India’s coronavirus cases cross 8 million, behind US

A medical worker collects a swab sample from a woman at a Covid-19 coronavirus screening site in New Delhi on October 29, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 29 October 2020

India’s coronavirus cases cross 8 million, behind US

  • India’s trajectory is moving toward the worst-hit country
  • Health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections

NEW DELHI: India’s confirmed coronavirus caseload surpassed 8 million on Thursday with daily infections dipping to the lowest level this week, as concerns grew over a major Hindu festival season and winter setting in.
India’s trajectory is moving toward the worst-hit country, the United States, which has over 8.8 million cases.
The Health Ministry reported another 49,881 infections and 517 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 120,527.
Life in India is edging back to pre-virus levels with shops, businesses, subway trains and movie theaters reopening and the country’s third-largest state of Bihar with a population of about 122 million people holding elections.
But health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections.
India saw a steep rise in cases in July and added more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when daily infections touched a record of 97,894 with the highest number of deaths at 1,275. According to the Health Ministry, more than 7.3 million Indians have recovered from COVID-19.
Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist, said that in most parts of India the infection curve was never flattened and the number of people who are now susceptible to the virus had decreased.
He warned that the ongoing festival season was likely to increase the speed of the viral spread, resulting in localized outbreaks where people gathered without masks and didn’t adhere to social distancing.
Even as new cases are on a decline nationwide, the Indian capital appears to be heading toward another surge in infections. It reported its worst day with 4,853 cases on Wednesday, after falling to less than 1,000 new cases per day last month.
”I am shocked, but not surprised,” said Arvind Kumar, a New Delhi doctor. “There seems to be a sense of complacency in adhering to mask and distancing norms.”
Kumar warned that the rising air pollution during winter months in the capital could have “a deleterious effect on the incidence (of virus) and the mortality rate.”
Winters have become a time of health woes in New Delhi, with a toxic haze obscuring the sky and blocking sunlight. Pollution levels soar to severe levels, which worsen respiratory illnesses.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health and a leading infectious disease expert, said a research has shown that a combination of cooler and drier air spreads the virus more efficiently.
“In drier air, those droplets tend to be smaller and can linger in the air,” Jha said.
India, with a population of 1.4 billion, aims to provide a coronavirus vaccine to 250 million people by July 2021. The government said it was planning to receive 450 million to 500 million vaccine doses and would ensure “equitable access.”


Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 9 sec ago

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.


Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.