EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

An electron microscopic image shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virus particles obtained from a clinical human skin sample. (US CDC/Handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 19 May 2022

EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

LONDON: A handful of cases of monkeypox have now been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.
The outbreaks are raising alarm because the disease mostly occurs in west and central Africa, and only very occasionally spreads elsewhere.
Here’s what scientists know so far.

’Highly unusual’
Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It is usually mild, although there are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10 percent mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate of more like 1 percent of cases. The UK cases are least have been reported as the West African strain.
“Historically, there have been very few cases exported. It has only happened eight times in the past before this year,” said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who said it was “highly unusual.”
Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before.

The virus spreads through close contact, both in spillovers from animal hosts and, less commonly, between humans. It was first found in monkeys in 1958, hence the name, although rodents are now seen as the main source of transmission.
Transmission this time is puzzling experts, because a number of the cases in the United Kingdom — nine as of May 18 — have no known connection with each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently traveled to Nigeria.
As such, experts have warned of wider transmission if cases have gone unreported.
The UK Health Security Agency’s alert also highlighted that the recent cases were predominantly among men who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, and advised those groups to be alert.
Scientists will now sequence the virus to see if they are linked, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week.

Why not?
One likely scenario behind the increase in cases is increased travel as COVID restrictions are lifted.
“My working theory would be that there’s a lot of it about in west and central Africa, travel has resumed, and that’s why we are seeing more cases,” said Whitworth.
Monkeypox puts virologists on the alert because it is in the smallpox family, although it causes less serious illness.
Smallpox was eradicated by vaccination in 1980, and the shot has been phased out. But it also protects against monkeypox, and so the winding down of vaccination campaigns has led to a jump in monkeypox cases, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.
But experts urged people not to panic.
“This isn’t going to cause a nationwide epidemic like COVID did, but it’s a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we should take it seriously,” said Whitworth.

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Updated 06 October 2022

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

  • The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security
  • The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion

MALANG, Indonesia: Indonesia’s police chief on Thursday said six people were facing criminal charges over a football stadium disaster that killed 131 people at the weekend.
“Based on the investigation and sufficient evidence, we have determined six suspects,” national police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told a press conference.
The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security, including the head of Arema FC’s organizing committee and one of the club’s security officers, he said.
The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion.
Officers reacted by firing tear gas into packed stands as fans of Arema FC tried to approach players following their defeat to fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday evening.
Hundreds of people fled for small exits, resulting in a crush that left many trampled or suffocating to death.
Police described the pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting.
Officers responded with force, kicking and hitting fans with batons, according to witnesses and footage, pushing the spectators back into the stands where many would die after tear gas was fired.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced an investigation after the tragedy and called for a safety review of all stadiums.

UK government talks tough on immigration — again

Updated 06 October 2022

UK government talks tough on immigration — again

  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman x
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not "meet the needs of the country"

