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Travel restrictions to be relaxed for vaccinated Canadians

Travel|Americas|: Ottawa: Canadians and permanent residents fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will no longer have to quarantine upon their return from abroad starting July 5, officials announced Monday. From 11:59 pm (0359 GMT) on that day, they will also face reduced testing requirements in this first phase of lifting public health restrictions for travelers. "We'll come back to Canadians on next steps," Health Minister Patty Hajdu told a news conference, acknowledging growing pressure to fully reopen the border. "We can see the finish line," she said. "Let's finish strong and let's make sure that we protect our gains." Ottawa said in a statement it "continues to strongly advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel worldwide," citing the risk of importing the novel coronavirus and its variants. Fully vaccinated or not, foreign nationals including Americans are still prohibited from entering the country for discretionary travel. And Canadians who can show proof of having received two doses of an approved vaccine - Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson - at least 14 days prior to arrival must still get pre- and on-arrival tests, be asymptomatic, and have a suitable quarantine plan. They will, however, not be required to stay for up to three days at a government authorized hotel at their own expense while they await their on-arrival test result, nor have to test again after eight days. Canada closed its land border with the United States and international airports to all non-essential travel at the onset of the pandemic last year, and has renewed those measures monthly. The latest order is scheduled to lapse on July 21. A suspension of all flights from India, introduced in April after increased Covid-19 cases were detected in travelers arriving from the country, has also been extended another month. But Pakistan has been removed from that ban. Pressure has been mounting from airlines and tourism operators, as well as lawmakers in Washington, to ease border restrictions. Public health officials, Hajdu said, are monitoring the spread of pandemic. She warned that "as Covid rages out of control in other countries, it (still) presents a clear and present danger to all countries." Public Safety Minister Bill Blair added: "We recognize that people are anxiously awaiting to reopen the border and, as Canada reaches high levels of vaccination coverage and the Covid-19 severity trends continue to decline, the risks associated with international travel will decrease." As of Monday, 25 million Canadians or 66 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, while seven million are now fully vaccinated. New infections are also trending downward from an April peak.

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More than 100 homes damaged as tornado sweeps through suburban Chicago

Americas|: CHICAGO: A radar-confirmed tornado swept through communities in heavily populated suburban Chicago, damaging more than 100 homes, toppling trees, knocking out power and causing multiple injuries, officials said. At least five people, including a woman who was listed in critical condition, were hospitalized in Naperville, where 16 homes were left “uninhabitable” and dozens of other homes were damaged when a reported tornado touched down after 11pm on Sunday, said city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche. More than 120 other reports of property damage had been received by 5am on Monday in the city about 40km west of Chicago and those were expected to grow as residents surveyed the storm damage, she said. About 450 power outages were reported. A man photographs a damaged home after a tornado swept through the area in Naperville's Ranchview neighbourhood. Image Credit: AP “We’re lucky that it wasn’t worse,” LaCloche said Monday morning. “We have a lot of utility poles and electrical wires down, and tree damage.” Video showed several large trees downed and damage to homes and vehicles in the path of the storm. Some gas leaks were reported in Naperville, and crews went door to door shutting off lines, she said. Officials in the nearby village of Woodridge said a tornado touched down late Sunday and a damage assessment was underway. There were no reports of significant injuries in the community, but people were urged to avoid the area due to downed power lines and trees. The storm destroyed the second floor of Bridget Casey’s Woodridge home. She sat in a lawn chair in the driveway before sunrise on Monday. Her son, Nate Casey, 16, said he was watching TV when the storm swept through and he raced to help his mother get his three younger siblings to the basement. Overturned cars in Naperville. Image Credit: AP “I just heard a loud crash and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, what are my brothers up to?’ I go look and I see the sky, and then I hear my brothers screaming from the room,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. Matt Friedlein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Illinois, said a team from the weather service would be surveying storm damage Monday to determine the reported tornado’s strength and its path. He said the same storm is believed to have rolled through Naperville, Woodridge and Darien, and may have also caused damage in Burr Ridge, about 32km southwest of Chicago, “If there were no fatalities — and there haven’t been any reported to us — that’s great news considering the population of the area, the level of damage and the time of day, after 11pm when many people may be asleep,” he said. Radar had also showed storm rotation over several other areas of suburban Chicago, and also in northwestern Indiana in the Hobart and South Haven areas, Friedlein said. Late Sunday and early Monday, severe thunderstorms brought gusting winds and drenching rains to parts of Michigan. And in Missouri, a thunderstorm with strong winds whipped through parts of the state late Sunday and early Monday — knocking down trees and power lines.

