Brussels conference, Afghanistan obtained total pledges of $15.2 billion for 2017 to 2020, equivalent to $3.8 billion a year.