GulfNews World

GulfNews World

COVID-19:India’s Covaxin, J&J vaccines approved in the Philippines, what happens next?

Asia|: Clark, Pampanga: The Philippines' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorisation (EUA) to Indian-made Covaxin and Belgium’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccines. FDA Director General Eric Domingo confirmed the approval to local media on Tuesday (April 20, 2021) as the Philippines faces third COVID-induced lockdown. Coronavirus cases have spiked five-fold in the Asian country from mid-April 2021, to a daily average of more than 10,000, from less than 2,000 in February, according to Johns Hopkins University data. This Filipino-American priest is making COVID-19 vaccine from yeast Meet Adar Poonawalla, the force behind India’s fight with coronavirus Video: Filipino couple fight COVID-19 with online vows Vaccine supplies crunch Developing nations are facing a massive vaccine supply crunch. A senior Duterte official assailed developed countries for “hoarding” doses, thus depriving medium- to low-income nations of badly needed shots. Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. receiving a box from UAE Ambassador Hamad Saeed Al Zaabi symbolising the 7 metric tons of medical supplies from the UAE to the Philippines. Witnessing the ceremonial turnover are Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the Philippines’ Declared National Policy Against COVID-19, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque. Image Credit: Supplied Earlier, on Monday (April 19, 2021), Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr, said the country has already completed supply contracts with five of the world’s vaccine makers — Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, and Gamaleya (Sputnik). Four (Sinovac, AZ, Sputnik and Pfizer) had already been issued EUAs by the Philippine FDA, though Galvez’ team is still working out a supply contract with Pfizer/BioNTech. Image Credit: Seyyed dela Llata / Gulf News Visit to India The Indian pharmaceutical company, Bharat Biotech — one of the world’s top vaccine makers — sought EUA from the FDA for Covaxin in January 2021. Galvez, also the chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, visited India in March to work out deals with Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute. Belgium-based drugmaker Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the vaccine arm of Johnson & Johnson, filed an EUA application for its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine with the FDA on March 31. The FDA has granted an EUA to the Sputnik V vaccine of Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute in March. Limited supply: No vaccine-making sector The Philippines currently has no vaccine-making industry, though vaccine research is being undertaken by at least two groups. Before the end of the April, 2 million more COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in the country, Galvez told a Cabinet meeting aired on the official PTV 4 channel. “The global supply is limited but the government is doing its best to ensure that the country will have a fair share of the vaccines. The instruction of President Rodrigo Duterte is for Filipinos to be vaccinated and save more lives as we collectively surmount the challenges brought about by the pandemic,” Galvez said. It’s not immediately when orders for Covaxine and J&J vaccines will be finalised and delivered to the Philippines. 3rd in Asean The Philippines, with about 110 million inhabitants, currently ranks third among Asean countries in the number of citizens vaccinated. The country has placed 41st out of 173 countries worldwide in the same category — and 14th among 47 Asian nations, Galvez stated in a report to President Rodrigo Duterte. The country expects a steady supply of about 10 million to 15 million vaccine doses per month in the third and fourth quarters of this year. VACCINE SUPPLIES APRIL • 1.5 million: number of doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac expected to be completed within April (500,000 delivered delivered on April 11; 500,000 doses to be delivered on April 22, and another 500,000 doses on April 29).  • 2 million: Number of doses Sinovac delivered to the country last February and March. • 20,000: number of doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V expected to arrive third week of April 2021 • 480,000: number of Sputnik V doses to be delivered by end-April 2021 MAY • 195,000: number of Pfizer vaccine doses to be delivered by end-April or early May under WHO’s Covax facility • 4.2 million: number fresh doses expected in May (2m from Sinovac, up to 2 million from Sputnik, and 194,000 from Moderna)  JUNE • 7 to 8 million: Number of vaccine doses expected in June (4.5m doses of CoronaVac, 2m doses of Sputnik, and 1.3m doses of AstraZeneca) • 14 million: number of vaccine doses from four vaccine manufacturers being arranged for delivery within the second quarter Lancet: Covaxin phase 2 data shows vaccine safe, induces immune response COVID-19: Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin 81% effective, Indian firm’s interim data shows After India jabs millions, its COVID-19 vaccine shows potency