LONDON: Accusing asylum seekers of “abusing the system” and urging the need to “take back control,” the UK government is once again talking tough on immigration.
But its latest pledge to reduce crossings from northern France in small boats comes with a blatant promise to defy international conventions.
“It’s not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders, it’s not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
The stance earned Braverman, whose parents emigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s, a standing ovation at this week’s Conservative party’s annual conference.
The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger, who has been in the job for the past month, pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not “meet the needs of the country.”
“If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom illegally from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered,” she said.
Successive Conservative governments since 2010 have been promising to drastically reduce the number of migrants but to no avail.
Since the beginning of the year, a record 33,500 people have crossed the Channel in small boats.
More than half of them came from Afghanistan (18 percent), Albania (18 percent) or Iran (15 percent), according to the Home Office.
Since 2018, Iranians and Iraqis have accounted for almost half of all migrants intercepted on the route.
Zoe Gardner, an expert on British migration and asylum systems, said while the pro-Brexit Tories have never managed to reduce immigration, they have made a tougher for asylum seekers to settle.
“For a long time, it (immigration policy) has been a way to gain support, when every other area of policy seems to be a failure for them,” she told AFP.
“Every time the government of Boris Johnson had a bad week in the newspapers, you can be sure they would announce another plan to target immigrants just to distract people.”
The strategy, though, is in danger of running out of steam, she added.
Britons are overwhelmingly in favor of taking in refugees, according to polls, but are now more concerned about a cost-of-living crisis.
Proposing to ban access to asylum would be a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to which Britain is a signatory.
It states that a migrant can travel in any way he or she wishes — or can — to a country to seek refuge, without being harmed by the mode of arrival.
For some experts, such a ban would result in court action, just as it did when the government attempted to deport the first batch of failed asylum seekers to Rwanda.
In June, a plane bound for Kigali was grounded after last-minute legal challenges in the English courts, and a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.
Braverman, a former attorney general and successor to another hard-liner Priti Patel, blasted the ruling of the “foreign court,” which Britain helped set up after World War II.
She told conference delegates with a smile that her “dream” for Christmas would be to see “a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda.”
According to Braverman’s own department, 94 percent of the 50,000 or so migrants who arrived in the UK across the Channel between January 2018 and June 2022 applied for asylum.
Some 82 percent of those applicants were still waiting for a decision, but the majority who have received a response were successful.
“We are talking about people with good reason to seek asylum in UK, with no other way of doing so because the government has closed the majority of other options,” said Daniel Sohege, a refugee law specialist who heads the association Stand For All.
As the law currently stands, a migrant must be physically in the UK to start the asylum process.
But there is “no way” that London would allow them to arrive in the country and seek refuge, Zoe Gardner said.
The UK also relies on its island status and believes that it does not have to take in migrants who have traveled through other so-called safe countries.
With this impossible equation for refugees, “the UK receives fewer asylum applications than France, Germany or Italy,” said Gardner.

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

Updated 25 min 5 sec ago

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

  • Mohityanche Vadgaon in Maharashtra introduced daily breaks from electronic devices in August
  • Digital addiction came to the attention of Indian authorities and parents following two years of online classes

NEW DELHI: When a siren goes off at 7 p.m., residents of one Indian village shut their TV and mobile sets to observe a self-imposed blackout, a measure they hope will help protect their children from digital addiction.

The daily routine started in Mohityanche Vadgaon on Aug. 15, when India celebrated 75 years of independence. Since then, the village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra has been trying to observe its own liberation — 90 minutes of freedom from digital clutter.

“Everyone observes self-discipline,” village head Vijay Mohite told Arab News. “It’s digital cleansing for the whole village.”

Digital addiction came to the attention of Indian authorities and parents following long coronavirus restrictions which kept children away from school and group activities for nearly two years.

Soon after online classes started in 2020, a study by a city hospital in the northern Indian city of Jaipur warned that 65 percent of minors surveyed showned symptoms of addiction to mobile phones and were unable to leave their devices for more than half an hour.

In March this year, Electronics and IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar told parliament over a third of Indian children were experiencing reduced concentration due to mobile phone use.

In Mohityanche Vadgaon, the fallout of virtual online learning was observed as well.

“COVID lockdowns and the online classes for school kids made the majority of the school going boys and girls addicted to mobile phones and that was affecting the academic and emotional behavior of youngsters,” Mohite said.

“We know that it’s like going against the tide, but digital detox is important if the parents in the village want their kids to have a bright future.”

The agrarian village, which survives mainly on growing sugarcane, has two government schools. 

Jayvant Vitthal Mohite, who is not related to the village head and teaches history at one of the public schools, said he had noticed that there was a significant drop in his students’ academic performance after two years of online learning, and they would remain connected to their phones even during classes:

“The initiative that the village head has taken, and the parents’ awareness have made a difference in the behavior and attitude of the kids in school.”

Jayyant believes that daily digital detox, even as short as 90 minutes, helps improve the well-being of kids and even after one month his students demonstrate more creativity and focus.  

“They look more relaxed and at ease than before,” he said.

Fifteen-year-old Gayatri Nikam can relate. She puts off her phone when loudspeakers at a village temple sound the digital break time in the evening.

“My academic performance has improved in the last over one month and I have not played any mobile game for some time now,” she told Arab News.

To support their kids, parents in Mohityanche Vadgaon also practice the detox.

