Omicron spreads in India’s big cities but hospitalizations still low

A healthcare worker collects a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test swab sample from a woman amidst the spread of the disease, at a railway station in New Delhi, India, January 5, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 January 2022

Omicron spreads in India’s big cities but hospitalizations still low

  • India reported 90,928 new daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday, up nearly four-fold since the start of the year
  • Bulk of those infected have shown no or mild symptoms and have recovered quickly at home, officials say

KOLKATA: Indian megacities Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, although without a corresponding rise in hospitalizations, but fears are growing about a spread to rural areas in coming days.

India reported 90,928 new daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday, up nearly four-fold since the start of the year, mostly from cities where health officials say the omicron variant has overtaken Delta. The bulk of those infected have shown no or only mild symptoms and have recovered quickly at home, officials said.

The federal health ministry on Wednesday identified Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru as some of the main regions of concern, although state officials worry the disease will soon spread to the countryside where health facilities are weaker.

Kolkata, a city of about 15 million, accounted for half of the new cases in the eastern state of West Bengal until a few days ago, but cases are now rising in neighboring districts. The state has reported one of the highest rates of infections in India.

“We are watching the situation in the districts and rural belts where the numbers are also growing,” said Ajay Chakraborty, director of the West Bengal health services who has isolated himself at home after contracting the virus.

Many COVID-19 beds in Kolkata were still empty, Chakraborty said. In the government-run Infectious Diseases and Beliaghata General Hospital, only 75 admissions were recorded on Tuesday despite more than 9,000 new cases, he added.

In the west, Mumbai recorded a new daily infection peak of 15,166 on Wednesday, well up on its previous high of just over 11,000 hit last year. Nearly 90 percent of new patients had shown no symptoms and only 8 percent were hospitalized, city officials said in a daily health bulletin.

COVID-19 cases nearly doubled in a day in Delhi to 10,665 on Wednesday, but the state said only 7 percent of its COVID beds were occupied.

Federal health officials, however, have warned even a large number of mild cases could put pressure on the health system.

India has confirmed at least 2,135 omicron cases and one death linked to the variant, in an elderly man who was suffering from diabetes.

Daily COVID-19 deaths rose by 325 on Thursday, taking the total to 482,876. Total infections are at 35.11 million, only behind the US tally.

As cases rise, the western state of Gujarat on Thursday indefinitely postponed a Jan. 10-12 biennial investment summit that was to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and previously attended by the country’s top billionaires. Modi’s home state reported 3,350 infections on Wednesday.

Many Indian cities have already imposed night curfews and weekend lockdowns, as well as closed schools. Political rallies, however, have continued in several states where elections are due in the next few weeks and months.

Health authorities will discuss the matter with election commission officials on Thursday amid rising concerns about such rallies that led to a devastating second wave in the country in April and May.


Religious tensions high in India as two Muslim men brutally kill Hindu tailor

Updated 29 June 2022

Religious tensions high in India as two Muslim men brutally kill Hindu tailor

  • Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop by two cleaver-wielding men
  • Hindu nationalists have increasingly launched attacks on Muslims, targeting them over food, clothing

NEW DELHI: Tensions were high in India’s western Udaipur city Wednesday, a day after police arrested two Muslim men accused of slitting a Hindu tailor’s throat in a brutal attack that highlights a dramatic escalation of communal violence in a country riven by deep religious polarization.

The Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop by two cleaver-wielding men who also filmed the attack and posted it online, police said, warning that the incident could inflame religious tensions and lead to violence. The video showed the tailor taking measurements of one assailant before he attacks Lal from behind and stabs at his throat with a cleaver.

TV reports aired video of Lal lying on the ground with his throat slit. The two men later claimed responsibility for the killing in another video and accused Lal of blasphemy. They also threatened to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the same manner, brandishing the blood-stained weapons they used to attack Lal.

Local media reported the victim had purportedly shared a social media post supporting a suspended spokesperson for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who made controversial remarks on the Prophet Muhammad last month.

Police said both accused were arrested within hours of Lal’s death, but in a bid to calm frayed nerves in parts of the city, authorities suspended Internet services in Rajasthan state and banned large gatherings. Authorities also rushed additional police into the city to counter any religious unrest.