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Travelling to India? Here are the state-wise COVID-19 rules to follow

Dubai: Travelling during COVID-19 is not easy. It involves keeping abreast of ever-changing rules, taking steps to protect oneself and the family from the coronavirus, and of course, ensuring that the bags are packed. With the holiday season just a week away, here’s a look at the rules you should be aware of if you were flying to the major cities / states in India. As always, checking with the airline or the travel agent for the latest regulations before flying will help avoid last minute surprises. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager While there are some rules that are specific to certain states, there are a few criteria that are common. According to the Guidelines for International Arrivals by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all travellers should: (i) Submit self-declaration form on the online Air Suvidha portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) before the scheduled travel Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager (ii) Upload a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report, with the test conducted within 72 hours before the journey. (iii) Submit a declaration staying authenticity of the report (iv) Give an undertaking that they will abide by the decision of the appropriate government to undergo home quarantine/ self-monitoring of their health for 14 days, or as warranted. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Arrival in India without negative report is allowed only for those travelling in the emergency case of death in the family. Those seeking such exemptions, should apply to the online portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) at least 72 hours before boarding. The decision taken by the government as communicated on the online portal will be final. Air Suvidha portal All passengers travelling on international flights to India need to submit a health declaration form and a negative report of the RT-PCR test on the Air Suvidha portal (www.newdelhiairport.in). Air Suvidha is a contactless solution by Ministry of Civil Aviation and Delhi Airport for all international passengers coming to India. It is a Self Declaration and Exemption Form Portal for International arriving passengers. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Passengers with approved exemption requests on Air Suvidha are exempted from institutional quarantine. In case of rejection, the passenger will have to undergo institutional quarantine as per the state government guidelines at the first airport of entry. Aarogya Setu app All passengers are advised to download Aarogya Setu app on their mobile devices. Aarogya Setu uses contact tracing to record details of all the people you may have come in contact with. If any one of them, at a later point in time, tests positive for COVID-19, you are immediately informed and medical intervention is arranged for you. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager During travel to India While on board the flight, required precautions such as wearing of masks, environmental hygiene, respiratory hygiene and hand hygiene are to be observed by all passengers. Measures like social distancing are to be ensured at all times. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager On arrival in India Thermal screening will be carried out by health officials present at the airport. The self-declaration form filled online should be shown to the airport health staff. The passengers found to be symptomatic during screening shall be immediately isolated and taken to medical facility as per health protocol.

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COVID-19: India hits daily vaccination record as free shots opened to all adults

India|: NEW DELHI: India recorded its highest-ever daily vaccination count on Monday as it opened up free shots to all adults. The progress with inoculations came on International Yoga Day, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailing the practice’s “protective” properties against the coronavirus. The country’s vaccination drive had significantly slowed in recent months due to a shortage of jabs and hesitancy, even as it battled a vicious surge in cases in April and May that overwhelmed the healthcare system in many places. Case numbers have since fallen sharply and the authorities have again relaxed many restrictions, sparking fears of another wave. The government had expanded the vaccine roll-out to include all adults aged below 45 on May 1, but states and private hospitals had to procure and buy the shots themselves for the younger age group, leading to confusion and shortages. But New Delhi later changed tack, announcing it would procure 75 per cent of vaccine supplies and distribute them to states so they could inoculate people for free. The health ministry reported that a record 7.8 million jabs were administered on Monday, in contrast with an average of three million shots a day in recent weeks. Well done India, Modi tweets “Today’s record-breaking vaccination numbers are gladdening. The vaccine remains our strongest weapon to fight COVID-19... Well done India!” Modi tweeted. The country has administered 280 million shots in total, but barely four percent of people are fully vaccinated. The government aims to inoculate all of India’s almost 1.1 billion adults by the end of the year. “The vaccination drive is expected to pick up speed now... the daily vaccination has picked up over the last week and is expected to strengthen further,” community health expert Rajib Dasgupta told AFP. “However, both existing inequities as well as hesitancy merit deeper attention to make this a success.” Yoga push The free roll-out came as Modi marked the annual Yoga Day with an early-morning address to the nation, saying the practice had again proved itself to be a source of “inner strength”. “When I speak to frontline warriors, they tell me that they have adopted yoga as a protective shield in their fight against coronavirus. Doctors have strengthened themselves with yoga and also used yoga to treat their patients,” the Indian leader said. Public parks were re-opened in Delhi on Monday, but the number of events for Yoga Day was cut back around the country for the second year running because of the pandemic. Yoga Day — proposed by Modi and adopted by the United Nations in 2014 — is observed mostly in India, but also worldwide on the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day. Amarnath Yatra cancelled Throughout the pandemic, India’s government has touted yoga and herbal medicines — sales of which have boomed — to protect and give relief to people infected with the virus. But evidence is scant and the claims have faced pushback from India’s doctors, who wore black armbands last month to protest Baba Ramdev, a guru with ties to the Modi administration who has said yoga can cure Covid-19. India is the world’s second most infected nation with nearly 30 million coronavirus cases and more than 388,000 deaths, although experts say the actual toll could be much higher due to underreporting. Authorities said late Monday that the Amarnath Yatra — an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave shrine in Kashmir that draws some 300,000 participants — would be cancelled for the second straight year due to the pandemic.