GulfNews World

Telangana imposes night curfew to fight COVID-19

India|: Hyderabad: The Telangana government has imposed night curfew in the state from Tuesday in the face of surging coronavirus cases. Issuing a formal order the state Chief Secretary Umesh Kumar on Tuesday announced that the night curfew from 9pm to 5am would remain in force till the morning of May 1. The order came at a time when the Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao also tested positive and was in isolation at his farmhouse outside Hyderabad, with a team of doctors attending on him. Doctors have described his symptoms as mild and advised nine-days isolation . Rao was apparently infected at an election rally in Nagarjunasagar last week which has turned out to be a super spreader as about 60 participants have tested positive. The public meeting at Halia was for the Nagarjunasagar by-election. Chief Minister KCR had addressed the meeting attended by 100,000 people. After the meeting 66 people, including the ruling TRS candidate Nomula Bhagat, tested positive. Rao also started developing symptoms like fever and body ache after the meeting. The Chief Secretary said that as part of the night curfew all the offices, hotels, restaurants, shops and other business establishments would be closed by 8pm. However, clinics, pharmacies, diagnostic laboratories, media organisations, petrol bunks, cold storage, warehouses and other essential services will be exempted from the curfew. He also said there would be no restrictions on inter-state transport services and the people will not require any special permissions or passes to undertake their journey and transport of goods. Court order The government orders came a day after the state High Court pulled up the state government wondering why it was not taking strict measures to control the spread of coronavirus. A bench headed by Chief Justice Hima Kohli expressing its displeasure with the approach of the government, asked whether the state was contending for the top COVID-19 positive position in the country. The court had given 48 hours time to the state government to decide whether it wants to impose night curfew or weekend lockdown. The court warned that if the government does not take measures, it will be constrained to issue its own orders. The situation in Telangana has turned grim with daily positive cases of coronavirus touching 6,000 on Sunday with 18 deaths. Hyderabad alone has recorded 793 positive cases on a single day. According to medical and health department the state presently had 45,853 cases. In a reflection of the grim situation, all the city hospitals were full and there were no critical care beds for fresh cases. The state was also facing a shortage of oxygen cylinders and private hospitals have asked the families of patients to arrange their own cylinders. Bharat Biotech, a leading vaccine producer of India, has announced it was expanding its production capacity of Covaxin to 700 million doses per year. The company in a press release said that it was scaling up its capacity at its facilities in Hyderabad and Bangalore to support vaccine campaign in India. For the purpose the company has secured raw materials, packing materials and single use consumables. The announcement came a day after the Indian government announced that the vaccine will be available to any citizen above 18 years of age from May 1.

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Former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief dies of COVID-19

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Nasir Khan Durrani, former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), has died of COVID-19. He was 64. Nasir Durrani had been on ventilator at the Mayo Hospital in Lahore for over a week after developing complications from COVID-19. During his tenure as the IGP of the province, Durrani was instrumental in reforming the provincial police and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) attributed these police reforms to its second term in the 2018 general elections. Prime Minister Imran Khan in a tweet offered his condolences to the family of the former IGP and called him an outstanding officer. Lahore hospitals’ ICUs reach maximum limit All the Intensive Care Units (ICUs) of the main public sector hospitals of Lahore treating COVID-19 patients have reached their capacity. Emergency departments and isolation units of the Jinnah Hospital, Services Hospital, Mayor and Nawaz Sharif Hospital are fully occupied and are now either referring or refusing new COVID-19 patients for shortage of beds/ventilators, said a senior official of the Punjab Health Department. Presently, 250 COVID-19 patients are on ventilators and 700 are admitted in “High Oxygen” wards, he said. We have supplied 100 more ventilators to these hospitals during the past week to accommodate COVID-19 patients but they too are occupied now. If the situation continues to worsen, the Punjab health department will be forced to seek the centre’s help in this regard, he further said. 137 deaths recorded in 24 hours Pakistan on Tuesday reported another 137 deaths and 5,445 new cases of COVID-19 after around 68,000 tests in the last 24 hours. According to the official data released by the Ministry of National Health Services, the country’s COVID-19 positivity rate remained 8 per cent while the number of active cases has jumped to 83,296 from the last day’s figure of 82,276. With these latest figures, Pakistan’s total number of cases has surged to 766,882 and death toll stands at 16,453. Two-week travel ban on India As a precautionary measure and over fears of a new variant of COVID-19, Pakistan has placed a travel ban on all incoming passengers from India for a period of two weeks. The National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) took this decision at a meeting chaired by the Minister for Planning, Development & Special Initiative Asad Umar and placed India on the list of ‘Category C’ countries for two weeks. A review meeting will be held on April 21 to assess the situation, the NCOC further stated. In this category, there will be a ban on passengers coming from India through air and land routes. As per COVID-19 travel guidelines, passengers from the countries in ‘C Category’ are restricted and allowed as per guidelines by the NCOC.

