Bollywood star Akshay Kumar tests positive as India virus surge worsens

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar said Sunday he has tested positive for Covid-19. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 April 2021

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar tests positive as India virus surge worsens

  • Saturday also saw Indian spin star Axar Patel announce he had tested positive
  • The news came just a day after Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar said he had been hospitalized as a precautionary measure after testing positive a week earlier

MUMBAI: Bollywood star Akshay Kumar said Sunday he has tested positive for Covid-19, becoming the latest Indian celebrity to contract the virus as the vast nation battles a new wave of cases.
India reported 93,249 new daily infections on Sunday, according to health ministry data, the highest increase since September, taking the total known cases to almost 12.5 million.
“I wish to inform everyone that, earlier this morning, I have tested positive for Covid-19,” the 53-year-old actor tweeted.
Kumar said last year that he drinks cow urine daily to stay healthy — a practice some Hindus believe has medical benefits, including against the coronavirus.
He tweeted that he is now under home quarantine and has “sought necessary medical care.”
Saturday also saw Indian spin star Axar Patel announce he had tested positive and was in isolation ahead of the start of the lucrative Twenty20 Indian Premier League tournament.
The news came just a day after Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar said he had been hospitalized as a precautionary measure after testing positive a week earlier.
Single-day infections in the nation of 1.3 billion have been rising since early February when they fell to below 9,000 after peaking at almost 100,000 in September.
Experts have warned that infections are increasing at a faster pace in India, which has the world’s third-highest number of cases after the US and Brazil, compared to last year.
Maharashtra, where the country’s financial capital Mumbai is located, has been the worst-hit state or territory in recent weeks.
The megacity of 20 million people saw its highest single-day spike on Saturday with 9,090 fresh cases.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray tweeted Friday that “if things do not improve visibly in a couple of days and if no other solution is found, we will have to announce another lockdown like it is being done globally.”
Ahead of Sunday’s figures, India had recorded more than 456,000 cases in the last seven days — an increase of 37 percent compared to the previous week, according to an AFP database.
Brazil recorded over 505,000 cases for the same period but with a decreasing trend from the previous week, and the US reported 451,000 infections.
In neighboring Bangladesh, authorities said a seven-day lockdown would be imposed from Monday, with all domestic travel services including flights suspended, and malls and shops shut.
Banks would be allowed to open for just 2.5 hours on weekdays, while public and private sector businesses were told to only have a skeleton crew in their offices.
“The corona(virus) infections are spreading fast. The infection and death rates are jumping,” Road Transport Minister Obaidul Quader said in a video message late Saturday.
“In view of the prevailing situation, the Sheikh Hasina government has decided to enforce a lockdown across the country for seven days starting from Monday.”
The nation of 168 million people has been grappling with a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks.
Health authorities reported 7,087 new cases on Sunday — the highest since the start of the pandemic — taking the infection toll to just under 640,000.


In the Iron Throne’s shadow: Arabs reflect on ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years on

‘Game of Thrones’ topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access to HBO’s streaming services.
Updated 17 April 2021

In the Iron Throne’s shadow: Arabs reflect on ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years on

  • Middle Eastern fans look back on 10 years of a show that changed pop culture forever

RIYADH: Whether you loved it or hated it, followed it casually or watched every episode twice, chances are you’ve at least heard of the HBO smash hit series “Game of Thrones.” The eight-season fantasy epic, which began 10 years ago today, has secured its place in pop culture history as one of the most famous TV shows of all time.

The adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the show began on April 17, 2011, to an audience of eager fans. Over the course of its run, the show has garnered 160 Emmy nominations, taking home 59 of them, making it one of the most successful shows in history.

Najla Hussam, an avid fantasy fan who cited Martin as one of her favorite authors, told Arab News that the show provided a way for her to bond with her father, who started reading A Song of Ice and Fire when the first volume was published in 1996.

“My dad tried for years to get me to read the novels, but I honestly just wasn’t that interested. When the TV series first came out, he asked me to watch the first season with him to see if he could get me to change my mind about it. I was hooked instantly, and once the season was over, I borrowed all the books from him so we could discuss our theories about how the future of the show might look,” she said.

