India uses some mosques as wards amid health crisis

A Covid-19 coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along a roadside in Ghaziabad on April 28, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 28 April 2021

India uses some mosques as wards amid health crisis

  • Individuals, groups step up to support overwhelmed health facilities

NEW DELHI: As India endured an alarming surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases last week, overwhelmed hospitals and medical facilities have found an ally in Muslim groups and individuals helping critical patients with oxygen supply and crucial bed space.

On Tuesday, India reported 323,144 new infections for a total of more than 17.6 million cases, behind only the US. India’s Health Ministry also reported another 2,771 deaths in the past 24 hours, with 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. Experts say those figures are likely an undercount.

The number of infections has doubled in the past 13 days as several states continue to suffer from an acute shortage of beds and medical oxygen supply at hospitals.

To deal with the uptick in numbers, Muslim groups have converted mosques into COVID-19 care facilities, like the Jahangirpura mosque in the western state of Gujarat’s Vadodara city. It was transformed into a 50-bed facility to treat patients suffering from the virus.

“The COVID-19 situation in the city is not good and people are not getting beds in hospitals, so we decided to open the facility to provide relief to the people,” Irfan Sheikh, trustee of the mosque, told Arab News.

“Within days of opening the facility, all 50 beds were occupied so you can imagine what kind of pressure the hospitals are under.”

Sheikh said the facility could add 50 more beds if the oxygen supply was dependable.

Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is one of the worst affected states in India. It reported close to 1,500 cases and more than 150 deaths on Tuesday.

Other major cities also witnessed chaotic scenes at hospitals while dozens of ambulances waited in queues for hours outside the facilities.

“We are facing difficulties in oxygen supply and the mosque has opened its space to serve the suffering humanity,” Sheikh said.

The Darool Uloom mosque in the same city also opened its doors to 142 beds fitted with oxygen as 20 nurses and three doctors are on site.

“We can make 1,000-bed COVID-19 facilities, but the oxygen supply is a constraint,” Ashfaq Malek Tandalja, a member of the mosque’s managing committee, told Arab News.


To deal with the uptick in numbers, Muslim groups have converted mosques into COVID-19 care facilities, like the Jahangirpura mosque in the western state of Gujarat’s Vadodara city.

While these facilities are located in a predominantly Muslim area, patients from all faiths are admitted.

“Out of 50 at my center, around 15 are non-Muslims,” Sheikh said. “We serve humanity, not religion.”

The move is of particular significance in this city as it was one of the worst affected areas in 2002 when clashes broke out between Hindus and Muslims during religious riots. The unrest engulfed several cities in Gujarat while thousands — mostly Muslims — were killed in the attacks.

“Humanity knows no religion,” Sheikh said. “Common people understand each other and want to live in peace.”

Individuals such as Pyare Khan, of Nagpur, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, have come forward to help India emerge from the health crisis, too.

Khan, a billionaire transporter, reportedly spent close to SR506,271 ($135,000) to deliver 400 metric tons of medical liquid oxygen to government hospitals in and around the city when the crisis started. 

“My city was in trouble and I had resources, so I mobilized cryogenic tankers and oxygen from different parts of the country to support the city,” Khan told Arab News.

“Religion teaches us to be compassionate. I thought I must support people in this hour of crisis.” 

Khan also urged others to make use of their resources.

“A shroud does not have a pocket,” he said. “We leave everything behind when we die.”

Maharashtra is the worst affected state in India as it reported 65,000 cases and 500 deaths every day over the past week. Its capital of Mumbai, home to the globally famous Hindi Film Industry and Bollywood, is overwhelmed with critical cases.

To address the crisis, Shahnawaz Sheikh and his team of 20 volunteers have worked tirelessly to support the needy while establishing a “COVID-19 war room” where volunteers resolve issues on calls.

“We help people get hospital beds, oxygen supply if they need it and also support their family with our own resources,” he told Arab News.

Last year, Shahnawaz said he sold his personal SUV to raise money for oxygen cylinders in the city, which helped hundreds of people.

“This time, the intensity of the wave is very high and we are overwhelmed with calls. Every day we receive 500 distress calls and we try to address as many as possible,” the 32-year-old contractor said.

Shahnawaz said his team has faced a resource crunch because many of the people who donated last year have fallen ill or had families suffering.

“We will really appreciate any support,” he said.

On Monday, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat met with PM Modi and recalled medical personnel from the armed forces who had retired in the past two years to help facilitate health workers in the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would send help to India as well.

“The situation in India is beyond heart-breaking,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “WHO is doing everything it can. It is providing critical equipment and supplies, including thousands of oxygen concentrators, prefabricated mobile field hospitals and laboratory supplies.”