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Sindh Police seek frontline workers tag for early vaccination against COVID-19

Pakistan|: Karachi: After losing 24 of its personnel to COVID-19 since last year, the Sindh Police has requested the provincial government’s authorities to declare its personnel frontline workers so they are vaccinated early. Mohammad Tariq Nawaz, the Additional Inspector General of Sindh Police (AIGP) (Welfare), wrote a letter to the Additional Chief Secretary of the Sindh government’s Home Department in this regard. The letter said that till April 5, 2021, a total of 6,366 personnel of Sindh Police had been infected with the COVID-19. Among them, 6,297 personnel had recovered, while 24 had died. “Being frontline fighters, police personnel of Sindh Police are exposed to the risk of being infected with this deadly virus while controlling the traffic on roads, moving UTPs (under-trial prisoners), dealing with protestors, and mob situations, performing security duty with the VIPs and VVIPs, guarding quarantine centres, performing burial duties, ensuring sealing of affected areas, and implementing SOPs, issued by the government,” the senior police official wrote. He added that keeping in view the third wave of COVID-19, the number of infected personnel was expected to rise. “In view of the above, I am directed to request you to please declare personnel of Sindh Police as frontline workers in order to enable them for urgent vaccination against COVID-19,” the letter added. From April 21, Pakistan will start vaccinating people in the age group 50 to 59.

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Denmark tightens citizenship requirements

Europe|: Copenhagen: Denmark, which has one of Europe's most restrictive immigration policies, announced on Tuesday that it is tightening the conditions for naturalisation, notably excluding those who had been convicted of crimes. The new rules follow a deal between the Social Democrat government and three right-wing opposition parties. "Obtaining a Danish citizenship is a great declaration of faith from Danish society, according to the parties to the deal. They are therefore in agreement that it is necessary to raise the bar for who can become a Danish citizen," the migration ministry said in a statement. Applicants for citizenship will now have to show a clean record - meaning no convictions even if suspended - and will need to show that they have been able to support themselves for at least three and half of the last four years. The agreement presented by the government of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, also puts a strong emphasis on "Danish values," and citizenship tests, that have been used since 2015, will now include five questions on these values. "We want to be absolutely sure that those who receive Danish citizenship, with all the rights that go with it, are well integrated into Danish society and have also embraced it - including Danish values," migration minister Mathias Tesfaye told public broadcaster DR. Those "Danish values" were said to include freedom of speech and equality. According to Statistics Denmark, 11 per cent of Denmark's 5.8 million inhabitants are of foreign origin - either born abroad or with parents born abroad- and of those 58 percent are citizens of a country classified as "non-Western". In 2020, of the approximately 7,000 people who became Danes, more than half were Europeans.

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Pakistan protests called off, parliament postpones debate on French envoy’s expulsion

Pakistan|: Islamabad: As Pakistan’s parliament discussed the demand by a right-wing party to consider the expulsion of the French envoy, the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) called off protests on Tuesday. The House also adopted a motion to form a special committee to discuss the resolution. The National Assembly postponed the debate until Friday. The debate was called following pressure from the ultra right-wing party TLP, which held violent anti-France protests for more than a week demanding the expulsion of the French envoy over offensive depictions of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) published in France. “The issue of demand of expulsion of the French ambassador would be discussed in the parliament,” the resolution read. It also said that all European countries, especially France, would be informed of the gravity of the issue. The resolution further said that all Muslim countries should be consulted in this regard and the issue of disrespect to Islam should be taken up jointly on international forums. It also added that “Issues pertaining to foreign policy fall under the purview of the state and no party or group can exert any illegal pressure.” Parliament speaker Asad Qaiser postponed discussion until Friday to include input from all parliament members with the consensus of government and opposition. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) announced boycott of the session, distancing itself from the debate on the expulsion of the French envoy, saying that the Prime Minister Imran Khan did not take the parliament into confidence on the issue earlier. Religious Affairs Minister Qadri said that all issues should be resolved in the parliament instead of streets. The parliament debate comes after talks held between the government representatives and TLP leaders. According to the agreement, all matters related to the issue would be resolved as per the law of Pakistan. “The government will not reverse the ban on TLP and those involved in violent attacks on police and vandalising public property will not be released,” reads the agreement shared by Arslan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media. The government also announced a joint approach by all Islamic countries to address the issue of Islamophobia – the way forward also suggested by PM Imran Khan. Khan appealed to the protesters not to harm the country’s economy at a time when Pakistan is dealing with coronavirus pandemic and economic pressures. “Violent protests in Pakistan have made no difference to France, rather it seriously affected Pakistan’s economy” he said.

