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Who is Arora Akanksha, the 34-year-old running for UN Secretary-General

Americas|: United Nations: Never mind that Arora Akanksha has worked at the United Nations for only about four years, as an auditor recruited from an accounting firm. Put aside that at age 34, she has no diplomatic experience. And forget that she is less than half as old as the incumbent she wants to replace, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, 71, the veteran Portuguese statesman and former U.N. High Commissioner for refugees. Arora - she uses her family name first and prefers to be called Arora - said that as a grandchild of people who were once refugees, she was acutely aware of difficult odds. But with a $30,000 campaign budget drawn largely from her savings, a website and a social media promotion that begins with, "People in my profession aren't supposed to stand up to the ones in charge," Arora has declared herself a candidate to be the next leader of the United Nations. On Feb. 17, Arora, a native of India and citizen of Canada, submitted a formal letter of application for the 2022-27 term. "We are not living up to our purpose or our promise," the letter stated. "We are failing those we are here to serve." No country has yet formally endorsed her unlikely candidacy. But if nothing else, Arora's boldness has touched a nerve at the 193-member organization and thrown attention on the historically opaque way that its leader is picked. While the process has been made more transparent compared with the backroom bargaining that prevailed years ago, it is nonetheless widely expected that Guterres will win a second term when the selection is made in October. Arora's message, she said, is that the United Nations is sclerotic, wasteful, adrift, paternalistic and patronizing toward many of the younger members of its staff of 44,000 people around the world. According to one of her campaign videos on YouTube, only about 29 cents of every dollar, from the U.N.'s total annual revenue of roughly $56 billion, goes to actual causes. "We spend our resources on holding conferences, writing reports," Arora, an audit coordinator for the U.N. Development Program, said in an interview. "All these frivolous activities that are advertising. We have lost course on why we exist, what we're supposed to do." If the United Nations were a private company, she said, "it would have been, like, out of business." Far from dismissing her ambition as foolish or quixotic, friends and supporters admire her nerve and penchant for speaking her mind. "She's fearless," said Pauline Pamela Pratt, a colleague at the U.N. Population Fund who worked with Arora in 2019. "She's not afraid to be who she is, even among people who have authority over her." When Pratt learned of Arora's plans to seek the secretary-general job, she recalled having expressed surprise "but then thought, 'Why not go for it?'" Some see Arora as naive about the geopolitical forces that have shaped the United Nations over more than 75 years. Others have wondered how, precisely, she would reduce expenses for travel and other costs of running its far-flung operations. While the secretary-general may have a bully pulpit, the position holds little real power, and its occupant is basically beholden to the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - which play a decisive role in who is ultimately chosen. "I'm sure she has no chance and equally sure that she knows that," said Edward Mortimer, a former U.N. official who was the chief speechwriter for Kofi Annan, the secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. "It's a brave way of demonstrating unhappiness, which I've no doubt is quite widely shared by her colleagues." Asked recently about Arora, Guterres' spokesperson, StEphane Dujarric, told reporters, "Let me put it this way. I speak for the incumbent candidate, but we have no comment on anyone else who may wish to put their hat in the proverbial ring." Arora, who has taken a leave of absence from work for her campaign, said she had received many positive messages from co-workers and more than 2,600 votes on her website, and she is hoping to make her case to U.N. ambassadors in the next few months. "This is not even a place that challenges, because they go through countries politically and negotiate," Arora said. "So yeah, this is a straight-on challenge, and I don't want to play games or anything; I just want to run an honest campaign." Not widely known outside her workplace, Arora has committed a number of head-turning firsts. She is the first person known to officially challenge an incumbent seeking a second term and the first millennial-generation candidate. And if she prevailed, Arora would be the first woman to lead the United Nations - a precedent nearly achieved in 2016 when seven prominent women were in the running with Guterres. Arora talked about her life and ambition recently in an interview at the U.N. headquarters, a few blocks from her studio apartment on Manhattan's East Side. She lives frugally; speaks daily with her parents, who are "very supportive," Arora said; and reads Harry Potter books to relax. Her wardrobe of brightly colored dresses, including six acquired from Uganda and Kenya in 2017 while on a field assignment, stands out among the suits in her workplace. As for why she aspired to lead the United Nations, Arora traced the reasons partly to her own refugee family background, to a Manhattan taxi accident that sent her to the hospital, and to her memory of a malnourished child in Uganda. Like many Hindus, her grandparents fled from Pakistan to India after the 1947 partition, a fact that colors her outlook on the world. Asked about the possibility of losing to Guterres, she said, "Refugees have no plan B, hence I have no plan B." Arora was born in Haryana, a northern Indian state, and spent her youngest years in Saudi Arabia, where her parents, both doctors, had relocated. From age 9 to 18 she was back in India attending boarding school, she said, and then decided to move to Canada, where she graduated from York University with honors and worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada as an auditing manager. Hired in December 2016 by the United Nations to help improve its internal financial controls, Arora said her admiration for the organization soon turned to shock. "The system is so amazing on the outside, but there's no coherence for getting things done," she said. Just weeks into the job, she was struck by a taxi after work, and as she lay on a hospital bed with a fractured left knee, she thought, "If I died, what would my legacy be?" That, she said, was "my big awakening moment." That summer while working in Uganda, Arora said, she encountered a child eating mud. "That image stuck in my head," she said, recalling how she told a senior U.N. official back in New York about it. His seemingly callous response stunned her. "He said, 'Mud has iron,'" she said. "That was the first time I was speechless in my life." The exchange, she said, "was one of the big triggers for me." She plunged into learning more about U.N. history and went back to school while she kept working. She attended Columbia University's graduate program in public administration, where she befriended a fellow student, Anne-Carine Frederique, a Haitian American who had once interned at the United Nations and whose extended family in Haiti had suffered from a cholera epidemic that medical experts traced to U.N. peacekeepers - an enduring stain on the organization's legacy. With their shared criticisms of the United Nations, one thing led to another, Arora said, and Frederique, who works at Columbia's business school, now helps manage her secretary-general campaign. While Arora has not received explicit endorsements from powerful U.N. figures, neither has she been discouraged. Mary Robinson, a former High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland who was once considered a contender for secretary-general, said, in an emailed statement, that she welcomed Arora's candidacy as "entirely healthy." "I share many of the concerns raised by Arora Akanksha about the need to promote more women and younger staff members into management and leadership roles," her statement said. Lyric Thompson, senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women - a group that has been grading Guterres' record on gender issues and last year gave him a B - said Arora's candidacy should not be underestimated. "There has been increasing demand for feminist leadership for some time," Thompson said. "From A.O.C. to Jacinda Ardern, we know better than to count out young female voices."

