Europe virus death toll crosses 400,000 as shops reopen in France

A fishmonger poses outside his shop, in Paris, on November 26, 2020, during France's second lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus). (AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2020

Europe virus death toll crosses 400,000 as shops reopen in France

  • Europe on Saturday crossed a grim barrier, registering 400,649 deaths
  • Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and 61 million infections have been officially recorded

PARIS: Coronavirus deaths topped 400,000 Saturday in Europe, the world’s second worst-hit region, as parts of the continent began to reopen shops for the holiday season.
The densely populated Los Angeles county meanwhile announced a ban on gatherings of people from different households under a new “safer-at-home order” to battle the pandemic surging across the United States.
Most nations hope to ease their virus rules for Christmas and New Year, allowing a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until a clutch of promising new vaccines kick in.
Europe on Saturday crossed a grim barrier, registering 400,649 deaths according to an AFP tally at 0800 GMT.
Britain accounted for almost two-thirds of the fatalities at 57,551, followed by Italy with 53,677, France at 51,914 and Spain with 44,668.
Stores were due to lift their shutters in France on Saturday, while Poland’s shopping centers will also reopen.
Belgium will allow shops to reopen from December 1, but keep the current semi-lockdown in place possibly until mid-January. The move mirrors similar easing in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Ireland has also announced a staggered easing of restrictions to allow some businesses to reopen and for families to gather ahead of Christmas.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the upcoming festive period “cannot and will not be the kind of Christmas we are used to” but added the easing of restrictions would offer “some respite from the hardships of 2020 and in particular, the last six weeks.”
Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged more than one million cases on Friday.
Although the virus spread is slowing thanks to weeks of tough restrictions, Europe remains at the heart of the pandemic, recording more cases than the United States in the past week.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the overall total in the country beyond the one-million mark.
More worryingly, the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.

The United States surpassed 13 million total cases on Friday — the world’s highest figure — and officials were concerned whether gatherings on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday would further worsen the situation.
The virus clouded the traditional “Black Friday” shopping day, but experts were expecting strong online sales.
Worry over the virus’s rapid spread led Los Angeles county to announce a temporary ban on gatherings of people from different households, with religious services and protests exempt.
The order affecting the United States’ second-largest city will take effect Monday and last at least three weeks, until December 20, the county’s public health department said.
California last week imposed a night-time curfew across much of the state.
Further north in Canada, whose largest city Toronto is under lockdown, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that a general who led NATO’s mission in Iraq as well as Canadian troops in Afghanistan and Bosnia would spearhead a gigantic vaccination drive.
“This will be the biggest immunization in the history of the country,” Trudeau said.

The pandemic is spreading fastest in Asia and Latin America, and is up by a worrying 113 percent over the week in Mexico.
Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and 61 million infections have been officially recorded, although the real numbers are unknown since testing and reporting methods vary greatly.
With the virus on the march and the rollout of the first vaccines not expected until next month, much of the world faces a gloomy winter under more lockdowns, with an accompanying increase in economic anxiety and mental strain.
Lockdown fatigue is spreading even as governments unfurl new measures to save health care systems from collapse.
One hairdresser in northern England has become a cause celebre among social media libertarians after stacking up fines totalling £17,000 ($23,000), invoking the Magna Carta of 1215.
Law enforcers have taken a dim view, meting out fines and reminding all businesses that legislation of this year, not 800 years ago, is relevant and binding.
Nations are now trying to gauge how people, exhausted by one of the most traumatic years in generations, can enjoy a small holiday break without making things worse.

US Navy says seizes huge weapons cache in Arabian Sea

Updated 12 min 5 sec ago

US Navy says seizes huge weapons cache in Arabian Sea

DUBAI: The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said Sunday it had seized a huge cache of illicit Russian and Chinese weapons from a stateless dhow sailing in international waters of the North Arabian Sea.
The Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, said the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey intercepted the vessel and discovered the cargo during a routine boarding, in a two-day operation on May 6-7.
“The cache of weapons included dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers,” it said in a statement.
The arms are in US custody and their source and intended destination is under investigation, it said.
The Fifth Fleet said the Monterey was in operation for 36 hours, providing security for boarding teams.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released.”
The statement did not indicate where the vessel may have come from, but said the US Navy’s regular patrols in the region “disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activity.”

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts

Updated 09 May 2021

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts

  • The Taliban deny involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year

KABUL: Dozens of young girls were being buried Sunday at a desolate hilltop cemetery in Kabul, a day after a secondary school was targeted in the bloodiest attack in Afghanistan in over a year.
A series of blasts outside the school during a peak holiday shopping period killed more than 50 people, mostly girl students, and wounded over 100 in Dash-e-Barchi, a west Kabul suburb populated mostly by Hazara Shiites.
The government blamed the Taliban for the carnage, but the insurgents denied responsibility and issued a statement saying the nation needed to “safeguard and look after educational centers and institutions.”
Saturday’s blasts came as the United States military continues to pull out its last 2,500 troops from the violence-wracked country despite faltering peace efforts between the Taliban and Afghan government to end a decades-long war.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters that a car bomb detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada girls school on Saturday, and when the students rushed out in panic, two more devices exploded.
Residents were shopping ahead of this week’s Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the blasts occurred.
On Sunday, relatives began burying the dead at a hilltop site known as “Martyrs Cemetery,” where victims of attacks against the Hazara community are laid to rest.
Hazaras are Shiite Muslims and considered heretic by extremist Sunnis. Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the Afghan population.
Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban.
“This savage group does not have the power to confront security forces on the battlefield, and instead targets with brutality and barbarism public facilities and the girls’ school,” Ghani said in a statement after the blasts.
The Taliban denied involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year, when they signed a deal with Washington that paved the way for peace talks and withdrawal of the remaining US troops.
But the group has clashed daily with Afghan forces in the rugged countryside even as the US military reduces its presence.
The United States was supposed to have pulled all forces out by May 1 as agreed with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11 — a move that angered the insurgents.
The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, reiterated in a message released ahead of Eid that any delay in withdrawing the troops was a “violation” of that deal.
“If America again fails to live up to its commitments then the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all the consequences,” Akhundzada warned in Sunday’s message.
He said also that the nation should give particular attention to the healthy and literate growth of children.
The nation “must safeguard and look after educational centers and institutions,” he said.
The top US diplomat in Kabul, Ross Wilson, called Saturday’s blasts “abhorrent.”
“This unforgivable attack on children is an assault on Afghanistan’s future, which cannot stand,” Wilson tweeted.
The Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood has been a regular target of attacks from Sunni Islamist militants.
In May last year, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight raid on a hospital in the area that left 25 people dead, including 16 mothers of newborn babies.
Ghani had blamed the Taliban and the militant Daesh group for that attack.
On October 24, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a tuition center in the same district, killing 18 people in an attack that was claimed by Daesh.