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650,000 African children given malaria jab: WHO

Africa|: Geneva:  Two years into a malaria vaccine pilot scheme, more than 650,000 children have been immunised across Kenya, Ghana and Malawi, the World Health Organisation said Tuesday. Global advisory bodies for immunisation and malaria are expected to convene in October to review data on the vaccine and consider whether to recommend using it more widely. The RTS,S vaccine is the only existing jab shown to reduce malaria in children. It acts against plasmodium falciparum - the most deadly malaria parasite globally and the most prevalent in Africa. Progress against malaria has been stalling for a number of years. The WHO's World Malaria Report 2020 said progress against the mosquito-borne disease was plateauing, particularly in African countries bearing the brunt of cases and deaths. The annual report, published in November, said that after steadily tumbling from 736,000 in 2000, the disease claimed an estimated 411,000 lives in 2018 and 409,000 in 2019. Meanwhile in 2019 the global tally of malaria cases was estimated at 229 million - a figure that has been at the same level for the past four years. Over 90 per cent of malaria deaths occur in Africa, the majority - more than 265,000 - in young children. The WHO said clinical testing had demonstrated that the RTS,S vaccine, when given in four doses, prevented four in 10 cases of malaria, and three in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria, over a four-year period. "Ghana, Kenya and Malawi show that existing childhood vaccination platforms can effectively deliver the malaria vaccine to children, some of whom have not been able to access an insecticide treated bed net or other malaria prevention measures," said Kate O'Brien, the WHO's immunisation chief. "This vaccine may be key to making malaria prevention more equitable, and to saving more lives."

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Astra is yellow, Pfizer is green - Hungarian pastry shop offers vaccine-themed treats

Europe|: Veresegyhaz, Hungary: A Hungarian pastry shop has launched a range of COVID-19 vaccine-themed sweet mousses as a light-hearted antidote to angst over the different types of vaccines and the implications of receiving one or another of them. At the Sulyan family’s patisserie in the small town of Veresegyhaz, northeast of Budapest, the choice is between a selection of layered mousses with colourful jelly toppings, presented in small glasses, with decorative syringes on top. Each colour of jelly represents a different COVID-19 vaccine: citrus yellow for AstraZeneca and a slightly darker yellow for Sinopharm, matcha green for Pfizer, orange for Sputnik V and a vivid blue for Moderna. These sweet offerings from the Sulyan family come at a time when millions of Hungarians are being asked to go through a registration process to sign up for vaccination, whilst debating the merits of the different vaccines being rolled out. People are not being given a choice of shots but rather receive whichever one is available from their family doctor. In recent weeks, thousands have joined Facebook support groups to connect with others who have received the same shots as they have. “Here people have a choice, there is no registration, there are no side-effects,” said confectioner Katalin Benko at the Sulyan patisserie, adding that the intention was not to campaign for or against vaccination or in favour of one shot or another. “Anyone can try these as the only possible side-effect would be a little smile on their face,” she said as she carefully spread orange jelly on top of some mousses.

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Japanese region Osaka seeks new COVID-19 emergency as Olympics near

Asia|: Tokyo: Japan’s third most populated region has decided to ask the central government to impose a state of emergency over the coronavirus as infections rise just three months before the country hosts the Olympics. Osaka prefecture only lifted a state of emergency two months ago and restrictions are expected to be tougher this time, possibly involving store and shopping mall closures. That would still fall short of the harsh lockdowns seen in many other parts of the world however. Tokyo and several other areas are expected to follow suit, hoping to avoid the crisis now facing Osaka’s healthcare system, where beds for coronavirus patients in severe condition have run out. Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said he had already told the minister overseeing the coronavirus response, Yasutoshi Nishimura, that a state of emergency was needed as measures taken so far “are not enough”. “I believe now is the time to take strong measures for a short period of time,” Yoshimura told reporters. “The flow of people and the fast pace of the variant strains are causing surges,” he warned, calling for the closure of shopping malls, amusement parks and department stores. He also urged people to move to teleworking, warning that otherwise “we won’t be able to curb the flow of people”. Osaka is already under virus restrictions that mostly call for restaurants and bars to close by 8pm and urge residents to avoid unnecessary outings. Those measures prompted the region to bar the Olympic torch relay from public roads, with the flame instead being carried by torchbearers on a closed track inside a park without spectators. Nishimura earlier acknowledged the “extremely tough situation” in Osaka, saying the government was coordinating with authorities there “with a strong sense of crisis”. According to local media, Tokyo also plans to request the government declare a state of emergency this week. And at least two regions neighbouring Osaka are reportedly planning on requesting the measure. The surge in cases comes with just over three months until the virus-postponed Tokyo Olympics, which organisers insist can be held safely. Japan declared a virus state of emergency in early January for several areas, lifting it on March 1 in Osaka and three weeks later in Tokyo. But infections have ticked back up, driven by more infectious variants, and vaccinations are moving slowly. Only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved and so far it is being given only to medical workers and the elderly. Just 25 percent of 4.8 million healthcare workers and slightly more than 13,000 elderly people have so far received a first vaccine dose. Japan’s government says they will have sufficient supply by September to vaccinate everyone over the age of 16 in the country of 125 million, but a timeline for completing the vaccinations is not yet clear.