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COVID-19: Dubai Health Authority approves 10-week interval between two doses of Oxford vaccine

Health|: Dubai: Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has approved a ten-week interval between the first and second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. DHA said this was based on recent studies from the University of Oxford on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and as per the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). In a tweet published on its official page, the authority said: “Recent studies from the University of Oxford on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine showed a higher efficiency and higher acquired immunity when the dosing interval between the first and second dose was increased. Based on recent studies from the University of Oxford on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and as per the recommendations of WHO, DHA has approved a ten-week interval between the first and second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.” All those who are due for the second dose of this vaccine will receive a text message with the date and location for their vaccination appointment, the authority said. The move comes at a time when the UAE is still reporting 3,000-plus COVID-19 cases daily. Just today, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) announced 16 deaths and 3,498 new coronavirus cases, taking the total number of confirmed infection in the country to 385,160 and fatalities to 1,198. Also today, Dubai’s Supreme Committee for Crisis and Disaster Management, headed by Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced that the COVID-19 precautionary measures introduced in the beginning of February will be extended until the start of Ramadan in mid-April. The decision was based on an evaluation of the evolving COVID-19 situation and with data supporting the effectiveness of intensified safety measures and the recommendations of frontline authorities. Read more COVID-19: UAE hospital introduces new antibody treatment COVID-19: Dubai Health Authority conducts inspection of over 7,700 medical facilities COVID-19: UAE reports 3,498 new coronavirus cases, 16 deaths UAE vaccinates more than 3.48m against COVID-19 The Supreme Committee for Crisis and Disaster Management said the country’s response to the pandemic is part of an integrated plan to combat COVID-19. Commending the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) and the Ministry of Health and Prevention for their success in coordinating counter-pandemic measures, the committee said it will continue to monitor local and international developments to ensure optimal response.

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Dubai extends COVID-19 precautionary measures until start of Ramadan