India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

Updated 09 May 2021

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

  • India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours
  • Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections

MUMBAI: India’s COVID-19 deaths rose by more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday as calls for a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus mounted.
India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.
India has been hit hard by a second COVID-19 wave with cases and deaths hitting record highs every other day. With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher.
Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown similar to the one imposed during the first wave last year.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4,187 fatalities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see 1 million COVID-19 deaths by August.
Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for overwhelmed hospitals.

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Updated 09 May 2021

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

BEIJING: A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-ton object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

But the US space agency NASA and some experts said China had behaved irresponsibly, as an uncontrolled re-entry of such a large object risked damage and casualties.

“After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere,” the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

It added that most of the segment disintegrated and was destroyed during descent.

The US military’s Space Command said the rocket “re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 p.m. EDT on May 8 (0215 GMT Sunday).”

“It is unknown if the debris impacted land or water.”

Monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said that the location in Saudi Arabia was where American systems last recorded it.

“Operators confirm that the rocket actually went into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives,” it tweeted.

The segment’s descent matched expert predictions that any debris would have splashed down into the ocean, given that 70 percent of the planet is covered by water.

Because it was an uncontrolled descent, there was widespread public interest and speculation about where the debris would land.

American and European space authorities were among those tracking the rocket and trying to predict its re-entry.

Objects generate immense amounts of heat and friction when they enter the atmosphere, which can cause them to burn up and disintegrate. But larger ones such as the Long March-5B may not be destroyed entirely.

Their wreckage can land on the surface of the planet and may cause damage and casualties, though that risk is low.

Last year, debris from another Chinese Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

That, and the one that came down Sunday, are tied for the fourth-biggest objects in history to undergo an uncontrolled re-entry, according to data from Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The uncertainty and risks of such a re-entry sparked accusations that Beijing had behaved irresponsibly.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested last week that China had been negligent, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed that after the re-entry on Sunday.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” Nelson said in a statement.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

To avoid such scenarios, some experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket – which is not equipped for a controlled descent.

“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely,” McDowell tweeted.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless.”

Chinese authorities had downplayed the risk, however.

“The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or (on people and activities) on the ground is extremely low,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into space exploration to boost its global stature and technological might.

The launch of the first module of its space station – by the Long March rocket that came down Sunday – was a milestone in its ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space.

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies

Updated 09 May 2021

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies

  • US, Germany and Poland approve voluntary departure of govt workers from crisis-hit country
  • CNN report: More than 200 staff in US embassy have contracted coronavirus

NEW DELHI: A number of embassies in New Delhi have issued advisories for their staff, giving them the option of leaving India as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the country with no signs of slowing.

Since late April, India has reported the world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus cases. Official data recorded more than 401,000 new cases and 4,000 virus-related deaths on Saturday. Coronavirus positivity rates in seven Indian states, including in the capital New Delhi, have also crossed 30 percent, according to Health Ministry statistics.

As the country faces a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies, and several foreign missions suffer local virus outbreaks, staff members have been allowed to leave the country.

The US, Germany and Poland earlier this week said that they approved the voluntary departure of their government employees from India because of the COVID-19 surge.

According to a CNN report on Saturday, the US Embassy has seen more than 200 staff contract the virus. The US State Department is also conducting a medical evacuation from the country.

The embassy’s spokesman told Arab News that the mission is “closely monitoring the situation.

“We will take all necessary measures to safeguard the health and well-being of our employees, including offering vaccines to employees,” he added.

Citing privacy concerns, the spokesman declined to comment on the scale of the embassy outbreak or the evacuation process.

Meanwhile, Germany confirmed that several members of its embassy staff had returned home.

“The German Embassy has opened the possibility for staff and families to return to Germany,” spokesman Hans Christian Winkler told Arab News.

However, he added that there was no “repatriation process” as “only a small number” of embassy workers have left so far.

The Polish foreign ministry also told Arab News in a written statement that it had “presented employees of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in New Delhi with the option of returning to Poland.”

The statement followed Polish media reports last week saying that a senior diplomat from the country’s New Delhi embassy had been airlifted back to Warsaw for hospitalization after contracting coronavirus.

Switzerland’s embassy admitted that two of its “transferable staff” are in Switzerland, but the country’s ambassador, Dr. Ralf Heckner, said that the two workers had been home “from the beginning of the crisis,” and that no other staff members had left any of the country’s missions in India.

The French Embassy declined comment on whether its staff had received any advice regarding medical evacuations.