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Russia says to launch own space station in 2025

Europe|: Moscow: Russia’s space agency said Tuesday it hoped to launch its own orbital station in 2025 as Moscow considers withdrawing from the International Space Station programme to go it alone. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said work had begun on the fist module of a new station, after officials warned that Russia was considering pulling out of the ISS, one of the few successful examples of cooperation with the West. The announcement came with tensions soaring over espionage claims, a Russian troop build-up along Ukraine’s borders and the deteriorating health of President Vladimir Putin’s imprisoned critic Alexei Navalny. “The first core module of the new Russian orbital station is in the works,” Rogozin said in a statement on messaging app Telegram. He said Russia’s Energia space corporation was aiming to have the module “ready for launch” in 2025 and released a video of Energia staff at work. Launched in 1998 and involving Russia, the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency, the ISS is one of the most ambitious international collaborations in human history. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said in recent days that Moscow was considering whether to leave the ISS programme from 2025 because of the station’s age. Roscosmos said on Monday that a decision on quitting the ISS had not yet been made. “When we make a decision we will start negotiations with our partners on forms and conditions of cooperation beyond 2024,” the space agency told AFP in a statement. Russia lost its monopoly for manned flights to the ISS last year after the first successful mission of US company Space X. Despite its much-lauded history - Russia this month marked the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in orbit - the country’s space programme has struggled in recent years. Rogozin has announced a series of ambitious plans in recent years but his agency has struggled under funding cuts, with analysts saying Putin is more interested in military technology than space exploration.

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‘I could spend only 17 days with my wife’: How COVID-19 worsens separation anxiety for 'married bachelors' in the UAE