UAE|: Dubai: Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management, headed by His Highness Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on Friday announced that the COVID-19 precautionary measures introduced in the beginning of February will be extended until the start of Ramadan in mid-April. The decision is based on an evaluation of the evolving COVID-19 situation, data showing the effectiveness of intensified safety measures and the recommendations of frontline authorities. Covid-19 precautionary measures Image Credit: Dubai Media Office The Supreme Committee said the country’s response to the pandemic is part of an integrated plan to combat COVID-19. Commending the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) and the Ministry of Health and Prevention for their success in coordinating counter-pandemic measures, the Committee said it will continue to monitor local and international developments to ensure the optimal response. The committee praised the pace of the COVID-19 vaccination drive in Dubai and the UAE. As of 25 February, more than 5.8 million vaccine doses and over 30 million tests were administered in the UAE. The country has one of the highest vaccination and testing rates globally. These figures demonstrate the strength and preparedness of the UAE’s healthcare system, the Committee said. What will the measures cover? Precautionary measures that will be extended until the start of Ramadan include: Indoor venues, including cinemas and entertainment and sports venues, will continue to operate at 50% of maximum capacity and under intensified precautionary measures. Visitors allowed in shopping malls, and guests in hotel establishments and inside swimming pools and private beaches in hotels, will be limited to 70% of total capacity. Restaurants and cafes will be required to close by 1.00 am. Pubs/bars will remain closed Intensified monitoring and inspection campaigns will continue to ensure strict compliance with measures including physical distancing and wearing of facemasks. Public commitment sought The committee urged the public to continue observing precautionary measures, stressing that their commitment is critical to counter the pandemic. Observing preventive protocols and safety guidelines remain the most effective ways of combating the virus, the Committee added. Members of the community are encouraged to report violations of COVID-19 precautionary measures by individuals or establishments through Dubai Police’s Call Centre 901 or its ‘Police Eye’ service in the Dubai Police Smart App.

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We must remain enthusiastic to develop country, Sheikh Mohammed says

Government|: Dubai: His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, stressed the importance of enthusiasm in developing the UAE. “We must remain enthusiastic to develop country,” Sheikh Mohammed said. In the latest “LeadershipFlashes” shared on his Instagram account, Sheikh Mohammed made it clear that no project or idea is launched in the UAE unless he is totally convinced about it. “We must always support and follow up on the development of our country. Mohammed bin Rashid is not working alone. We have teams, we have young people who work relentlessly, we have a leadership and we have a vision. There is no project or idea launched in the UAE unless I am totally convinced with it,” Sheikh Mohammed said. Earlier, last January, Sheikh Mohammed had launched the hashtag, #LeadershipFlashes, on his Instagram account, to share part of his life and practical experiences with his followers, as well as his experiences and leadership vision. In the previous video, which was published earlier this month, Sheikh Mohammed had stressed the need to remain active and energetic. He stressed that he wanted the people of the UAE to have a high level of physical fitness because it was strongly linked to productivity at work because lazy people can’t be productive at all. Read more Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid visits IDEX 2021 and NAVDEX UAE President appoints Under-Secretary of Ministry of Industry UAE rulers congratulate King Salman on Saudi Crown Prince's successful surgery Watch: Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid orders renaming of Al Mankhool Street in Dubai in honour of late Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Sheikh Mohammed noted that a physically-fit person is useful to society, while an inactive person will just get out of the race of excellence after his inactivity turns into laziness, and then he or she will become miserable. Sheikh Mohammed added: “I want my people to have a high physical fitness, the elderly and the young alike. If you are physically good, you will be useful... Now you must be the best, do not sit idle. Otherwise, you will be out of the race and you will be miserable. The lazy cannot produce anything.”

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India: Poll dates for Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry announced

India|: New Delhi: As many as 824 assembly constituencies will go to the polls in four states - Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam - and the Union Territory of Puducherry, Chief Election Commissioner of India Sunil Arora announced on Friday. Elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry will be held in a single phase on April 6. The Assam assembly elections will be held in 3 phases - on March 27, April 1 and April 6. The polls in West Bengal will be held in eight phases - on March 27, April 1, 6, 10, 17, 22, 26 and 29. Counting of all votes will be held on May 2. "Nearly 186 million electors will vote at 270,000 polling stations for 824 seats in four assembly elections," Sunil Arora said addressing media persons here today. He also said the Bihar Assembly polls last year in November amid the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment and proved to be a litmus test for the Election Commission of India (ECI). Addressing mediapersons Arora said: "In the thick of the pandemic, ECI started test trials with elections of 18 seats to Rajya Sabha. After that, came the challenge of the Bihar elections, it was indeed a watershed moment for ECI. It proved to be a litmus test. Voting turnout was 57.34 per cent exceeding the 2015 Assembly polls and 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the state." He applauded the frontline workers, healthcare workers and ECI officials for performing election duty during the COVID-19 times last year. All poll officials will be vaccinated against COVID-19 before elections," Arora said "Our tributes to the COVID warriors, doctors, paramedics, nurses, researchers, scientists and all our officials on election duty who are located on the frontline," said Arora. Guidelines He also announced guidelines for the upcoming elections. These include restricting door-to-door campaigning to five people including the candidate, Polling officials to be vaccinated and separate norms for suspected COVID-19 patients. The terms of the legislative assemblies of five states - West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry - will come to an end either in May or in June.