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German conservatives unveil post-Merkel plan

Europe|: Berlin: Germany's conservatives on Monday promised no tax hikes, pragmatic action on climate change and a tough stance on Russia and China as they unveiled their plan to win voters in September's election in the absence of their veteran leader Angela Merkel. Armin Laschet, the leader of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Markus Soeder, chief of the smaller Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), pledged "stability and renewal" as they launched their manifesto in Berlin ahead of the September 26 vote - the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel. Laschet - the conservatives' pick to succeed Merkel as chancellor - called for a "modernisation drive for Germany", promising to combine "consistent climate protection with economic strength and social security". The two men appeared together in a show of unity after months of damaging infighting over who would be the candidate for chancellor - one of several setbacks for the bloc in recent months as it looks towards a post-Merkel era. But the alliance has gained momentum since naming Laschet for the top job, bringing home a thumping win in a key regional election and now polling on around 28 percent, ahead of the Greens in second place with about 21 percent. Soeder on Monday admitted he had faced some "disappointments" but said he harboured "no resentment" towards Laschet. "We have cleared everything up and talked it out with each other," he said. Life after Merkel The CDU-CSU alliance, also known as the Union, has dominated German politics for much of the past 70 years but faces a struggle to rebrand itself without Merkel, who despite many ups and downs remains immensely popular. "For a long time, Merkel alone was the Union's manifesto," the Bild daily wrote recently, suggesting that Laschet had been "rushing from meeting to meeting" in a scramble to finalise a new strategy for the alliance. At final talks before the manifesto launch on Monday morning, Merkel stressed that global politics was entering a "new era", sources close to the talks told AFP. The conservatives have faltered as Merkel prepares to bow out, suffering from anger over the government's pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts. For several weeks earlier this year, they lost their customary lead in the polls to the Greens, who surged following the nomination of their youthful chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, 40. But a poll for the RTL broadcaster last week had Laschet as Germany's top pick to replace Merkel on 23 percent, ahead of Baerbock for the first time since they both threw their hats in the ring. Laschet has long been a close ally of Merkel and has pledged to continue the chancellor's moderate centrist course. The new manifesto adheres to economic foundations of the conservative dogma - no tax hikes even though the pandemic has dug a big hole in the country's budget. Any tax hikes would be an "obstacle to the necessary recovery of our economy," argued the conservatives. Climate wars On foreign policy, it rejects EU membership for Turkey and calls for a united front from Europe and the United States against China, which it describes as "the greatest foreign and security policy challenge of our time". But it is the conservatives' climate programme that might be most closely scrutinised at home, given that the Greens are shaping up to be not only their closest competitor but also a potential coalition partner after the vote. The manifesto promises to "combine sustainable growth, climate protection and social security" to achieve Germany's goal of climate neutrality by 2045, but it also stresses this must be done without "new burdens on companies". Criticising the conservatives' plan as "lacking courage", Baerbock said the alliance wanted only to "muddle through as before". She accused the alliance of failing to offer any real reform projects to achieve climate neutrality and of banking on emissions trading to achieve a greener future. "Therefore the whole thing is very unfair and unsocial," she said.

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Video: Monkey sneaked into Delhi Metro train, remained on board for 3-4 minutes

Offbeat|India|: New Delhi: Two days after a video clip went viral on social media showing a monkey travelling inside a Delhi Metro train on the Blue Line, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) on Monday said the simian sneaked into the train and remained in the system for 3-4 minutes. In a statement, the DMRC made it clear that the monkey entered the train at Akshardham Metro station, and that its staff acted swiftly after getting information about it and the train was evacuated at the next station. "In this connection, DMRC would like to appeal and advise passengers to refrain from encouraging, feeding or indulging in any activity which may endanger them in such a situation." The DMRC said the corporation in consultation with the forest department plans to work out a standard operating procedure to deal with such unexpected situations. "DMRC once again appeals to the general public to inform the Train Operator or Metro authorities in case of any such incident being noticed for immediate remedial action." A video showing a monkey travelling in the Delhi Metro along with other commuters had gone viral on social media on June 19. The two-minute video attracted hundreds of views since it was uploaded on Twitter. The monkey, seen in the video, was roaming inside a coach of a Delhi Metro train. The video clip showed the monkey first roaming around in the carriage and eventually settling on a seat next to a commuter. In the video of the purported incident, a person can be heard saying Yamuna Bank Station, which falls on the Blue Line of the Delhi Metro.

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Top bureaucrat in India draws ire for touching Telangana chief minister’s feet

India|: Hyderabad: A top bureaucrat in a Telangana district has kicked up a row by touching Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s feet at an official event, drawing the public ire and criticism from the opposition. Siddipet district collector P. Venkatarami Reddy, an Indian Administrative Officer, touched the feet of the chief minister to seek his blessings on Sunday at an event where the latter inaugurated the collectorate at Siddipet district headquarters. After the inauguration of the building, the chief minister, as part of a ritual, made Reddy sit on the collector’s chair. Reddy then rose from his seat and bent to touch the chief minister’s feet even as the latter tried to stop him. Chief Secretary of the state M. Somesh Kumar and several other senior officials were present. The collector’s action evoked criticism from both the public and the opposition. They accused him of mortgaging the self-respect of the IAS cadre officers to please the chief minister. As the video of the collector touching Chandrasekhar Rao’s feet went viral, netizens condemned his gesture. The collector, however, defended himself saying Chandrasekhar Rao is a fatherly figure to him. “It is part of Telangana’s culture to take blessings of elders during auspicious occasions. I took the blessings of the CM who is like a fatherly figure to me when I was taking charge in the new collectorate,” Reddy said in the statement. The collector also pointed out that Sunday happened to be Father’s Day. He appealed to all not to make an issue out of it. His clarification came after several people took to Twitter and other social media platforms to condemn his action. “This is gross misconduct by a public servant, how can he perform his duties unbiased after demonstrating this?,” asked anti-corruption activist Vijay Gopal while condemning the collector’s gesture. “Dear babu, ur the servant of the public, not the politicians. This sends wrong signal to the people and also shows ur subservient attitude towards ur political masters,” tweeted another netizen Hanumantha Rao. Many netizens tagged the department of personnel and training of the government of India and IAS Association to bring the issue to their notice and urged them to take action. Opposition parties have also come down heavily on Reddy for his action. Congress leader Sravan Dasoju termed the collector’s action as obnoxious. He alleged that the collector is one of the many bureaucrats in the state who were enslaved by KCR. He said the bureaucrats should know that they are accountable only to the Indian Constitution and not to an individual who is in power. BJP’s chief spokesperson K. Krishna Saagar Rao alleged that KCR is promoting a new bureaucratic culture in the state. “If the collector had any reverence to KCR he should have done it privately instead of doing it in public glare. What type of sycophancy is this and how is KCR allowing this to happen,” he asked