“We don’t switch on the TV, we don’t use mobile phones, and take only calls which are necessary,” Gayatri’s father, Anil Nikam, said. “I have two daughters and I want them to do well in life.”

For Gayatri’s mother, Anuradha Nikam, the regular 90-minute digital-free sessions bring a sense of relief.

“You hear stories of how children get spoiled by mobile addiction,” she said. “The initiative in the village has really made me happy and I feel the kids are becoming more creative by being away from mobile phones.”

Ex-policeman kills at least 36, mostly children, at Thailand preschool

Updated 06 October 2022

Ex-policeman kills at least 36, mostly children, at Thailand preschool

  • Attacker Panya Kamrab also kills his wife, son before taking his own life
  • Kamrab was sacked by police in January on charges of drug possession

BANGKOK: At least 36 people, most of them children, were killed by an ex-policeman at a preschool daycare center in Thailand’s northeast on Thursday, police and hospital officials said.

The attack took place in the Na Klang area of the northeastern Nong Bua Lamphu province in the early afternoon.

Authorities at Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital said 24 of those killed were children while another 12 people were injured in the attack.

Police identified the killer as 34-year-old Panya Kamrab, a former police sergeant who was dismissed from service in January. According to a police report seen by Arab News, he was sacked after being found in possession of narcotics.

Panya is thought to have gone to the daycare center to find his son but when he failed the find the boy he began shooting. He then returned home, where he killed his wife and child.

“He (Panya) was already stressed after going to court to hear the case against him for narcotics possession. When he didn’t see his child, he carried out the attack with a gun and a knife,” local police spokesperson Paisan Luesomboon said.

“He left the children’s development center for his home, which is around 2 kilometers away. He collided with people on the road and also fired at them. He returned home and saw his wife and kid. He then shot them before killing himself.”

It was not immediately clear if the death toll shared by hospital authorities included the killer and his family or the people he attacked on the road.

Video footage and images shared on social media showed distraught relatives of the victims standing alongside ambulances outside the daycare facility as police and rescuers dealt with the aftermath of the attack.

Another image showed the body of a woman lying beside a motorcycle on a roadside.

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

Updated 06 October 2022

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

  • The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region

SEOUL/TOKYO: South Korea scrambled fighter jets after North Korean warplanes staged an apparent bombing drill on Thursday, Seoul’s defense ministry said, as allied warships held missile defense drills and Pyongyang fired off the latest in a series of ballistic missiles.

The rare bombing drill by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers prompted the South to deploy 30 fighters. The warplanes swarmed each side of the heavily fortified border amid rising tensions over a string of missile tests by Pyongyang.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday in the direction of Japan, just an hour after condemning the repositioning of a US aircraft carrier to the region, and a UN Security Council meeting held in New York.

North Korea has launched about 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears ready to hold its first nuclear test since 2017, officials in Seoul and Washington have said.

Thursday’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean peninsula, and a UN Security Council meeting held in response to the North’s recent tests.

The missile launch was the sixth in 12 days and the first since North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, which prompted joint South Korean and US missile drills in which one weapon crashed and burned.

The launch was reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.

“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

The launch came after North Korea condemned the United States for talking to the United Nations Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” on joint South Korea-US drills, suggesting its missile tests are a reaction to the allied military moves.

In a statement, the reclusive nation’s foreign ministry also condemned Washington for repositioning the US aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula, saying it posed a serious threat to the stability of the situation.

The carrier and its strike group of accompanying warships were abruptly redeployed in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch over Japan.

The carrier strike group joined destroyers from South Korea and Japan in maritime missile defense training, the South Korean military said on Thursday.

“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemned Thursday’s launch as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional neighbors and the international community.

The spokesperson, however, added that Washington was committed to a diplomatic approach and called on the North to engage in dialogue.

Thursday’s first missile probably flew to an altitude of about 100km and a range of 350km, while the second had an estimated altitude of 50km and covered 800km, probably taking an irregular trajectory, he said.

South Korea’s JCS said the missiles were launched from near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The United States and its allies have stepped up displays of military force in the region, but there appears little prospect of further international sanctions by the UN Security Council, which has already passed resolutions banning the North’s missile and nuclear development.