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Free on-arrival COVID-19 PCR test for passengers from UAE to Kerala

UAE|: Dubai: The government of the south Indian state of Kerala has made the on-arrival COVID-19 RT-PCR test free for those coming from abroad, including passengers from the UAE. Kerala Health minister K.K. Shailaja made the announcementand in Kerala and said all international passengers will continue to be tested on arrival as per the latest travel protocol announced by India’s federal government. The new requirement of mandatory COVID-19 RT-PCR test came into effect on February 23, following which, several expats in the UAE had sought exemption from the test fee, which is charged at different rates at different airports in India. In Kerala, the cost of the test was capped at Rs1,700 (Dh84.74). As reported by Gulf News, Indian expats’ demand for exemptions in COVID-19 tests for travelling to India from UAE had gathered steam with social workers and community groups joining the campaign. Social workers had begun campaigning for government funding for the test while some expats had delayed travel expecting change in rule for kids. Read more COVID-19: UAE hospital introduces new antibody treatment COVID-19: Dubai Health Authority conducts inspection of over 7,700 medical facilities COVID-19: UAE reports 3,498 new coronavirus cases, 16 deaths Though the test has been made free of cost, the minister has clarified that all international passengers will still have to be tested due to the high number of cases and the spread of new variants of coronavirus. Social workers in the UAE have welcomed the government’s move. “Kerala is the first state to announce free on-arrival test for expats. I congratulate minister Shailaja teacher and the government for making this welcoming decision. This will be a big relief to the expatriates,” said K.V. Shamsudheen of Sharjah-based Pravasi Bandhu Welafre Trust, who had written a letter to Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan to stop the “self-paid” test on arrival in India.

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Boeing 777 makes emergency landing in Moscow with engine trouble

Aviation|: A Boeing Co. 777 aircraft operated by Rossiya Airlines made an emergency landing in Moscow at 4:44 a.m. local time due to engine trouble, less than a week after a similar aircraft flown by United Airlines Holdings Inc. suffered a dramatic blowout over Denver, shedding debris onto neighbourhoods below. The Rossiya Air flight was operating as a cargo service from Hong Kong to Madrid, according to an employee at Sheremetyevo International Airport, who declined to be named. Neither Boeing nor Rossiya Air were immediately available for comment. The crew of the plane requested to make the emergency landing after one of the left engine control channels failed, according to Interfax. No injuries were reported. The type of engine wasn't immediately clear. Last Saturday's incident in Colorado involved a PW4077 engine made by Pratt & Whitney, a division of Raytheon Technologies Corp. A preliminary examination of fragments from the engine suggested suggested a crack that grew gradually over time prompted the failure. The incident led to groundings of all the Boeing 777s around the world that use the engine. In another incident on Feb. 20, a Boeing 747-400 cargo jet operated by Longtail Aviation suffered a failure with its Pratt & Whitney engine shortly after takeoff from Maastricht in the Netherlands. That failure was contained, meaning debris didn't escape laterally and damage the body of the plane, but two people on the ground were injured. The engine was from the same PW4000 family as the United flight.

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India’s new digital media guidelines are part of Modi’s reforms