“I could spend only 17 days with my wife,” said Asad Parvez, an expatriate in Dubai since 2009, while recounting the early years of his marriage and life away from family. Asad is among thousands of ‘married bachelors’ around the world who choose to live alone in a different country to make a living. ‘Married bachelors’ are everywhere, but more so in developed countries, moving in from developing nations due to financial constraints. Staying away from family to eke out a living got more frustrating with the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many to rely on the only option to stay connected: Video calling. We at Gulf News look at the troubles and turbulences in the lives of married bachelors and their quest for happiness away from family. When the pandemic hit, the loneliness was worse: An Indian expat in UAE for 24 years Rajeev Pillai has lived in the UAE for 24 years and had enjoyed living with his wife and two children for 15 years after his marriage. For the past three years, though, he has had to go back to his bachelorhood, but this time as a ‘married bachelor’. “We had enjoyed a happy family life for 15 years,” recollects Rajeev. “We were living in a two-bedroom apartment. My children were going to school and doing extra-curricular activities here. But, everything changed when my company, which is in the diamond import and export business, faced a financial crisis three years back,” he said. Rajeev started feeling the pinch when the company cut 25 per cent of his salary. “I had credit cards and personal loan like most of the expats here. When I realised it would be difficult to maintain my family here, I was forced to send them back.” Rajeev Pillai with his family. Image Credit: Rajeev Pillai The mental impact has been huge. “You are alone when you come back home. When I ask children what I should get for them, all they say is that they want me! Being away from your life partner is also not easy.” Having enjoyed a vibrant community life earlier, Rajeev says he misses attending the community events with his family. “When I go to any function, I have to sit with the other bachelors. When my wife was here, I never had to cook regularly, though cooking was a passion for me. When I restarted full-fledged cooking, my wife became my virtual guide.” Notwithstanding the loneliness, Rajeev says there are some practical benefits also of a forced ‘bachelor’ status. “It took some time for the children to adjust to the new lifestyle back home. However, they have become more independent and self-reliant now. Also, our house was lying empty back in India. When my family went back, it helped in the upkeep of the house.” When the pandemic hit, the loneliness got worse. Rajeev says he overcame it by getting involved in the community service. “I invited one of my friends to stay with me. Both of us worked as part of a community helpdesk during the peak of the pandemic. And I could be in touch with my family on video calls all through.” The pandemic has taught us many things and Rajeev says he feels for the blue-collar workers who can go home only once in two years. “But we need to adjust to the situations and tide over the difficulties.” Rajeev met with an accident last month and missed his wife’s care the most. “My relatives and friends were there to support me, but it is when you feel sick that you want to be with your family all the more, right? So, I flew home for a couple of weeks.” Why are they called ‘married bachelors’? ‘Married bachelors’ is a strange nomenclature. Who coined the term, no one seems to know, but there are thousands of ‘married bachelors’ in the UAE. Who are these ‘married bachelors’? They are normal people staying away from their wife and children due to financial constraints or certain family commitments. Read more Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager My decision gave my children a better life: Filipina expat in UAE “When I first came to the UAE in 2003, I hadn’t planned to stay on. I had left behind my five-month-old daughter and seven-year-old son and I just came to take a look at the prospects here. At the time, I had left behind a job as a licensed stockbroker because I was looking for a change. I thought I would stay for two years, send some money back home. But then I got a position as a financial consultant, with room for growth. I liked the lifestyle and just ended up staying on,” said Cristina Dagaz, 50, a Filipina manager at a recruitment firm in the UAE. In the end, my decision gave my children a better life. My 25-year-old son is now an advertising executive. If I could have another go at it, I would definitely try harder to sponsor my children. Cristina Dagaz, 50, a Filipina manager “I am a single mother, so I had left my children in the care of my parents. I was especially close to my son, Paulo, who had been my companion since his birth. So I missed my children very much. In fact, I was afraid my daughter, Kaya, would not know me, so I kept asking my parents and my son to keep pointing at a picture of myself with my children and keep telling Kaya that I was her mother. “It was hard, because back in those days, I could only afford to make an international call twice a week, during the afternoon discount period. At times, it was heartbreaking. I missed being a mum. So, I did all I could to spend time with my children. I would bring them down to the UAE during their summer break, even though this gave me just three months at a time. And I kept trying to sponsor my children, but I couldn’t. “In the end, my decision gave my children a better life. My 25-year-old son is now an advertising executive. If I could have another go at it, I would definitely try harder to sponsor my children. I came up against multiple roadblocks because I was a single mother, but I would continue trying. “And for others looking to go down the same path, I would definitely tell them that they should be prepared for the mental toll and homesickness. It is a big challenge and not at all easy. There is also a big cultural shock that one must be prepared for.” What are the mental issues faced by married people who have left their families back home due to financial difficulties or COVID-19 pandemic? The process of getting used to new cultures and routines living abroad is often part of the adventure, but the pandemic and its repercussions on travel has hit even the most seasoned members of the expat community hard, says Tooba Siddiqui, M.A. Clinical Psychology, Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic. Parents and children alike can cope more easily with being apart when there is some level of predictability, some sense of routine or pattern or creation of a new routine or patterns. Tooba Siddiqui, Clinical Psychology “It’s natural to be experiencing a range of emotions — missing your network of friends and family ... It’s common to feel guilty about not being physically able to support people you care about those who are more at risk. Staying away from family do impact your mental and physical health gravely. No matter how much you deny, it directly or indirectly shows up in different ways, especially if you’ve been brought up in a collectivist society. “Having said that, parents and children alike can cope more easily with being apart when there is some level of predictability, some sense of routine or pattern or creation of a new routine or patterns.” Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Staying away from family was really difficult: A Pakistani expatriate in Dubai When Pakistani national Asad Parvez came over to Dubai in 2009, he was unmarried. He had to leave behind his parents to get a job here. He got married when he went home for his first annual leave a year later. “I could spend only 17 days with my wife,” recollects Asad who still continues to live as a ‘married bachelor’ in Dubai. “There was no video call in those days. Mobile calls were expensive. Staying away from the family was really difficult.” A father of two girls, Asad regrets not being there with his wife during their births. “I couldn’t be there due to my job requirements. I have always felt guilty about it. [A] husband should be there when [his] wife delivers. I couldn’t.” But Asad is aware of the practical side. He says: “If you bring over your family, you can’t support them well. It is very expensive to maintain them here with school fees, health insurance and so on.” Asad Parvez came to Dubai in 2009. Image Credit: Asad Parvez Apart from financial stability, Asad says he has some other reasons also for not bringing over his family to live with him in Dubai. “My children are very attached to my parents. I have two younger brothers too, who are married. They don’t have children yet. All of their emotional attachment with my children is a barrier [for bringing them here] today. Also, we are more comfortable with sending them to schools back in Pakistan.” After he changed his company and got a promotion, Asad has been able to visit them more frequently. “They had come here twice on visit as well.” Video calling has been a big solace since last year, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Asad. “Earlier, I