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Facebook launches Clubhouse-like live audio rooms and podcasts

Media|World|Business|: Facebook Inc on Monday launched its own Clubhouse-style live audio rooms and a way to find and play podcasts on its platform, marking a push into social audio by the world's largest social network. Facebook's rollout of a potential Clubhouse rival follows the explosive early success of the invite-only live audio app, which became a hit as people stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was one of the Silicon Valley celebrities who have made appearances on the app, which recently expanded to Android users. Facebook, which has said it wants to make audio a "first-class medium" on its platforms, joins Twitter Inc and messaging platform Discord which have already launched their own live audio offerings. Spotify debuted its own version, "Greenroom," last Wednesday. Slack, Microsoft Corp-owned LinkedIn and Reddit are also working on similar products. Public figures and certain Facebook Groups in the United States using iOS will be able to create live audio rooms, with up to 50 speakers and unlimited listeners. These users can also invite people without a "verified badge" to speak, Facebook said in a blog post. Users on iOS and Android can listen to the rooms. The company, which has been vocal about its push to attract content creators, said it is partnering with public figures including musicians, journalists and athletes in the live audio rooms rollout. Listeners will be able to send Facebook's virtual currency "stars" to creators in live audio rooms. Zuckerberg has said the company will not take a cut of creator revenue until 2023. A number of select podcasts will also be available on Facebook to US listeners and the company said it would soon add to this initial slate. Facebook, which has been criticized for its handling of problematic content across its products, will face the challenges of moderating live and recorded audio content, including in private Facebook Groups. Facebook is also working on a project with Spotify to share and listen to music on the platform.

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Sweden sinks into political chaos as PM ousted in key vote

Europe|: Stockholm: Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a confidence vote in parliament, toppling his minority coalition and plunging the largest Nordic economy into political chaos. Lofven says he’ll now talk to his allies in parliament to figure out whether he can still patch together a viable coalition. Failing that, he may call a snap election, he said after losing Monday’s vote. If Swedes are forced to head to the polls early, it would be the first time since 1958. If Lofven resigns, the speaker of parliament will ask the biggest parties to try to form a new government until scheduled elections take place next year. The krona was little changed against the euro after the vote, with most analysts pointing to Sweden’s stable budget, low debt and top credit ratings as enduring metrics that will probably be unaffected by the political turmoil. The prime minister’s fate seemed sealed after he refused to back down from a deregulation plan aimed at Sweden’s rental housing market. The gambit by Lofven, a Social Democrat who’s presided over a fragile minority coalition since inconclusive elections in 2018, angered the Left Party, who said Lofven had crossed a red line. The Left then won support from a group of conservative and nationalist parties, eager to eject their political foe. On Monday, 181 of the 349 lawmakers in Sweden’s parliament voted against Lofven. Sweden Democrats Lofven’s ouster is the latest sign that Swedish politics have been fundamentally altered since the rise of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. The party has just under a fifth of the seats in the country’s parliament, preventing either bloc from reaching an outright majority. That reality has prompted parties to the right to agree to consider working with the Sweden Democrats, once deemed too xenophobic to be embraced by the mainstream. Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister, was quick to note the historic nature of Lofven’s defenestration, as he becomes the first head of government in the country’s history to lose office through a no-confidence vote. The economy Sweden’s political instability has yet to spill over to its economy, according to Johanna Jeansson of Bloomberg Economics. “Confidence in Sweden’s economic outlook is stronger than confidence for the government,” she said on Monday. “We expect the ongoing recovery to continue as the pandemic eases its grip at home and in Swedish export markets,” Jeansson said. “Weak governance is more of a risk in the very long-term, dampening the prospects for needed structural reform of the housing and labor market.” But Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson voiced her concerns on Monday, and pointed to the need for stability as Sweden navigates its way out of a pandemic in which it lost many more lives than its neighbors in the Nordic region. “A political crisis is not good in this economic situation,” she told reporters in Stockholm. “We are just beginning an economic recovery and a lot of businesses are considering whether to hire, whether to invest and there is a risk that those decisions will be postponed as a consequence of the political uncertainty.” GDP: Sweden ahead of EU majors Lofven, a 63-year-old former union leader and welder, has spent the past 2 1/2 years in a coalition that looked shaky from the start. His Social Democrats governed together with the Greens, and could only stay in power as long as they were backed by the Left Party, the Center Party and the Liberals, who see eye to eye on few key pieces of legislation. Until today, the prime minister had survived seemingly intractable conflicts, and emerged victorious from previous no-confidence motions brought against him. His removal from office now sets the stage for an uncertain political future in Sweden. If the country holds an early election, it’s far from clear that the next government will be much more stable. “It took four months to form a government after the last election and forming a new one will not be an easy task,” said Daniel Bergvall, an economist at SEB. “An extra election will most probably not create a clear outcome either.” Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, right, and Minister of the Environment and Climate Per Bolund before a confidence vote in the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, Monday June 21, 2021. Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister since 2014, lost a confidence vote in parliament on Monday. (Claudio Bresciani / TT via AP) Image Credit: AP