How should countries regulate the ever growing and evolving forms of digital media? How should safe harbour protections evolve given that some prominent social media platforms have recently taken to behaving like publishers rather than as mere intermediaries? What should be the nature of regulation, if at all, when it comes to OTT streaming platforms? These are some questions that have vexed countries across the globe and they are grappling with the problems in their own ways. There was a similar global debate a few years ago about Net Neutrality. India, in many ways, finally settled that debate by firmly tilting on the side of Net Neutrality. This week, India may have given another model for the world to take cue from, if not completely emulate, when it announced the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics code. The Indian Government did not introduce any separate legislation for Digital Media, but developed a framework within the existing statute after extensive consultations. The salient features of the new regulations set many benchmarks. No statutory authority First, the distinctive aspect of the proposed framework is that, unlike in Singapore and Australia and the proposed structure in United Kingdom, there will be no statutory authority to regulate content on Digital Media. Instead, a soft touch co-regulatory mechanism has been envisaged in which the trust is placed on digital media platforms to resolve all grievances through in-house redressal mechanisms or through pooled self-regulating bodies. Only when these mechanisms fail, would a government oversight mechanism kick in to issue advisories. This proposed new mechanism will end the multiplicity of legal complaints filed in different states and different courts, each reacting differently to the same grievance. Duplicity of proceedings and multiplicity of approaches caused great inconvenience to the publishers. This code comprehensively deals with this issue by establishing a one stop portal where the users can register their grievances pertaining to online content providers and online news publishers. Second, recognising the nature of OTT players and despite demands for introducing a censorship regime for films and web series, the government has refrained from doing so. Instead, a self-certification regime, as appropriate for different age groups, has been introduced. This is a major departure from prevalent norms in India where film content has to go through censor board certification process. The new guidelines for OTTs establish a new paradigm and place the trust in content creators to be responsible without hampering their creativity in any way. It is a major inflection point for India’s entertainment industry and this unshackling of the creativity of India’s story tellers is fulfilment of a long-aspired dream. Third, the new intermediary guidelines protect the free flow nature of social media intermediary platforms while at the same time making it incumbent upon them to follow the duly laid down laws of the country. The recent controversial decisions by some social media platforms during the US elections have sparked a global rethink of the nature of intermediaries. Articulated by French President Emmanuel Macron and others, the global opinion has started veering around the view that while intermediaries should continue to protect free speech and free flowing nature of social media, they should not become some kind of self-appointed supra-global authorities manipulating public opinion. The regulations proposed in India have managed to balance out these different imperatives. Chief Compliance Officer The intermediary rules mandate social media platforms to establish a Chief Compliance Officer within the territorial jurisdiction of India. This officer will ensure that duly enacted Indian laws are complied with and social media platforms do not act as some kind of appellate authority over and above India courts or Indian laws. The rules will thus be equally applied as per law rather than as per personal beliefs or ideologies of the social media platform owners. The rules also mandate the intermediaries to provide a mechanism for verification of ordinary users who wish to get verification done and provide them a visible symbol of verification. This will ensure that social media discourses are more authentic because it will be possible to see who are the genuine and verified people taking part in a discourse who are unverified. One significant innovation of the guidelines for intermediaries is the proposed distinction between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries, the latter being an intermediary having users above a defined threshold. This move will keep the compliance burden light for new Start-Ups while ensuring that established players — like Facebook, Twitter, etc — with large user bases operate with more due diligence. Fourth, the regulations for curated content providers and digital news publishers bring them on par with television and print media. The norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India, through which the vibrant and free mainstream media of India self regulates, would now be applicable to digital publishers as well. Level playing field This ensures level playing field, missing till now, while at the same time introducing no new guidelines. India in the past has been known to over regulate or make compliance burdens so high that they stifled any creativity. In that sense, the digital media regulatory guidelines are a paradigm shift in the way India thinks of regulations. Self-regulation rather than bureaucratic rigmarole is the new norm. Doing away with censorship with films for OTTs would have been unthinkable in the Indian context even a few years ago. Avoiding the temptation of introducing a digital regulatory authority is a fundamental mindset change in the way bureaucracy works in India. The government seems to be telling the digital innovators and the content creators that they in government are not the repository of all the wisdom in the world. Instead, the government trusts the digital entrepreneurs and story tellers to self-regulate. Recently India opened up its cartography sector to the private innovators and ended state monopoly. Just a few months ago the government had deregulated ‘Other Service Providers’ (OSPs) with new rules that created a friendly-regime for ‘Work from Home’ and ‘Work from Anywhere’ while removing several reporting and other obligations for such companies. The new digital media guidelines are the latest instance of trusting private enterprise and citizen while keeping the regulatory compliance light. The passionate defence or private enterprise that Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently mounted in Indian Parliament is no longer limited to words but is taking concrete policy shape. In that sense, the new digital media guidelines can be thought of as part of a series of Trust Reforms — Trust in the citizens of India. Akhilesh Mishra @amishra77 Akhilesh Mishra is the CEO of Bluekraft Digital Foundation and was earlier Content Director fo MyGov India.

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Will Indian rupee again favour UAE's NRIs by dropping below 20 for one dirham?