India’s home ministry has dispatched a team of its anti-terror agency to Rajasthan to investigate whether the killing had any links to terrorist groups. So far, the state police have not charged the two arrested men with terrorism.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot ensured a speedy investigation into Lal’s killing. He said the criminals will be punished and urged people not to share the video on social media because of its highly inflammatory content.

“I again appeal to all to maintain peace,” Gehlot said Tuesday in a tweet.

The latest killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as a spate of attacks by Hindu nationalists on minority groups — especially Muslims — who have been targeted for everything from their food and clothing style to interfaith marriages. More recently, Muslim homes have also been demolished using bulldozers in some Indian states, in what critics call a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” against the minority group.

These tensions escalated in May when two spokespeople from Modi’s party made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. Both were later suspended by Modi’s party after it led to severe diplomatic backlash for India from many Muslim-dominated countries. The controversy also led to protests in India that turned violent in some places after demonstrators pelted stones at police. At least two people were killed.

Experts worry that the latest incident could worsen India’s religious fault lines that critics say have deepened since Modi came to power in 2014.

“This gruesome incident could lead to escalated religious tensions across India, especially with the ruling party espousing a very strident Hindu majoritarian cause,” said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a public policy think tank.

“It is unlikely that this government or leadership would go out of its way to tell supporters to not get provoked, to urge for calm and peace,” he said.

In May, a Hindu man in the southern city of Hyderabad was stabbed to death in public by his Muslim wife’s relatives. Last year, a Muslim man was beheaded by members of a vigilante group on orders of his girlfriend’s Hindu family because they didn’t approve of their interfaith marriage. In Rajasthan state in 2017, a Hindu man brutally killed a Muslim laborer and shared a video of the victim being hacked to death and then set on fire.


Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe

Updated 29 June 2022

Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe

  • NATO will be ‘strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea’

MADRID: President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced US reinforcements of NATO forces in Europe, saying the alliance is needed more today “than it ever has been.”
NATO will be “strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea,” he said at a summit of the transatlantic alliance being held in Madrid.


Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

Updated 29 June 2022

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

  • Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features

TAIPEI: Taiwan on Wednesday rebuffed a complaint from the Philippines about live fire drills around a Taiwan-controlled island deep in the South China Sea, saying it had the right to do so and always gives issues a warning of its exercises.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, in a message on Twitter late on Tuesday, lodged a “strong objection over the unlawful live fire drills” to be carried out by Taiwan this week around the island, known internationally as Itu Aba.
Taiwan calls the island Taiping and the Philippines calls it Ligaw Island.
The department said the island belonged to the Philippines.
“This illegal activity raises tensions and complicates the situation in the South China Sea,” it said.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement the island was part of the territory of the Republic of China — Taiwan’s formal name — and that it enjoyed all relevant rights accorded by international law.
“Our country has the right to conduct routine exercises on Taiping Island and related maritime areas. In order to ensure the safety of maritime traffic and fishing boats operating in adjacent maritime areas, we notify the relevant regional countries in advance before each live-fire drill,” it said.
Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features also claimed, entirely or in part, by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Philippines normally complains most vociferously about China’s activities in the South China Sea, including what Manila says is illegal fishing.
The Philippines, like most counties, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but there are close cultural and economic links and Taiwan is home to about 160,000 Filipinos, most of them migrant workers.
The maps China bases its South China Sea claims on date to when Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China government ruled China before it fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Taiwan also controls the Pratas Islands at the very northern end of the South China Sea.


Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India

Updated 29 June 2022

Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India

  • The Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop
  • The killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims