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COVID-19: Pakistan resumes vaccination as fresh jab supplies arrive from China

Pakistan|: ISLAMABAD: Vaccination of citizens resumed across the country on Monday after a fresh supply of COVID-19 shots arrived from China a day earlier. Karachi, where vaccination is underway 24/7, was the worst-hit after it ran out of stocks and had to suspend administration of jabs at all its 90 centres on Saturday and Sunday. However on Monday, a large number of vcitizens were administered jabs at Khaliq Dina Hall and Expo Centre. According to the Sindh health department, there were sufficient doses of COVID-19 after the federal government supplied 432,000 jabs of Sinovac. Pakistan had been facing vaccine shortage for a couple of days resulting in disruption of the vaccination drive. However, after 1.55 million doses arrived from China on Sunday, the process resumed across the country. Appeals to masses to get vaccinated Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah, in a message to mark the 68th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Benazir Bhutto, appealed to the masses to honour her memory by getting vaccinated. Vaccination was also resumed in Lahore and the people started arriving at the Expo Centre in the early hours to avoid rush. However, as only Sinovac was being administered there, many visitors who wanted to travel to the European and the Gulf countries which don’t recognise the Chinese vaccines had to return. ‘Walk-in facility caused vaccine shortage’ According to the Parliamentary Secretary for Health Dr Nausheen Hamid, the walk-in vaccination facilities were the main reason behind the shortage of vaccines in the country. With hundreds of new vaccination centres and expansion of the facilities across the country, the vaccination drive has slowed down and the government was taking measures to make sure ample stocks are available at the centres, she said. The federal government said Dr Nausheen Hamid had set aside 1.1 billion rupees (Dh 25.593 million) for purchase of vaccines, she said, adding there was no role of middleman in the purchase of vaccines. Pakistan toll crosses 22,000 mark Although the number of new deaths and cases of COVID-19 in the country during the last 24 hours was as low as 30 and 907, respectively, yet with these single-day fatalities, Pakistan’s toll due to COVID-19 crossed 22,000 and the number cases also reached 949,175.

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Pakistan: Man who gave Rs100m to educate 2,500 deprived Sindh kids chooses to stay anonymous

Pakistan|: Karachi: A philanthropist, who has donated Rs100 million to build a purpose-built complex to educate 2,500 deprived children of rural Sindh, has chosen to remain anonymous. Sindh Education and Literacy Minister Saeed Ghani performed the groundbreaking for the complex in the rural part of Mehrabpur in District Naushahro Feroze of the province. The facility will provide education from pre-school to Class 12 grades to the nearby underprivileged areas. The non-profit Green Crescent Trust (GCT), which is already running 150 charitable schools in far-flung parts of Sindh having enrolment of 29,000 students, is building the new complex. GCT’s Chief Executive Officer Zahid Saeed said the donor behind the new project, while generously donating for the cause, had put forth the condition that his name should never be publicised. He said that his non-profit organisation has been receiving support from several philanthropists to educate children of the backward parts of Sindh. He said that his NGO had started its work 27 years ago by building a school with an enrolment of just 50 students in a remote part of Karachi. He said the GCT now aims to increase the number of charitable schools to 250 with an enrolment of 100,000 students of the destitute families by 2025. The new educational complex in Mehrabpur would be ianugurated on August 14, 2022, on Pakistan’s Independence Day, he added. Sindh Education Minister said the NGOs like the GCT had truly emerged as a helping hand to the government’s drive to provide quality education to every child in the country. He said the the government would support the launching of such charitable school projects in every town of the province. He said the education sector was badly affected due to the pandemic and the government required wholehearted support of private and non-governmental organisations to fully restore academic activities. The minister said that he was a graduate of a school system run by an educational trust as the non-profit organisations had a major role to impart quality education to children in Sindh.