Markets|: Dubai: Will the rupee again hit 20 to the dirham? Early trade in the currency markets has the rupee pegged at 19.90, and tantalizingly close to a level that would cheer NRI residents in the UAE with plans to remit some of their upcoming salary payment. (In dollar terms, the Friday rate is at Rs73.10 for a dollar.) It was on April 22 last year that the rupee dropped to a record low of 76.90, hit by heavy foreign fund outflows from the Indian stock markets and as the global economy was grappling with the COVID-19 outbreak. Fears that the Indian economy is heading into an unprecedented contraction speeded up the outflows. But nearly a year down the line, it’s a different set of circumstances that the economy and rupee are facing. “With the easing lockdown restrictions, the pickup in economic activities, increase in consumer demand and benign inflation, India will continue to remain an attractive destination for foreign institutional funds,” said Rahul Gupta, Head of Research -Currency at Emkay Global Financial Services. With fundamentals on solid footing, the more likely prospect would be the rupee trading in the 71.50 to 73.50 range. If so, NRIs would have to make do with getting less than 20 for their dirham. Rupee's been holding to a tight range against dollar/dirham in recent weeks. Image Credit: Nivetha Dayanand Softer US stance President Joe Biden’s approach is also spurring foreign investors’ confidence in emerging markets… and India has been a prime beneficiary. The BSE index is hovering near the 50,000 points mark, and the widespread impression is that key sectors will be coming up with vastly improved results in the current quarter. (The BSE was at 49,991 at 9am UAE time on Friday.) “As long as this trend holds, over the next six months, the rupee may remain firm against the dollar… and therefore against the dirham,” said Anindya Banerjee, DVP for Currency Derivatives and Interest Rate Derivatives at Kotak Securities. “With the new administration in the US expected to be more open to globalisation, foreign investors are buying into emerging market assets.” Read More Indian economy: Will RBI keep rates steady in the years to come? Indian stocks attract over $22 billion in 2020 But will rupee gain more? Upcoming corporate results for the January to March period will be decisive in keeping the bullish mood going. The central government’s budget earlier in the month had done much to soothe investor sentiments on which way the economy is going. There was none of the market trantrums after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the key proposals. The rupee too was as steady as it goes. The four factors that drive the rupee’s status are foreign direct investment and debt flows; portfolio flows into Indian stocks; speculative forces operating in dollar-rupee derivatives in onshore and offshore markets; and the Indian central bank’s buying and selling of dollar. “Three out of four conditions have been favourable to the rupee due to improving macroeconomic situation, government reforms,” said Banerjee. Plus, “The high-interest differential offering in dollar-rupee forwards/futures contracts. “However, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) has not allowed the rupee to appreciate as its peers in other emerging markets.” Close to one-year peak While several emerging market currencies are at two- or three-year highs, the rupee is still short of a one-year high against the dollar. The RBI bought nearly $160 billion over the past nine months to prevent the rupee from appreciating to a point where the country’s exports feel its impact. Only if the RBI reduces the pace of its dollar buying in the coming weeks, can the rupee appreciate to the plus 20 to the dirham level. NRIs will just have to bide their time. “We can't comment on what’s best for an individual,” said Supin James, General Manager, Purshottam Kanji Exchange in Oman. “It all depends on their need to send money back home. But compared to February 2020, the rate of transfer is the same - so we say it is always a good time to send money.”

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UAE's private jet travel is readying for an 'Uber for the skies' experience

Aviation|: Dubai: You’ve done it – take out the phone, open an app and make a booking for a ride to come and drop to your choice of location. It could be a ride to the home, office, a meeting… or even down to the airport. Now, a company wants to take the same concept of ride-hailing beyond the airport and up to the skies. That’s right, create an “Uber for the skies…,” is how Ravi Thakran, the Singapore-based Chairman and Managing Partner of GCC Asia Growth Fund. Let’s be clear – Thakran is not engaging in wishful thinking. One of his entities – Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle Corp. – earlier this month acquired US-based Wheels Up Partners Holdings, whose business model is based on offering seats on any available private jet that’s there in their neighbourhood. The intention – make private jet travel available to more than just the super-rich or corporate