Salman Rushdie says he feels ‘lucky’ in first interview since stabbing

Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

Salman Rushdie says he feels ‘lucky’ in first interview since stabbing

  • Novelist still struggling to write in the aftermath of ‘colossal attack’
  • Brands assailant Hadi Matar ‘an idiot’ but says he does not want to be ‘a victim’

LONDON: Author Salman Rushdie has said he feels “lucky” to be alive in his first interview since he was stabbed in New York.

Speaking to the New Yorker magazine, Rushdie said his “main overwhelming feeling is gratitude” that he had not been more severely injured during the incident, which saw him require emergency treatment and left him hospitalized for six weeks.

“The big injuries are healed, essentially. I have feeling in my thumb and index finger and in the bottom half of the palm. I’m doing a lot of hand therapy, and I’m told that I’m doing very well.

“I’m able to get up and walk around. When I say I’m fine, I mean, there are bits of my body that need constant checkups. It was a colossal attack.”

The Indian-born British American writer was attacked on stage at a talk at the Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 12 by 24-year-old Hadi Matar, who is thought to have been inspired to attack Rushdie by the fatwa issued by the late Iranian Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini for his book “The Satanic Verses.”

Rushdie, who spent several years in hiding after the fatwa was issued, was stabbed multiple times in the neck and torso by Matar, going blind in one eye and losing the use of a hand.

Matar has been charged with attempted second-degree murder and attempted second-degree assault, both of which he denies.

Rushdie said he only blames his assailant for the attack and holds no bitterness toward anyone else, despite the venue in question having insufficient security measures in place.

“I don’t know what I think of him, because I don’t know him,” Rushdie said of Matar, who has admitted to not having read “The Satanic Verses” in its entirety.

“All I’ve seen is his idiotic interview in the New York Post. Which only an idiot would do. I know that the trial is still a long way away. It might not happen until late next year. I guess I’ll find out some more about him then.”

Rushdie continued: “I’ve tried very hard over these years to avoid recrimination and bitterness. I just think it’s not a good look. One of the ways I’ve dealt with this whole thing is to look forward and not backwards. What happens tomorrow is more important than what happened yesterday.

“I’ve always tried very hard not to adopt the role of a victim. Then you’re just sitting there saying, ‘Somebody stuck a knife in me! Poor me’ … Which I do sometimes think.”

He admitted, though, that writing had become difficult in the aftermath of the attack. “There is such a thing as PTSD, you know,” he said.

“I’ve found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens. I write, but it’s a combination of blankness and junk, stuff that I write and that I delete the next day. I’m not out of that forest yet, really.”

Rushdie was speaking ahead of the publication of his latest novel, “Victory City,” which he had completed prior to the fateful day at the Chautauqua Institution.

He added that the future of his writing career remains unclear following the attack.

“I’m going to tell you really truthfully, I’m not thinking about the long term,” he said. “I’m thinking about little step by little step. I just think, ‘bop till you drop.’”

He did suggest, though, that he could write a sequel to his memoir “Joseph Anton,” which would almost certainly address the attack.

Alleged Daesh ‘Beatle’ to go on trial in UK

Aine Davis is accused of belonging to a group of hostage-takers who were radicalized in London. (Metropolitan Police)
Updated 06 February 2023

Alleged Daesh ‘Beatle’ to go on trial in UK

  • Aine Davis is accused of belonging to the notorious group of hostage-takers, who grew up and were radicalized in London
  • Allegedly involved in abducting more than two dozen journalists and relief workers from the US and other countries

LONDON: An alleged member of Daesh’s “Beatles” kidnap-and-murder cell will face trial in the UK this month on terrorism charges, a judge said on Monday.
Aine Davis is accused of belonging to the notorious group of hostage-takers, who grew up and were radicalized in London.
Active in Syria from 2012 to 2015, they were allegedly involved in abducting more than two dozen journalists and relief workers from the United States and other countries.
The group members were nicknamed the “Beatles” by their captives because of their distinctive British accents.
The hostages, some of whom were released after their governments paid ransoms, were from at least 15 countries, including Denmark, France, Japan, Norway, Spain and the United States.
Daesh tortured and killed their victims, including by beheading, and released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.
Davis, 38, will go on trial on February 27 at the Old Bailey criminal court in London, judge Mark Lucraft said on Monday.
He faces two charges related to providing money for terrorist purposes and one of possessing a firearm for a purpose connected to terrorism.
The judge also extended Davis’s detention in custody to March 3. It was due to run out on Friday.
Davis did not appear in court and the video link to his prison was not working.
His lawyer, Mark Summers, said he had been able to speak to his client about extending custody.
The lawyer predicted the trial would take less than two weeks.
Davis was arrested in Turkiye in 2015 and sentenced to seven and half years for membership of Daesh in 2017.
He was released in July last year and deported from Turkiye the next month. He was then arrested when he arrived at Britain’s Luton airport.
In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh extremists after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.
She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before he went to Syria to fight with Daesh.
Two of the “Beatles,” El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, have received life sentences in the United States.
The fourth in the group, executioner Mohammed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in November 2015.