missed being there so badly for all family gatherings and functions. Now, we are able to join them virtually at least. You feel like you are sitting next to them. But being physically present still makes a big difference. Children are growing up, they need you to be with them.” Because of the flight restrictions during the pandemic, he said he could not fly home for eight months. “Since I have more flexibility in my current company, I used to fly home every four or five months. Somehow I managed to go home for my sister’s engagement ceremony after an eight-month gap.” Of turning the chops and food court samosas: Gulf News staff member As I settled down at the workstation in office, an SMS flashed on my mobile screen. The Air India flight from Dubai had landed just a shade behind schedule in New Delhi. I breathed a sigh of relief that my wife and son were on home turf, literally. Immediately, my attention was drawn to the desk phone — the office landline and it suddenly struck me like a sharp jab from a knife or razor: That the Avaya phone will never again ring, showing my Dubai home landline number on its display screen. It was the first and rather crude realisation of a truth, a reality that was waiting to knock me out right from the day we decided that wife and son would return to India for son’s studies and to attend to my ailing mother. I had often tried to prepare myself mentally for the inevitable, but kept pushing all thoughts of being a ‘married bachelor’ to the back burner as I kept telling myself: ‘I’ll think about crossing the bridge only when I come to it.’ And there I was, staring at the phone and fighting hard to make sure my eyes didn’t get any more moist than they already were! Months later, as I put the first round of what was mentioned on the biryani masala pack as ‘3/4th boiled rice’ into the pan and got ready to get the marinated chicken pieces out of the fridge, there was just a hint of a smile on my wife’s face who was keeping a keen eye, through the Skype camera, on my maiden attempt at chicken biryani. “So you’ve taken the first step towards making sure that you no longer have to depend on takeouts and Maggie noodles,” she said, even as I told myself: ‘I’ve come to the bridge and crossed it too!’ Sanjib Kumar Das Almost five years have passed since I opted to be a part of the ‘married bachelors’ club’ in the UAE. And I must say that every crisis indeed presents an opportunity. In my case, it helped add a vital skill to my repertoire of self-help living. Culinary delights that were once the exclusive domain of printed menu cards and food-on-phone were gradually being rustled up in the open-plan kitchen at my rented Dubai apartment — one humble dish at a time; doing the groceries, I found out, wasn’t really a pain; keeping track of the laundry bag was no rocket science really; and an occasional movie can certainly be watched in complete silence with zero verbal interaction with the person on the next seat at the theatre ... Wonders never cease, I told myself. And as the days and weeks of ‘married bachelorhood’ made way for months and years of a solitary life in Dubai, I realised what exactly a senior colleague had meant when he once said: “Here, you are only as wanted as a social being as your family is. Without them, you won’t be considered a part of the ‘inner circle’.” How true those words turned out to be, as Diwali, Eid, Christmas and New Year passed by, year on year, without a single call or word from what I had once construed to be a close-knit group of ‘friends’ in Dubai! But no regrets. The Mall of the Emirates ground-floor food court and the Festival City promenade still rank among my favourite weekend haunts where many an opinion piece has been crafted over piping hot tea and samosas from Bombay Chowpatty; Amazon Prime and Netflix are reason enough to make the sofa the most sought-after place at home; I can still catch up with family on video calls and lest I forget — turning the chops on the stove can still keep me busy. And fortunately for me, I managed to visit family and home just before WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Life’s good. I haven’t seen my family in 14 months now: Sri Lankan expat in UAE “Looking back, I would probably choose to live with my family and look for options back home. This life has allowed me to provide for them, but it has also been extremely difficult,” said Ilanko Sithamparam, 56, a Sri Lankan housekeeping manager at a hospital. “I first arrived in the UAE in 2000. My son was then three years old and I was finding it hard to make ends meet as a building contractor. So I took up a job as a sales executive, then proceeded through the ranks until I joined the hospital as a housekeeping manager. Ilanko Sithamparam with his family. Image Credit: Ilanko Sithamparam “For a while, I brought my family over to the UAE. They were with me for five years, until my son turned 15 years. Then, it became too difficult for me to provide for my son’s education. So my wife and son returned home while I stayed on. I miss them very much, so I visit them at regular intervals — say every six months or so. But the COVID-19 restrictions put a brake on those, especially given the need to quarantine. I haven’t seen my family for 14 months now, and it isn’t easy," he said. “Every day, as soon as I get back home from work, I am on a video call with my wife. In fact, that is my ‘job’ when I get home every day. I would have preferred to live with my family all this while, but it may have stopped me from being able to support my family. In fact, my son is now studying medicine in Russia and my earnings have enabled that. As for my wife, she holds the sole responsibility of taking care of my elderly mother and my mother-in-law at home," Ilanko said.  “To be honest, I only planned to be in the UAE for a year or two. But time went by and now I’ve been here for two decades. I do feel sad because I feel like I’ve missed it all — the happiness, the milestones, the difficult moments. But this is the only way I have been able to give my family the life they have,” Ilanko said.  Sadness and despondency Regardless of perceived levels of control, a grief response — sadness and despondency, problems sleeping, conflicts with others, social isolation, tearfulness, changes in energy, headaches, muscle tension, problems keeping up with a daily routine — is to be expected after such a separation from family, said Tooba Siddiqui, a psychologist. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager So what steps should ‘married bachelors’ take to keep their families and themselves in a stable and happy state? A system created around healthy eating, exercising regularly, sleeping sufficiently and indulging in productive activities such as cooking or painting can help create a semblance of a routine that can be used as the initial groundwork for coping up with anxiety that comes with isolation, said Siddiqui. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Anxiety of the pandemic months was like a silent killer: Gulf News staff member ‘Married bachelors’? I wouldn’t have known that such a term ever existed if I hadn’t spent more than 17 years in Dubai. Me and my colleagues had, of course, got accustomed to being the ‘summer bachelors’ over the years. This, in other words, meant just an extra sense of freedom over the months of July-August when most families would normally head back to India for the two months of summer vacation at schools. The ritual went something like this — the man of the house would eventually join the wife and children for the second half of the vacation — till it was time for all to again get back to the grind. Gautam Bhattacharyya Then at some point, you arrive at the crossroads. It’s time for you to take a call on whether the son or daughter — who has suddenly turned out to be a strapping young man or a lady — would take the next leap in their education in the UAE or is it time they relocate to India or move to any other part of the world. It was in early 2019 when I decided to send my wife and daughter back to Kolkata. Given we were a four hours’ flight away, it wasn’t such a bad deal as I gloated about taking the “right decision”. Those, of course, were the pre-COVID days. As the pandemic was kicking in and the flights were on the verge of shutdown globally, I had to pack them off on a short notice from Dubai — only to meet them a good nine months later. The so-called resilience that I had prided myself on was slowly broken. The silent anxiety about the welfare of your near and dear ones eating into you could be a killer. While my colleagues delved into some painstaking research to bring insight for the readers about the pandemic and how it affected lives, I was often more concerned about the brass tacks back home. How is India faring in terms of cases? Where is West Bengal now in terms of active cases? Is the state equipped enough to handle the rising cases? Or is the internet connection at home stable enough for my daughter to handle her online classes? Being a ‘married bachelor’ is not really fun ... certainly not for men at my age!