clients. And the rates? In the range of “Business Class plus…”Ravi Thakran, who has had stints with LVMH, Swatch and Nike, has set sights on bringing in a few changes to the business of private jets. His plan? Expand the user base.Irish Eden R. Belleza/Gulf News Wheels Up's way Headquartered in the US, the Wheels Up concept works on connecting prospective fliers with private jet owners or operators. The model works on expanding the base of users of private jets beyond the xtremely wealthy, the celebrities and top corporate executives. Wheels Up services include membership programmes, on-demand private flights across all cabin categories, aircraft management, and aircraft sales. It manages the private jet fleet of Delta Air Lines. In 2020, the company flew more than 150,000 passengers, utilizing its access to over 1,500 owned, managed, and third-party partner aircraft. With its plans to head to the Middle East and Far East hubs, Wheels Up wants to further its fleet of ready-to-fly jets. Heading to the Middle East The deal, which values Wheels Up at $2.1 billion and get a listing on NYSE, will see the company expand its reach beyond the US into the Middle East and Asia. But will this concept fly in untested markets? “During the pandemic, while there were headwinds for the airline industry as such, it actually created a tailwind for private jet aviation,” said Thakran, who in another avatar was the head of Asia operations at the French luxury goods giant LVMH, which is the home of Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Christian Dior. “In the Middle East itself, private jet flying during 2020 was up 20 per cent plus, while in the US, it was up by 36 per cent. And in many other parts of the world, there was similar double-digit growth. “There are between 850 to 1,500 private jet aircrafts in the MEA region, but which spend 90-95 per cent of the time on the ground. A 95 per cent utilisation rate is way too low. “With Wheels Up, we are bringing a new-generation tech platform that will be able to connect aspirational consumers on one side and tens of thousands of private aircraft on the other.” That’s where the Uber concept comes in. $ 2.1 Billion What Wheels Up is valued at after the latest deal Take up rates soar Thakran’s views about COVID-19 and private jet demand are on the ball. Demand shot up immediately after several countries imposed lockdown measures and those who could afford it chose to fly private to get back to wherever they wanted. Corporates flew in or out their key executives as and when they needed, and ensure business continuity. (In the UAE, there were a handful of business houses that chartered private jets to help those who were stranded here a chance to return.) Now that more fliers have had a taste for private jets, Thakran reckons it will become habit forming. “It was a first-time experience for many - they are not going to go back to commercial flights,” he added. “There’s a McKinsey study that says 90 per cent of those who can afford to fly in private jets have not done so because they feel it’s too costly. Or have concerns about how to go about it.” This is where the Wheels Up app and systems kick into gear. Tap a few times on the app and the prospective flier gets to have a selection rates and jets to make the ride happen. Much like an Uber… “When you create a subscription model like Wheels Up, it creates a much faster adoption rate,” said Thakran. “You have the dynamic pricing, which we think it will generate higher adoption rates. The whole process becomes as easy as buying a ticket for the NBA or NFL.” Partner search Outside of the US, Thakran reckons Wheels Up’s best prospects would lie in the UAE and Middle East, as well as in the Far East. The plan is to rope in a partner, preferably one from the UAE. “In the Middle East, the UAE is the best place to exploit this concept,” he said. “With the new aerospace hub that the UAE is building and the investments that have gone in, I don’t think there’s another region in Asia Pacific that’s putting as much focus into aviation. “A partnership with a player in the UAE and create a central hub for the region will be a fantastic. There is Saudi Arabia is upping investments in this field - but UAE has the advantages. We will be encouraging Wheels Up to consider an alliance, do a collaboration.” Change mindset But to get traction, Thakran and Wheels Up will need to work on mindsets as well. The majority of the private jets in the Middle East are owned by high networth individuals or corporates. “The Middle East has always believed in a full ownership model,” said Thakran. “But if a number of owners of these 850 jets can be convinced to place their aircraft on the Wheels Up platform, their utilisation rates will shoot up. “If 5 per cent is the actual utilisation rate in the US, it’s even less for private jets in the UAE and Middle East. We could change that. There are way to monetize that time, and it will be great for everyone - provided that jet owners are open to leasing their aircraft.” That’s what Wheels Up and Thakran will hope to find out… soon.