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Fear shakes Mexico border city after violence leaves 18 dead

Americas|: Ciudad Victoria: Fear has invaded the Mexican border city of Reynosa after gunmen in vehicles killed 14 people, including taxis drivers, workers and a nursing student, and security forces responded with operations that left four suspects dead. While this city across the border from McAllen, Texas is used to cartel violence as a key trafficking point, the 14 victims in Saturday's attacks appeared to be what Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca called "innocent citizens" rather than members of one gang killed by a rival. Local businessman Misael Chavarria Garza said many businesses closed early Saturday after the attacks and people were very scared as helicopters flew overhead. On Sunday, he said "the people were quiet as if nothing had happened, but with a feeling of anger because now crime has happened to innocent people." "It's not fair," said taxi driver Rene Guevara, adding that among the dead were two of his fellow taxi drivers whom he defended and said were not involved in crime. The attacks took place in several neighbourhoods in eastern Reynosa, according to the Tamaulipas state agency that coordinates security forces, and sparked a deployment of the military, National Guard and state police across the city. Images posted on social media showed bodies in the streets. Authorities say they are investigating the attacks and haven't provided a motive. But the area's criminal activity has long been dominated by the Gulf Cartel and there have been fractures within that group. Experts say there has been an internal struggle within the group since 2017 to control key territories for drug and human trafficking. Apparently, one cell from a nearby town may have entered Reynosa to carry out the attacks. Olga Ruiz, whose 19-year-old brother Fernando Ruiz was killed by the gunmen, said her sibling was working as a plumber and bricklayer in a company owned by his stepfather to pay for his studies. "They killed him in cold blood, he and two of his companions," said Olga Ruiz, adding that the gunmen arrived where her brother was fixing a drain. "They heard the gunshots from afar and my stepfather told him: `son, you have to take shelter.' So he asked permission to enter a house but my brother and his companions were only about to enter when the vehicles arrived," Ruiz said. "They stopped in front of them and started to shoot." On Saturday, authorities detained a person who was transporting two apparently kidnapped women in the trunk of a car. Security is one of the great challenges facing the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He has assured Mexicans that he is fighting the root causes of the violence and since the beginning of his administration in December 2018, he has advocated "hugs, not bullets" in dealing with criminals. He also says he is fighting corruption to stop the infiltration of organized crime among authorities. But the violence continues. "Criminal organizations must receive a clear, explicit and forceful signal from the Federal Government that there will be no room for impunity, nor tolerance for their reprehensible criminal behavior," said Garcia Cabeza de Vaca of the rival National Action Party. "In my government there will be no truce for the violent." But Garcia Cabeza de Vaca himself is being investigated by the federal prosecutor's office for organized crime and money laundering - accusations he says are part of plan by Lopez Obrador's government to attack him for being an opponent. Tamaulipas - the state where the Zetas cartel arose and where the Gulf Cartel continues to operate - has seen several of its past governors from the Institutional Revolutionary Party accused of corruption and links to organized crime. One former governor, Tomas Yarrington, was extradited to the United States from Italy in 2018 on drug trafficking charges.

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COVID-19: Indonesia travel agencies offer queue-beating US ‘vaccination tours’

Asia|: JAKARTA: After not securing a COVID-19 vaccination at home, Indonesian Mohammad Risqy Putra booked a trip to the United States to get inoculated there on his first overseas trip since the pandemic. With rich nations like the United States rolling out vaccinations far more quickly, wealthier residents in developing countries — from Indonesia to Thailand to Mexico — are prepared to head abroad to get a shot more quickly. “It just so happens that I haven’t gotten the vaccine here, so I might as well go for a trip and get a vaccine there,” Mohammad Risqy, 25, told Reuters. This will be his first to America. He will be accompanied by his parents, who also intend to get vaccinated. Only 5%, or 8.8 million people, in Indonesia have been fully vaccinated, government data shows, as authorities struggle to meet a target to inoculate 181.5 million by year-end. Rising COVID-19 cases in the world’s fourth-most populous country also mean vaccinations have been prioritised for “red zones”. ATS Vacations, a travel agency offering “vaccination tours”, estimated it had lost 75% of its business due to the pandemic and says the trips are beneficial to both industry and consumers. “We are helping those who want to get vaccinated, but are having difficulties (getting a shot). Since they want to travel at the same time, why not combine both,” said Lilik Budiman, ATS Vacations’ sales director. ‘The chance for a free vaccine’ The agency’s advertising flags “the chance for a free vaccine” next to a photograph of vials of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than 100 people so far have booked the tours, which are due to run from June to November and are contingent on people getting visas to travel. The cost of a minimum eight-day trip can range from $1,100 to $3,700 depending on whether it is a group or private tour. Each group tour can accommodate up to 30 people. For Dewiana, 33, who plans to travel with her husband at the end of September, the chance to get her preferred vaccine brand is one of the reasons why she wants to get a shot abroad. “From the brochure I learned that the vaccine we will get is Johnson & Johnson,” she said. Indonesia has been vaccinating people mainly with China’s Sinovac shots and the AstraZeneca vaccine. Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, described the idea of going overseas for vaccines as “common and not prohibited” for those wealthy enough. “Seeking medical treatment in the United States is a permissible purpose of travel for individuals holding a valid visitor visa,” said Michael Quinlan, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Indonesia.

