India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

People queue outside the Chemists Association office for Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, in Pune on April 9, 2021 as India surged past 13 million coronavirus cases. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2021

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

  • Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences

NEW DELHI: India said on Sunday it had banned the export of anti-viral drug Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients after a record spike in COVID-19 cases sent demand surging.
“In light of the above, Government of India has prohibited the exports of Injection Remdesivir and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) till the situation improves,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month.


West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes

Updated 12 May 2021

West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes

  • China’s U.N. Mission sent notes to many of the U.N.’s 193 member nations last week urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event”
  • Britain’s U.N. Ambassador called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”

UNITED NATIONS: Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority.
They also demanded unimpeded access for UN experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.”
China’s UN Mission sent notes to many of the UN’s 193 member nations last week urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event.” And China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun sent text messages to the 15 Western co-sponsors of the meeting expressing shock at their support, urging them to “think twice” and withdraw it.
He warned that if they don’t, it will be “harmful to our relationship and cooperation.”
At the meeting, Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
“The evidence, from a growing number of credible sources — including satellite imagery, survivor testimony and publicly available Chinese Government documents — is of grave concern,” said Woodward, who previously was the UK ambassador in China. “The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups. Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale.”
In recent years, an estimated 1 million people or more have been confined in camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. Most are Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group. Authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control and torture.
The Chinese government has flatly rejected the allegations. It has characterized the camps, which it says are now closed, as vocational training centers to teach Chinese language, job skills and the law in order to support economic development and combat extremism. China saw a wave of Xinjiang-related terrorist attacks through 2016.
Organizers said there were 152 participants in Wednesday’s event, including 51 countries, and speaker after speaker called on China to end its abuses against the Uyghurs.
Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen thanked “all the co-sponsors who came together despite some massive Chinese threats.”
He urged them to remain committed “until the Uyghurs can live again in freedom, until they are no longer detained, no longer victims of forced labor and other human rights abuses, until they can exercise freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
Heusgen appealed to China to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “and tear down the detention camps.”
“If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you finally grant unimpeded access to the (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights?” he asked.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration “will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crime against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”
“And we will keep working in concert with our allies and our partners until China’s government respects the universal human rights of all its people,” she said.
Uyghur human rights activist Jewher Ilhan spoke about her father Ilham Tohti, a noted economist who has called for autonomy for Xinjiang and is serving a life sentence on separatist-related charges. “We don’t even know if he’s alive,” she said.
“Hundreds of thousands, even millions of Uyghurs are still being targeted,” said Ilhan, who now lives in the United States. “The fate of my father and my community is in the world’s hands now. We all need to join together and take action to stop this humanitarian crisis from continuing.”
A Chinese diplomat countered, saying: “I make it clear that China is here to tell the truth, it doesn’t mean in any way we recognize this event.”
He then showed a short video and said: “The truth is, it‘s not about human rights in Xinjiang, it’s about using Xinjiang as a political tool to contain China. The US and some of its allies make a presumption of guilt, and then fabricate so-called evidence.”
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, whose organization recently concluded that China’s atrocities amount to the crime against humanity of persecution, said the challenge is what to do about it.
“Beijing clearly calculates that through censorship, propaganda, intimidation, and threats it can somehow avoid accountability,” he said, pointing many actions including its “extraordinary lengths of disinviting people” from Wednesday’s event, its “endless charade” that has prevented Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet from visiting Xinjiang, and UN inaction.
Roth expressed disappointment that Bachelet, who was invited to the event, turned down the invitation. “I’m sure she’s busy. We all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today. I certainly wasn’t deterred by the commute — all the way to my laptop,” he said.
“The good news is that the tide seems to be turning,” he said, pointing to more countries condemning China’s crimes. But he said more must be done.
Roth called for a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Xinjiang, for moving discussions to the UN Security Council, for seeking avenues to justice including the use of universal jurisdiction, and for considering creation of an international investigative mechanism similar to those for Syria and Myanmar.
“The true test of the significance of today’s event will be the follow-up steps that we all take,” he said.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the persecution of the Uyghurs is “a critical test” for the international human rights system to investigate allegations of “massive violations” by a government against its own people and hold those responsible accountable.
She called “the silence, fear and timidity” of Bachelet’s office and the UN Secretariat “frankly unacceptable and a breach of their mandate, as are the silence of many states.”
Callamard said supporting a multilateral response to what is happening in Xinjiang is not about “picking sides in a fight with China or supporting the US or anyone else, it is about fighting for human rights.”