GulfNews World

New Zealand confirms airport COVID-19 case, says travel bubble unaffected

Oceania|: Wellington: New Zealand authorities revealed an Auckland airport worker had tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday, although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would not affect a newly opened travel bubble with Australia. Confirmation the cleaner at New Zealand’s largest airport had contracted the virus came barely 24 hours after the transport hub hosted joyful scenes as families reunited following the launch of the quarantine-free bubble. Ardern said the cleaner worked on planes arriving from “red zone” countries deemed high risk, not Australia, which like New Zealand has largely contained the virus. She said both Australia and New Zealand expected to handle border cases, and had systems in place to do that without closing the long-awaited travel bubble. “We accept there will be cases and that is part of our journey together, for both sides,” she told reporters. Ardern played down concerns the cleaner contracted the virus despite being fully vaccinated, pointing out the Pfizer jab used in New Zealand was 95 per cent effective in reducing symptomatic onset of coronavirus. She said that meant some people could still become infected but would experience milder symptoms than those who had not received the vaccine. “We entirely expect that people who are vaccinated will get COVID-19, it just means they won’t get sick and they won’t die,” she said. New Zealand’s health department released few details about the case, saying “the usual protocol of isolating the case, interviewing them, and tracing their contacts and movements is underway,” it added. In Australia, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government had “full confidence” in New Zealand’s ability to contain small outbreaks of COVID-19. “The New Zealand system has picked up a case and we know that we have a highly infectious disease, but highly developed containment systems in both New Zealand and Australia,” he said. The bubble, which followed months of negotiations between the largely coronavirus-free neighbours, allowed their borders to reopen to each other after almost 400 days. It means that for the first time since COVID-19 closed borders worldwide, passengers can fly between Australia and New Zealand without undergoing mandatory quarantine on arrival.

GulfNews World

Pakistan parliament to vote on French envoy’s expulsion today

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan’s government has decided to seek a vote in parliament on Tuesday on whether to expel the French envoy following the demand and violent protests by the far-right party over offensive depictions of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) published in France last year. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which the government banned last week, held violent anti-France protests for more than a week demanding the expulsion of the French envoy. The protests resulted in the deaths of six policemen, leaving hundreds of police officers wounded besides damage to public property and disrupting public life. To calm tensions, the government decided to hold negotiations with the protesters to convince them to peacefully call off protests. “It is agreed between the government and TLP after negotiations that we will present a resolution in the National Assembly today for the expulsion of the French ambassador,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video statement on Tuesday. The interior minister said the TLP had agreed to call off protests and sit-ins across the country and that “negotiations would continue.” All cases registered against the TLP workers under the fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act will also be withdrawn, he said. What sparked the protests? Protests erupted across major cities in Pakistan on April 12 after far-right religio-political party chief Saad Hussain Rizvi was detained by police in Lahore for threatening countrywide protests if the government did not expel the French ambassador. The detention sparked violent rallies as protestors blocked highways and roads in several cities, partly paralysing commercial activities in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. After the government banned the TLP, the country’s mainstream religious groups extended support to the campaign. PM calls for a joint approach to solve the issue Prime Minister Imran Khan has appealed to the protesters not to harm the country’s economy at a time when Pakistan is dealing with coronavirus pandemic and economic pressures. “Violent protests in Pakistan have made no difference to France, rather it seriously affected Pakistan’s economy,” he said. He announced a joint approach by all Islamic states to address the issue of Islamophobia urging to criminalise insult of the Prophet.