GulfNews World

Facebook, WhatsApp urge Delhi High Court to stay CCI notice in privacy policy matter

India|Media|: New Delhi: Facebook and WhatsApp on Monday urged the Delhi High Court to stay the Competition Commission of India (CCI) notice asking them to furnish certain information in relation to a probe ordered by it into the instant messaging app's new privacy policy. A vacation bench of Justices Anup Jairam Bhambhani and Jasmeet Singh said it will pass an order on the application. During the hearing the bench said since it was sitting on a vacation bench, it did not want to delve into the merits of the matter even as the main petitions are pending before a bench headed by the Chief Justice. 'We will pass an order. The matter will be listed on July 9 (the date already fixed for the main petitions),' the bench said. The case relates to the appeals of Facebook and WhatsApp against a single judge order dismissing their pleas against the probe CCI ordered into the instant messaging app's new privacy policy. The high court had earlier issued notices on the appeals and asked the Centre to respond to it. Read more WhatsApp to Delhi HC: No deferment of privacy policy, trying to get users on board WhatsApp sues India government, says new media rules mean end to privacy Facebook says it aims to comply with India's new IT rules India police summon Twitter chief over viral video Twitter loses 'safe harbour' shield in India over non-compliance to IT rules In their fresh applications filed in the pending appeals, Facebook and WhatsApp sought stay on the CCI's June 4 notice asking them to furnish certain information for the purpose of inquiry conducted by it. Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing WhatsApp, said the problem is that they have received a fresh notice on June 4 and the last date to respond is today, that is June 21. He said the privacy policy is already under challenge in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court by way of a batch of petitions and even the government is looking into it. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Facebook, said the question here is of propriety and it is not correct as the highest court of the country, that is, the Supreme Court is looking into the matter. 'Why did they wait for June 4 evening to issue the notice? They could have done it earlier,' he said. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, representing CCI, opposed the pleas saying at the stage of inquiry furnishing of information will not lead to any order by the CCI and the notice is in pursuance to the inquiry which was not stayed by the high court and that this not the first notice issued to them. ASG Balbir Singh, also appearing for CCI, said since there is a statutory order against Facebook and WhatsApp, they should not use the high court's order and say that they will not furnish the information sought by CCI and the information should not be stalled at this stage. When the court asked what was the hurry of issuing notice by CCI, Lekhi said the question was not of hurry but the matter itself requires a lengthy process. He said till a report is submitted by the Director General to the CCI, there will be no precipitate action against them. The high court had on May 6 issued notice and sought reply of CCI on the appeals filed by Facebook and WhatsApp. The single judge on April 22 had said though it would have been "prudent" for the CCI to await the outcome of petitions in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court against WhatsApp's new privacy policy, not doing so would not make the regulator's order "perverse" or "wanting of jurisdiction". The court had said it saw no merit in the petitions of Facebook and WhatsApp to interdict the investigation directed by the CCI. The CCI had contended before the single judge that it was not examining the alleged violation of individuals' privacy which was being looked into by the Supreme Court. It had argued before the court that the new privacy policy of WhatsApp would lead to excessive data collection and "stalking" of consumers for targeted advertising to bring in more users and is therefore an alleged abuse of dominant position. "There is no question of jurisdictional error," it had contended saying that WhatsApp and Facebook's pleas challenging its decision were "incompetent and misconceived". WhatsApp and Facebook had challenged the CCI's March 24 order directing a probe into the new privacy policy. CCI had also told the court that only after the investigation can it be determined whether the data collection by WhatsApp and sharing it with Facebook would amount to an anti-competitive practice or abuse of dominant position. It had also contended that the data collected, which would include an individual's location, the kind of device used, their internet service provider and whom they are conversing with, would lead to creation of a customer profile and preference which would be monetised by way of targeted advertising and all this amounts to "stalking". The two social media platforms had contended that when the top court and the Delhi High Court were looking into the privacy policy, CCI ought not to have "jumped the gun" and intervened in the issue. They had also said that CCI's decision was an abuse of the commission's suo motu jurisdiction. They had claimed that the CCI in the instant case had "drifted far away" from the competition aspect and was looking into privacy issues which were already being looked into by the apex court and the Delhi High Court. In January, the CCI on its own decided to look into WhatsApp's new privacy policy on the basis of news reports regarding the same.

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COVID-19: Vaccine hesitancy puts India’s gains against virus at risk