‘A hell out here’: COVID-19 ravages rural India

Updated 12 May 2021

‘A hell out here’: COVID-19 ravages rural India

  • The disease has rampaged through the countryside, leaving families to weep over the dead in rural hospitals or camp in wards to tend the sick
  • Indian state leaders clamoured for vaccines to stop the second wave and the devastation that it has wrought

NEW DELHI: India’s coronavirus death toll crossed 250,000 on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began.
The disease has rampaged through the countryside, leaving families to weep over the dead in rural hospitals or camp in wards to tend the sick.
Boosted by highly infectious variants, the second wave erupted in February to inundate hospitals and medical staff, as well as crematoriums and mortuaries.
Experts still cannot say for sure when the figures will peak.
Indian state leaders clamoured for vaccines to stop the second wave and the devastation that it has wrought, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help them procure urgent supplies from overseas.
Deaths grew by a record 4,205 while infections rose 348,421 in the 24 hours to Wednesday, taking the tally past 23 million, health ministry data showed. Experts believe the actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.
Funeral pyres have blazed in city parking lots, and bodies have washed up on the banks of the holy river Ganges, having been immersed by relatives whose villages were stripped bare of the wood needed for cremations.
Lacking beds, drugs and oxygen, many hospitals in the world’s second-most populous nation have been forced to turn away droves of sufferers, while tales of desperate relatives searching for someone to treat dying loved ones have become sickeningly commonplace.
Although the infection curve may be showing early signs of flattening, new cases are likely to fall off slowly, according to virologist Shahid Jameel.
“We seem to be plateauing around 400,000 cases a day,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted him as saying. “It is still too early to say whether we have reached the peak.”
Indians need vaccines “here and now,” the chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, said in a letter to Modi. India has fully vaccinated barely 2.5 percent of the population.
Delhi had run out of its reserves of shots and had to close down several centers, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia told reporters.
India is using the AstraZeneca vaccine made at the Serum Institute in the western city of Pune and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech but production is well short of the millions of doses required.
The country accounts for half of COVID-19 cases and 30 percent of deaths worldwide, the World Health Organization said in its latest weekly report.
The full impact of the B.1.617 variant found in India, which the WHO has designated as being of global concern, is not yet clear, it added.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government was looking at all possible solutions to tackle a surge in cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in India, including in the northern English town of Bolton.
“It may be more transmissible ... maybe even considerably more transmissible,” he told parliament.
Daily infections are shooting up in the Indian countryside in comparison to big towns, where they have slowed after last month’s surge, experts say.
More than half the cases this week in the western state of Maharashtra were in rural areas, up from a third a month ago. That share is nearly two-thirds in the most populous, and mainly rural, state of Uttar Pradesh, government data showed.
Television showed images of people weeping over the bodies of loved ones in ramshackle rural hospitals while others camped in wards tending to the sick.
A pregnant woman was taking care of her husband who had breathing difficulties in a hospital in Bhagalpur in the eastern state of Bihar, which is seeing a case surge its health system could barely have handled at the best of times.
“There is no doctor here, she sleeps the whole night here, taking care of her husband,” the woman’s brother told India Today television.
In a corridor outside, two sons were wailing over the body of their father, saying repeatedly that he could have been saved if only he had been given a bed in an intensive care unit.
At the general hospital in Bijnor, a town in northern Uttar Pradesh, a woman lay in a cot next to a garbage can and medical waste.
“How can someone get treated if the situation is like this?” asked her son, Sudesh Tyagi. “It is a hell out here.”


French court orders trial in 2009 crash of Rio-Paris flight

Updated 12 May 2021

French court orders trial in 2009 crash of Rio-Paris flight

  • The two companies said they would appeal the decision, which overturns a 2019 ruling
  • Air France maintains that it did not commit a criminal offense in this tragic accident

PARIS: A French court on Wednesday ordered Air France and plane maker Airbus to stand trial for manslaughter in the 2009 crash into the Atlantic Ocean of a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
The crash killed all 228 people aboard.
The two companies said they would appeal the decision, which overturns a 2019 ruling. Victims’ groups in France and Brazil had pressed for a trial, maintaining the companies were at least partially responsible for the crash.
French judges in 2019 had dropped a decade-long investigation into the crash.
Air France “maintains that it did not commit a criminal offense in this tragic accident and will be appealing to the French Court of Cassation,” France’s highest court, the carrier said in a statement.
Airbus said the decision “does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation that led to the dismissal of the case in favor of Airbus.”
Air France Flight 447 left Rio for Paris but crashed into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009. Later, one of history’s most ambitious and costly undersea search operations managed to find the plane’s flight recorders in the ocean’s depths.
The French accident investigation bureau found that external speed sensors had been frozen and produced irregular readings on the aircraft, which went into an aerodynamic stall. The captain also wasn’t in the cockpit, one of multiple problems identified at the time of the crash.