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

Updated 06 February 2023

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

  • Biggest strike in 75-year history of National Health Service
  • Government urges workers to call off walkouts

LONDON: Health workers in Britain began their largest strike on Monday, as tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance workers walk out in an escalating pay dispute, putting further strain on the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
Nurses and ambulance workers have been striking separately on and off since late last year but Monday’s walkout involving both, largely in England, is the biggest in the 75-year history of the NHS.
Nurses will also strike on Tuesday, while ambulance staff will walk out on Friday and physiotherapists on Thursday, making the week probably the most disruptive in NHS history, its Medical Director Stephen Powis said.
Health workers are demanding a pay rise that reflects the worst inflation in Britain in four decades, while the government says that would be unaffordable and cause more price rises, and in turn, make interest rates and mortgage payments rise.
Around 500,000 workers, many from the public sector, have been staging strikes since last summer, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to resolve the disputes and limit disruption to public services such as railways and schools.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union wrote to Sunak over the weekend asking him to bring the nursing strike “to a swift close” by making “meaningful” pay offers.
“We’ve got one of the busiest winters we have ever had with record levels of funding going into the NHS to try and manage services,” Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, told Sky News on Monday.
“So every percent of a pay increase takes money away.”
The government has urged people to continue to access emergency services and attend appointments during the strikes unless they had been canceled but said patients would face disruption and delays.
The NHS, a source of pride for most Britons, is under extreme pressure with millions of patients on waiting lists for operations and thousands each month failing to receive prompt emergency care.
The RCN says a decade of poor pay has contributed to tens of thousands of nurses leaving the profession — 25,000 over just the last year — with the severe staffing shortages impacting patient care.
The RCN initially asked for a pay rise of 5 percent above inflation and has since said it could meet the government “half way,” but both sides have failed to reach agreement despite weeks of talks.
Meanwhile, thousands of ambulance workers represented by the GMB and Unite trade unions are set to strike on Monday in their own pay dispute. Both unions have announced several more days of industrial action.
Not all ambulance workers will strike at once and emergency calls will be attended to.
In Wales, nurses and some ambulance workers have called off strikes planned for Monday as they review pay offers from the Welsh government.
Sunak said in a TalkTV interview last week he would “love to give the nurses a massive pay rise” but said the government faced tough choices and that it was funding the NHS in other areas such as by providing medical equipment and ambulances.

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens

Updated 06 February 2023

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens

  • Rights groups and observers say the trial illustrates how the legal system is being used to crush what remains of the opposition
  • The trial is being heard in an open court but without a jury, a departure from the city’s common law tradition
HONGKONG: Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opened Monday with dozens of pro-democracy figures accused of trying to topple the government in a case critics say reflects the criminalization of dissent in the Chinese territory.
The 47 defendants, who include some of the city’s most prominent activists, face up to life in prison if convicted.
Sixteen have pleaded not guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit subversion” over an unofficial primary election.
The other 31 have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced after the trial.
A rare, small protest erupted before the court convened, despite the large police presence.
One man was seen raising his fist in solidarity.
The defendants maintain they are being persecuted for routine politics, while rights groups and observers say the trial illustrates how the legal system is being used to crush what remains of the opposition.
Most of the group have already spent nearly two years behind bars.
They now face proceedings expected to last more than four months, overseen by judges handpicked by the government.
The case is the largest to date under the national security law, which China imposed on Hong Kong after huge democracy protests in 2019 brought tear gas and police brawls onto the streets of the Asian financial hub.
Wielded against students, unionists and journalists, the law has transformed the once-outspoken city.
More than 100 people had queued outside the court, some overnight, hoping to see the trial begin on Monday.
Chan Po-ying, a veteran campaigner and wife of defendant “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, joined supporters carrying a banner that read “Crackdown is shameless” and “Immediately release all political prisoners.”
“This is political persecution,” she said outside the court.
Inside, Leung repeated his not-guilty plea, adding: “Resisting tyranny is not a crime.”
Those on trial represent a cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition — including activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, professor Benny Tai and former lawmakers Claudia Mo and Au Nok-hin.
Most — 34 out of 47 — have been denied bail, while the few released from custody must abide by strict conditions, including speech restrictions.
Families of the accused have called these measures “social death.”
The group was jointly charged in March 2021 after organizing an unofficial primary a year earlier.
Their stated aim was to win a majority in the city’s legislature, which would allow them to push the protesters’ demands and potentially force the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader.
According to prosecutors, this was tantamount to trying to bring down the government.
“This case involves a group of activists who conspired together and with others to plan, organize and participate in seriously interfering in, disrupting or undermining (the government)... with a view to subverting the State power,” the prosecution said in its opening statement.
More than 610,000 people — about one-seventh of the city’s voting population — cast ballots in the primary. Shortly afterwards, Beijing brought in a new political system that strictly vetted who could stand for office.
The case has attracted international criticism, and diplomats from 12 countries including the United States, Britain, Australia and France were seen at the court Monday.
“This is a retaliation against all the Hong Kongers who supported the pro-democratic camp,” Eric Lai, a fellow of Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law, told AFP of the trial.
“Beijing will go all out — even weaponizing the laws and court — to make sure democratic politics in Hong Kong cannot go beyond the lines it drew.”
The trial is being heard in an open court but without a jury, a departure from the city’s common law tradition.
“It is as if the national security law is now the new constitution for Hong Kong and the judges are playing their role in making sure that happens,” said Dennis Kwok, Hong Kong’s former legal sector legislator.
Weeks before the hearing began, Hong Kong’s Chief Justice Andrew Cheung defended the courts against accusations of politicization.
“Whilst inevitably the court’s decision may sometimes have a political impact, this does not mean the court has made a political decision,” Cheung said.