India|: JAMSOTI, India: In Jamsoti, a village tucked deep inside India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the common refrain among the villagers is that the coronavirus spreads only in cities. The deadly infection, they believe, does not exist in villages. So when a team of health workers recently approached Manju Kol to get vaccinated, she locked up her house, gathered her children and ran to the nearby forest. The family hid there for hours and returned only when the workers left in the evening. “I would rather die than take the vaccine,” said Kol. A deadly surge of coronavirus infections that ripped through India in April and May, killing more than 180,000, has tapered off and new cases have declined. But the relief could be fleeting as a significant amount of the population is still reluctant to get the shots. This has alarmed health experts who say vaccine hesitancy, particularly in India’s vast hinterlands, could put the country’s fragile gains against COVID-19 at risk. People take part in a meeting of the Village Monitoring Committee of Amritpur Village in Chandauli district of Uttar Pradesh state. India’s vaccination efforts are being undermined by widespread hesitancy and fear of the jabs. Image Credit: AP “Vaccine hesitancy poses a risk to ending the pandemic in India,” said retired virologist and pediatrician Dr. T. Jacob John. “The more the virus circulates, the more it can mutate into dangerous new variants that can undermine vaccines.” Delivering vaccines in the world’s second-most populous country was always going to be challenging. Even though India did relatively well at the beginning of its mammoth vaccination drive, the campaign hit a snag almost immediately due to shortages and a complicated vaccine policy, exacerbating existing inequalities. Only less than 5% of India’s people are fully immunized. Experts caution that by the end of the year, vaccination rates must go up significantly to protect most Indians from the virus that has so far already killed more than 386,000 people — a figure considered to be a vast undercount. Starting Monday, every adult in India will be eligible for a shot paid for by the federal government. The new policy, announced last week, ends a complex system of buying and distributing vaccines that overburdened states and led to inequities in how the shots were handed out. There is still widespread hesitancy fuelled by misinformation and mistrust, particularly in rural areas where two-thirds of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion population lives. Rumours about jabs disrupting menstruation cycle Health workers face stiff resistance from people who believe that vaccines cause impotence, serious side effects and could even kill. Some simply say they do not need the shots because they’re immune to the coronavirus. Rumours about jabs disrupting the menstruation cycle and reducing fertility have also contributed to fear and skewed the data in favour of men. In almost every Indian state, more men are getting vaccinated than women — and that gap is widening further every day. Quashing such rumours and conspiracy theories is a tough order for many, particularly in India’s tribal-dominated districts that have recorded disproportionately lower vaccine coverage in comparison with other districts, according to official data. Yogesh Kalkonde, a public health doctor in Gadchiroli, a tribal area in the western state of Maharashtra, said his district was overrun with the belief that the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus. Some in the area have raised the untrue claim that the shots can cause infertility, Kalkonde said. Others simply question its effectiveness. “We have to convince people, go door to door, and rely on people who have taken the vaccine to spread the word,” he said. “It’s an extremely slow process.’’ There is some pushback. State governments have mounted aggressive awareness campaigns through posters and radio announcements to allay some of the anxiety and confusion. Some local administrations have started giving rides to vaccination centers, especially from remote villages. Volunteers are conducting door-to-door surveys and even small rallies to encourage people to get the jab. Who’s responsible? For months, Vibha Singh, a government-appointed nurse, has gone door-to-door in the villages of Uttar Pradesh. “People tell us to leave or they would beat us,” said Singh. “Sometimes they also throw stones and bricks at us.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders have routinely spoken about the need to shun vaccine hesitancy, but health experts say more needs to be done. “We need to explain it clearly to people, ideally through local trusted networks,” said K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. He said state governments should bolster local self-help groups, village councils and ask local religious leaders to step in. “It requires a conversation, not just top-down messaging,” he said. Dr. Vinod K. Paul, head of the country’s COVID-19 task force, acknowledged the immediate need to address the problem but said public participation to dispel rumors and misinformation was important. “It is the responsibility not only of the government but also the society as a whole to create such an environment in which an unfounded hesitancy is addressed,’’ said Paul. Virologists and public health experts say eradicating doubts about the vaccine in rural India and inoculating people quickly should be of paramount importance since the majority of Indians live in the hinterlands. Already, urban dwellers are getting the shots much faster. “If they are protected, much of India will be protected,” Reddy said of rural areas. “Their vulnerability to a sweeping pandemic is much, much more. So vaccinating them quickly must be a priority.” Not everyone is convinced. When a team of health workers last week attempted to vaccinate Panna Lal, a resident of Sikanderpur village in Uttar Pradesh, they were met with an absolute refusal. Lal even discouraged the rest of his family from getting the jab. “The vaccine will not protect me,” the 56-year-old told the workers. “God has sent me here safely, and he will continue to protect me.”

GulfNews World

India begins inoculating all adults with free shots

India|: NEW DELHI: India on Monday began a nationwide campaign of free COVID-19 shots for all adults after weeks of criticism that a chaotic rollout had caused acute shortages and intensified a deadly second wave that killed hundreds of thousands in April and May. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reversed a policy under which states made their own purchases from drug makers and along with private hospitals were administering doses to people aged 18-45. And as most states shut down vaccination centres for the younger population citing shortages, a majority turned to private hospitals that charged between $9-$24 a dose and supply gaps widened between urban and rural areas. The country is using domestically made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and Indian company Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. The Indian government is attempting to secure foreign vaccines such as Pfizer and has waived strict rules to allow quicker imports. Experts have warned of a potential third wave as only about 5% of all 950 million eligible people are fully inoculated with two doses even as daily infections have fallen this month. Over the last 24 hours, India reported 53,256 infections, the lowest since March 24. Infections hit a peak of about 400,000 a day in May and deaths soared to around 170,000 in April-May. And as most cities have begun lifting lockdown curbs, experts have cautioned that a swift reopening could complicate a vaccination programme that needs to be at least four times faster. India’s daily vaccinations hit a peak of 4.5 million shots on April 5 but have since fallen sharply. In the last 30 days, India has been administering an average 2.7 million doses a day. In the western state of Maharashtra, hardest hit by the second wave, authorities said older age groups between 30-45 would be a priority as supplies were scarce. “We have enough stock that will hopefully last us for the next three to four days, but have no visibility on stock supplies after that,” Santosh Revankar, a senior health official in Mumbai’s civic body, told Reuters. The state has allowed some businesses to resume and partially lifted curbs on public transport while retaining weekend curfews in some cities.