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Valiant Clinic and Hospital sets new standards in luxury medical care

Health|: Dubai’s increasing attraction as a health and wellness destination has paved the way for private healthcare to flourish in the emirate, offering the highest standards and quality care for medical visitors from the region and across the world, not to mention an existing community of citizens and residents with discerning preferences. Emerging as one of Dubai’s most luxurious medical care facilities providing a first-class environment for diagnostic and wellness pursuits is Valiant Clinic and Hospital. The hospital is boldly setting a trend in the luxury healthcare segment to meet the needs of patients who have the penchant for details when it comes to getting their treatment done. The boutique clinic and hospital, located within Dubai’s new and upscale destination and retail complex City Walk, is making way for its patients to access a premium multi-specialty facility, served by physicians, surgeons and health professionals experienced in evidence-based healthcare in line with the international standards of ethics and quality. As a community-based and patient-centred healthcare network, Valiant Clinic and Hospital adheres to the highest standards in safety and the national precautionary measures, ensuring patients and visitors a comfortable experience while maintaining the health protocols against the spread of the Covid-19. Image Credit: Supplied The modern facility has an evidence-based design with green spaces and visual aesthetics as a part of its commitment to provide a healing environment and ease any visitor from worry as they enter the spacious environment in a 15,000-square-metre facility. It caters to patients seeking consultation experiences in an exclusive and luxurious environment that meets their specific needs. Valiant Clinic and Hospital hails from the Belhoul Lifecare, which has established its name as one of the most reputable in the UAE and the region’s medical community in the past 25 years. The clinic and hospital offer a holistic healthcare experience from the moment they enter the door of Valiant Clinic and Hospital to their complete recovery. Its patient-centric approach is supported by state-of-the-art medical technologies and internationally trained and Western board-certified medical experts, backed by highly experienced allied staff in the field. Suite of wellness Overall wellness is one of the main highlights under Valiant’s care where individuals can benefit from a suite of health services for any of their concerns. The wide range of services enable patients to avail premium services and facilities through Valiant’s special packages programme with easy payment schemes, which are valid until March 31, 2021. Image Credit: Supplied Allergy skin test such as six or eight times of skin prick test for respiratory allergens is available for a minimum of Dh345. Cervical screening, which involves specialist consultation and pap smear, comes to only Dh300. For weight loss programme involving Elipse Balloon, patients are treated with gastric balloon placement (non-surgical), abdominal X-ray, gastroenterology consultation, six months of dietary coaching within eight sessions, and use of a smart scale application to track progress, for a total cost of Dh13,999, while other custom-designed obesity and weight-loss programme comes for only Dh1,500. For Invisalign dental services, which cost Dh15,999, patients are provided with comprehensive exam, panoramic, Invisalign records, use of KOR double syringe only, and retainer. Taking care of aviators Valiant Clinic and Hospital also brings home to Dubai unique and emerging specialties such as aviation medicine, which has been gaining importance in recent years. “Due to the rapid transmission of communicable diseases while inflight, as well as the range of preventive, occupational, environmental, and clinical aspects for inflight personnel, medical services for the aviation sector becomes even more important, especially in strategic flight hubs such as Dubai,” says Dr Mustapha Rashid, Specialist Family Medicine & Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). “The availability of this specialty at Valiant Clinic and Hospital meets the emirate’s busy aviation sector’s needs for world- class diagnostic and medical examination centre.” Valiant’s Aviation Centre offers aviation medical examinations that meet the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) medical renewal for pilots and air traffic controllers, as well as GCAA medical renewal and initial test for cabin crew. It also conducts aviation cardiology examinations for all airline professionals as well as for crew with licence restrictions. Other tests available include ENT examinations and drug screening services for all aviation purposes. Holistic pain management Managing pain can be challenging for many sufferers and the hospital has taken a comprehensive pain management approach to alleviate the conditions of patients. Dr Mohamed Salah El Toukhy, Consultant for Pain Medicine, says: “We have a supportive environment that empowers patients in facing the debilitating effects of pain on their physical and mental well-being. Patients suffering from acute and chronic pain can benefit from advanced treatment options, which enable them to control and reduce the associated stress, anxiety and depression caused by pain.” Image Credit: Supplied A combination of different therapies, which include medication, interventional procedures, and rehabilitation therapy through a specialised team of physiotherapists, help its patients who are suffering from low back/sacroiliac joint pain, leg pain and sciatica, herniated discs, and degenerative disc disease (discogenic pain), neck pain and headache, and nerve pain. High-profile orthopaedic experts For bones and joints surgery, patients can rely upon the expertise of known international experts in the field including Dr Milan Handl, a specialist orthopaedic surgeon who is experienced in treating a wide range of cases including musculoskeletal disorders and elective trauma situations for all patient age groups – from infants to the elderly – and in treating sports injuries. “Here at Valiant Clinic and Hospital, we are equipped with the most up-to-date procedures to treat joint cartilage repair including grafts, scaffolds utilisation, and intra-articular ligaments reconstruction,” he says. “We also consider total joints replacement as a proper solution for severe degenerative stages in all joints, in addition to employing the most advanced in treatment for muscles and tendons using PRP or mesenchymal stem cells.” Dr Charalampos Harris Zourelidis is an orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital who exercises the full spectrum of a multidisciplinary approach to the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders such as sport injuries, joint pain, arthritis, acute and chronic back pain, and fractures. “Evidence-based care practice has become an essential aspect of treatment in modern medicine and brings in strong value for patients as they are first educated about their condition to enable them to thoroughly make informed choices of the suitable and most comfortable treatment options,” says Dr Zourelidis. “The multidisciplinary approach provides us with the opportunity to address and discuss difficult or highly unique cases.” For spine treatments, Dr Zbigniew J. Brodzinski, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, leads the team of spine experts notable for their abilities, having given care to some of the most difficult-to-treat conditions including degenerative scoliosis and other spine deformities, cervical (neck) spine problems, herniated discs, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis, spine trauma, vertebral fractures due to osteoporosis, spinal tumours, and acquired spine abnormalities. “Surgery is the last resort, but if needed, we have highly trained surgeons from the United States and Europe who can perform minimally invasive techniques, which use the latest operations equipment such neuronavigational and neuromonitoring devices, while for complex spine surgery, precision is of utmost importance, and we use a computer-assisted 3D spinal navigation surgery to ensure accuracy and optimize safety,” he adds. Complementing medical innovation and world-class experts with a strategic location and a modern and luxurious setting, Valiant Clinic and Hospital is set to pave a new path of healthcare excellence for Dubai’s pampered residents and visitors as they go through life-changing experiences towards revitalising and reviving their health to the optimum condition. To book appointments, call 800 8254268 or email appointments@valiant.ae Valiant Clinic and Hospital accepts the following insurance: Bupa Oman Insurance, Mednet, Neuron, NextCare, Thiqa, AXA, Almadallah, Saico Health, Daman, Aetna & NAS.