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

Updated 06 February 2023

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

BEIJING: China on Monday accused the United States of indiscriminate use of force when the American military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon Saturday, saying that had “seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations.”
The US shot down a balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft.
Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said he lodged a formal complaint with the US Embassy on Sunday over the “US attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force.”
“However, the United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave the United States airspace, which obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Xie said.
The presence of the balloon in the skies above the US dealt a severe blow to already strained US-Chinese relations that have been in a downward spiral for years. It prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing tensions.
Xie repeated China’s insistence that the balloon was a Chinese civil unmanned airship that blew into US mistake, calling it “an accidental incident caused by force majeure.”
China would “resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies, resolutely safeguard China’s interests and dignity and reserve the right to make further necessary responses,” he said.
US President Joe Biden issued the shootdown order after he was advised that the best times for the operation would be when it was over water, US officials said. Military officials determined that bringing down the balloon over land from an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.
“What the US has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations since the Bali meeting,” Xie said, referring to the recent meeting between Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Indonesia that many hoped would create positive momentum for improving ties that have spiraled to their lowest level in years.
The sides are at odds over a range of issues from trade to human rights, but Beijing is most sensitive over alleged violations by the US and others of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Beijing strongly protests military sales to Taiwan and visits by foreign politicians to the island, which it claims as Chinese territory to be recovered by force if necessary.
It reacted to a 2022 visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by firing missiles over the island and staging threatening military drills seen as a rehearsal for an invasion or blockade. Beijing also cut off discussion with the US on issues including climate change that are unrelated to military tensions.
Last week, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned Pelosi’s successor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, not to travel Taiwan, implying China’s response would be equally vociferous.
“China will firmly defend its sovereignty, security and development interests,” Mao Ning said. McCarthy said China had no right to dictate where and when he could travel.
China also objects when foreign military surveillance planes fly off its coast in international airspace and when US and other foreign warships pass through the Taiwan Strait, accusing them of being actively provocative.
In 2001, a US Navy plane conducting routine surveillance near the Chinese coast collided with a Chinese fighter plane, killing the Chinese fighter pilot and damaging the American plane, which was forced to make an emergency landing at a China naval air base on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan.
China detained the 24-member US Navy aircrew for 10 days until the US expressed regret over the Chinese pilot’s death and for landing at the base without permission.
The South China Sea is another major source of tension. China claims the strategically key sea virtually in its entirety and protests when US Navy ships sail past Chinese military features there.
At a news conference Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Blinken said “the presence of this surveillance balloon over the United States in our skies is a clear violation of our sovereignty, a clear violation of international law, and clearly unacceptable. And we’ve made that clear to China.”
“Any country that has its airspace violated in this way I think would respond similarly, and I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end,” Blinken said.
China’s weather balloon excuse should be dismissed outright, said Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on Chinese military affairs and foreign policy at Stanford University.
“This is like a standard thing that countries often say about surveillance assets,” Mastro said.
China may have made a mistake and lost control of the balloon, but is was unlikely to have been a deliberate attempt to disrupt Blinken’s visit, Mastro said.
For the US administration, the decision to go public and then shoot down the balloon marks a break from its usual approach of dealing with Beijing on such matters privately, possibly in hopes of changing China’s future behavior.
However, Mastro said, it was unlikely that Beijing would respond positively.
“They’re probably going to dismiss that and continue on as things have been. So I don’t see a really clear pathway to improved relations in the foreseeable future.”