The show has also gained notoriety for other reasons. Due to its exclusivity of being shown on the HBO network, the show is also famous for being the most pirated TV series of all time. Consistently throughout its run, Game of Thrones topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access internationally to HBO’s viewing and streaming services.

In the MENA region, the show was broadcast on the Orbit Showtime Network (OSN), with previous seasons being made available via the network’s on-demand service, OSN Play. Leading up to the start of season 7, OSN launched a 24-hour binge-watching channel, with all of the previous seasons being made available.

However, in the Arab world, the show saw a lot of pirating activity for another, unusual reason; the OSN network broadcast the show in its full, uncensored version, which caused a lot of fans to hunt online for a version that removed or glossed over some of the more controversial themes.

Danya Assad, a 30-year old viewer from Riyadh, said that she only started watching the series around the start of the fourth season in 2013. She was only able to get into the fandom around the time censored episodes started to become available online.

“I heard about a Game of Thrones group online made up of fans who volunteered to censor some of the more unsavory content, and that was how I was able to start watching,” she said. “I loved the premise of the show, I’m a huge fan of fantasy television and I was definitely interested in watching, but the amount of sexual content and other disturbing themes really put me off.”

Assad said that while some fans might argue that she didn’t get the “authentic” experience of watching the show, she feels much more comfortable knowing that she was able to bypass the more controversial themes and still manage to enjoy the show.

“I loved Game of Thrones because of the political intrigue, for the richness and depth of the lore and the history, because of the unexpected plot twists like the Red Wedding, for things such as the fashion and the set dressing. By removing the gratuitous sexual content and some of the more violent scenes, I don’t think I missed out on much,” she said.

A man stands atop the ancient fortress of Ait-ben-Haddou, where scenes depicting the fictional city of Yunkai from ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed. (Getty Images)

The show has seen its fair share of controversy over the past decade. Despite the accolades heaped on the show, the amount of violence portrayed in the series, including the deaths of many innocents and children, the sexual content, and heavy themes such as incest and rape, have drawn much ire from fans and critics alike.

“I couldn’t make it past the first few episodes, honestly,” Talal Ashour, another Saudi fantasy fan, said. “I can understand the appeal, but to me Game of Thrones just crossed way too many boundaries. It’s a beautifully crafted show, and I’m still amazed by certain aspects of it, like the CGI dragons or the fact that they created a whole new language for the Dothraki, but I couldn’t get passed the darker aspects of the show.”

But perhaps the biggest let-down for fans of the series was the ending, which many fans believe was a massive disappointment and a departure from the grandeur of the previous seasons.

“Game of Thrones ended for me after Season 7,” Hussam said. “The more they started to deviate from the books, the less I started to enjoy it. I think the writers did fine when they had more content from the original books to work with, but once they started doing their own thing, it all just went downhill.”

Martin, notorious among fans for being slow to produce new novels, published the latest book in A Song of Ice and Fire in 2011, the same year the show began. Martin told the press at the time that the novel had taken six years to write, and that a sixth novel out of a planned seven, “The Winds of Winter,” was still in the works.

“I think the writers thought they could go off what they had and that the sixth book would be out by the time the series caught up,” Assad said. “It’s such a shame that they couldn’t or wouldn’t delay the series until the book came out. A lot of fans were unhappy with the way the series ended. I feel like we deserved better.”

Assad is not alone in that. A change.org petition appealing to HBO with a request to remake the final season with “competent writers” began circulating online the day the final episode debuted, with almost 2 million people signing and the numbers still increasing two years later.

However, despite the controversies and the overall disappointment with the way the series ended, the show has retained a strong fanbase in the Middle East.

“I had a Game of Thrones-themed birthday party in 2019,” Hussam said. “I dressed up as Daenerys, all of my friends came in costume, and my cake was a replica of the box that held Dany’s dragon eggs in it, including three edible cake eggs. It’s the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

“I don’t think one bad season can ruin the whole series,” said Assad. “Even if the ending was disappointing, the other seasons are still incredible to behold. Maybe in time I’ll be able to go back and watch the show and enjoy it even more. And if the ending still disappoints me after the second time, I can always hold out hope for ‘The Winds of Winter.’”