NEW DELHI: Tensions were high in India’s western Udaipur city Wednesday, a day after police arrested two Muslim men accused of slitting a Hindu tailor’s throat in a brutal attack that highlights a dramatic escalation of communal violence in a country riven by deep religious polarization.
The Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop by two cleaver-wielding men who also filmed the attack and posted it online, police said, warning that the incident could inflame religious tensions and lead to violence. The video showed the tailor taking measurements of one assailant before he attacks Lal from behind and stabs at his throat with a cleaver.
TV reports aired video of Lal lying on the ground with his throat slit. The two men later claimed responsibility for the killing in another video and accused Lal of blasphemy. They also threatened to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the same manner, brandishing the blood-stained weapons they used to attack Lal.
Local media reported the victim had purportedly shared a social media post supporting a suspended spokesperson for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who made controversial remarks on the Prophet Muhammad last month.
The killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as a spate of attacks by Hindu nationalists on minority groups — especially Muslims — who have been targeted for everything from their food and clothing style to interfaith marriages. More recently, Muslim homes have also been demolished using bulldozers in some Indian states, in what critics call a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” against the minority group.
These tensions escalated in May when two spokespeople from Modi’s party made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. Both were later suspended by Modi’s party after it led to severe diplomatic backlash for India from many Muslim-dominated countries. The controversy also led to protests in India that turned violent in some places after demonstrators pelted stones at police. At least two people were killed.
Experts worry that the latest incident could worsen India’s religious fault lines that critics say have deepened since Modi came to power in 2014.
“This gruesome incident could lead to escalated religious tensions across India, especially with the ruling party espousing a very strident Hindu majoritarian cause,” said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a public policy think tank.
“It is unlikely that this government or leadership would go out of its way to tell supporters to not get provoked, to urge for calm and peace,” he said.
Attacks on people accused of alleged blasphemy are common in neighboring Muslim majority countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. But in India, where religious tensions often boil over into sporadic riots and deadly protests, incidents of brutal killings of this nature are rare.
In May, a Hindu man in the southern city of Hyderabad was stabbed to death in public by his Muslim wife’s relatives. Last year, a Muslim man was beheaded by members of a vigilante group on orders of his girlfriend’s Hindu family because they didn’t approve of their interfaith marriage. In Rajasthan state in 2017, a Hindu man brutally killed a Muslim laborer and shared a video of the victim being hacked to death and then set on fire.
Police said both accused were arrested within hours of Lal’s death, but in a bid to calm frayed nerves in parts of the city, authorities suspended Internet services in Rajasthan state and banned large gatherings. Authorities also rushed additional police into the city to counter any religious unrest.
India’s home ministry has dispatched a team of its anti-terror agency to Rajasthan to investigate whether the killing had any links to terrorist groups. So far, the state police have not charged the two arrested men with terrorism.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot ensured a speedy investigation into Lal’s killing. He said the criminals will be punished and urged people not to share the video on social media because of its highly inflammatory content.
“I again appeal to all to maintain peace,” Gehlot said Tuesday in a tweet.

Related


Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

Updated 29 June 2022

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

  • Many restaurants in Shanghai were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases began rising

SHANGHAI: Restaurants and eateries in China’s largest city Shanghai begun reopening their doors to diners on Wednesday, bringing widespread relief to an industry that was badly hit by the city’s two month COVID-19 lockdown.
Large chains such as hot pot brand Haidilao, fine dining establishments and family owned eateries had started scrubbing tableware and getting uniforms laundered since Saturday when authorities announced the curbs were lifting, a month after the city’s lockdown eased on June 1.
“It’s a very good feeling,” said Oli Liu, co-owner of tapas restaurant chain Brownstone as he prepared to open his five outlets for indoor dining on Wednesday.
“With indoor dining we can make money...Until now we could do takeaway and delivery but the commissions we have to pay (to delivery platforms) means we can’t make money from that.”
Many restaurants in the city of 25 million were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases in Shanghai began rising. While some were able to resume food deliveries in the midst of the lockdown, others remained shut throughout.
The reopening, however, is far from straightforward. Some owners said they had not yet received the green light from their districts and are required to cap customer numbers at 50 percent as well as a limit each session to 90 minutes.
All restaurant staff will also be required to undergo daily COVID-19 testing, while diners have to show proof of a PCR test taken within three days to enter.
Local media reports have also suggested dining parties should nominate a “leader” who will be responsible for their table, though it’s unclear what might happen if guests later test positive.
Complying with such onerous rules will not be easy, and many eateries already have or are expected to call it quits, said Stefan Stiller, chef-owner of fine dining restaurant Taian Table, who added that he expects restrictions to be in place in some form for the rest of the year.
For his three-star Michelin restaurant that only seats 30 at capacity and specializes in 10 to 12 course tasting menus that typically take several hours to complete, meeting the criteria is “not so easy ... but we will manage somehow,” he said.
But many diners are eager to get back into restaurants after months of mostly eating at home.
One of the first customers through the door at Brownstone’s Lujiazui location at lunchtime on Wednesday was a Shanghai resident surnamed He.
“Normally at home I don’t cook... I have especially missed eating out,” he said. “For so long I missed eating many things — crayfish, barbecue, drinking beer.”