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COVID-19: UK extends furlough scheme by 5 months, gives more help to self-employed

Europe|: London: Britain will extend its huge job-protecting furlough programme by five months until the end of September and expand parallel support for the self-employed, finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to announce in a budget speech on Wednesday. Workers covered by the furlough scheme — currently about one in five private-sector employees — will continue to receive 80 per cent of their salary for hours not worked. But employers will have to start contributing to the cost as the economy reopens from lockdown, paying 10 per cent of the hours their staff do not work in July, rising to 20 per cent in August and September, the ministry said. “Our COVID support schemes have been a lifeline to millions, protecting jobs and incomes across the UK,” Sunak was due to say in his budget speech to parliament, according to excerpts sent to media by the finance ministry. “There’s now light at the end of the tunnel with a roadmap for reopening, so it’s only right that we continue to help business and individuals through the challenging months ahead — and beyond.” The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) had been due to expire at the end of April, raising fears of a sharp jump in unemployment at a time when the economy is still likely to be struggling under the weight of coronavirus restrictions. The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the move. “Extending the scheme will keep millions more in work and give businesses the chance to catch their breath as we carefully exit lockdown,” CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said. The CJRS will cost £70 billion (Dh360 billion) between its launch in March last year during the onset of the pandemic and the end of April, according to estimates made last month by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Sunak is also due to announce on Wednesday that a further 600,000 self-employed workers will become eligible for government support. Until now the government had only allowed applications from workers who were self-employed in the 2018-19 tax year, but eligibility for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will be expanded to those who first reported being self-employed in 2019-20. A fourth SEISS grant for the self-employed will be available from next month worth 80 per cent of three months’ average trading profits up to £7,500 in total, and details of a fifth grant would be provided on Wednesday, the ministry said.

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'Pawri' power: 5-second social media clip pulls India, Pakistan closer

Pakistan|: Karachi: A 19-year-old Pakistani student who shot to fame after her five-second video went viral on social media across the subcontinent, hopes numerous renditions of her monologue will translate into more dialogue between neighbours India and Pakistan. The short video shot by Dananeer Mobeen in the Nathaigali mountains of northern Pakistan and uploaded onto Instagram shows a group of youngsters enjoying themselves by a roadside. Swinging around the device she is filming on, Mobeen gestures behind her and says in Urdu, "This is our car, this is us, and this is our party taking place." Seemly innocuous, she deliberately mispronounces the English word "party" as "pawri" to poke fun at South Asians who adopt Western accents. It immediately struck a chord in both India and Pakistan, sparking top trending hashtags on social media, and garnering millions of views and hundreds of spin-offs. "It was the most random video. I initially had no intention of uploading it," Mobeen said, expressing surprise at how viral it had gone and adding the trend showed the power and reach of social media. "Pawri" monologue renditions have been used by police in India and the Delhi Commission for Women in their social media outreach campaigns. In one video, two Indian soldiers deployed in snowy mountains give it their own spin with "This is us, this is our gun, and we are patrolling here", while popular Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone each did a version that also went viral. Dananeer Mobeen, 19, a social media influencer who has become famous after her five-second video went viral, speaks during an interview in Karachi, Pakistan February 27, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters Indian dairy company Amul, known for inculcating trendy takes on current issues in its advertisements, did a "this is our pav-tea" version, in a nod to a popular bread snack eaten with tea. Even politicians jumped on the bandwagon, with a leader from India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party using the catchy hook at an election rally. "I'm honoured and grateful for all the love across the border," said Mobeen, expressing her happiness at fostering some rare friendly cross-border dialogue. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, have fought three wars and often had tense relations since gaining independence in 1947. Last week, their militaries released a rare joint statement saying they had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the disputed Kashmir border, after exchanging fire hundreds of times over past months. Since the video went viral, Mobeen said she has been inundated with acting and modelling offers, along with requests for product endorsements. Instead, she says she aspires to join Pakistan's foreign services.

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Pakistan gears up for Senate polls

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Political activity is at its peak in Islamabad as the capital city gears up for the Senate elections on March 3. Pakistan’s Senate or the upper house of parliament consists of 104 lawmakers who are elected by members of the country’s provincial and national assemblies. Each senator serves a term of six years but 50 per cent of the total number of senators retire after every three years. The elections are due as 52 senators are set to retire on March 11 after completing their six-year tenure. However, the 2021 elections will see 48 new senators join the upper house, including 12 each from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, 11 each from Punjab and Sindh and two from Islamabad. The number was reduced to 48 members this year after the merger of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with the KP province. Candidates As many as 78 candidates from different political parties are contesting the 2021 Senate elections. The candidates include 14 from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), 13 from Pakistan Peopless Party (PPP), 2 from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), 2 from MQM-P, 11 from BAP, 1 from TLP and three as independent candidates. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is set to emerge as the largest party in the elections of the Senate which is currently dominated by the opposition, blocking government-backed legislations. Perks of a senator The monthly salary of a senator in Pakistan is about Rs76,802 (US$487) including all allowances, according to a 2015 Senate handbook. However, most of their expenses such as medical, travel and other bills are covered by the state. A senator is also entitled to travel allowance including vouchers of Rs300,000 (US$1900) per year or Rs90,000 cash in lieu of travel voucher per year. Senators are also allotted 20 business class open return air tickets per year. Horse-trading allegations and secret balloting Prime Minister Imran Khan recently proposed to hold Senate elections through an open ballot system to address the challenges of rigging, buying and selling of votes and horse-trading allegations in the Senate election that has long destroyed the sanctity of the upper house of parliament. However, a day earlier, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of elections through the secret ballot under the constitution after the country’s president sought the opinion of the court. The court urged that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was responsible to ensure transparency and curbing all corrupt practices. The court also suggested the use of the latest technology to ensure transparency. The election commission on Tuesday said that the Senate polls would be conducted as provided in the Constitution and law as per past practice.