What We Are Eating Today: Roxy and Lala in Jeddah

Updated 16 April 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Roxy and Lala in Jeddah

Roxy and Lala is a mother and daughter business inspired by the family’s grandmother, who has Spanish roots and used to be a very good baker in her hometown in Peru.
The Jeddah brand offers a type of cookie called “Alfajor,” an Andalusian cookie dating back to the 8th century. It is a variant of the popular Castilian sweet known as alaju (a sweet made of almond paste, nuts, breadcrumbs, and honey) and the name derives from the Arabic word Al-Fakher, meaning luxurious.
The recipe for Alfajor, which is made of butter, eggs, sugar, corn starch, flour, was brought to Spain by the Arabs, and the colonizing Spaniards later introduced it to America.
Roxy and Lala offer the classic Alfajor cookies with different fillings, including the original filing of the homemade “dulce de leche,” a caramel mixture that requires a lot of attention, Nutella, Italian meringue, and peanut butter.
If you want a present for your loved ones, the brand offers a Ramadan box with 30 pieces and more, with a small Ramadan lantern and Ramadan wrapping paper.
For more information and order, visit their Instagram @roxyandlalaco.sa or the website roxyandlala.com


What We Are Reading Today: The Third Pole by Mark Synnott

Updated 16 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Third Pole by Mark Synnott

Mark Synnott’s The Third Pole transport readers to Mount Everest during the 2019 climbing season as he searches for the remains of Sandy Irvine that may help prove the British summited Everest in the 1920s.

This was an interesting look into Synnott’s quest to find the body of Irvine who was lost on Everest in 1924.

A mountaineer and rock climber himself, Synnott skillfully describes early 20th century exploration, then dives into a story about Everest that merges mystery, adventure and history into a single tragic bundle.

Synnott writes a compelling story that combines the 2019 season on Everest, historical attempts to climb Mt. Everest, and mountaineering culture as a whole.

He “describes horror stories about frostbite and strokes (blood clots are more likely at high altitudes) and oxygen tanks that hit empty at the worst possible moment,” Edward Dolnick said in a review for The New York Times.

Synnott “knows how to keep readers turning the pages, and they will speed their way to his mystery’s resolution. But any Everest story today has an unavoidable dark side.” said Dolnick.


J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split

Updated 15 April 2021

J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split

  • Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez told the ‘Today’ show, in a joint statement, that they are calling off their two-year engagement
  • The couple was given the nickname ‘J-Rod’ three years ago after they landed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine

LOS ANGELES: J-Lo and A-Rod are no longer J-Rod — officially.
Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez told the “Today” show Thursday in a joint statement that they are calling off their two-year engagement.
“We have realized we are better as friends and look forward to remaining so. We will continue to work together and support each other on our shared businesses and projects,” it said.
“We wish the best for each other and one another’s children. Out of respect for them, the only other comment we have to say is thank you to everyone who has sent kind words and support.”
The couple started dating in early 2017. They issued a statement in March that disputed reports they were breaking up.
The couple was given the nickname “J-Rod” three years ago after they landed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.


Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Updated 10 April 2021

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

  • Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city”
  • Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks

LUXOR: Archaeologists near Luxor have unearthed just a portion of the “largest” ancient city ever found in Egypt and dating to a golden pharaonic age 3,000 years ago, officials said Saturday.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city,” saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the legendary Valley of the Kings.
“We found one portion of the city only. But the city extends to the west and the north,” Hawass told AFP Saturday ahead of a press conference in the archaeologically rich area.
Betsy Bryan, professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, had said the find was the “second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun” nearly a century ago, according to the excavation team’s statement on Thursday.
Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing seals of Amenhotep III.
The team began excavations in September between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III near Luxor, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Cairo.
Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River in modern Iraq and Syria to Sudan and died around 1354 BC, ancient historians say.
He ruled for nearly four decades, a reign known for its opulence and the grandeur of its monuments, including the Colossi of Memnon — two massive stone statues near Luxor that represent him and his wife.
“It’s not only a city — we can see... economic activity, workshops and ovens,” Mostafa Waziri, head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Saturday.
Since the announcement, some scholars have disputed that Hawass and his team have succeeded where others had failed by locating the city.
Egyptologist Tarek Farag posted Friday on Facebook that the area was first excavated more than a century ago by a team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
But Waziri dismissed these concerns, saying previous digs had taken place further afield to the south the site.