UK PM urges Israel, Palestinians to ‘step back from the brink’

Updated 12 May 2021

UK PM urges Israel, Palestinians to ‘step back from the brink’

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday urged Israel and the Palestinians to “step back from the brink,” calling for both sides to “show restraint” as conflict escalated.
“The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions,” he wrote in a tweet.

 

Read our full coverage on the situation in Gaza here


Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

Updated 12 May 2021

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

  • Discovery of half-burnt, decomposed bodies sends shock waves among locals in the Buxar district of Bihar

NEW DELHI: Local authorities in the Buxar district of India’s eastern state of Bihar on Tuesday confirmed the discovery of 71 dead bodies, suspected to be of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims, after they washed ashore along the banks of the river Ganges. 

The discovery sent shock waves and panic among locals in the Chausa town of the Buxar district on Monday after they found the half-burnt, decomposed bodies along the river, confirming media reports that the pandemic had spread to rural areas of India, the global epicenter of the pandemic. 

“We have conducted the postmortem of 71 bodies on Monday and preserved their DNA for future investigation,” Kanhaiya Kumar, the district’s public relations officer, told Arab News. 

He added that the “bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition and had floated in from the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh.”

Bihar’s Buxar district shares its border with the Ghazipur area of the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. The River Ganges, which starts from the Himalayas, crisscrosses through Uttar Pradesh before entering Bihar, flowing into Bengal and eventually merging with the Bay of Bengal. 

Locals, however, dispute the district administration’s claims that the bodies came from the neighboring state. 

“The fact remains that the water in the river Ganges is shallow these days, and at many places between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the river is dry. How  can the bodies come from the other state?” Kapindra Kishore, a Buxar-based journalist, told Arab News. 

“The villagers are claiming over 100 bodies were floating, and they say that many deaths are taking place in the rural areas that are not being reported,” he added. 

On Tuesday, India registered more than 330,000 cases and 3,700 deaths, slightly lower than Monday. 

Out of the total tally, Bihar reported over 10,000 cases and 75 deaths. 

Some, however, allege that the data is being underreported. 

“There is a community transfer of the virus this time, and many are dying in villages without adequate medical supply. You will never get the actual data because people are dying at home without going to the hospital,” Ajit Kumar Singh, a local legislator from the Dumraon area of the Buxar district, told Arab News. 

“If earlier 15 to 20 bodies were being cremated per day in the district crematorium, now at least 100 are being burnt every day,” he explained, adding that many locals cannot afford the expensive wood necessary for the funeral pyres. 

“Just like COVID-19 medicines are being sold in the black market these days, so too the wood for cremation is being supplied at a higher rate,” he said. 

“Poor people who can’t afford wood at higher rates throw the dead bodies into the river in a half-burnt state. This is the reality today,” he added. 

According to official data, the Buxar district has registered 78 deaths so far in the second wave of COVID-19. 

Doctors say the number is much higher than reported. 

“The situation is really grim in Buxar and adjoining areas, and the discovery of the bodies at Chausa shows how bad we are placed,” Dr. Mahendra Prasad, a Buxar-based doctor and district president of the Indian Medical Association, told Arab News. 

“Not even cities are prepared to handle the crisis, much less villages. People are dying in rural areas in large numbers, which are not reflected in the official data,” he added. 

There are about 100 beds in hospitals across Buxar, which has a population of more than 1.7 million. 

“The administration was not ready to handle the situation. Now they are working on it, but whether it will be adequate is difficult to say. We are dependent on God’s mercy,” Prasad said. 

One of the worst-affected villages in the district is Dharahara, which reported 15 deaths in the past week. 

“In every village, there are more than 20 people who are COVID-19-positive, and in my village itself, in just over one week, some 15 people have lost their lives,” Rama Shankar, a Dharhara-based student activist, told Arab News. 

“The government has failed us completely. People are dying due to a shortage of oxygen, a lack of beds in hospitals and the complete negligence of the health sector,” Shankar said, adding that “essential medicine like Remdesivir, which should normally be available for no more than $50, costs $500 in the black market.” 

He said that “the virus has spread into the community, but the government is not doing mass testing to break the chain of infection. We are suffering because the government has failed us.”